Ask anybody what their Christmas traditions are, and you'll get a different answer. The same can be true of Mexico's Christmas traditions, where regional preferences and ingredients dictate the dishes served. But a few things remain everywhere: There will be a big meal, and it will likely include romeritos (read on to find out what that is).
Hear from two authors, Enrique Olvera and Lesley Tellez, who came out with Mexican cookbooks this year, Mexico from the Inside Out and Eat Mexico, respectively. Then head to the bottom for a Mexican punch recipe that's been adapted so we can make it without searching for tejocotes and fresh guava.
I was born in Mexico City, which aggregates most regional cuisines of Mexico (and the world). My inspiration comes from the potency and soul of popular and street food. In our Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, we eat romeritos, which is a wild herb native to Mexico and rarely consumed during the rest of the year. We eat the dish with mole poblano or mixed with baby potatoes, dried shrimp, or shrimp croquettes (and there is a romerito salad in my book, Mexico from the Inside Out).
The holiday season in Mexico City really starts with Day of the Dead on November 2, when you start seeing pumpkins, squash, tejocotes (a small, crab apple-looking fruit), purple sweet potatoes, and romeritos at the markets.
That said, Mexico is a huge country, and the typical plates tend to be extremely regional. My dream would be to travel around Mexico and see what is served during the holidays in all 31 states.
Tamales and mole will be in most places during Day of the Dead and Christmas, but there will also be a bunch of other foods during Christmas: a salad (called "Christmas Eve Salad") made from beets and jicama; the romeritos I mentioned, served with fried patties made from pulverized dried shrimp and then bathed in mole; and salted, dried bacalao, which is hydrated in several changes of water then stewed in tomato, onion, garlic and olives or capers. It's delicious.
Now that I live in New York—and I'm a new mom—it's harder for me to get on the subway and travel to find good ingredients. (Plus items like romeritos, a fringy native Mexican green, are not easy to find here!) My holiday traditions are shifting and reshaping with the new baby. My husband's side is from the South, so I'm sure this Christmas we'll have a mix of things we both love—my mother-in-law's mushroom casserole, her pecan pie, maybe some sort of roast meat and fresh salsa and tortillas, and some tamales.
When I lived in Mexico City, I loved the challenge of replicating the dishes I saw on the streets and in the markets. At home I made Romeritos con Mole and Bacalao a la Vizcaina, both typical Mexico City Christmas dishes, and I often made ponche, a warm holiday punch, which uses the tejocotes I mentioned.
Because some of the traditional ponche ingredients are hard to find, we riffed on the recipe from Lesley's blog, which she adapted from Fanny Gerson's My Sweet Mexico. We used grilled pears instead of tejocotes and guava juice instead of fresh ones. The result tastes like a deeper, moodier, earthier apple cider (I think the secret is the tamarind).
- 2 1/2 to 3 quarts water
- 2 cinnamon sticks, about 6 inches long
- 8 ounces pears, peeled, halved, and seeds removed
- 1/2 cup guava juice
- 2 mild-flavored apples (not Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and cut into bite sized pieces
- 2 four-inch pieces of sugar cane, peeled and cut into thin strips
- 1/2 cup pitted prunes, halved lengthwise
- 1/2 cup dark raisins
- 1 1/2 heaping tablespoons tamarind paste
- 6 to 8 ounces dark brown sugar
- Rum, brandy or tequila (optional)