When we go to Mexico to visit family we very well fed. Mex’s sister’s cook for us and everything is always delicious. However, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a very busy time for them.
The focus from October 30th to November 2nd the main focus is preparing food for deceased family members so we were a little out of luck in the “getting spoiled” department. There are a number of traditional foods Mex’s family prepares for their ofrenda or offering for their deceased relatives. We tried to let our son participate as much as possible.
Our son loved helping his dad and Aunt Sofia peel tejocotes. Tejocotes are a small fruit, about double the size of a cherry. First the are boiled in water until their skins pull loose. Once they are all peeled, the tejocotes are simmered with sugar and cinnamon. After about an hour, the liquid starts to thicken and become syrupy. The finished product has an intense, delightful sweetness but don’t eat too quickly because the fruit has a small pit.
Mole (MOH-lay) is often called the national dish of Mexico, with each region claiming their own version of the recipe. Stemming from the Nahuatl word mulli, meaning sauce, mole comes in a rainbow of colors; green, red, yellow, black and all shades in between. My family in Mexico says green mole is the only type made for the deceased spirits. Though mole has a reputation as being complicated, with up to 35 ingredients, this green mole is surprisingly simple.
The balance between tomatillos and pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) is very important according to Filo. For every pound of tomatillos, use a little over one cup of shelled pepitas. First the tomatillos are roasted slightly in a pan with some vegetable oil (you could put them under a broiler for about five minutes as well) then they are pulsed in the blender with the pepitas and a couple serrano chiles until smooth. The sauce is simmered with some epazote and salt. That’s it. No garlic (gasp!). It is a very well-balanced sauce. The nuttiness of the pepitas takes the tartness out of the tomatillos.
It is amazing to see my sister-in-laws spend hours each day, staying up almost all night preparing food to serve the spirits. Besides tejocotes and green mole, they make tamales wrapped in corn leaves, sweet squash that cooks over an open fire for two days, and rice pudding.