This post is part of Pinch Me, I’m Eating’s 2018 Novel Recipes series, a collaborative collection of posts from food bloggers highlighting recipes that are featured in fiction. Each post includes a book review and a recipe from the novel.
Every once and a while, a book stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate was one such novel, for me. It’s a sweeping, dramatic story of a Mexican family, set during the Revolution of 1910. The story, narrated by Tita’s great-grandniece, unfolds around then-teenaged Tita de la Garza, whose mother forbids her to marry, instead sentencing Tita to carry out the family tradition of the youngest daughter caring for her until Mama Elena’s death. Pedro, the love of Tita’s life, chooses to marry Tita’s sister, Rosaura (at the suggestion of Mama Elena), just to remain close to the woman he loves. Tita, literally born and raised in the kitchen, has a deep connection to food. The novel spans many years and includes a recipe in each chapter; Champandongo is one such recipe.
Magic realism is a genre of fiction in which an author combines realistic narrative with surrealistic, fantastical, or supernatural elements. In Like Water for Chocolate, Mama Elena tasks Tita with making the cake (chapter two- February) for Rosaura and Pedro’s wedding (seriously savage, if you ask me). Tita, overwhelmed with anger, confusion, and despair at having to prepare the culinary symbol of the marital union between her sister and the love of her life, weeps into the batter. Upon tasting the cake, the hundreds of wedding guests become so physically ill that they vomit a veritable river, which sweeps the bride up and carries her a few yards away.
In another chapter, Tita prepares Quail with Rose Petal Sauce during a steamy (but chaste) encounter with Pedro, and all who eat the dish are overcome with powerful lust, especially Gertrudis, Tita’s other sister. Poor Gertrudis became so hot and bothered that “she had to jump in the shower… but unfortunately she was never able to enjoy it, because the drops that fell from the shower never made it to her body: they evaporated before they reached her. Her body was giving off so much heat that the wooden walls began to split and burst into flame” (Esquivel 54). Fantastical, indeed, but Laura Esquivel suspends reality so effectively that the reader just accepts the defiance of our knowledge of the laws of universe.
The surrealistic quality of the novel extends to the recipes themselves. Esquivel writes them in a sparse style, with only ingredients on the page, and the instructions are buried within the narrative of the chapter, often skipping steps. I have adapted the original recipe for Champandongo to one with complete instructions. The only substitution for an ingredient I had to make was dried pineapple for the dried citron. To avoid spoilers, in case you’d like to read the book (which you should, or at least view the stunning film), all I’ll say about the recipe is that Tita prepares it for a happy occasion.
Champandongo is a casserole-type dish, with ground beef and pork, seasoned and simmered with tomatoes, onion, dried fruit, mole, and nuts. In an oven-proof dish, you layer the meat mixture with lightly fried corn tortillas and top with queso fresco. It bakes until bubbly and the cheese is melted. Tita recommends that you serve it with rice and beans.
Champandongo from Like Water for Chocolate
This recipe is adapted from Laura Esquivel’s novel Like Water for Chocolate, in which the main character, Tita, imbues her cooking with whatever emotions she happens to be feeling at the moment. This casserole of ground meats, corn tortillas, tomatoes, cheese, and mole is comfort food at its most comforting.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef chuck or half of a pound ground pork and half of a pound ground chuck
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 clove of garlic chopped
- 2 to matoes chopped
- 1 cup walnuts chopped
- 1/4 cup dried pineapple chopped
- 3 tablespoons mole
- 1 cup grated queso fresco
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup half and half
- 8 corn tortillas
- rice and beans for serving
- salt and pepper to taste
- optional garnishes: sliced avocado and cilantro
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat and fry tortillas until softened and bubbly. Remove to a plate, add three more tablespoons of olive oil to skillet.
Sauté meat until browned. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is cooked.
Add tomatoes, nuts, pineapple, mole, cumin and water.
Stir, cooking over medium heat, until mixture is fully cooked and bubbly.
Taste, and salt and pepper as needed.
Pour half and half on bottom of oven-safe dish.
Layer 4 tortillas on cream, overlapping.
Spread half of meat mixture over tortillas.
Layer half of cheese over meat.
Repeat layers of tortillas, meat and cheese, ending with cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbling around edges.
Serve with rice and beans.