El Restaurante Mexicano September/October 2011 : Page 7

special report: holiday BY BRENDA G. RUSSELL W hen people gather over the Christmas sea-son, they return to familiar traditions. Your restaurant’s menus, decorations and events can attract customers to make your holiday feast part of their own celebration, and honor traditions of Las Posadas (Dec. 16-24), Christmas, New Year’s and El Día de Los Tres Reyes (Three King’s Day). Whether you add the candlelight procession of Las Posadas to your community’s Christmas walk or simply feature foods of the season, your holiday preparations can invite diners to reconnect to their Hispanic heritage and introduce your com-munity to this part of your own family and culinary history. M exican MAKE ROOM FOR holi days TAMALES WRAPPED UP IN CHRISTMAS Many families prepare tamales for their holiday celebra-tions, which make tamales a potent symbol of home as well as a delightful menu addition. Feature your own tamal creations, or highlight the many indigenous regional variations. Mark the holidays with a tasting menu, weekly specials, or a punch-card bonus that diners can redeem once they complete your tamales tour. Alice Tapp, author of “Tamales 101” (Ten Speed Press) gives examples of dishes that would be appropriate for special tamale menus. h Yucatecan Tamales, derived from the Yucatecan pork specialty called lomitas. They feature pork marinated in a mixture of achiote paste and orange and lemon juices. h Chicken Sinaloa Tamales, the traditional tamales from Sinaloa on Mexico’s west coast. They’re fi lled with a mix-ture of chicken, potato, carrot, tomato, zucchini, jalapeños, raisins and Red Pork Chile Sauce. h Corn and Cheese Corundas, the tamales of Michoacán that most closely resemble original pre-Columbian versions made only with masa. (continued on page 23) SEPTEMBERsOCTOBER
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Make Room For Mexican Holidays

Brenda G. Russell

When people gather over the Christmas season, they return to familiar traditions. Your restaurant’s menus, decorations and events can attract customers to make your holiday feast part of their own celebration, and honor traditions of Las Posadas (Dec. 16-24), Christmas, New Year’s and El Día de Los Tres Reyes (Three King’s Day).<br /> <br /> Whether you add the candlelight procession of Las Posadas to your community’s Christmas walk or simply feature foods of the season, your holiday preparations can invite diners to reconnect to their Hispanic heritage and introduce your community to this part of your own family and culinary history.<br /> <br /> Tamales Wrapped Up In Christmas<br /> <br /> Many families prepare tamales for their holiday celebrations, which make tamales a potent symbol of home as well as a delightful menu addition. Feature your own tamal creations, or highlight the many indigenous regional variations. Mark the holidays with a tasting menu, weekly specials, or a punchcard bonus that diners can redeem once they complete your tamales tour.<br /> <br /> Alice Tapp, author of “Tamales 101” (Ten Speed Press) gives examples of dishes that would be appropriate for special tamale menus.<br /> <br /> Yucatecan Tamales, derived from the Yucatecan pork specialty called lomitas. They feature pork marinated in a mixture of achiote paste and orange and lemon juices.<br /> <br /> Chicken Sinaloa Tamales, the traditional tamales from Sinaloa on Mexico’s west coast. They’re filled with a mixture of chicken, potato, carrot, tomato, zucchini, jalapeños, raisins and Red Pork Chile Sauce.<br /> <br /> Corn and Cheese Corundas, the tamales of Michoacán that most closely resemble original pre-Columbian versions made only with masa.<br /> <br /> From Other Latin Countries:<br /> <br /> Tamales Cubanos, corn husk-wrapped tamales spread with a mixture of pork, onion, garlic, bell pepper, tomato sauce, wine, chicken stock and fresh corn (that has been put though a food processor until slightly mushy).<br /> <br /> Puerto Rican Pastelles, rectangular-shaped banana leaves stuffed with a mixture of ground or minced pork and beef, raisins, olives and capers.<br /> <br /> Beef Hallacas of Venezuela, South America’s version of tamales made with masa prepared with dried corn flour and wrapped in banana leaves. Ingredients include boneless beef shoulder pot roast, green onions, jalapeños, toasted peanuts or pine nuts and peas.<br /> <br /> Fifstas: Let's Talk Turkey<br /> <br /> Turkey also marks the Hispanic holiday feast. “An appealing way for restaurants to present turkey would be in one of the delicious regional variations that do not require roasting,” says Mexico-based menu consultant Karen Hursh Graber, food editor of the online publication Mexico Connect and a regular el Restaurante Mexicano contributing writer. “Steamed Turkey in Achiote, a specialty of the Yucatan, or the Grilled Chihuahua-Style Turkey of northern Mexico, are two good choices.” Find her recipe for the Chihuahua-Style turkey at mexconnect.com.<br /> <br /> Pork is a common alternative to turkey, especially for New Year’s feasts. One of Graber’s favorites: the Oaxacaninspired Pork Medallions with Herbed Green Mole she prepared in the restaurant Kitchen of the Hacienda de Los Santos Spa in Sonora.<br /> <br /> A sample menu, courtesy of Graber, includes the soup Crema Poblana, a regional turkey or pork dish, and dessert.<br /> <br /> “I suggest either Tres Leches cake or Rosca de Reyes, the Three Kings Day cake, served on January 6 and baked with a small plastic doll inside,” she says. “This concept would be perfect for a children’s menu; rather than baking the small doll or toy inside, the slice of cake could simply have a small toy adorning the top.”<br /> <br /> Other staples of a Hispanic holiday table include buñuelos, a flour-tortilla fritter drizzle; ponche Navideño, a hot fruit punch that can include tejocote, guava and tamarind; and Rosca de Reyes.<br /> <br /> Décor: Polinsettias And Posadas<br /> <br /> The Christmas flower poinsettia is native to Mexico. Aztecs called it Cuetlaxoxhiti. One fable has it that a girl walking to church made a bouquet from weeds growing along the road, and when she laid it at the Nativity scene, bright red flowers bloomed.<br /> <br /> To complement a poinsettia display in your restaurant, have young customers color a poinsettia drawing (search the Internet for “poinsettia coloring picture”) on a placemat or a page that explains the poinsettia legend. Offer poinsettia-shaped bizcochuelos (cookies) on your dessert menu, or present a small plate of them with the check at the end of a customer’s meal.<br /> <br /> Las Posadas, nine days of pre-Christmas house parties, occur from Dec. 16 to 24. Candlelit marches re-enact the Holy Family’s search for shelter. Luminaria or farolitos (little lanterns), decoratively cut paper bags lit with small candles, recall the lanterns carried at the head of Las Posadas processions and the lights leading to church on the final night. Set farolitos at the entrance to your restaurant or use them as tabletop decorations.<br /> <br /> Piñatas are part of the festivities. In Mexico, a star-shaped piñata once taught the Seven Deadly Sins; as part of Las Posadas, the figure represents the Star of Bethlehem. With each dinner check, offer customers one chance to hit a piñata. Most people will not break it with one try. Give each customer who does a small gift (a ticket for a complimentary drink or botana).<br /> <br /> Radishes also have a Christmas tale to tell. On Dec. 23 in Oaxaca, Noche de los Rábanos (Night of the Radishes) commemorates the introduction of the radish by Spanish colonists in the mid- 19th century. Participants carve yam-size radishes into elaborate figures, then create Nativity scenes or other tableaux with the radish “people.” Mark the event with a special radish salad or tabletop decorations using the smaller white and red radishes found in the U.S.<br /> <br /> Other Ideas Courtesy Of Grabber:<br /> <br /> Set up a holiday-decorated table with a punch bowl and cups and let customers help themselves to complimentary nonalcoholic Ponche Navideño.<br /> <br /> At New Year’s, it is a Mexican custom to eat 12 grapes, making a wish for each month of the coming year. Print out a small card for each table about this, or just explain the custom and provide a complimentary plate of grapes for each table at the end of the meal.

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