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 at 350 F/ 180 C, or until bubbling around edges. Cover with foil if cheese starts to brown.

Notes:

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.
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