(Author’s note: The following is an excerpt from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, by this columnist and co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl.)

The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday and the forty-day holy interval ends with Holy Week (Semana Santa). This year, Lent started on February 18th and ends on April 2nd. The Spanish word for Lent is Cuaresma, from the word “cuarenta” (forty), as this traditional period of abstinence corresponds to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness (the six Sundays are not counted). In Mexico, the custom had been that adults only ate one large meal daily, and meat is still not eaten on Fridays during Lent. Mexican households shop for and prepare what is known as comida cuaresmeña (Lenten foods), many of which are not well known outside of Mexico. Throughout the country (and in some specialty Latino markets in San Francisco’s Mission district), market stands (puestos) offer large dried shrimp for broths (caldos) and small dried shrimp for patties (tortitas), perfect heads of cauliflower for cauliflower fritters (tortitas de coliflor), seasonal romeritos (a spinach-like green, follow this link for recipe), cactus paddles (nopalitos), lima bean soup (sopa de habas), as well as thick, dried slices of Mexican bread rolls (bolillos available in San Francisco at these Panaderias or Mexican bakeries) for capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding). Recipe for Seven Seas Soup, a hearty Lenten main course soup, follows this article.

Viernes de Dolores
In a custom that was widespread in colonial Mexico but has survived only in the villages of the lowlands of central Mexico, the sixth and final Friday of Lent is Friday of Sorrows or Viernes de Dolores, falling this year on March 27th. It is a day of devotion to the pain and suffering of the Virgin Mary at the loss of her son. The secretary of the U.S. Legation to Mexico in 1841 described the festival of Mary as follows:

There is scarcely a house in the city where a little shrine is not erected and adorned with a profusion of glittering ornaments and blooming flowers. Glasses and vases of colored waters flash amid numerous lamps and wax candles: while the splendid jewels of the mistress of the mansion adorn the sacred image. The floors of the dwellings are strewn with roses, leaving a path for visitors, and music and refreshments welcome all. . . . In this gorgeous display, there is considerable rivalry.

Today, where the custom is still observed (the following description is from the town of San Miguel de Allende), the Virgen de los Dolores is honored with beautiful altars on this day, many with images that show her hands clasped at her breast, her face streaked with tears. In some, she has a sword through her heart. With an icon of the Virgin at the center, the altars include flags or drapes in purple signifying mourning, white candles for purity, chamomile for her humility, bitter oranges for her sorrow, fennel signifying the betrayal of Jesus by his disciples, and gold foil representing her joy in the knowledge that Jesus will be reborn. These altars typically appear in the town plazas and churches as well as in homes. Some are small but others occupy an entire room, which has been cleared of furniture for this purpose. Often, similar to Día de Los Muertos or the nativities of the Christmas holiday period, the entire family labors for days perfecting every detail, down to village scenes at feet of the icon of Mary.

Screen shot 2015-02-27 at 11.37.01 AM
Photo by Joven_60

Public fountains are cleaned and filled with fresh flowers, chamomile, fennel, and purple papel picado (Mexican cut paper banners) and white and gold foil. Also, pots of pale wheat grass are grown without light to produce a pale yellow plant that is then exposed to the sun over the course of Cuaresma, turning it a bright green, a reminder of the Resurrection and renewal of life. Homeowners hand out treats, which include candied chilacayote (a kind of squash), which has been served on this day for nearly three hundred years.
Seven Seas Soup / Sopa  Siete Mares
(Serves 4–6)
Guajillo Sauce Base ( see A below)
¼ lb dry shrimp or pulverized shrimp
2 large sprigs epazote (or cilantro)
3 quarts fish or chicken stock + 1 cup fish stock or 1 fish stock cube
Salt and pepper to taste
6 small boiling potatoes, diced ¾ inch
4 large crab legs
1 lb oysters, cleaned
½ lb clams, cleaned
12 medium-large shrimp, deveined
12 oz cod or halibut cut into small chunks
1 cup carrots, finely chopped
1 onion finely, chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
2/3 cup finely chopped Spanish white onion
½ cup cilantro
2 large Mexican limes, cut into wedges
Add the guajillo sauce base, powdered or dry shrimp, and epazote to the broth in a pot and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper; add fish stock (or if you are using cube, stir until well dissolved). At this point you can remove the dry shrimp if you added whole dry shrimp. To finish the soup, add the potatoes, carrots, onion, celery and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are nearly tender, about 8 minutes. Add cod,chunks, crab legs, oysters, and clams, and simmer until the shellfish open, about 3 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook 1 minute more. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand 3–4 minutes. For garnishes, chop onion and cilantro, cut the lime in wedges, and place in a serving bowl. Serve the soup in large, warmed bowls, passing the garnishes separately.

Screen shot 2015-02-27 at 11.17.54 AM
Photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl

A. Guajillo Sauce Base
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
6 medium-large guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 tbsp oil
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 Spanish white onion

(Author’s note: The following is an excerpt from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, by this columnist and co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl.)
The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday and the forty-day holy interval ends with Holy Week (Semana Santa). This year, Lent started on February 18th and ends on April 2nd. The Spanish word for Lent is Cuaresma, from the word “cuarenta” (forty), as this traditional period of abstinence corresponds to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness (the six Sundays are not counted). In Mexico, the custom had been that adults only ate one large meal daily, and meat is still not eaten on Fridays during Lent. Mexican households shop for and prepare what is known as comida cuaresmeña (Lenten foods), many of which are not well known outside of Mexico. Throughout the country (and in some specialty Latino markets in San Francisco’s Mission district), market stands (puestos) offer large dried shrimp for broths (caldos) and small dried shrimp for patties (tortitas), perfect heads of cauliflower for cauliflower fritters (tortitas de coliflor), seasonal romeritos (a spinach-like green, follow this link for recipe), cactus paddles (nopalitos), lima bean soup (sopa de habas), as well as thick, dried slices of Mexican bread rolls (bolillos available in San Francisco at these Panaderias or Mexican bakeries) for capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding). Recipe for Seven Seas Soup, a hearty Lenten main course soup, follows this article.

Viernes de Dolores
In a custom that was widespread in colonial Mexico but has survived only in the villages of the lowlands of central Mexico, the sixth and final Friday of Lent is Friday of Sorrows or Viernes de Dolores, falling this year on March 27th. It is a day of devotion to the pain and suffering of the Virgin Mary at the loss of her son. The secretary of the U.S. Legation to Mexico in 1841 described the festival of Mary as follows:

There is scarcely a house in the city where a little shrine is not erected and adorned with a profusion of glittering ornaments and blooming flowers. Glasses and vases of colored waters flash amid numerous lamps and wax candles: while the splendid jewels of the mistress of the mansion adorn the sacred image. The floors of the dwellings are strewn with roses, leaving a path for visitors, and music and refreshments welcome all. . . . In this gorgeous display, there is considerable rivalry.

Today, where the custom is still observed (the following description is from the town of San Miguel de Allende), the Virgen de los Dolores is honored with beautiful altars on this day, many with images that show her hands clasped at her breast, her face streaked with tears. In some, she has a sword through her heart. With an icon of the Virgin at the center, the altars include flags or drapes in purple signifying mourning, white candles for purity, chamomile for her humility, bitter oranges for her sorrow, fennel signifying the betrayal of Jesus by his disciples, and gold foil representing her joy in the knowledge that Jesus will be reborn. These altars typically appear in the town plazas and churches as well as in homes. Some are small but others occupy an entire room, which has been cleared of furniture for this purpose. Often, similar to Día de Los Muertos or the nativities of the Christmas holiday period, the entire family labors for days perfecting every detail, down to village scenes at feet of the icon of Mary.
Public fountains are cleaned and filled with fresh flowers, chamomile, fennel, and purple papel picado (Mexican cut paper banners) and white and gold foil. Also, pots of pale wheat grass are grown without light to produce a pale yellow plant that is then exposed to the sun over the course of Cuaresma, turning it a bright green, a reminder of the Resurrection and renewal of life. Homeowners hand out treats, which include candied chilacayote (a kind of squash), which has been served on this day for nearly three hundred years.
Seven Seas Soup / Sopa  Siete Mares
(Serves 4–6)
Guajillo Sauce Base ( see A below)
¼ lb dry shrimp or pulverized shrimp
2 large sprigs epazote (or cilantro)
3 quarts fish or chicken stock + 1 cup fish stock or 1 fish stock cube
Salt and pepper to taste
6 small boiling potatoes, diced ¾ inch
4 large crab legs
1 lb oysters, cleaned
½ lb clams, cleaned
12 medium-large shrimp, deveined
12 oz cod or halibut cut into small chunks
1 cup carrots, finely chopped
1 onion finely, chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
2/3 cup finely chopped Spanish white onion
½ cup cilantro
2 large Mexican limes, cut into wedges
Add the guajillo sauce base, powdered or dry shrimp, and epazote to the broth in a pot and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper; add fish stock (or if you are using cube, stir until well dissolved). At this point you can remove the dry shrimp if you added whole dry shrimp. To finish the soup, add the potatoes, carrots, onion, celery and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are nearly tender, about 8 minutes. Add cod,chunks, crab legs, oysters, and clams, and simmer until the shellfish open, about 3 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook 1 minute more. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand 3–4 minutes. For garnishes, chop onion and cilantro, cut the lime in wedges, and place in a serving bowl. Serve the soup in large, warmed bowls, passing the garnishes separately.
A. Guajillo Sauce Base
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
6 medium-large guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 tbsp oil
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 Spanish white onion
½ tsp Mexican oregano
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp tomato purée
On a comal or hot griddle, dry-roast the unpeeled garlic until soft (10 minutes); cool and peel. Meanwhile, dry-roast the chiles on another area of the comal; open them flat and press down firmly with a spatula so they are evenly toasted. After a few seconds, flip and press them down to toast other side as well. Place chiles in a small glass bowl, adding boiling water. Rehydrate for 10 minutes and drain water, reserving it. In a sauce pan, heat oil and sauté celery and onions; cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. In the food processor add sautéed onion, celery, oregano, black pepper, drained chiles, garlic (skin now removed) and ½ cup of chile water. Purée in blender, add water as needed to achieve desired consistency (paste should have the consistency of a thick salad dressing). Strain mixture and reserve. Heat the oil in a heavy, large pot over medium high. Add the purée to hot oil (be careful about splatter), sauté, stirring for about 5 minutes.

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