Mexican Christmas Eve

Mexican Christmas EveAfter we bought our house four years ago, we finally had room enough to host a large number of people. I officially took over Christmas Eve Feast & Merriment duties. The first year was traditional (for our family at least) with the usual ham, my grandmother’s scary jello thing, and lots of booze. The following year we were at the end of a major remodel, but the house wasn’t quite ready yet. We were in a panic as to what to do. Do we cancel and risk disappointing the kids with no lead-up to the man in the red suit? Can we really live without the scary jello thing? (The answer is a resounding YES! by the way.)

Rather than cancel our Christmas Eve Revels, the party was moved to my sister’s house. We ordered big pans of Enchiladas and Tamales from one of my favorite Mexican restaurants and made margaritas. It was great. I love Mexican food. I could eat it every day, and the rest of my family is no different. The night was a big hit. So much so that last year, when I had my kitchen back, we decided that we should start a new tradition of Mexican Christmas Eve. I must say it was indeed a very good idea.

As I put the finishing touches on this year’s Carta, I have listed last year’s menu for those who want to add a little fiesta to your usual Holiday Fare. Be sure to try the corn pudding, even if it’s not for the holidays. It’s an excellent side dish for any time of the year.

Feliz Navidad A Todos! 

Watercress, Orange, and Avocado Salad
Adapted from Bon Appétit | December 2005
by Roberto Santibañez
Makes 12 servings

To dress up a typical watercress salad for the holidays, Santibañez added orange segments, avocados, and a sweet-tangy pomegranate dressing.

For the dressing
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2-inch-thick red onion slices
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses*
1 tablespoon minced seeded serrano chiles
3/4 teaspoon aniseed, ground in a spice mill
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

For the salad
4 large navel oranges
5 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
3 large bunches of watercress, thick stems trimmed (about 10 cups)
5 green onions, trimmed, cut into thin matchstick-size strips
2 large avocados, peeled, pitted, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices

Make the dressing
Preheat broiler. Place garlic cloves on a small baking sheet; broil until golden brown, about 2 1/2 minutes per side. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a heavy small skillet over medium heat. Add onion slices; cook until light brown and slightly softened, about 7 minutes per side. Finely chop garlic and onion. Whisk pomegranate juice and the next 4 ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk in 1/4 cup oil. Mix in onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in cilantro.

Make the salad
Cut off all peel and white pith from oranges. Cut between membranes to release segments.

Combine cabbage, watercress, green onions, and orange segments in a large bowl. Add dressing and avocado slices and toss gently to coat. Transfer salad to a large platter and serve.

*A thick pomegranate syrup.

Bacon-Wrapped Turkey Breast with Hazelnut Mole
Adapted from Bon Appétit | December 2005
by Roberto Santibañez
Makes 12 servings

What to drink: Roberto Santibañez recommends a Petite Sirah (a full-bodied, peppery red wine varietal) from L.A. Cetto in Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley. Or try the Guenoc Petite Sirah from California’s North Coast.

1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons adobo sauce from canned chipotles*
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 2-pound skinless boneless turkey breast halves
2 pounds applewood-smoked bacon slices
Hazelnut Mole
Chopped fresh parsley

Combine the first 9 ingredients in the processor; blend until the marinade is almost smooth. Rub the marinade all over turkey breast halves. Place turkey in a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish; pour remaining marinade over. Cover and chill overnight.

Remove turkey from marinade, allowing some marinade to cling to turkey. Sprinkle turkey with salt and pepper. Place 1 pound bacon slices side by side on a work surface, overlapping slightly. Place 1 turkey breast half, rounded side down, atop bacon. Wrap bacon around turkey breast, stretching slices slightly to cover turkey. Secure with toothpicks to hold bacon in place, then tie with kitchen string to secure the bacon. Remove toothpicks. Repeat with second turkey breast half and remaining bacon. Place turkey breasts on a large rimmed baking sheet. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill.)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place turkey in the oven and roast for 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey registers 155°F, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven; let the turkey rest 15 minutes (internal temperature will reach 162°F).

Cut turkey breasts crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Ladle a generous amount of Hazelnut Mole on a large platter. Arrange turkey slices atop mole; sprinkle with parsley and serve.

*Chipotle chiles (sometimes called adobo) are dried, smoked jalapeños canned in a spicy tomato sauce.

Hazelnut Mole Recipe
Yields about 8 cups

6 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
8 ounces hazelnuts with skin (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 large ripe plantains,* peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 1/2 pounds Red Delicious apples, peeled, quartered, cored
1 medium-size white onion, thickly sliced
13 dried guajillo chiles* (about 2.5 ounces), stemmed, cut open, seeds and veins removed
3 dried ancho chiles* (about 1.5 ounces), stemmed, cut open, seeds and veins removed
3/4 cup prunes (about 4 ounces)
7 whole cloves
6 whole allspice
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon aniseed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
2 5- to 6-inch-diameter corn tortillas
9 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Sauté the ingredients one at a time
Heat the oil in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic to the skillet and sauté for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to a large bowl.

Add the hazelnuts to the skillet and sauté until they are golden (about 3 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the hazelnuts to a bowl with the garlic.

Add the plantains to the skillet and sauté until they are light golden brown (about 3 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the plantains to the same bowl.

Add the apples to the skillet and sauté them until they begin to soften (about 5 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the apples to the same bowl.

Sauté the onion until it is golden (about 3 minutes). Transfer the onion to the same bowl and scrape all the oil from the skillet into the bowl.

Working in batches, sauté a few chiles at a time in the same, now dry skillet, 10 seconds per side. Transfer the chiles to the same bowl.

Sauté the prunes for 2 minutes and transfer them to the same bowl.

Add all the spices to the skillet and stir for 30 seconds. Transfer the spices to the same bowl.

Toast the tortillas
Using tongs, turn the tortillas over a gas flame or in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until black spots appear on both sides (about 1 minute). Crumble the tortillas into the same bowl.

Add 9 cups broth to the bowl and press down on all the ingredients to submerge. Allow them to soak for 20 minutes.

Puree the ingredients
Working in batches, puree the contents of the bowl in a blender until smooth, adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls if needed. Transfer to a heavy large pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the mole 1 hour and 45 minutes, stirring often and adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls as needed to prevent scorching.

When finished, the mole will be very thick and will measure about 8 cups. Stir in the vinegar and season the mole generously with salt.

Store covered in the refrigerator.

Do ahead
The mole can be made up to 4 days ahead.

Serrano Ham and Poblano Corn Pudding
Bon Appétit | December 2005
by Roberto Santibañez
Makes 12 servings

This comforting side would also be great for brunch.

2 large poblano chiles*
2 cups fresh corn kernels (from 2 large ears) or frozen, thawed, divided
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted, slightly cooled
1 teaspoon salt
Large pinch of baking powder
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup instant corn masa mix (Maseca)**
4 ounces 1/4-inch-thick slices Serrano ham or prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
1 cup coarsely grated Manchego cheese (about 4 1/2 ounces)

Char chiles over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag 15 minutes. Peel and seed chiles, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Combine 1 1/2 cups corn, eggs, and next 3 ingredients in blender. Blend until almost smooth. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Add sour cream and Maseca; stir until blended, then stir in ham, cheese, chiles, and remaining 1/2 cup corn. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Bake until corn pudding is puffed and golden brown in spots on top, about 40 minutes.

*These fresh green chiles are often called pasillas.
**Maseca is an instant corn masa mix.

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