In Mexico, (which is 90% Catholic) it is the time of year to prepare what is known as comida cuaresmeña (Lenten foods); many of which rarely make an appearance outside of the country. In this series, we share recipes for some of these specialty dishes; we began in Part 1 with capirotada, a kind of bread pudding.
The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday, which, this year, fell on February 22. The 40-day holy interval (the 40 days represent Jesus’ time in the wilderness, Sundays are not counted) ends with Semana Santa (Holy Week); which runs from Domingo de Ramas (Palm Sunday) through Easter Sunday or Pascua. Throughout the country, puestos (market stands) offer large dried shrimp for caldos (broths) and small dried shrimp for tortitas (patties), 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.
Romeritos, considered a sacred herb in Mexico, are so named for their resemblance to rosemary. They grow wild and are succulent, stringy-looking greens (Suaeda torreyana) that taste like spinach— and which may be prepared the same way. You may find romeritos at the Mexican markets between 17th and 18th streets on Mission, but its rather hit-or-miss as they only stock them seasonally (romeritos are traditionally eaten during Lent and at Christmas) and for a few days. If not, feel free to substitute spinach. NOTE- when asking for romeritos, don’t get them confused with romeros, which is the Spanish word for rosemary.
Recipe for Romeritos con tortitas de cameron y papas en mole (Romeritos with shrimp cakes and potatoes with mole) from Tres Señoritas Gourmet
For the tortitas de cameron/shrimp cakes
- 4 oz. dried shrimp (at Casas Lucas on 24th and Florida)
- 4 eggs
- vegetable or canola oil
- Peel shrimp and add to hot skillet with just a couple of tablespoons of the oil, over medium-high heat and sauté, until lightly toasted no more than a couple of minutes. Use a paper towel to remove any excess oil before transferring to a food processer.
- Blend shrimp to a fine powder.
- Separate eggs and beat whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until you can make medium-stiff peaks. Beat egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gently, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold egg yolks into whites (IMPORTANT- reserve about 1/4 cup of the egg yolk mixture and 1/4 part of the shrimp powder)
- Add the shrimp powder to the egg mixture, forming a well-mixed batter. Test consistency when you fry your first shrimp cake, adding more of the beaten yolks and more shrimp powder as needed to create a workable pattie. Alternate adding yolks and shrimp powder until you have used all the shrimp powder and have the desired consistency.
- Use 4–5 heaping tbsps. of the batter, dropped into a hot frying pan with a little oil (you may want to use a non-stick pan so as to use less oil, in Mexico, they use a regular pan and a generous quantity of oil for frying). Patties should be about 4″ apart. Flatten mounds to form 3″ cake, the flat top of a wooden meat hammer is best for this. Turn when golden brown, (note that these cook quickly, in less than 2 minutes you’ll want to flip them).
- Remove to paper towels to allow the excess oil the be asborbed.
For the potatoes and romeritos
- 2 dozen small potatoes (fingerlings or small reds)
- 1 1/2 lbs. romeritos or baby spinach
- olive oil
- garlic, a couple of cloves
Boil potatoes with several generous pinches of salt until soft. Drain, peel, and set aside.
Blanch trimmed, washed romeritos and then sautée in just a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with a little garlic, salt to taste, briefly until soft but not mushy. Remove and sautée diced or sliced potatoes the same way.
For the mole
Mole– if you are prone to undertake what can only be considered a true “labor of love”, I refer you the Roberto Santibanez’ Truly Mexican for an excellent recipe of one of Mexico’s iconic dish, Mole Poblano (which requires 26 ingredients, including almonds, chiles and chocolate!). It is actully not as daunting as it sounds; 11 of those ingredients are common pantry items, such as garlic, sugar, salt, cloves.
Still, for the hesitatant and initiated, here are two easier options; there is an excellent jarred mole sold under the Majordomo label called Mole Negro. Mayordomo also produces a Mexican chocolate, which reviewers say is far superior to more readily available commerical brands like Abuelita or Ibarra. The preparation is easy- just add tomato, chicken broth and Majordomo chocolate (the trick is to stir almost constantly). We were able to track down both the chocolate and the mole at Casa Oaxaca in Albany (Note: GourmetSleuth’s Shop website reports that this product is no longer available in the US. Casa Oaxaca’s owner. Guillermo Robles makes frequent trips to Oaxaca and brings back it to the store.)
If you don’t want to make a trip to Albany, here’s an excuse to try king of Mexican cuisine in America, Rick Bayless’ Frontera Foods Oaxcan Mole Red Simmer Sauce, available on-line. Don’t be afraid to cheat a little in the name of love and doctor it up with Mexican Chocolate to taste (note that the chocolate flavor in a true Poblano mole is a hint, not over-powering but present enough to know its there). Abuelita and Ibarra chocolate are both available at Chico’s Produce on 24th Streeet and Alabama or Casa Lucas, just down the block on 24th at Florida.
NOTE- if you find that you have leftover mole, freeze and use later over chicken or turkey.
Combine potatoes and romeritos and top with shrimp cakes. Serve topped with mole and white sesame seeds.