For the September issue of my movie food project, I decided to cook a dish from Like Water for Chocolate. Yeah, I know it’s actually October, but I have at least a dozen good excuses for being late. We’ll settle on my quest for candied citron to explain my tardiness. Turns out that candied citron is seasonal (Christmas time – fruitcake season). This point was driven home by the fact that not a single store I checked around town had them, and each store seemed to point me to one of the others I had already visited. Fortunately I had oranges and sugar, and with oranges and sugar, you can candy citrus peels. (Now you see why I’m late with my post.)
Like Water for Chocolate is the beautiful and heartbreaking story of a young Mexican girl named Tita. She lives on a ranch with her mother and two older sisters in turn-of-the-century Mexico. Because Tita is the youngest daughter of the family, according to family custom, she must stay with her mother to care for her until the day her mother dies. The custom is outdated, but Tita’s domineering mother insists on adhering to it, forbidding Tita to marry the love of her life. Tita finds solace in the kitchen, which she eventually grows to be in charge of. She pours all of her considerable passion and emotion into her cooking, often with incredible, unbelievable results. Throughout the film, her meals, in addition to being exquisitely prepared, often highlight her emotional state at the time.
This dish, Chiles in Walnut Sauce, was one part of a magnificent wedding feast. Telling you who gets married or explaining the circumstances surrounding that marriage would ruin the film, so I’ll leave it alone. Suffice to say that Tita fills her chiles not just with an intriguingly fruity, crunchy meat filling, she also fills them with love.
I watched Like Water for Chocolate in its original spoken Mexican with English subtitles and found it quite enjoyable. The book of the same title, on which the movie is based, is also available as an English translation. In the English version of the book at least, the ingredient list for this dish didn’t quite seem to match up with the recipe (I’d be interested to know if the Spanish version of the book does a better job), but in the end it’s meant to be a story, not a cookbook, so I guess it’s forgivable. At any rate, if you happen to have the book in front of you, you’ll notice that I took a few liberties with the recipe.
Even with the modern conveniences of pre-shelled nuts and a high-powered blender, this dish is still a bit on the labor-intensive side. In the end though, after all that work it turned out really well. The flavors were really fantastic. Poblanos vary in their heat – some are very mild, almost like bell peppers. Others are fairly spicy (maybe they were grown near jalapenos and were subject to cross-pollination). Ours turned out to be on the spicy end of the spectrum, which actually worked pretty well here. The sweet meat filling and its mildly piquant roasted chile casing were nice counterpoints to the rich creamy sauce and the tart and crunchy pomegranate seeds. It is the perfect metaphor for a richly flavored, many textured feast of a movie (well, maybe if it ended up burning in the end).