I usually do not have much Christmas cooking to do since, for a few years now, we spend the holidays in Toronto, with my in-laws. This year, though, I had a chance to prepare a pre-Christmas dinner with my sister, while in Mexico. We made sugar cookies like we used to do with our mom, and the menu included her classic baked pasta with cheese sauce (bread crumbs on top, and all), ubiquitous to all our family Christmas Eve dinners back in the day, seen in the photo below, along with a platter of stuffed mushrooms:
When it comes to Christmas time dishes, Mexican cuisine is filled with European influence, first from Spain for the duration of its colonial era, and later on, from England, France and Italy, due to foreign investment after Mexico became an independent nation (check for example, my post on English investors in the mining industry), as well as through invasions (for example, the French invasion with our own Austrian emperor in the mid 1800s), dictatorships (General Porfirio Díaz was known for favouring European culture and cuisine during his 30 year presidency) and more recently, of course, from modern globalization. Nowadays, cod stew, creamy soups, and desserts such as fruit cake or even a Yule log, are to be expected in many Mexican households during this time of year.
In addition to the baked pasta and stuffed mushrooms, my plate included roasted chicken (no point in cooking a turkey, with only four people, and my nephew being a vegetarian), potatoes and, prominently, Ensalada de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve salad):
Stuffed mushrooms and Christmas Eve salad were documented as early as 1831 in “El Cocinero Mexicano” (“The Mexican Cook”) composed of three volumes containing “a collection of the best American style recipes, as well as a selected set following Spanish, Italian, French and English cuisines.” Vol I page 108 begins the chapter on salads with “de Nochebuena”, described as the “one salad with the most pomp and magnificence.” It included raw and cooked vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and a rich dressing. Modern versions may not be as decadent, but they keep the elements of a true fusion of Old World ingredients, such as beets and oranges, and others indigenous to the Americas, such as jícama and peanuts.
Christmas Eve Salad – Ensalada de Nochebuena
2 beets; washed, boiled, peeled and sliced into half circles
3 oranges; washed, two peeled and separated into sections, membrane removed; the third, just the juice
1 large jícama; washed, peeled and cubed (check this post for detailed directions)
1 head lettuce; leaves thoroughly washed, drained and cut into pieces
½ onion; peeled, sliced thinly into half circles
½ cup peanuts; shelled, roasted and salted
2 tbsp salt, plus more, to taste
Pepper, to taste
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup vinegar (apple cider or white wine)
Place sliced onions in a non-metallic bowl; mix in 2 tbsp. of salt and let rest for at least 20 minutes. Rinse in cold water, and drain through a mesh, pressing to squeeze excess water out. Reserve. In a bowl, prepare dressing: mix olive oil, vinegar, orange juice, and salt and pepper to taste; reserve. In a wide salad bowl, arrange the vegetables and fruit in layers, in this order: lettuce, jicama, orange, beets, and onions. Sprinkle peanuts on top, and drizzle dressing right before serving:
After such a scrumptious dinner, we were all becoming a bit taciturn, but a nice slice of also European-influenced flan brought us back to a festive mood:
Flan came to Mexico from Spain, and it is more widely known as crème caramel or custard with caramel. This particular one was store-bought, but I have shared my recipe in a previous post.
I am bringing my recipe to Thursday Favourite Things #419 with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Marilyn @ Marilyn’s Treats, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.