The Spanish word for Lent is Cuaresma, from the word cuarenta (forty), as this traditional period of abstinence lasts for forty days corresponding to the time Jesus spent in the wilderness (the six Sundays are not counted). In Mexico (which is 90% Catholic) meat is not eaten on Fridays during Lent and Mexican households shop for and prepare what is known as comida cuaresmeña (Lenten foods); many of which are hard to find outside of Mexico. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which, this year, fell on February 22.
As with each Mexican holiday season, certain food specialties began to appear in local markets: typically, you’ll find very large dried shrimp for caldos (broths) and small dried shrimp for tortitas (croquettes), perfect heads of cauliflower for tortitas de coliflor (cauliflower croquettes), seasonal romeritos (a spinach-like green), nopalitos (cactus paddles), sopa de habas (lima bean soup), as well thick, dried slices of bolillo (Mexican bread rolls) for capirotada, a kind of bread pudding.
Thanks to an large immigrant population, which has spurred and equally rich interest in Mexican cuisine, San Franciscans have a choice of how and where to get their capriotada:
- if your choice is buying it at one the Mission’s many Mexican bakeries, the best capirotada can be found at El Mejor Panaderia on 24th between Mission and Bartlett (see my Guide to the Mission’s Panaderias- How and where to buy Mexican baked goods)
- if you prefer your dessert served to you, warm, with seasonal berries and housemade whipped cream, order the amazing, authentic Capirotada at Mamacitas (see my review Slow food meets Mexican cuisine at Mamacitas).
- We advocate making your own capriotada, just like abuelita (Mexican grandmother); here’s a recipe from our kitchen at Tres Señoritas Gourmet
- 6 stale bolillos (best at King’s Bakery, Mission between 24th and 25th)
- 3-4 piloncillos (2 cups) or substitute dark brown sugar (available at Casa Lucas 24th and Alabama)
- 4″ piece of stick cinnamon
- 1 whole clove
- 1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
- 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/2 C. butter
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup pecans, chopped
- 1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped
- 1/2 pound Mexican Manchego cheese (available under the Caciqué label at Safeway’s 16th and Portero store)
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 quart whole milk
- Wax paper
- Seasonal berries and whipped cream (optional)
Tear (don’t slice) the bollios into bite-sized chunks. Melt the butter and toss with bread to coat. Toast coated bread chunks quickly under a broiler, turning as needed until brown, taking care not to burn them. Now, pre-heat oven to 350° F and butter a bundt mold. To use piloncillos (“little loaves” of smoky, caramely and earthy sugar) pound with a meat hammer while its still in its plastic baggie.
For more about Piloncillo and before you give into the temptation to subsititute that brown sugar which is within easy reach, take a look at La Diferencia- five common cooking ingredients with an accent. Do a taste test- there really is a significant difference in flavor between the two sugars. In a medium saucepan with a cup of water, add cinnamon, clove, lemon and orange peels and bring to a boil, lower flame to simmer for 5-10 minutes until mixture forms a syrup. Strain and cover to keep warm. (Note: Piloncillo melted with some water in the microwave for about 20 seconds makes a great topping for pancakes and French toast).
Line a buttered bundt pan with wax paper, layer 1/3 of the bread cubes, 1/3 of the raisins, nuts and cheese and 1/3 of the syrup, letting it soak into the bread. Continue layering bread, raisins, nuts and cheese, dousing each layer with syrup. Finish with a layer of cheese. Pour the rest of the syrup over the whole dish.bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven. In mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in the milk and vanilla. Pour over the baked bread, and return to oven for 40 minutes until the top of the custard is golden-brown. Allow to cool for at least half and hour before reversing mold to serve. Serve warm, with seasonal berries in the middle and topped with whipped cream.
Keep tuned for more recipes for comida cuaresmeñ.a.