How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Champandongo Magic

Hispanic Kitchen
We did not even know there was a contest, but the winner has been chosen. The best casserole in the world is -- without doubt -- Champandongo. Much of this blog is about eating healthy, local, environmental-friendly food. This post is a bit of departure -- a cross-cultural culinary experience that is pure indulgence.

This particular experience began almost two decades ago, when we saw the film Como Agua Para Chocolate in an art theater in Tucson. Around the same time, Pam read the book, whose title in English is Like Water for Chocolate, referring to a temperature -- literal and figurative -- just below boiling. More recently, Pam showed the film to her Spanish 101 students.

Laura Esquivel's story is that of Tita, whose love of cooking is intertwined with her forbidden love for her brother-in-law, Pedro. Every twist of the plot turns on food, whether it is the longing induced by teardrops in a wedding cake or the burning of the loins engendered by chicken in rose-petal sauce. The magic in this tale of magic realism comes from the food, so Pam assigned her students recipes from the book, which they prepared, wrote about, and then shared at a gathering in our home last week. (This aspect of the assignment seemed a bit odd for an 8:00 a.m. class, but the food was so delicious that we hardly noticed we were eating a rich and savory dinner for breakfast.)
Chicken with rose-petal sauce:
Best shared with someone you love.
Most of the dishes were familiar to us, but the champandongo is a lesser character in the story, known only as a fancy meal Tito serves on a special occasion to a fiance she does not love. It is based on mole (pronounced MOL-lay) sauce, a complex concoction of chocolate, sesame, and chiles that we knew from our long-ago summer in Puebla. Unlike highland mole that is simply ladled over roasting poultry, however, the champandongo incorporates the sauce as one of many ingredients in what is most comparable to lasagna. We were very impressed with the example prepared by Pam's students, particularly since one of the team who made it is a vegetarian but nonetheless went to the trouble to prepare the mole from scratch, something that not even we have attempted. He did not get to experience what turned out to be quite a satisfying meal, and one that inspired us to follow up with our own version.

Pam found the recipe on Hispanic Kitchen -- a delightful social network for foodies. The recipe is fairly simple and clearly written, though a couple of the ingredients are a bit tricky. Most confounding at first was the Manchego cheese, a sheep's-milk cheese from the part of Spain from which Quixote's Man of La Mancha got his name. This was available from our local grocery store, and resembles Parmesan but with a sweeter flavor. We took a short cut on the mole sauce, using about half a jar (about three times what the recipe calls for) of the Trader Joe's version.

The result is pure indulgence -- cheesy, complex, sweet, and spicy all at the same time. What completed the experience was a perfect wine pairing. The recipe suggests a "smoky red wine," so we decided to try one of two red wine we recently purchased on the Coastal Wine Trail. Good red wines are rare in New England, where the growing season is too short for them to develop, but we had recently encountered two. Of these, we are saving Sakonnet's the peppery Cabernet Franc for a steak dinner, so we chose the 2006 Elms Meritage from Greenvale by default. Imagine our delight when we read the tasting notes: "wonderful aromas of berry, smoke and subtle spice."

A meal perfectly paired with its wine, and
even the glasses match!

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