For a small honors seminar this semester, I decided to hold the final exam as a discussion over food at Casa Hayes-Boh. I decided to make champandongo the main course, as I have been thinking about this mole-based (MOH-lay) dish ever since we had it here with a group of Pam's students here three years ago.
In that case, Pam had made the food of Coma Agua Para Chocolate a major theme of her Spanish course, and had secured an undergraduate research grant to facilitate having the class make most of the dishes from Laura Esquivel's book (see my posts on its revolutionary context and on Latin American films).
We have cooked several of the dishes from Esquivel's work before -- most notably chicken based on her quail-and-rose-petal recipe, but Pam's class project was far more ambitious, especially since it involved students, many of whom had little if any cooking experience. Working in pairs, students created both a fabulous meal and a permanent record of their culinary efforts. Each post on the CAPCR blog explains how a dish was prepared and how it is connected to the story. All of the dishes were shared at our house during this 8:00 a.m. class. Most were then served again -- either remade or thawed from leftovers -- at an undergraduate research colloquium open to the entire campus.
I must admit that I know the movie far better than the book, and so was unaware of champandongo prior to this adventure with the students. I have been a huge fan of mole -- a complex chocolate-chile sauce usually associated with poultry -- since Pam and I spent the summer of 1989 in Puebla, Mexico. The sauce is properly known as mole poblano, meaning "sauce of Puebla" and represents one of the several ways cacao was used for centuries before people thought of it as a candy. Its use in this lasagna-style dish was simply amazing, and it is hard to believe I have not yet attempted it myself.
In planning my own version, I of course began with the description by Sullivan and Laura. (Incidentally, Sullivan is the only student in this class who I knew previously, both as a student and a long-time family friend.) As complex as the dish was, however, I knew that authentic mole is much more complicated: Campbell's soup, for instance, was rarely available to the ancient Aztecs. I turned to the Hispanic Kitchen blog for more authentic versions, and quickly found an impressive recipe for chicken mole.