Up until this year, I wasn't quite sure what the typical Day of the Dead Foods were in Mexico, beyond the traditional pan de muerto, candied sweets and hot chocolate. I had an idea of the sweets, but what about the savory stuff? I did some research and it turns out that Day of the Dead foods vary across the country. According to the excellent Sabor a Mexico magazine, which publishes recipes and articles about Mexican culinary traditions, savory Day of the Dead foods can include tamales (both zacahuil-size in
Puebla the Huasteca and the smaller Mucbi Pollo in Yucatán), enchiladas, barbacoa, pozoles, mole, caldos, atoles, and the requisite candied sweets and pan de muerto, in all shapes and sizes. The foods seem to be as varied as the styles of altars. Many of these regional Mexican foods haven't quite made an inroads in popular American home kitchens yet. But here are five Mexican recipes I found that would do perfectly well for any Day of the Dead meal in the U.S. The holiday is celebrated in Mexico mostly on Nov. 1 and 2. 1. Champurrado. Champurrado, generally speaking, is a thick drink made from masa diluted in water, chocolate and cinnamon. Grandmothers and food vendors in Mexico City, according to Ricardo Muñoz Zurita's Mexican food dictionary, insist that real champurrado contains only water, piloncillo, cinnamon and pinole, a non-nixtamalized, toasted corn. The drink is also made in various other ways across Mexico. Muy Bueno Cookbook's recipe calls for making it with masa harina, star anise, milk, cinnamon and piloncillo. 2. Pumpkin and Chorizo Tamales. This is my own recipe from a few years back, which creates small, sweet-and-savory tamales that are perfect for breakfast. (Or placing on an altar.) I used nixtamalized coarse-ground harina de maíz that I bought at Mercado de la Merced in Mexico City, but if you don't have access to that, any coarse-ground masa harina for tamales would work fine. The chorizo here is also more of a Spanish style, not the softer Northern Mexican style, but of course you're free to use what you like best. 3. Mole. The Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City actually has the artist's mole recipe on a billboard. Blogger Tasty Trix took a picture on her last visit and then made the dish at home. Trix herself says: "I absolutely fell in love with the food in Mexico City, and I knew when I got home I wanted to try to recreate as many of the wonderful dishes I had as possible. ...It was beautifully complex and there were notes of bitter chocolate, cinnamon, peppers, and nuts." I'd highly recommend the cookbook Frida's Fiestas if you're interested in learning more about dishes of the time period, and what Frida might've eaten. 4. Calabaza en Tacha (Candied Squash). Calabaza en tacha is a typical fall dessert in Central Mexico, comprising squash that's been cooked in a sugar syrup until it softens into creamy pudding. In Mexico City markets, you'll often see a whole small squash poked with tiny holes, shellacked in syrup, a dark-brown wedge sitting out for passersby to try. (Vendors will offer a taste with a small spoon. You must try it if you're visiting.) There aren't many recipes for calabaza en tacha in English on the Internet, but I really liked Spicie Foodie's version, which contains molasses and cardamom. 5. Pan de Muerto. The most well-known Day of the Dead food, pan de muerto is a sugary, buttery bread that's lightly flavored with orange blossoms (agua de azahar), and draped with what are supposed to be knobby "bones" on top. I love Pati Jinich's step-by-step recipe. Or here's the version I recreated from Fany Gerson's My Sweet Mexico. Related: How to Make a Día de los Muertos Altar
I have a guest post today from my friend Macarena Hernández. She told me this story while I was hanging out with her in San Antonio recently. Agua mineral preparada is one of my antojos. They’re very easy to find in the Rio Grande Valley, and along the border, at drive-through stores. Depending on where you go, they’re made differently. Some people put chamoy in them. Others, like at my favorite drive-through in Palmview, Texas, they actually put in stalks of celery, long shreds of carrot and dill pickles -- like hamburger dill pickle slices. It’s really good. On top of that, obviously, they put lemon, chilito (I prefer Tajin) and salt. And on top of the styrofoam cup lid, they put small cubes of jicama with sal, limón y chile, with toothpicks. So you get a little jicama salad on top of your agua mineral preparada. My family, for the most part, loves agua mineral preparada, especially after carne asadas, when we’ve had too much red meat, too much arroz and frijoles. It feels like a good digestive drink. When I make it at home, I don’t complicate it for myself. I buy Topo Chico. I’m so partial to Topo Chico because the carbonation levels are just right. (Lesley interjects: IT’S INSANE.) It’s insane. And I don’t think you can have an agua mineral preparada without insane levels of carbonation. I’ve tried it with Perrier or whatever, the American ones, and it just wasn’t an agua mineral preparada. No matter how much limón or salt or chile I put in there it didn’t work. Everyone likes their agua mineral preparada differently. It really depends on how much limón, sal and chile you can take. Depending on who I’d make it for in my family, the drink could look orange, or it could have just a few speckles of chilito and salt. And then I mix it gently, because I don’t want it to lose any carbonation. I like to drink it with a straw -- it just goes down better. If anyone’s visiting me, this is one thing I have them try. Not everyone likes it. If you don’t like salty, lemony, spicy drinks, you’re not going to like this. My personal favorite raspa is a diablito, which is basically lemon juice, salt and chile, so for me it’s basically a mineral water version of a raspa de chile limón. [Lesley interjects: I think this tastes like a cross between a limonada and a michelada, without the beer. Or it tastes like these fruit salads that you have in Mexico, with the cucumber and jicama with lime and chile powder. It has that sort of freshness to it.] Agua Mineral Preparada Serves 1 Macarena's notes: For the mineral water, I don’t recommend anything except Topo Chico. (I like Peñafiel, but only as a thirst quencher, not for my agua mineral preparada. And I have tried all kinds -- even making this in Europe. They’re too flat. If Topo Chico is reading this, they should send me cases. I do spend a lot of money on Topo Chico mineral water.) You can find Topo Chico and Tajin in South Texas at almost any HEB. Note that Tajin does have salt in it. Ice is essential. This drink needs to be cold. Ingredients 1 cup of ice Juice of 2 yellow lemons Juice of 1 good-sized lime (not key lime) 1 6.5 ounce bottle Topo Chico Tajin (I use about 9 shakes of the Tajin bottle -- this might be too much; start with less and taste) Salt to taste Optional garnishes: Jicama cubes Sliced dill pickles Thinly sliced carrot sticks Thin slices of celery 1 or 2 saladitos (dried, salted plums or apricots) Directions Fill a pint glass with ice. Add citrus juice. Pour in Topo Chico, and then the Tajin. (If adding saladitos, add at this point, before the salt.) Taste for salt, add to your preference, then add jicama, dill pickles, carrots and celery, if using. Stir gently to preserve the carbonation levels in the drink. Macarena Hernández, who grew up in La Joya Texas, is a professor at the University of Houston- Victoria and a multimedia journalist.