On March 21, Mexico celebrates the birthday of one of its most beloved leaders, Benito Pablo Juarez García. Born in 1806, he went from being a poor Zapotec Indian to serving five terms as Mexico’s first (and only) full-blooded native president between the years of 1858 and 1872. Benito Juarez Day is a national holiday. Banks and businesses are closed and there is no school. His birthday coincides with the beginning of springtime, which is celebrated the same day by elementary schools, with spring parades.
Juarez is also known as “Benemerito de las Americas” (“Meritorious of the Americas”). Benito Juarez was responsible for resisting the French occupation of Mexico, ending the Second Mexican Empire (for more on the French Intervention, see chap- ter 15 on Cinco de Mayo). He is known for liberal reforms that would forever change the country, including the institution of free and obligatory education. In spite of, or maybe because of, his education in seminary school prior to studying law, Juarez was fiercely anticlerical, and he believed that the excessive power exercised by the Catholic Church in Mexico was one of the primary obstacles to the country’s development. One of his most notable reforms was the secularization of Mexico, marked by separation of church and state.
A champion for respect and rights for all Mexicans, Juarez worked to affect a change in attitudes toward Mexico’s indigenous people, against whom prejudice was so prevalent in the nineteenth century. For this, he is sometimes referred to as the “Mexican Abraham Lincoln.” In a famous speech delivered in delivered in Mexico City on July 15, 1867, he said,
“Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz” (Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace).
While there are no special dishes specific to this day, I have chosen a menu of tacos de cazuela, typically served up by Mexican street vendors. These are soft tacos with various specialty fillings simmered in large earthenware casseroles (cazuelas de barro). This traditional presentation calls for serving up an assortment of stews, buffet-style in the cazuelas in which they are prepared and inviting guests to make their own tacos by filling handmade corn tortillas with the filling(s) of their choice.
Recipes for two cazuelas are offered below. For additional recipes, check the Recipes from the Mission posts on this site, or, Tres Señoritas Gourmet Mexican Catering offers a full menu of cazuelas, prepared and served in your home or at your event site.
Poblano Chile with Corn in Cream Sauce / Rajas con Elote y Crema
(SERVES 6 – 8 )2 tbsp olive oil 1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil 1 onion, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove
4 poblanos chiles, roasted, seeded, and cut into strips
2 cups fresh corn kernels
1 epazote sprig or ¼ oz dry epazote
2 cups Mexican sour cream
Salt to taste
In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium-high. Add the onion and sautée for until they turn clear but are not carmelized. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute. Reduce the heat to medium; add poblano chile strips (rajas), corn, and epazote. Cook 3 more minutes; add sour cream. Cook for an additional 5 minutes and salt to taste. Remove epazote sprig before serving. s
Pork Rinds in Green Sauce / Chicharron en Salsa Verde
(SERVES 6 – 8 )
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 cups cooked Salsa Verde
½ lb pork rind (chicharrones) broken to 1 ½” pieces 1 tsp salt
1 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves
In a large skillet, heat oil and sauté onions and garlic until lightly brown (3–4 min- utes). Add salsa and cook covered for 10 minutes over high heat. Add the chicharron and stir to combine. Cook for 5 more minutes; salt to taste. Remove from heat and serve with chopped cilantro.