|photograph by James Hayes-Bohanan|
Champandongo may have a silly-sounding name, but it contains some serious and culturally significant ingredients. A recipe introduced to us by the book and film Like Water for Chocolate, champandongo is a hearty meat dish, layered with tortillas (similar to the structure of lasagna), and brought together with a rich molé poblano sauce. Although not given any attention in the movie, the champandongo, and the molé in particular, make a small appearance in the book. Tita had the responsibility of preparing a dinner worthy of a special occasion—another character, John, had plans to propose to her. Knowing well the importance of this dish, Tita wanted to begin preparations early on, but anxiety kicked in and frustrations ensued. The initial cause for frustration was her niece, to whom Tita become sort of a mother. With time spent attending to her niece, Tita could not focus properly on cooking. This lead to shaky and jerky movements, initially resulting in an easy-to-remedy cut, but then attributed to the spillage of the entirety of the molé—molé that had taken four hours to prepare. Finally, she had to accept aid from another character, who helped Tita put together a passable entrée (Esquivel).
Having now experienced what making champandongo from scratch entails, it is easy to see how life’s frustrations could further complicate and already intricate dish. Fortunately, though, we did not encounter any frustrations and successfully completed the dish. Below is the recipe we used, followed by a few notes about the slight deviations we made from the recipe.
Mole is made with:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil 2 cucharaditas de aceite vegetal
1/4 cup finely chopped onion 1 / 4 taza de cebolla picada finamente
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder 1 cucharada de cacao en polvo sin azúcar
1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 cucharadita de comino molido
1 teaspoon dried cilantro 1 cucharadita de cilantro
1/8 tablespoon dried minced garlic 1 / 8 cucharada de ajo picado seco
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed tomato soup 1 (10.75 onzas) de sopa de tomate condensada
1 (4 ounce) can diced green chili peppers 1 lata de chiles verdes en cubitos
To prepare Mole:
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and cook the onion until tender. Mix in cocoa powder, cumin, cilantro, and garlic. Stir in the tomato soup and green chili peppers. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Transfer to a gravy boat or pour directly over food to serve (“Mexican Mole Sauce Recipe”).
Champandongo is made with:1 lb. ground beef 1 libra carne molida de res
1 lb. ground pork 1 libra carne molida de cerdo
7 oz. walnuts, chopped in small pieces 7 oz nueces picadas en trozos pequeños
7 oz. almonds, chopped in small pieces 7 oz almendras, picadas en trozos pequeños
1 yellow onion, chopped 1 cebolla amarilla, picada
1 orange 1 naranja
2 tomatoes, chopped 2 tomates picados
1 cup chicken broth 1 taza de caldo de pollo
¼ cup molé ¼ de taza de mole
1-2 tablespoons cumin 1-2 cucharadas de comino
1 tablespoon sugar 1 cucharada de azucar
1 lb. tortillas 1 libra de tortillas
¼ cup cream ¼ taza de crema
8 oz. Manchengo cheese 8 oz queso Manchengo
To Prepare Champandongo:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sauté onion in several tablespoons of oil. Once onion is translucent, add beef and pork. Sprinkle meat and onion mixture with cumin and sugar. Once beef and pork are golden brown, add tomatoes and nuts and squeeze the juice of the orange on top. While the meat is browning, add molé to chicken stock and stir constantly until molé has a thick, soupy consistency. Heat tortillas in 1-2 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick pan. Spread a thin layer of the cream on the bottom of a large, glass casserole dish. Top with a layer of tortillas, then a layer of the meat mixture, then a coating of molé, and finally the manchengo cheese. Repeat. Place the dish in the oven and bake for no more than 15 minutes. Slice into pieces and serve immediately (Menkedick).
The above recipe is fairly straightforward and easy to follow, however, we did deviate from it slightly; we used fresh cilantro (rather than dried) in hopes that the juices from the freshly-minced leaves would help bring out the cilantro flavor in a dish with so many other powerful ingredients. We also replaced the canned chili peppers with fresh poblano peppers, in order to create a more authentic molé poblano.
The final product of both chompodongo and molé came out very different than we expected. First, we tried the molé, which was a deep red color and very thick, much like a thinner version of pasta sauce. We had originally expected the chocolate and the poblano to be the key flavors of the molé, however, the first flavor to reach our taste buds reminded us of peanuts. As for the champandongo, we did not at all get the flavors we expected. But, then again, we did not fully know what to expect, as we had a veritable smorgasbord of ingredients. Not to mention, the dish is not pretty; from certain angles, it can be downright unappealing. For a hearty meat-eater, who does not care about the asthestics of a dish, this meal is a definite must to try. It is protein-rich and filling!
History of Ingredients:
Being a traditional Latin American dish, champandongo has a rich cultural history, particularly with regard to the molé and the ingredients present in it. Among the ingredients are two staples of Latin American cooking: the poblano and cocoa.
Cocoa has a subtle performance in this dish, but has a very strong presence in the history of Latin America. Because of this, as well as the disputed origin of the cacao plant (Kiples), it would be impossible to give a full overview of the history of cocoa in Latin American cooking. Instead, cocoa as it pertains to molé will be briefly examined.
Early Mesoamerica peoples had numerous concoctions that involved cocoa beans. Often times, the beans were ground up, and mixed with maize and hot or cold water. This acted as a soup-like food to which many other ingredients could be added, such as ground chilies, vanilla, annatto, and even seeds, flowers and roots. Often added to this soup-like product was liquid chocolate, which can be considered an early, more basic ancestor of modern molé sauces. This early form of molé was usually consumed by only the upper classes and pochteca (an official merchant class), and was most often served at public banquets and festivals (Kiple). Now, it is a dish common to less affluent families, as demonstrated in Like Water for Chocolate.
The other staple, the poblano pepper, is a member of the genus Capsicum, a large family of peppers that includes everything from mild bell peppers, to some of the hottest peppers in the world, such as habaneros and jolokias. The poblano, in particular, is a relatively mild (slightly spicier than a bell pepper) capsicum, said to be one of the most popular used in Mexican cooking due to its versatility. Again, as with cocoa, the poblano has a rich history rooted in the traditions of Latin American cooking, so more of a focus will be put on how it pertains to molé (Kiple).
Mole Poblano was created by Sister Andrea de la Asuncion. Betsy Reynolds Bateson in her article “Mexico's Regal Sauce” states: “The word mole actually has broader meaning. It comes from mulli in the language of the pre-Colombian Nahuatl Indians in Mexico, and loosely translates as sauce. The Pueblans named their mole for themselves; poblano means the people of Puebla. In addition to mole poblano, the area is known for several other moles with chocolate, all characteristically thick and complex” (Bateson). Sister Andrea de la Asuncion was chosen to create a special dish for the visiting dignitaries who were expected to arrive on a Sunday between 1657 and 1688. Legend says that she was chosen last minute and had to scramble to come up with something special and new. From the supplies that she had in her kitchen, chili paste, herbs, seeds and vegetables, she then added chocolate which became a mixture uniquely called Mole. Later Sister Andrea found that in Aztec culture chocolate was reserved for regal gentlemen, which made it a perfect dish for the dignitaries (Bateson).
Bateson, Betsy Reynolds. "Mexico's Regal Sauce." Sunset Mar. 1992: 100+. Culinary Arts Collection. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.
Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate. London: Black Swan, 1993. Print.
Kiple, Kenneth F., and Kriemhild Coneè. Ornelas. The Cambridge World History of Food. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2000. Print.
Like Water for Chocolate (Como Agua Para Chocolate). Dir. Alfonso Arau. Perf. Marco Leonardi and Lumi Cavazos. Miramax, 1992. DVD.
"Mexican Mole Sauce Recipe - Allrecipes.com." Allrecipes.com - Recipes, Menus, Meal Ideas, Food, and Cooking Tips. All Recipes. Web. 18 Nov. 2011. <http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/mexican-mole-sauce/detail.aspx>.
Menkedick, Sarah. "Champandongo: The Little-Known Wonder from "Like Water for Chocolate" - Hispanic Kitchen." Welcome - Hispanic Kitchen. Hispanic Kitchen, 20 Nov. 2009. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <http://www.hispanickitchen.com/profiles/blogs/champandongo-the-littleknown>.