Buried amidst the passions, intrigues, anger, frustration, conspiracies, politics, machinations, plotting, scheming and deceptions of Laura Esquivel’s enthralling novel Como Agua para Chocolate or Like Water for Chocolate are twelve recipes – from a wedding cake to a traditional turkey “mole”, oxtail soup and quail with rose petals. Each recipe is featured, without much rhyme or reason, at the beginning of a chapter, and the Tortas de Navidad, Christmas Mexican Sandwiches, introduce us to January and the initial chapter, where we meet the heroine, Tita, for the first time.
The tortas are a rather strange concoction, with a filling of spicy chorizo sausage mixed with tinned sardines, and yet deliciously savoury and packed with flavour. I have never come across them anywhere else. A thorough trawl through my extensive library of Mexican cookery books has produced no trace at all of this kind of torta de Navidad so I can offer no background or history to the dish and simply accept that if it appears in a book like this one, it is authentic.
Below is my adaptation of Laura Esquivel’s (or Tita’s) Tortas de Navidad which differs from the original as I find the version in the book rather dry - I therefore add tomatoes for moisture. I also cook the onions to give some sweetness and use chipotle “chiles en adobo” rather than the tinned green serrano chillies. The recipe in the book also includes instructions for making the typical bread rolls known as “teleras” but I have to say that I usually go for a ciabatta style loaf; alternatively, any kind of crisp bread roll will do although it should have some soft crumb and be large enough to accommodate the filling in comfort.
Mexican Christmas Sandwiches – Tortas de Navidad
15 ml/1 tbsp vegetable oil, lard or duck/goose fat
225 g/8 1/2 oz onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
200 g/7 oz cooking chorizo, skinned and diced or crumbled
150 g/5 oz tomatoes, coarsely chopped
5 ml/1 tsp Mexican dried oregano
200 g/7 oz tinned/canned boneless sardines in oil, well drained and coarsely mashed with a fork
Butter, softened – as needed
2 x plain half-ciabattas or large bread rolls
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the fat in a frying pan, add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until translucent. Stir in the chorizo and continue to fry until it has rendered its fat and starts to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, oregano and a good grinding of black pepper, and cook until most of their moisture has evaporated but the mixture has not dried out. Cool thoroughly before folding in the mashed sardines. Check the seasoning and add some salt if wished – chorizo and sardines can be salty so you may not need any.
Slice the bread lengthways and butter both sides liberally. Spread the filling over the bottom half and cover with the top half. Wrap the tortas tightly in kitchen foil and set aside until you are ready to cook them. They can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated overnight if it suits you.
Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF/gas 6/fan oven 180oC. Place the sandwiches on a baking tray and cook for 15 minutes, or 25 minutes if they are straight out of the fridge.
Slice the tortas in two, right down through the middle, foil and all, and serve immediately with plenty of paper napkins as they will be very hot and they can be messy. I never unwrap them as the foil wrapping helps to keep them warm and hold them together, and it can easily be peeled away as the torta is eaten.
Buén provecho y Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas!
Chilli and Chocolate Stars of the Mexican Cocina by Isabel Hood is available from Amazon.co.uk
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