History Tidbit: November 20, 1910 marked the onset of the Mexican Revolution War, led by Francisco I. Madero. Different groups around the country had grown disgruntled with the dictatorship-like, thirty-year presidency of once army hero, general Porfirio Díaz Mori. I have mentioned Díaz as one of the brigadiers of the Mexican army who were instrumental in the Cinco de Mayo victory of the Battle of Puebla (May 5, 1862), against the invading French army. In 1871, he became, once again, chief defender of the Mexican democracy, rebelling against the re-election of president Benito Juárez. Díaz’s own first term as president began in 1877, then ironically extending over another six terms; this period, named after him and known as “El Porfiriato” was characterized by sharp contrasts between the country’s economic progress, riches for the upper class, and extreme poverty and exploitation for the general population.
Although the deposition of Díaz only took a few months, and Madero had managed a pause in the battlefield and the establishment of a new government by mid 1911, the social and political turmoil – created by the revolt and three decades of oppression – were far from over. Madero was murdered in 1913, and a contra-revolutionary government led by Victoriano Huerta took over. Guerrilla and political leaders such as Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, Alvaro Obregón and Venustiano Carranza, had very different goals and views, but were all against Huerta’s tyranny. Huerta was removed from power in July 1914, and eventually Carranza became president; his government drafted a new constitution, approved on February 5, 1917. Many historians consider this as the official end of the conflict, or shortly after when Alvaro Obregón was elected president, in 1920. However, regional revolts and their associated bloodshed subsided only gradually; all four of the aforementioned leaders were murdered: Zapata in 1919, Carranza a year later, Villa in 1923 (three years after he had retired to his farm) and Obregón in 1928 after seeking re-election.
During the cruel battles taking place for almost a decade, especially in Northern Mexico, many women joined the ranks, becoming “soldaderas” (derived from soldada – female soldier). Some were active members of the army, and others were “camp followers” in charge of gathering resources, cooking and tending to the wounded. These women would also carry a pot, a metate (stone grinder) and a molcajete (mortar), and cook whatever they could under those precarious circumstances, with whatever food they gathered on the fields, or looted from defeated towns. Because of these conditions, although known for many years prior to the Mexican Revolution War, any one-pot preparation, or “de la olla”, became a favoured staple on the menu: comforting café de olla, a sweetened coffee fortified with cinnamon; frijoles de la olla, the ubiquitous pot of filling and nutritious beans; and mole de olla, a saucy beef soup with vegetables, also a complete meal with the addition of corn on the cob and small corn dough dumplings called chochoyones.
Beef Soup in Red Sauce – Mole de olla
1 lb (454 g) stewing beef; in chunks
½ lb (227 g) beef shank with bone; in chunks
1 bay leaf (or a bunch of fresh epazote, if available)
Water, as needed
Salt, to taste
2 tbsp white wine or apple cider vinegar
5-6 dry red peppers, such as ancho, pasilla or guajillo
1 medium onion (reserve outer layers)
2 medium tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 cup water
2 ears corn
1 chayote (check my post: Do you recognize this vegetable?)
1 cup green beans
1 potato (optional); peeled, cubed
1 cup corn flour for tortillas (masa harina, Maseca™, check: Corn Flour and Masa 101)
1 cup water
1 tbsp vegetable oil (or lard)
¼ tsp salt, or to taste
Set all the sauce ingredients together, then prep: remove seeds and stems from peppers (I used 2 ancho and 3 guajillo); peel onion (reserve outer layers for meat) and cut in half; peel garlic cloves; wash tomatoes (I only had grape tomatoes, so I used about a cup):
Wash vegetables, set them all together, then prep: slice corn into quarters; peel carrot, cut in half lengthwise, then each half into two-inch sticks; peel chayote, cut into eight to ten pieces; slice green beans into thirds; trim ends off zucchini, slice lengthwise into quarters, then each piece in half:
Measure and set the chochoyones ingredients together:
In a large pot, arrange meat chunks, reserved outer layers of onion, and bay leaf (or epazote); add enough water to cover meat. Bring to boil over high heat, then lower to a rolling simmer; after a few minutes, skim any foam off the top with a spoon:
Cover and continue simmering for at least one hour. Meanwhile, mix all the chochoyones ingredients in a bowl, until a firm dough is formed; take small pieces of dough, about one teaspoon at a time, and form into a ball; make an indent with a finger or a small measuring spoon:
The dumplings on the left were indented with a 1/4-tsp measuring spoon, and the ones on the right, with my index finger; they do not look very different, but I found that using the measuring spoon was faster and the indents slightly more uniform. The dough was enough to make approximately 60 dumplings. Arrange on a tray and let rest uncovered until needed.
Check meat with a fork; it should flake easily. After one hour, my batch was fully cooked and it was possible to break up the meat with a fork, but I needed some force to do it.
I continued cooking the meat, covered, and in the meantime, I prepared the sauce. On a dry skillet (no oil), over medium heat, char the cleaned peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes; turn frequently, and remove peppers as soon as they crisp, to avoid burning. Remove garlic, and continue charring the onions and tomatoes for a few more minutes:
Place peppers in a bowl with 1 cup of water, and let the other sauce ingredients cool down on a plate; reserve.
After a total time of 1 1/2 hours, the meat was tender and falling apart when tested with a fork; in the photo below, left, a piece of bone may be seen missing the marrow, which has melted into the broth. Remove herbs and onions, increase heat to medium/high, and add pieces of corn:
Let cook for about ten minutes; add the rest of the vegetables in the following order, letting cook for about five minutes between each addition: chayote, potato (if using), carrot, green beans, and zucchini:
Cover an continue cooking. Meanwhile, place the charred peppers with their soaking water in a blender jar. Add reserved onions, tomatoes and garlic; process until completely smooth. Uncover pot and add sauce, either straight from the blender jar, or pouring in through a strainer (I like the texture from pouring without straining.) Bring back to a boil, stirring gently to combine sauce; add more water as needed, salt to taste and vinegar:
Let simmer for another five minutes, and adjust seasoning, if needed. Just between five to ten minutes before serving, drop reserved chochoyones gently in the pot, making sure they get covered with broth:
Once the chochoyones are cooked, scoop a little of everything in a large soup bowl, and top with broth; serve with lime wedges on the side:
A mild version of this dish, called “caldo blanco” (clear soup, or literally, “white broth”) may be prepared by omitting the red sauce and chochoyones (they tend to taste pasty in the clear broth):
FUN FACT: Corridos are ballads which gained great popularity during, and shortly after the Mexican Revolution war. Many of these corridos were about soldaderas, and probably the most famous is “La Adelita” (nickname for Adela), about the “brave and, furthermore, beautiful” camp follower who had a moonstruck army man declaring his undying love, and even the “colonel’s respect”. I am including a broadcast of “La Adelita” song on a YouTube channel, with some interesting photos from the period. There is no way to know whether Adela was a real character, or a portrait of the many female soldiers and camp followers of the time; nowadays Adelita is used as another name to refer to a soldadera.
I am joining Fiesta Friday #251 hosted by Angie @ Fiesta Friday; Angie is asking for ideas on how to use Thanksgiving leftovers, and I am thinking this dish could be easily adapted to a rich turkey-carcass broth, adding leftover chunks of turkey meat, and even vegetables. How about that? Angie’s co-hosts this week are Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau (with recent posts with appetizer ideas, and a “must-check-that-now!” chocolate glazed tart recipe) and Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes (old fashioned recipes with Monika’s own twists, some from Polish tradition, and always adapted for healthy living.)