Caesar salad, take 2

I didn’t expect to spend this much space on Caesar Salad, but in the interest of presenting correct information, here it is again. Maybe some of you have already looked at the photo and noticed the difference between last week’s Caesar Salad and this one — whole romaine leaves.

Gary Beck, food writer and restaurant critic in Puerto Vallarta, brought to my attention, after seeing last week’s post (and maybe saying to himself, “Hmm…. should I set her straight or not?”) that Caesar Salad was originally served in a whole leaf form by the Cardini brothers, Caesar and Alex. My salad had the leaves torn, and was intended to be eaten with a fork only, while Gary enjoys eating whole leaves with a fork and knife. In the interest of tradition and culinary history, I’m making it again, using only whole leaves from the romaine hearts and enjoying it again.

Russ had already settled himself down with one of his favorite TV shows (American Pickers, where vintage Americana collectibles are searched out, items that should either be in a museum or a junk pile) when I gave him a whole leaf salad, with a knife, and no preamble. Would I see his eyebrow arch when something doesn’t look like he’s used to seeing something look? Without missing a beat, he dug in. With his fingers. Knife untouched.

Russ instinctively knew what he was doing. After a little bit of internet reading I learned that, yes, Gary was correct. The Cardini brothers used whole leaves of romaine lettuce hearts, and expected the salad to be eaten by hand, each leaf picked up and nibbled down. But after customers complained of oily, cheesey, fishy fingers, they switched to torn leaves.

Whole leaf or torn, knife or not, this salad has history, and ranks as Mexico’s most famous salad. I enjoyed eating it with my fingers today. Keep a paper napkin close.

For an interesting read, check out BBC’s article on the history of Caesar Salad, and this one from The Daily Meal.

Those of you who enjoy the fine restaurants in Puerto Vallarta may be interested in Gary Beck’s book, Beck’s Best, a guide to dining in the Puerto Vallarta area. For an updated 2021 copy, email Gary at: garyrbeck1@yahoo.com

Rosca de Reyes

Tomorrow, January 6, is the day when the three kings, the wise men of the Christmas story, will bring gifts to the good little girls and boys in Mexico. This is Epipany, called Dia de los Santos Reyes on my Mexican calendar, and it is the offical end of the Mexican Christmas holidays. A sweet, decorated bread, the Rosca de Reyes, the (bread) ring of the kings is served to all, whether you have been good or bad.

This bread has a muñeca, a little ceramic doll, tucked into it to represent the baby Jesus. Whoever finds it in their slice is obligated to serve tamales to guests on Dia de la Candelaria, February 2. Because this can be an expensive meal (two tamales per person, at least, for twenty to thirty or more people), sometimes the one with the muñeca conceals it in their mouth and doesn’t own up. For this reason two or three muñecas may be in one bread, with the hope that at least one person will annouce they are the lucky one who will host the tamale dinner.

Most people in Mexico buy their Rosca de Reyes from a panederia (bakery) or supermercado. If you have a baking inclination, here are two recipes from past years. Rosca de Reyes are yeast breads decorated with ate, a dried fruit paste, and formed into a ring. This recipe is a classic Rosca de Reyes from 2010. My favorite, from 2011, Mini Rosca de Reyes with Frangipani, is a bit more work with homemade almond paste, though you could use store-bought. Either way, be sure to slip in a muñeco, or use a shelled almond as a stand-in as I did.

Leftovers toast well, and also make great French toast, maybe my favorite way to eat Rosca de Reyes. And now that the holidays are over, it’s time to take down the agave flower Christmas “tree”. And start eating salads.

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Chocolate pan de muerto — bread of the dead

Día de Muertos, observed November 1st and 2nd in Mexico when families honor their departed loved ones, has its own bread, the unique pan de muerto, bread of the dead. This egg-rich bread decorated with skull and bones is offered in all the supermercados and panaderías (bakeries) throughout October. Homemade pan de muerto is far superior to what the panaderías sell. Most commerical pan de muerto doesn’t have much of a buttery flavor. Maybe there’s no butter at all. Formed huesos (bones) and a ball of dough for a skull, give this bread an appearance like no other. As I had already made a more traditional pan de muerto in 2015, this is a chocolate version of pan de muerto for something different.

A few days ago, trying to come up with a different take on pan de muerto, I made a sourdough version. That entailed getting a starter going, which is another story. Suffice it to say that my starter is bubbling along now and is named Niño. (Apparently, sourdough starters have names, so I’m told. If any of you need any starter, just ask. I have plenty of little niños I’ll happily give away.) But pan de muerto, sourdough-style (and without cocoa powder), turned out to be, perhaps, too complicated to expect you to devote the better part of a day to it, with a stretch and fold technique and overnight fermentation in the fridge. Russ and I can’t stop nibbling on it, so it was worth the effort, but I would not expect this bread effort of you, unless you happen to be a sourdough aficionado.

Orange blossom water, orange zest and green anise seed are the traditional flavors of pan de muerto. Green anise seed is not to be confused with star anise. While similar, they are from two different plant species, sharing a subtle licorice flavor, while anise seed is spicier than the milder star anise. The anise and orange pair well with chocolate.

It took three loaves for me to get the chocolate version right. Russell can’t believe his good luck. This might be better than Halloween candy any day.

Chocolate Pan de Muerto 1 loaf

  • 125 g whole wheat flour
  • 125 g white flour
  • 1 tablespoon gluten flour (optional, and not necessary if all white flour or bread flour is used)
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) whole milk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
  • 2 teaspoons roughly crushed green anise seed
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 egg for brushing on loaf before baking
  • Coarse sugar for dusting on loaf after baking
  1. Add all dry ingredients to bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix for 1 minute to thoroughly blend.
  2. Add milk, eggs, orange blossom water, anise seed and orange zest. Knead with dough hook for 10 minutes, or until dough forms a soft, slightly sticky ball of dough and no longer sticks to side of bowl. Add a very small amount of milk if dough is too dry, or milk if too wet, to form a soft ball.
  3. Place dough in a lightly buttered bowl, cover, and let rise until almost doubled in volume, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Punch down dough, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Cut off four 1-oz. (30-grams) pieces of dough.
  6. Form a smooth ball with remainder, placing seam on bottom of ball. Place on parchment lined baking sheet.
  7. Roll one small piece into a round ball. Roll remaining 3 pieces into 8″ (20 cm) long ropes. Using one finger, roll 5 equally spaced flat spots along each rope. (See 2nd photo.) There is no need to flour the work surface, as the dough is too buttery to stick. Place across large ball of dough, tucking ends underneath. Press small ball into indentation on top.
  8. Slide baking sheet into plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in size. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, this can take 30 minutes to 1 hour. (In my warm kitchen, it was ready for the oven in 30 minutes.) To test when rise is complete, gently press a finger tip into dough. If indentation remains, it is ready to bake. If it springs back, allow more time to rise.
  9. Pre-heat oven to 350°F (177°C).
  10. Beat 1 egg with 1 teaspoon of water. Brush lightly on loaf.
  11. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until bottom of loaf sounds hollow when tapped firmly by thumb. If you use an instant read thermometer, internal temperature should read 185°F (85°C).
  12. Remove from oven and lightly brush with egg wash again, then dust with coarse sugar. Return to oven for 5 minutes to set egg wash.
  13. Cool for 1 hour before slicing.

Notes ~

~ Fany Gerson’s pan de muerto recipe from “My Sweet Mexico” inspired this recipe, with my addition of cocoa powder.

~ Like all rich egg breads, pan de muerto is best the day it is baked. Leftover slices are wonderful when toasted, with morning coffee or as an afternoon treat.

~ Day old pan de muerto makes great French toast.

Google photo

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Capomo

Caffeine and I parted ways a number of years ago. I’m one of those people who can wake up, raring to go without any extra stimulus. But it is still nice to have a hot cup of something first thing in the morning. For years, it was Pero, the coffee substitute made from roasted grain. Every summer, when I make my annual trip north of the border, I bring back Pero. At least that was the plan until this year when covid upended everyone’s travel. I had tried capomo before, and didn’t really like it, but now I had no choice. Maybe I just bought a poor quality. Now I really like its mocha flavor with a hint of chocolate. I don’t miss Pero. In fact, I now prefer capomo.

Capomo is ground from a dried, tropical fruit in the fig family, Brosimum alicastrum, and makes a satisfying, hot morning beverage. It can also be served over ice and used in a variety of recipes, like smoothies, baked goods and ice cream.

Capomo is also known as breadnut or Maya nut, and by the Spanish name ramon, and the indigenous names ojite, ojushte, ujushte in Mexico, and ojoche in Costa Rica. It is not a true nut, but a drupe harvested from the Brosimum alicastrum tree, which grows in southern Mexico, in our state of Jalisco, and is also found in tropical regions of Central America and the Amazon. It is known throughout Mesoamerica as a nutritious food source, where it has been stewed and roasted by indigenous people for millennia.

Making a cup of capomo is as easy as making coffee. The ground, roasted “nut”, resembling ground coffee, can be simmered in water or steeped in a French press. I multi-tasked a milk foamer into a French press, as it has a very fine screen with a plunger. I’m not even a week into this, and I’m already looking forward to my morning capomo routine. A soothing way to start the day.

French Press Capomo

  • 2 cups (475 ml) water
  • 2 rounded tablespoons (25 g) capomo
  1. Add capomo to French press.
  2. Bring water to a boil.
  3. Pour water into French press and stir a few times.
  4. Put plunger on French press, but don’t press down. Allow to steep for 4 minutes.
  5. Slowly push plunger down.
  6. Pour capomo into cup, and add milk or sweetener of choice if desired.

Alternate methods: use a drip coffee maker; or add capomo to a tea ball and steep in hot water; or steep capomo in a saucepan of hot water, then strain. Use the same proportion of water to capomo as given for French press method, adjusting for the strength preferred.

Notes ​~

​~ I bought a 500 gram bag (just over one pound) of Caffiana Capomo from Pepe’s, our local tienda de abarrotes (grocery store) in Mascota, for 126 pesos, about $6.00 USD. Caffiana doesn’t have an internet presence, so it’s possible their market is local in Jalisco.

​~ If your local grocery store doesn’t carry capomo, order online in Mexico from Wayak Táanil, which also sells capomo flour for baking. Farmacia San Pablo, Chedraui supermarkets, City Market (Mexico City), natural food stores, and the Wayak Táanil office in Roma Norte, Mexico City, sell Wayak Táanil organic capomo. wayaktaanil.com

​~ Outside of Mexico, capomo can be ordered online.

Chile en nogada, vegetarian style

Plates of Chile en Nogada will be served all over Mexico on September 16, Mexico’s Día de la Independencia, and some of them may be vegetarian. Every large city in Mexico has vegetarian restaurants. In fact, a plate of beans, rice and tortillas, eaten by countless campesinos through the years, is comida vegetariana. For the carnivores, here is an earlier meat version of Chile en Nogada.

Chile en Nogada was first prepared in the city of Puebla in honor of the visiting Emperor Augustin de Iturbide in 1821. The green cilantro, white cream sauce and red pomegranate seeds, representing the Mexican flag, make for one of Mexico’s most colorful dishes. Nogada refers to the walnut cream sauce. Most recipes call for skinning the walnuts, something that seems beyond tedious to me. Skin the nuts if you wish, but the sauce is delicious with unskinned nuts.

To peel the chiles, first char them over a grill or a gas stove burner. You could also use a broiler, but I haven’t tried that. See complete instructions on roasting and peeling poblano chiles.

Chile en Nogada serves 4

  • 4 large poblano chiles, roasted and peeled
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz/60 g) walnuts
  • 9 oz (260 g) drained (reserve juice), canned tomatoes or chopped, fresh tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup (2.8 oz/80 g) chopped dried peaches and pears or other dried fruit
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked lentils (about 18 oz/510 g cooked)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) crema or sour cream
  • 34/ cups (75 g) walnut meat
  1. Slit one side of each chile, and remove seeds. Set aside.
  2. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil.
  3. Add cooked lentils, tomato, dried fruit, bay leaves, oregano, cinnamon and salt.
  4. Simmer for 10 minutes, adding reserved tomato juice or water to prevent lentils from becoming dry.
  5. While lentils and simmering, make sauce by combining crema and walnuts in blender until smooth. If too thick, thin with milk
  6. Fill chiles with lentil mixture.
  7. Spoon walnut sauce over chiles, and garnish with chopped cilantro and pomegranate seeds. Serve at room temperature.

Notes ~

~ If you cut into pomegranates the way I have for years, you may have found it a messy job, with juice everywhere and stained clothing. After some internet research, I found an efficient method to section the fruit.

  1. First, cut out the small spot where the flower was, cutting at an angle, but not through the skin into the seeds. Remove this “button”.
  2. Now notice the ridges that run from the flower end to the stem end. Make very shallow slits along these ridges through the skin from the flower end all the way to the stem end, being careful not to cut through to the juicy seeds. The slits should meet at the stem end of the pomegranate. If you see drops of juice, you are cutting too deeply.
  3. Holding the pomegranate, place both thumbs at the flower end and firmly pull out a section, releasing it along the slits. Now you are ready to pull out the individual seeds. It’s still not a good idea to wear white when you do this.

~ This recipe is adapted from a meat version, Chile en Nogada with Fresh Fruit, and published here in 2011.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

All photos and text are copyright protected. Please do not copy or reproduce without permission.