Champandongo from “Like Water for Chocolate”

Champandongo is homely in appearance, I’ll admit. If it weren’t for the avocado and basil garnish, I don’t know what this photo would have to recommend it. But take my word for it: what it lacks in good looks, it more than makes up for in taste. And I like its curious name.

Casseroles are not a favorite of mine, but this one works, blending and layering corn tortillas, queso fresco, beef seasoned with mole sauce, and special ingredients like dried pineapple and walnuts (which I substituted for the dried citron in the original recipe). I’d make this recipe again. Tomorrow, even, if I weren’t already planning to eat left-overs of Champandongo. In just the short time I have been typing, I have devoured the serving you see below in the last photo. All right, I ate too quickly. After all the time spent cooking, baking, the interminable time spent trying to get a few decent photos … oh no … I just licked my plate.

Tita, our beleaguered heroine from Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, is soldiering on, trying to balance her unrequited love for Pedro with her duties as family cook. “As usual, Tita was crying as she chopped the onion … The steam rising from the pan mingled with the heat given off by Tita’s body. The anger she felt within her acted like yeast on bread dough.” And then the line that gives the novel its title. “Tita was literally ‘like water for chocolate’ — she was on the verge of boiling over.”

In case you are wondering, yes, this is a full-blown romance novel and, no, I can’t put it down, even though this is my second reading.

Champandongo (my version)   serves 6-8

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. (scant 1/2 kilo) ground beef chuck
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups (7 oz./200 grams) walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml.) dried pineapple, chopped
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml.) red or black mole
  • 6 oz. (170 grams) queso fresco (or manchego or Monterey jack cheese), grated or thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (comino)
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml.) beef stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml.) sour cream, thinned with milk
  • about 9 corn tortillas
  • extra mole heated and spooned over individual portions (optional)
  1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat and cook onion and meat.
  2. Add tomatoes, nuts, pineapple, mole, cumin and beef stock.
  3. Stir and simmer 10 minutes over medium heat, being careful mixture does not cook dry.
  4. Add salt to taste
  5. Spread half of sour cream on bottom of casserole dish.
  6. Layer 2 -3 tortillas on cream, cutting to fit if necessary.
  7. Spread 1/3 of meat mixture over tortillas.
  8. Layer 1/3 of cheese over meat.
  9. Repeat layers of tortillas, meat and cheese, ending with remaining sour cream and cheese.
  10. Bake for 45 minutes, or until bubbling around edges. Cover with foil if cheese starts to brown.


I don’t like leaving you with the desire to make this recipe, yet not having access to the same ingredients I used. The ingredient in question is the mole sauce, something I can buy freshly made here where I live in Mexico, but you will have to do the best you can, most likely shopping for bottled mole. If you live in an urban area with a Mexican grocery store, you are in luck and will have a choice of commercial moles. If the best you can do is shop the Hispanic aisle of the supermarket, look for Doña María brand of bottled mole sauce. It is very thick and you will need to thin it to a spoon-able sauce consistency with water or stock. Doña María is acceptable, but not the real deal. Freshly made moles are superior. If ever there was a reason for moving to Mexico, it would be to buy it fresh.

Mole (pronounced with an accent on the first syllable: MO-leh) is from the Nahuatl word for sauce. There are many different kinds of mole in Mexico, usually designated by their color. Yellow mole, red mole, black, green and more. Moles can include small amounts of chocolate, but not all moles use it. The list of ingredients is endless, with different combinations of dried, ground chiles, seeds, spices, sometimes onion, garlic and tomato.
Related Articles

Recommended Source for Mole: San Miguel Mole

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Oxtail Soup from “Like Water for Chocolate”

Oxtail Soup from the novel, Like Water for Chocolate

It has been many years since I read Like Water for Chocolate and I had never made any of its dishes. When I recently leafed through it to check out the recipes — each of the twelve chapters has a recipe woven into the story — I could not help but be pulled back into this family saga of love and anguish, and the amazing dishes made by the youngest daughter Tita. Written in the style of “magic realism”, a genre common in Latin American literature, this is the story of one emoting, fantasy-driven family living on a ranch during the Mexican revolution.

Tita is forbidden to marry in order to stay home and care for her tyrannical mother. Unable to express her passion for her lover, Pedro, she pours her heart into her cooking, making dishes such as turkey mole with almonds, quail in rose petal sauce, and Champandongo, an exotically named casserole of meat, tortillas and cheese, all of which affect the passions of the eaters. One of these emotionally charged meals is the humbly named Oxtail Soup (Caldo de Cola de Res).

I do not have a source for organic rose petals, or even organic quail, but I can buy oxtail from Kenny’s Meat Market, our local carnicería which sells locally raised, range-fed beef. So called “oxtail” is beef tail, and not really from oxen. Cooking with oxtail is one more example of Mexican cooks’ preference, born of economy and thrift, to use all parts of the animal, something I admire in this culture. If you can’t find oxtail, meaty soup bones are a fine substitute. If you do buy oxtails, ask the butcher to cut it into 2-3″ lengths.

Oxtail Soup serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 lbs. (about 1 kilo) oxtails, cut into 2-3″ lengths
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • water to cover, about 2-3 quarts/liters
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 lb. (.25 kilo) green beans, cut into 2″ length
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chile with adobo sauce, seeded and finely minced
  • salt to taste
  • cilantro for garnish
  1. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and brown oxtails.
  2. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender.
  3. Add water to cover and simmer for 1 hour or pressure cook for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove meat to cool. When cool enough to handle, pull meat from bones, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Pour off stock and skim most of the fat from the surface, reserving meat and stock.
  5. In the same pot, heat oil over medium-low heat and cook chopped onion and garlic until translucent.
  6. Add potatoes and  stock and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes. Add green beans, tomatoes and chile and cook until all vegetables are tender.
  7. Salt to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro.


The original recipe calls for chile morita, a type of dried jalapeño. This chile may be difficult to find,  so I substituted chipotle chiles en adobo, smoked, dried jalapeño canned in a tomato and vinegar sauce.

Like Water for Chocolate was written by Laura Esquivel and published in 1992 by Doubleday. The title comes from the Spanish phrase, “Como agua para chocolate”.  Mexican recipes use water, not milk, to make hot chocolate. Chocolate melts when the water reaches a boil, so the phrase can mean one is boiling mad, or, as a double entendre, that one is erotically aroused, with both emotions evident in the novel.

Campbell sold oxtail soup many years ago in the U.S., but it seems to have disappeared from the stores. Tastes change through the years, but oxtail soup remains popular in Asian cuisine and in Great Britain.

More Mexican Soups:

  • Black Bean Soup with Chipotle Chile (
  • Albóndigas, Mexican Meatballs with Chipotle and Tomato Broth (
  • Chipotle Lentil Soup (
  • Caldo Pescado with Chipotle Chile (
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