Seasons Greetings Part II - Nuts to You!
Late July through early October is walnut (nuez de castilla) and pomegranate (granada) season in central Mexico. Walnut vendors who ply their wares,from popular markets to the metro, arrive in the city in droves from the hilly and cool-climated states surrounding the capital. These are fresh nuts, usually sold partially opened. The meat, laborious to extract, is almost green, wet and uncured, and if not used immmediately, must be dried or roasted: if packed as is, it will become moldy.
Although walnuts are enjoyed as snacks, they are principally used to make the rich sauce served over stuffed chiles – the patriotic Chiles en Nogada - next week I will report on this emblematic dish. The cultivation of walnuts originated in Persia and they were brought to Mediterranean Europe by early spice traders; they then made their way to the new world with the Spaniards. Their brief seasonal appearance is also much appreciated in Spain and France today.
Also originally native to Arabia are pomegranates. These spectacular fruits have been much celebrated in art and literature as symbols of fertility, due to their physical beauty and plethora of seeds. Here, they are consumed en mass – mountains are sold at every market in the country. And, of course, the seeds dot the surface of the aformentioned chile en nogada, providing a pleasingly tart counterbalance to the heavy cream and nut sauce.
As neither ingredients are commonly used in other traditional Mexican dishes, I have provided two of my favorite recipes which together utilize all three - counting the mushrooms of last week’s post - extraordinary summer-fall gifts from the Gods.
Chicken with Pomegranate & Porcini
This recipe comes from the extraordinary tome The Silver Spoon, sort of an ItalianJoy of Cooking, which only recently has been translated into English and Spanish. The recipe most likely of Sicilian or Sardinian origin, as those cuisines incorporate some North African influences.
1 chicken cut up into 12 pieces
2 tb olive oil
3 tb butter
1 large onion
½ cup (about 30 grams) dried porcini or chanterelles, re-hydrated in a cup of hot water. The juice of 4 pomegranates, about 1 cup
1 pomegranate, for seeds to garnish
4 sage leaves, chopped
2-3 tb crema (crème fraiche)
a little flour for dusting
salt and pepper
Wash and dry the chicken; dust in flour and brown, in a large skillet or low clay cazuela in the oil and butter; set aside. Saute the onions; wring out the mushrooms and add to the pan. Sauté for a couple of minutes.
Add the chicken, pomegranate juice, mushroom water, and sage. Cook over a low flame, partially covered, for about an hour, or until chicken is falling apart tender. If there is a lot of liquid, remove chicken and boil down to concentrate. Stir in crema at the last minute and adjust salt and pepper. Remove to serving platter.
Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and serve. This dish goes nicely with fresh egg fettuccini.
Spinach & Walnut Salad
This is a Syrian salad as I have adapted it from the excellent Street Food By Tom Kime As there are many Syrians in Mexico, undoubtedly someone here will be making it.
2 tb olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
¼ kilo (1/2 lb) spinach leaves, tough stems removed
1/3 cup walnut pieces
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ cup thick plain yogurt
½ ts sugar (optional)
20 fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
seeds of 1 small or ½ large pomegranate, about 3/4 cup
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat and cook the onion 4-5 minutes until pale golden.
Add the spinach and cook for a couple of minutes to wilt. Remove from the heat, empty spinach mixture into a shallow bowl and wipe the pan dry. Roast the walnuts in the dry pan for a few minutes, being careful not to burn them; cool and coarsely chop.
Mix yogurt with garlic and sugar, add a little salt.
Toss spinach with yogurt, place on serving platter, garnish with mint and pomegranate leaves.