Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a uniquely Mexican holiday that celebrates the lives of the dead on the 1st and 2nd of November every year. The origins are attributed to Aztec animist beliefs combined with Catholicism, the dates coinciding with the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Contrary to what you may think, Dia de Los Muertos is a joyous familial occasion that is celebrated with food, drink, music, and entertainment in homes and in grave yards throughout Mexico, Latin America, and in parts of North America where there are Latin American communities.
The imagery of vividly decorated skulls (calaveras) and dancing skeletons (calacas) associated with Dia de los Muertos was popularized by Mexico’s most famous graphic artist Jose Guadalupe Posada in the mid 1800’s. His work influenced a whole new generation of famous Mexican muralists and painters that followed him including Diago Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Frida Kahlo.
Popular Dia de Los Muertos foods include typical Mexican favorites that are prepared ahead of the celebrations and served throughout the day and night, and often into the wee hours of the morning. Frijoles de olla and moles de Olla, are popular clay pot meals that include various meats, vegetables, chiles, and of course beans. Typically cooked over a fire or slowly braised in the oven as I have done for the recipe that follows. The mole is then tucked into warm tortillas, topped with picante salsas, and served with a chunky guacamole. Essentially you have a hearty meal in hand and the mole de olla will hold up until the last of the revelers eventually wend their way home as the sun rises!
For some more Dia de Los Muertos recipes, click on the following links.
Sopa de Maize y chile Verde con Pollo (click here)
Mexican Roasted Pumpkin Soup; sopa de Calabezza (click here)
Dia de Los Muertos Mole de Olla con Pollo y Chorizo Serves 6 to 8
- 2 pounds skinless chicken breasts, sliced into plump strips
- 2 pounds Mexican chorizo, divided
- 3 tablespoons olive oil + more as needed
- 3 large onions, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
- 2 large green bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
- 2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
- 4 to 6 green or ripe red jalapeno chiles, seeded and cut into strips
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 ribs celery, diced
- 1½ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
- 1 cup tequila
- 6 cups cooked black beans (or canned)
- 1 quart hot chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons pure ground red chile powder
- pinch of ground clove
- salt to taste
- chopped cilantro leaves
- flour tortillas, warmed
- fresh crumbled cotija cheese (or mild feta)
- fresh cilantro leaves
- chunky guacamole
Choose a large wide pan with a lid that will fit on the oven wrack set in the middle positioned of the oven.
Preheat the oven to 325 f/ 160 c
Place the pan on the stove top over medium high flame. When the pan is hot add some oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the chicken pieces and seer until the chicken is nicely browned and releases from the pan easily. Turn the chicken and seer until nicely browned. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside on a large platter.
Add the chorizo to the pan and seer until the skin is deeply browned and releases easily from the pan. Turn the chorizo and seer until deeply browned. Remove the chorizo from the pan and place it in the platter with the chicken.
Add a little more oil to the pan if needed. When nearly smoking add the onions and saute while deglazing the pan as the onions begin to soften. Promptly add the green and red bell pepper and saute until the onions and peppers have wilted. Add the garlic and celery and cook another two or three minutes. Then add the jalapenos and saute while tossing until the contents are evenly combined.
Pour in the tequila and stir continuously until the tequila is nearly absorbed into the vegetable mixture. Add the cumin seeds, oregano, and marjoram and toss until evenly distributed into the mixture.
At this point return the browned chicken and chorizo to the pan and add the beans. Stir to combine and then add the stock to just cover and stir. Cover the pan with the lid and place it in the center of the oven. Braise for 1 hour undisturbed.
Open the oven and transfer the pan to the stove top. Remove the lid and stir in the red chile powder, ground clove, and chopped cilanto . Stir to combine and then season with salt to taste. If the mole is looking dry add more stock as needed.
Cover the [pan and return it to the oven to keep warm while warm the flour tortillas, assemble assorted salsas, and make the chunky guacamole.
Stack the warmed tortillas in a basket lined with a kitchen towel to keep them warm.
Place your salsas of choice on the table along with the guacamole.
Remove the pan from the oven.
Place a warm tortilla on a plate and spoon a generous portion of the mole de olla just off center. Scatter some crumbled cotija cheese, or feta, over the meats and vegetables and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. Serve open faced so salsa can be added before folding the tortilla for eating.
The beauty of the chunky guacamole is it is easily forked and eaten along with bites of the filled tortilla.
- 4 Haas (bumpy skinned) ripe avocados
- 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
- 2 to 4 serrano chiles, stem and seeds removed, and minced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves
- fresh lime juice to taste
- olive oil for drizzling
Slice the avocados in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Crosshatch each half of the avocado and then slice the hatches in half lengthwise. Gently remove the chunks of avocado and place them in a chilled bowl.
Place the diced onions, minced serrano chiles, and sea salt in a mortar. Crush and grind the ingredients with the pestle into a moist paste.
Scrape the paste over the avocado chunks and add the chopped cilantro leaves. Spritz fresh lime juice over all and then drizzle with just a little olive oil. Toss gently until the paste is evenly spread over the avocado chunks. Taste and add more salt and lime juice to taste.
Chill the chunky guacamole until just before serving.
Sopa de Elote is a Mexican corn soup that has many faces ranging from a modest broth based soup to a thick rich creamy soup gilded with molten cheeses and assorted garnishes. keeping in mind it is the corn that is the star ingredient here, shop for the freshest locally grown organic sweet corn you can find and let that be your guide. The remaining ingredients needed are more or less rudimentary and easily found in most local markets.
While you are cooking this soup a heady combination of flavors and aromas will reaffirm the enduring appeal of truly traditional Mexican cookery.
Mexican Sopa de Elote makes 3 quarts
Ideally, cooking the chicken and making a stock the day before you plan to make the soup lightens the time spent in the kitchen the following day.
Before you even begin to cook, remove the husks and corn silk from 4 ears of fresh sweetcorn corn and discard them. Then cut the kernels off the cob into a deep bowl. Scrape each cob with the back of a knife to extract the sweet milk from the cobs. Reserve the cobs that you will be using later, and cover the bowl with the kernels and scrapings and refrigerate as they will be added to the soup the following day.
Ingredients for chicken and stock
- 1 whole chicken
- water to generously cover the chicken
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, skin removed
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into three pieces each
- 3 bay leaves
- 4 cilantro ( coriander) roots, crushed
- 4 reserved corn cobs
Rinse the chicken and place it in a large stock pot. Add enough water to generously cover the chicken. Place the pot on the stove top over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce the heat to a low simmer.
Add the salt, vinegar, peppercorns, diced onions, carrots, bay leaves, cilantro roots, and the reserved scraped corn cobs. Give the pot a good stir and cook the chicken at a simmer for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken. Skim off any foam and fat that forms on the surface and discard.
Remove the chicken from the pot and set the chicken and the stock aside to cool.
Fish out the carrot pieces in the stock pot, place them in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones in generous chunks and place them in a bowl. Leaving the chicken in larger pieces will give the soup a more substantial profile and tenderer meat when reheated. Cover the pulled chicken with cling film and refrigerate.
Put all the chicken bones back into the pot of stock and return the pot to the heat. Bring the contents to a low boil and cook until the stock is reduced by a third. Once again, skim off any foam and fat that forms on the surface and discard.
Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool for 20 minutes or so. Then strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large container and set aside to cool to room temperature. Discard the bones and solids after straining the stock.
Once the stock is cooled, cover the container and refrigerate overnight.
The following morning skim off the fat that has solidified on the surface of the stock and save for another use or discard it.
Ingredients for the soup
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 1 celery rib, finely diced
- 4 garlic, cloves, minced
- 2 large gold potatoes, peeled and diced
- 3 quarts prepared chicken stock
- 5 jalapeno chiles, seeded, quartered, and flash fried
- 2 cups home cooked pinto beans (or canned), drained
- reserved cooked diced carrots
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano leaves
- sea salt to taste
fresh lime wedges
- 1 pint crema (sour cream thinned slightly with whole milk)
- sprigs fresh coriander leaves
- corn tortilla chips (pictured, blue corn chips)
- ground red chile as a final seasoning (optional)
Place 3 tablespoons olive oil in a stock pot set over medium heat.When the oil is nearly smoking until the oil dd the onions and celery and lower the heat to medium low and saute, stirring now and again, until the onions and celery are very soft and translucent, about, 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook another 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small fry pan. When smoking hot add the quartered jalapeno chiles, skin side down in the pan and flash fry until the skin is blistered. Flip the chiles and fry another minute or so. Remove the chiles from the pan and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle pull off the blistered skin and discard. Then dice the chiles and set aside.
Add 3 quarts of reheated stock to the sauteed onion, celery, garlic mixture. Once the stock begins to boil, add the diced potatoes and simmer for 30 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat. Using an immersion blender (or blender) puree the contents of the pot until smooth and creamy.
Return the pot to the heat and add he beans, reserved diced carrots, marjoram or oregano, diced flash fried jalapenos, and the reserved fresh corn kernels. Cook for another 15 minutes. Be sure to stir frequently so soup does not scorch on the bottom of the pot. Taste and add salt as needed.
When you are nearly ready to serve, add the pulled chicken to the soup. Allow the soup to come to a very low simmer and cook for about 10 minutes before serving.
Ladle the soup into individual bowls, mounding the chicken in the center. Garnished with fresh cilantro sprigs and serve.
Place a bowl of crema on the table along with a bowl of corn tortilla chips which can be added to the soup. Include a plate of fresh lime wedges, and a small container of ground red chile for those who want to crank up the heat bit.
Guacamole is always a nice accompaniment along with the corn tortilla chips as well.
This soup freezes beautifully and always nice to have on hand for a last minute meal on demand.
With Cinco de Mayo fiestas well underway north and south of the Mexican border, it is Mexican food that is at the center of all the celebrations and, of course, Mexican beer and margaritas as well. So why not make a zesty margarita pie as a final flourish for the celebrations.
The recipe that follows mirrors a classic margarita made with freshly squeezed lime juice, a good silver/blanco tequila, triple sec, sugar or agave syrup, and crystallized flaked salt. These very same ingredients provide the essential flavors for a sensational chilled sweet sour margarita confection with just a hint of green earthiness from the tequila and a crisp salty after note.
As popular as a pretzel crust seems to be for a margarita pie these days, I have to say I favor a classic sweet pastry crust for this pie which allows the flavors of the margarita lime curd to take center stage. Served chilled, this pie is as bedazzling and refreshing as an icy margarita on the rocks would be on a hot summer evening in the tropics.
Needed: 1 10 inch pie dish
- sweet pastry dough
- butter for brushing
- crystallized salt
Use your favorite sweet pastry dough recipe and chill the dough for several hours before you intend to roll it out.
Roll out the dough and place it in the pie dish. Even out the edges. Transfer to the the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c
Melt a small amount of butter. Remove the chilled pie shell from the refrigerator and lightly brush the entire surface of the dough with melted butter.
Then evenly press salt flakes onto the outer rim of the dough.
Line the inner surface of the dough with baking parchment and trim off excess paper so the salt studded surface of the rim of the pie is exposed. Place pie wights (or dried beans) into the parchment lined pie dough and transfer to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the salted edges are lightly browned.
Remove from the oven and, using a spoon, remove the weights and set them aside to cool. Remove the parchment and return the pie shell to the oven and bake another 12 minutes, or until the interior crust is lightly colored and dry.
Remove from the oven, place on a cooling rack, and cool to room temperature. You can then refrigerate the crust.
Margarita Pie Curd Filling
- 4 eggs
- 4 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 3 tablespoons silver tequila
- 1 tablespoon triple sec (or other orange liquer)
- 3 oz chilled butter, cut into small pieces
Combine the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lime juice, tequila, and tipple sec in a non-reactive stainless bowl.
Gently whisk until the ingredients are well combined.
Place the bowl over a pot of hot, but not boiling, water and gently whisk continuously until the mixture thickens and mounds onto itself.
Promptly remove the bowl from the heat and scatter the butter over the surface. Stir with the whisk until the butter has completely melted and is mixed evenly into the curd.
Remove the chilled crust from the refrigerator and, using a silicone spatula, spoon the curd into the pie shell. Spread the curd evenly and return the pie to the refrigerator to chill.
Sour Cream Topping:
- 1 cup sour cream
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
Preheat the oven to 400 f/ 200c
Combine the sour cream, sugar and lime juice in a bowl and stir until well combined.
Remove the chilled pie from the refrigerator and spoon the sour cream mixture over the surface of the lime curd. Giggle the pie to even out the surface and place in the oven and bake for or 5 minutes.
Promptly remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes, and return the pie to the refrigerator to chill.
- 2 seedless thin skinned limes, sliced into paper thin rounds
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a wide saute pan. Cook until the liquid is bubbling, thick, and clear. Add the lime slices and cook for 3 minutes. Then remove the pan from the heat and let the lime slices rest in the syrup until completely cool. Remove the slices to a rack to drain off excess syrup.
Remove the pie from the refrigerator and carefully arrange the lime rounds over the surface of the pie.
Cover the pie with cling film and refrigerate for several hours before serving.
About 20 minutes before serving transfer the refrigerated pie to the freezer and chill for 15 to 20 minutes. This final chill gives this pie a crisp icy sensation when served.
Slice using a very sharp knife dipped into water for each slice made.
Molletes are a must have for a quick breakfast or a snack on the run just about anywhere in Mexico.
The Mollete is an antequera round bread from the Andalusian region of southern Spain. There the mollete is sliced into halves, spread with with butter or lard, and topped with savory meats and cheeses. The Spanish took the molette with them to the new world where the Mexicans adapted the idea and made it their own. Molletes are in essence Mexico’s bruscetta. Usually associated with northern Mexico but molletes are popular throughout the country.
Mxican molettes are made with crusty oval shaped bollilos, also known as pan Frances, that were introduced to Mexico by French Emperor Maxmillion’s cooks. Maxmillio’s reign was short lived. He was executed in 1866, but the Bollilos went on to become Mexico’s favorite bread and sold in panaderieas throughout the country.
Mexican molletes are so easy to make. Slice a bolillo in half lengthwise, butter the cut side and toast until golden brown. Top with refried beans, scatter grated cheese over the top and return to the oven until the cheese has melted. Serve with a salsa fresca and your done.
If the thought of cooking dried beans is putting you off by all means use canned refried beans instead. I have fond memories perfectly delicious canned refried beans on numerous camping trips.
You are probably thinking to yourself, it’s just beans on toast, so what’s the big deal?” Well, you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. This is an addictive taste of Mexico you are going to be making again and again, and again I promise you.
Molletes: serves 4
- 4 bolillos or other oval shaped crusty rolls, sliced in half lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
- 1 garlic clove peeled
- 2 cups refried beans (click here for recipe), or canned
- 1 ½ cups shredded cheese; a Mexican cheese if available, or provolone,or Monterrey Jack
- salsa fresca (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 375 f/ 190 c
Slice the bolillos lengthwise and place them on a baking tray cut side facing upward. Spread butter evenly over the cut side surfaces and transfer the baking tray to the oven and bake until the surface is a light golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove the tray from the oven and rub the garlic clove over the toasted surface. Discard the remaining garlic.
Spread the refried beans over the bollilos generously and top with shredded cheese.
Turn the broiler on in the oven and move the oven rack to the upper position. Place the tray of molletes under the broiler and broil until the cheese is melted and lightly colored.
Serve at once with a spicy salsa fresca
Salasa Fresca with Roasted Radishes makes about 2 cups
This is a a favorite Salas Fresca with a hint of smoky flavor and earthy heat from the radishes.
Prepare the salsa at least an hour before serving and chill.
- 6 radishes, flame roasted
- 2-3 jalapeno chiles, flame roasted
- 1 medium size onion flame roasted
- 4 tomatoes, flame roasted
- 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
- 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
Heat up an outdoor grill or place a grill rack over a gas burner on the stove top.
Place the radishes, jalapenos, onion, and tomatoes over the hottest part of the grill, or flame on the stove top, and grill all until the skin is charred and blistered on all sides. Transfer to a large bowl and cover with cling film and set aside to sweat.
Once cool enough to handle rub or peel away the charred skin of all.
Slice the radishes and then dice and transfer to a non-reactive bowl.
Slice the jalapenos open lengthwise and remove the seeds and veins. Slice into thin strips and then dice, and add to the bowl.
Remove the outer layer of the onion, dice, and add to the bowl.
Slip the skin off the tomatoes and quarter them. Remove seeds, dice. and add to the bowl.
Add the chopped cilantro, lime juice, and salt and stir to combine. Taste and add more lime juice and salt if needed.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.