Cooking Like A Mexican

Chicken with Cempasúchil petals.
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Cooking with flowers has been a part of Mexican cuisine before fancy chefs took it to high end restaurants. Today, I bring you a traditional chicken dish, along with one of many Mexican legends revolving around Cempasúchil (what you Gringos call marigolds).

This beautiful legend tells the love story of an young Aztec couple, Xóchitl (the woman) and Huitzilin (the man). Their love began when they were both kids and continued to blossom as time went by. Every afternoon, they would hike up the mountain and offer flowers to the god of the sun, Tonatiuh, who smiled upon their offering. They swore to love each other forever, even beyond death.

Young Huitzilin was one of the best warriors in the village, and when war came he was sent to fight. Soon, bad news came: Huitzilin was hurt and had died. Xóchitl’s heart broke with grief. She decided to hike up the mountain one last time, and beg the god Tonatiuh to join her with her lover forever. The sun, touched by her pain, shone a ray upon her and turned her into a beautiful flower, with colors as intense as the sun itself.

cooking11132017.JPGSoon after, a hummingbird stood on the center of the flower. It was Huitzilin, who had turned into a hummingbird! At that very instant, the flower opened with 20 petals, with an intense and very mysterious scent. It is said that the lovers will be forever together, as long as there are Cempasúchil flowers and hummingbirds.

Cempasúchil is mostly known for being the most present ornament in altars, tombs and Dia de  los Muertos offerings because it only blooms after the rainy season. It is mainly harvested in the states of Chiapas, Mexico City, Morelos, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Tlaxcala, Oaxaca and Veracruz.

According to tradition, these flowers are used to guide the spirits from the cemetery to the altar where the offering is placed and then back to their graves. Cempasúchil petals are completely edible, and have been used since prehistoric times. This dish is chicken with Cempasúchil petals.

For the chicken:

-1 whole chicken, in pieces

-6 Cempasúchil buds, washed and dried (only use the petals)

-1 cup of milk

-1 cup of cream (sour cream can be used too)

-3.5 oz. of almonds

-Butter (the amount is up to you)

-Salt and pepper

-sesame seeds (toasted) to garnish

Procedure:

Boil the chicken until cooked, and set aside. In a blender, puree the milk, cream, almonds and the petals of five flowers until smooth.

In a saucepan, melt the butter (I recommend no more than two spoonfuls) and cook the sauce.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 5 minutes.

On a plate, serve with a portion of white rice, sprinkle the rest of the petals and sesame seeds on top!

For the rice:

-2 ½ cups chicken broth or water

-2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

-1 ½ cups white rice, preferably medium-grain

-1 small white onion, chopped

-2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

Procedure:

In small saucepan or microwave oven, heat broth or water until steaming. Stir in about ¾ teaspoon salt if using salted broth or water, or 1 ½ teaspoons if using unsalted. Cover and keep warm.

In a medium (3-quart) saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium heat.

When hot, add the uncooked rice and onion and stir regularly until the rice has turned from translucent to milky-white, about four to five minutes.

Add garlic and stir for a few seconds, until fragrant. Do not let the rice brown.

Add the warm liquid and stir thoroughly, scraping down any grains that are clinging to the side of the pan.

Cover and cook over the lowest heat for 15 minutes - temperature should be low enough that only the slightest hint of steam escapes lid.

Remove the pan from the heat and let stand covered for five minutes.

Uncover and test a grain of rice: if still a little hard, re-cover pan and set over low heat for about five minutes. If the rice has absorbed all the liquid and is completely dry, sprinkle on two tablespoons water before returning to heat.

When rice is done, gently fluff with fork to release the steam.