Last week when I wrote about, and made, Torta de Garbanzo, many of you must have wondered what in the world I was foisting on you. A bean torte? Sweetened garbanzo beans with cajeta? Yet, you gamely read on, some of you even writing that you wanted to make this unusual Mexican Lenten dish. The torta recipe called for natas, cooked, thickened cream, which I didn’t have, and I’ll admit, didn’t know much about. I substituted evaporated milk, but Leslie of The Mija Chronicles, a wonderful Mexican food blog, wondered if I would make natas and write about it. OK, Leslie. You have made your share of interesting, unheard-of-before recipes for us, so I’ll gamely take my turn, instead of waiting for you to make it first.
My Cassell’s Spanish Dictionary defines nata as “cream, the main part of a thing, the prime part”. Diana Kennedy, British by birth, writes in From My Mexican Kitchen, that natas are the same as clotted cream, so beloved with cream tea in England where it is spread on scones. Now we are getting somewhere. In my youth, when my family lived in England, we had cream tea. I was too young to know, or care, that it was clotted cream we were gobbling up. I just knew it was rich and delicious, and could I have more, please?
There isn’t much in my Mexican cookbooks about making natas, so I went to my friend Guillermina and my neighbor Lupita, both excellent cooks, to ask about their method. They gave the same instructions: slowly bring whole raw milk just to a boil over low heat, turn off the heat, let the milk reach room temperature, refrigerate until cool, then skim off the thick cream that has clotted on the surface. This thick, skimmed fat, the cooked cream, are the natas.
But Guillermina knew the easy way. She opened her fridge and showed me a carton of natas she had just brought home from Mega supermercado. If I hadn’t had two gallons of milk crying to be used up, I would have considered the easy way, too. But then I would I have lost my bragging rights about making natas, if it is anything to brag about.
After skimming the clotted cream, two gallons of raw milk yielded one cup of natas. What could I do with it, except make Torta de Garbanzo again, the way it should have been made in the first place, using natas instead of evaporated milk. This torta was wonderfully smooth, creamy and rich. Evaporated milk will do in a pinch, but for an authentic torta, you need natas.
- Torta de garbanzo for Lent (cookinginmexico.com)