Randy’s Recipes: Día de los Muertos
Día de los Muertos translates in English as “Day of the Dead.”
According to the History Channel, “The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday where families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink, and celebration.” It is celebrated from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, and has recently become more mainstream, thanks to one of my favorite movies: the Academy Award-winning movie Coco. This animated film tells the story of a young boy named Miguel, who dreams of becoming a musician — but his family forbids it. Miguel journeys to the Land of the Dead to understand why his family won’t let him play music. On his quest, Miguel unites with his ancestors in the spiritual realm and brings his family back together while healing the past. Very heartwarming.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes for friends and family celebrating Día de los Muertos.
Pan de Muerto
Fragrant with anise and orange flower water, this Mexican sweet bread is eaten during the weeks before and after Día de los Muertos. The sugar-glazed loaf is typically decorated with a skull or a crossbones shape, with the crossing of the bones meant to represent the four directions of the Aztec calendar.
½ cup unsalted butter (softened, plus more for the bowl)
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon star anise (ground)
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
6 cups bread flour (divided)
1 ¼ cups whole milk
4 large eggs (room temperature)
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
2 ¼-ounce packets of instant dry yeast
1 large egg (beaten for egg wash)
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ cup granulated sugar (plus more for sprinkling)
Bread Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine ½ cup of butter, sugar, star anise, salt, and ½ cup of flour. Mix on medium speed until combined, scraping sides with a rubber spatula as needed.
In a small saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat milk over low until it reaches 90 degrees. Remove from heat.
Whisk the eggs and orange blossom water in a medium mixing bowl. Add warm milk and whisk to combine. Add the egg mixture to a stand mixer along with the yeast and one cup of flour. Mix on medium-low speed to combine. Continue adding the remaining flour one cup at a time until a sticky dough forms — about four to five minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 60 seconds. Butter a large bowl. Add dough, turn to coat, and cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Allow to rise until almost doubled in size — about 90 minutes.
Pinch off ¼ of the dough and set aside (this is for the bone shapes). Roll the remaining large piece of dough into a smooth round with a flat bottom and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
To shape the bones, divide the smaller dough into three pieces, one slightly smaller than the other. Roll the smaller piece into a ball. Roll the two larger pieces into long ropes (they should be long enough to cross over the loaf). Use your finger to press indentations into the ropes as you roll, about two inches apart, so they resemble knobby bones.
Crisscross the bones on the loaf, gently tucking the ends underneath. Make a slight indentation in the center where the bones meet, and place the smaller dough ball inside. Cover loosely with lightly buttered plastic wrap and let rise for one more hour.
Brush loaf with beaten egg and bake on the middle rack of the oven until golden brown — about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for five minutes before adding glaze.
Glaze Directions: Heat orange juice and sugar in a saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Brush the warm loaf with orange glaze and sprinkle immediately with the granulated sugar. Cut into large wedges to serve.
While there are many delicious versions of pozole, most authentic pozole recipes include three essential ingredients: pork, dried chiles, and hominy. It is comfort food for sure, thanks to tender chunks of slow-cooked pork flavored with smoky cumin and loads of dried chiles. This family recipe was given to me by my friend, Yolanda, who got it from her grandmother. Makes 8 servings.
2 ounces dried ancho chiles
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth (divided)
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 pounds pork shoulder (cut into 2-inch pieces)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 yellow onion (chopped)
6 garlic cloves (chopped)
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
2 bay leaves
3 15-ounce cans of white hominy (rinsed and drained)
Shredded green cabbage (garnish)
Thinly sliced radishes (garnish)
Queso fresco (garnish)
Avocado (diced for garnish)
Cilantro leaves (for garnish)
Lime wedges (for serving at the table)
Directions: Cut the stems off of the chiles. Discard the stems and shake the chiles gently to remove as many seeds as possible.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat and add the chiles. Cook, turning occasionally, until the chiles are slightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Place toasted chiles in a blender and set aside.
Microwave 4 cups of chicken broth in a bowl or measuring cup until very hot, about three minutes. Add the hot broth to the blender with the chiles. Let stand until the chiles are softened, 15 to 20 minutes. Blend until smooth. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the cumin, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle the mixture evenly all over the pork.
In the same Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook the pork in batches until browned on all sides, three to five minutes per batch, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. You’re going for a quick sear here — the pork will cook through later. Transfer the seared pork to a bowl and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, garlic, and oregano to the Dutch oven. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, five to six minutes. Add the bay leaves and the remaining cups of broth. Increase the heat to medium-high, and just as it starts to bubble on the sides, reduce the heat to simmer.
Return the cooked pork to the Dutch oven. Gradually pour the blended chile sauce through a fine mesh strainer into the Dutch oven, pressing as needed. Discard the solids in the strainer. Reduce the heat to medium-low; partially cover, and cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pork is tender — about two hours. Using two forks, break the pork into bite-sized chunks. Add hominy and simmer for 15 minutes more.
To serve, top with green cabbage, radishes, queso fresco, diced avocado, and cilantro, as desired. Bring lime wedges to the table for squeezing over the pozole.
Tip: Pozole is even better when made a day or two ahead of time. Before reheating, scrape any solidified fat off the top, and discard.
Baked Chile Rellenos
This recipe has the flavors you love in fried Chile Rellenos and is baked casserole style. By avoiding the deep fry, these chile rellenos are relatively low in calories. My recipe uses mild poblanos, a light batter, and two types of cheese. To make it easier to prepare, I use canned enchilada sauce. Makes 4 servings.
4 large poblano peppers
1 ½ cups green enchilada sauce
8 ounces Oaxaca cheese (shredded)
2 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup club soda
½ cup cheddar cheese (shredded)
Directions: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Rinse and dry poblano peppers and rub canola oil all over each pepper. Place peppers on a foil-covered, ribbed sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate peppers and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
Remove peppers from the pan and place into a large Ziploc storage bag. Seal the bag and allow it to steam for 10 minutes. Remove peppers from the pack and very carefully peel off the blackened skin. Cut off the top of the pepper and scoop out the seeds using a spoon. Rinse off, dry, and set aside.
Pour the enchilada sauce into the bottom of the baking dish and spread evenly. Carefully stuff the cheese into the poblanos and place them on top of the sauce in the baking dish.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, stir in milk, seasonings, and flour. Stir in club soda. Pour batter over the peppers in the baking dish. Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top and bake in a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the batter is golden.
Tip: I save prep time by using a can of enchilada sauce. If you have a good recipe for enchilada sauce and have the time to make it, use it instead.
This spicy Mexican hot chocolate is often enjoyed during Día de los Muertos. According to the Mission Chocolate & Desserts website, “Mexican chocolate is a style of drinking chocolate. The Aztecs and the Maya of these regions were the first peoples to make and drink chocolate for thousands of years before the old world discovered it. The word chocolate comes from xocolatl (bitter water), from the ancient Aztec language, Náhuatl.”
Make this on the morning of your celebration. It will put a smile on your face all day long! Makes 4 servings.
4 cups whole milk
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1-ounce tablets of Abuelita Mexican Hot Chocolate
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
4 whole cinnamon sticks (broken in half)
Directions: Bring the first seven ingredients (milk through salt) to a simmer in a medium saucepan, whisking often. Add cinnamon sticks. Cover and remove from the heat. Steep for five minutes. Spike with an ounce of tequila if desired, then sip, smile, and remember departed friends and family.
Why mezcal? Mezcal is a cousin of tequila. It’s made from the same blue agave plant in the Tequila region of Mexico and is usually produced in Oaxaca. But while tequila’s agave is usually baked in stone ovens, mezcal’s agave is buried in pits with hot rocks and smoked. As a result, the flavor is similar to tequila but different in a smoky, delicious way. Makes 2 servings.
1 teaspoon grapefruit zest (finely grated)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon crushed redpepper flakes
2 teaspoons agave syrup
4 ounces mezcal (divided)
2 ounces triple sec (divided)
2 ounces fresh lime juice (divided)
1 ounce agave syrup (divided)
Ruby grapefruit slices (garnish)
Directions: Combine grapefruit zest, salt, and red pepper flakes in a small shallow bowl. Pour agave syrup into another small shallow bowl. Dip rims of two “rocks” glasses into syrup, then dip into grapefruit zest mixture to coat. Fill glasses with ice.
In a cocktail shaker, combine two ounces of mezcal, one ounce of triple sec, one ounce of lime juice, and ½ ounce of agave syrup. Fill the shaker with ice, cover it, and vigorously shake until the outside of the shaker is very cold, about 30 seconds. Pour into prepared ice-filled glass. Garnish with a slice of grapefruit. Repeat for a second drink.