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. It’s a sweeping, dramatic story of a Mexican family. It’s set during the Revolution of 1910. The novel spans many years and includes a recipe in each chapter. Champandongo, a delicious and hearty casserole of ground meats, corn tortillas, tomatoes, cheese, and mole, is one such recipe.
The story is narrated by Tita’s great-grandniece. It unfolds around then-teenaged Tita de la Garza. Her mother forbids her to marry. Instead, she sentences Tita to carry out the family tradition of the youngest daughter caring for Mama Elena until her death. Mama Elena urges Pedro, the love of Tita’s life, to marry Tita’s sister, Rosaura. He does so, just to remain close to the woman he loves.
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, Tita, literally born and raised in the kitchen, has a deep connection to food. Mama Elena tasks Tita with making the cake (chapter two- February) for Rosaura and Pedro’s wedding (seriously savage, if you ask me). Tita is overwhelmed with anger, confusion, and despair at having to prepare the culinary symbol of the union between her sister and the love of her life. She 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. Powerful lust overcame all who eat the dish, 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
The surrealistic quality of the novel extends to the recipes themselves. Esquivel writes them in a sparse style, with only ingredients on the page. She buries the instructions within the narrative of the chapter, often skipping steps. I have adapted the original recipe for Champandongo from Like Water For Chocolate to one with complete instructions. I had to substitute dried pineapple for the dried citron. I’ll avoid spoilers, in case you’d like to read the book. (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. It contains 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. Bake it 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 garlic chopped
- 2 tomatoes chopped
- 1 cup walnuts chopped
- 1/4 cup dried pineapple chopped
- 3 tablespoons mole
- 1 cup queso fresco grated
- 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.
Love to read food fiction? Check out the other installments of Novel Recipes: Summer Reading You Can Sink Your Teeth Into on Pinch Me, I’m Eating. What are your favorite novels that incorporate recipes?
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