The Mexican Breakfast
El Desayuno or the Mexican breakfast is usually just a simple fare of bread and coffee. The appetite is saved for a bigger and grander meal a few hours later during brunch or Almuerzo around 11 in the morning. A basic Almuerzo menu is a big meal consisting of tortilla, eggs, some beans, a rich chocolate drink or chocolate over bread or fresh fruits. In Mexico, tortilla is a staple on the dining table, one that is made from cornmeal called masa. Huevos Rancheros a famous brunch dish is one that has tortilla as a base. It is a full meal on its own, consisting of lightly fried tortillas and fried eggs. It is topped with fresh homemade salsa and served with refried beans (frijoles refritos), avocado slices, fried potatoes and extra chili peppers on the side. Scrambled eggs are an option. The dish is served like an open-faced sandwich or pancakes and may be eaten using a knife and a fork.
Needed to make Huevos Rancheros are:
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 16 ounce can cut tomatoes, cut to smaller pieces
3 tablespoons canned diced green chili peppers, rinsed
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder, or 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
4 pieces 6-inch tortillas
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
On a cast iron skillet or heavy frying pan, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil. Allow to cook until the onions clears. Add the tomatoes, chili peppers, garlic and chili powder. Allow the mixture to boil slowly. Reduce the heat when boiling point is reaches and let it simmer uncovered until the sauce has slightly thickened, about 5 to ten minutes. While the sauce is simmering, line the tortillas on a baking sheet that is lightly brushed with oil. Let the tortillas bake at 350 degrees for 8 to ten minutes or until lightly crisp. Break an egg into a measuring cup, and carefully slide the egg into the simmering sauce. Repeat this step with the remaining eggs. Cover and simmer the sauce slowly for 3 to 5 minutes or until the whites of eggs have set and the yokes begin to thicken. To prepare for serving, place each tortilla on a plate then top each with 2 eggs. Spoon some tomato sauce over the eggs and sprinkle with cheese. Serve with a hot pepper sauce.
Frijoles Refritos, as already mentioned make a great side dish for Huevos Rancheros. These are beans that are cooked slowly in chili broth with some onions and garlic. Then the cooked beans are mashed and fried in pork lard. The commonly used beans for this recipe are pinto (from North of Mexico) or black variety which are common in the southern part of Mexico. Red beans are commonly found in the markets but are almost never used for refried beans. A traditional Mexican Frijoles Refritos recipe will need:
1 pound package dried pinto beans
4 cups water
1/4 cup bacon grease (optional)
3 teaspoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon powder
1 tablespoon American chili powder
Soak the beans in water for at least six hours, in a Dutch oven. Rinse the beans thoroughly after they are properly soaked (save the soaking water). Put back the rinsed beans and at least two cups of the soaking water in the Dutch oven. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat. Let the beans simmer for about four to six hours, stirring occasionally. You will know the beans are done when they are already tender. Leave the lid off for the last hour if there seems to be too much liquid. Mash the beans often when lid is off until approximately half of them are mashed and half are still whole. Fry in lard.
Chocolate is what makes a Mexican brunch complete. It can be served as a drink or as a topping for some sweet bread. A Mexican chocolate is dark and bitter versus the American or European kinds. Mexican chocolate is often made spicier and grainier (in terms of texture) after it is mixed with sugar, cinnamon and dried and ground peppers. The popular breakfast chocolate drink is simply often blended with either water or milk. With the use of the basic pan dulce dough, Chocolate-topped Mexican breakfast Buns can be prepared. This recipe is rich in butter, eggs and a crumbly chocolate topping. A recipe for twelve buns will need:
For the bread:
about 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup whole milk, warmed to 108 degrees
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened butter
And for the chocolate topping:
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 egg yolk blended with 1 tablespoon water (egg wash), for glaze
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, and proof until puffy (ten minutes). In a bowl, mix the proofed yeast, warm milk, vanilla, sugar and eggs. Beat this mixture well until the eggs are fully blended. Add in one cup of the flour, the salt and soft butter. Blend well. Add the rest of the flour to turn into soft dough. On a lightly floured board, knead the dough for about five minutes of until the dough is already smooth. Rub some soft butter in a mixing bowl. Place the kneaded dough in the bowl and turn once to coat the entire dough with butter. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise to double its size, for about 1 to 1.5 hours.
While waiting for the dough to rise, you can prepare the chocolate topping. Combine and stir the melted chocolate, butter, vanilla, powdered sugar and flour in a small bowl. Chill the mixture in the freezer for 30 minutes. When the chocolate mixture is well-chilled already, process into chocolate crumbs in a food processor. Set aside.
When the dough has risen, gently deflate and cut into 12 pieces. Form the pieces into buns. Brush each bun with egg wash and then turn upside down onto the chocolate crumbs. Press lightly until the top is well-covered with chocolate. Place the buns on a greased baking sheet. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees while the ready buns are rising some more. Bake the buns for 12 to 15 minutes or until a bit golden. Remember not to over-bake to avoid dryness and keep the buns’ delicate form.
The above recipes complete a perfect Almuerzo. The brunch fiesta is made even more perfect when served with fresh fruits like yellow and green bananas, avocados, mangoes and avocadoes, among others. Some Mexican states, especially those on the coastline serve almuerzo with some seafood dish. An example is the ceviche or diced seafood tossed in salt and lime juice (the lime juice cures the seafood and “cooks” them in the process).
Brunch in Mexico is always long and heavy. Mexicans spend eating almuerzo chatting away and cap it off by a siesta or afternoon naps!
Mateo Gomez is the founder of AllAboutMexicanFood.com. To learn more about Mexican Food History visit AllAboutMexicanFood.com.