Cooking Like A Mexican

BY: ALE BORBOLLA

As posadas are just around the corner, I would like to introduce you to two of the most popular hot drinks in Mexico, which are commonly served at night and very early in the morning all along winter. These two are atole and champurrado, and the recipe is pretty much the same since prehispanic times. The Mexicas, the people of central and south Mexico prepared atole by simply boiling masa in water until thick, and spicing it with chiles, cacao and bee honey; they did not have sugar yet. Hernan Cortes in his letters described atole as a very energetic drink, which was not particularly tasty to the Spaniards. It was then modified by adding milk or more water, to make it a little closer to what they knew. Champurrado was another drink they did not enjoy, which was beaten vigorously until it took a foamy texture.

champurrado.jpg

Atole and champurrado are often served along bread and Mexican pastries, like bolillo or conchas. The sweetness and warmth makes it a perfect pairing. It’s easy to find atole in Mexico, usually where tamales are sold.

Atole and Champurrado are usually made with corn, although atole can be prepared with rice or wheat, to make it more nutritious. For example, rice atole with water, cinnamon and sugar is said to help with diarrhea and nourish a patient suffering from loss of fluids.

Atole and champurrado are so popular, there is many sayings in Mexican culture making allusion to them, but my favorite is “Contigo la milpa es rancho y el atole champurrado”; translates roughly to with you, any land is a ranch and a bland drink a delicious one. (As if atole was bland, but I guess it’s poetic allowance) So romantic.

When chocolate is added to a masa and water mixture, it becomes champurrado. A common misconception is that atole and champurrado are very heavy and hard to digest; but on the contrary, natural champurrado as it is water based, is good for the stomach. Milk, industrialized chocolate and sugar are what makes whatever we drink harder to digest, and it makes the champurrado lose its natural nutrients, energetic content and antioxidants that come from pure cacao. It may fill up a tummy, but an artificial atole or champurrado will not nourish. Of course, this industrial era has pushed brands to deliver easier to use products, like a powder mix to make atole that comes from cornstarch, artificial flavorings and colorings; but it will never, ever reach up to the real deal. Real atole contains life and flavor, premade mix is empty calories and chemicals.

Nixtamalization is a hard concept to understand to most foreigners, but it is vital in making masa. Either for tortillas or atole, the nixtamal process has different effects on the corn, that benefit our health. For one, it makes the protein easier to break down, and absorb niacin- a type of vitamin B. It absorbs minerals from the alkaline solution like calcium, iron, copper and zinc; it reduces mycotoxins that come from a mold that attacks specifically corn and it makes the grinding process easier and more consistent.

Atoles, Champurrados and overall corn drinks have medicinal, ceremonial and ritual backgrounds. For example, chileatole is a corn drink with corn grains and vegetables, sometimes with meat or chicken; there are people from remote towns around Veracruz who have that as their single meal all day. Atole de sagú is a drink Totonacan people make for nursing mothers, with sesame seeds and yucca. Necuatolli is made with agave honey and green chile, to stimulate sexual appetite. Some others are fermented and served with ice, to quench thirst.

Ingredients for atole:

3 tablespoons of corn masa (can be bought at a tortillería)

12 cups of water

4 sticks of cinnamon

Piloncillo to taste

Procedure:

Boil half of the water with the cinnamon.

Blend the masa with 4 cups of water.

Once the cinnamon water comes to a boil, add the masa water and drop the piloncillo.

Let it boil for five minutes and bring down to a simmer while stirring.

Reach the desired texture, I like mine not too thick, l recommend you try different thicknesses until you feel comfortable.

The drink should be served hot, and it will have a little chunky texture.

For the champurrado ingredients:

8 cups of water

5 ounces of piloncillo

1 stick of cinnamon

1 round of Mexican chocolate (like Ibarra at supermarkets looks like a hockey puck)

¾ of a cup of corn flour (like maseca) or 2/3 of a cup of fresh masa

Procedure:

Boil 6 cups of water with the piloncillo and cinnamon. Then bring down to a simmer for ten minutes, until the piloncillo has melted.

Add the chocolate and simmer for 5 more minutes, until everything is incorporated. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, if using corn flour, in a bowl add the 2 cups of water left and dissolve. Make sure its completely dissolved and creamy.

Once the chocolate is completely dissolved in the pot, add the corn mixture slowly while stirring, to prevent clumps. You can also use a strainer to have a super smooth texture.

Rise the temperature to a boil and let it cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Bring down to a simmer and let it sit for another 5 minutes.

Enjoy! Fair warning: since the drink is thick, it will be very hot and take a little longer to cool down enough to drink. But you MUST serve it hot, it tastes awful when cold!