(Author’s note: The following is an excerpt from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, which I co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl and available on Amazon.)

44 - Fish seller
Fish Seller in Mexico preparing fish wrapped with palm leaves for Lenten market from Celebraciones Mexicanas, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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 10th and ends on March 24th. 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), Seven Seas Soup (Sopa de Siete Mares), 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).

48 - Chile relleno (1)
photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Chiles Stuffed with Beans, Plantain and Cheese

6 chiles anchos or Poblanos
3 cups boiling water
1 lb. refried black beans
5 sweet plantains, ripe, medium sliced, fried
8–9 oz. Panela cheese, thinly sliced
2 cups flour
4 egg whites
Corn or vegetable oil for frying
Tomato Broth  (recipe below)

Dip chiles in hot water for 10 minutes, pat them dry, and open a side slit on each. Devein and seed the chile, being careful not to break the flesh. Depending upon the size of your chiles, stuff with a tablespoon of more of beans, a slice or two of fried plantain, and a slice of cheese. Preheat oil to 350°. Close chile and dredge in flour. Whisk egg whites in a deep bowl until they peak and dip chile with the egg white to cover. Deep-fry in the oil and drain on paper towel or brown paper bag to remove excess oil. Serve warm over Tomato Broth. Note: You can also skip deep-frying the chile and serve it after stuffing it with beans, plantains and cheese.

Tomato Broth (Caldillo)

(makes 4 cups)

2 tbsp. olive oil
1½ pounds tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup medium white onion, coarsely chopped
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ cup minced onion
1 garlic clove, puréed
3 cups chicken stock
1 large sprig of cilantro
1 large bay leaf
Salt to taste

First, prepare a tomato purée by adding tomatoes, the clove of garlic, onion in a blender, and mix very well; pass mixture through a strainer and add to a medium saucepan in which olive oil has been heated. Cook over medium- high heat for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Use purée immediately or within a day or two. (You can also freeze any that is leftover for up to 3 months.)

Now you are ready to make your broth or caldillo: Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil, add 1 cup of the tomato purée, and cook for 12–15 minutes on medium high until it changes color and volume is reduced by half. Add chicken stock, cilantro, bay leaf, and salt. Allow to boil for at least 10 more minutes to season well. Your stock is ready to be used in any recipe. Use it within 48 hours or freeze for up to 3 months

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