2016-12-25 / Insight

A Christmas feast

Hispanic Service Center serves traditional holiday meal
BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 •

IMLAY CITY — Christmas morning comes everywhere Dec. 25, but not everywhere are presents delivered by reindeer-drawn Nordic elves or are presents delivered at all.

In Holland and the Low Countries, Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) dresses like a medieval bishop and is accompanied by Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) who brings lumps of coal or bundles of switches for children on the naughty list. In Mexico and most of the Spanish speaking world, presents come on Three Kings Day (El Dia de Reyes).

When Lourdes Emke of Metamora was a little girl in Mexico City, her presents were brought by the Three Kings. Her Christmas season began with a Christmas Eve dinner, featuring fish dishes like Romeritos and Pescado Bacalado. She said they were large family gatherings with drinking and dancing that ended with midnight Mass.

Romerito translates to “little rosemary” in English and is served with dried shrimp patties and potatoes covered with a mole sauce (pronounced, Mo-lay). At its simplest mole sauce is a dark brown sauce made from dried chili peppers, spices, and chocolate, but there are as many recipes for it as there are abuelas (grandmothers).


Angie Ochoa takes a plate of cookies to the table at the Hispanic Service Center’s Christmas senior luncheon while Dora Shagena makes up a plate of food. 
Photo by Phil Foley Angie Ochoa takes a plate of cookies to the table at the Hispanic Service Center’s Christmas senior luncheon while Dora Shagena makes up a plate of food. Photo by Phil Foley The mole sauce Rosa Mendez made for a roomful of abuelas and tios (uncles) Wednesday at Hispanic Service Center’s Christmas lunch in downtown Imlay City Wednesday was rich and mild with 28 spices and served with chicken thighs boiled till the meat fell off the bone. They were served with sides of Canary beans cooked with a hint of bacon and yellow rice, made by Dora Shagena.

Shagena, who grew up in Texas, said a holiday tradition among Mexicans is making tamales. Tamales are made with a dough (masa) of hominy and lard wrapped around a bit of meat or other filling that’s wrapped in corn husk and steamed. “It takes two days to make tamales,” Shagena said, “one, for preparation and one for assembly.”


Rice, beans and chicken thighs in mole sauce wait for Rosa Mendez to serve to seniors at the Hispanic Service Center in Imlay City. Food plays a central role in Mexican celebrations. 
Photo by Phil Foley Rice, beans and chicken thighs in mole sauce wait for Rosa Mendez to serve to seniors at the Hispanic Service Center in Imlay City. Food plays a central role in Mexican celebrations. Photo by Phil Foley “It takes a lot of work,” Able Pene observed. His family moved to Imlay City from Texas in 1942 to work the vegetable fields east of Imlay City. He said if he could have one thing for Christmas, it would be the tamales his parents made from scratch when he was a kid and his parents making them.

He was looking forward to going to his sister’s house Saturday to make tamales.

Emke said most Mexicans aren’t big on making Christmas cookies, since every town has at least one bakery and “it’s just easier to go get them.”


Able Pene grew up in Imlay City and looks forward making tamales with his family at Christmastime. 
Photo by Phil Foley Able Pene grew up in Imlay City and looks forward making tamales with his family at Christmastime. Photo by Phil Foley However, almost everyone at the Hispanic Center’s Christmas luncheon remembered their mothers making buñuelos. Angie Ochoa said her mother used to put a towel on her knee and stretch flour tortillas over it before cutting it in strips. The dough strips were deep friend and tossed with cinnamon and sugar to make buñuelos.

“I can do it, but not as good as my mother,” she said.

Emke noted that when she was a child only children received gifts on Three Kings Day. But, she said, about 30 years ago Santa Claus began bringing practical gifts, like socks, on Christmas and Los Reyes still brought toys.

“There have been a lot of changes,” Pene observed. He and Emke said Imlay City’s Hispanic population has become Anglicized, at least when it comes to Christmas. Following Imlay City’s Christmas parade all the city’s children flock to Santa to tell him their wishes.

But in many Mexican homes, there is still Rosca De Reyes on the table at Christmas. It’s a fruit-filled cake and if you get the slice with the figurine of Baby Jesus, next year it will be your turn to host the dinner.

“Food and culture is just wonderful. It’s like music,” Shanega said. “We don’t cut any corners. We go all out from Christmas to New Year’s.”

Pescado Bacalado

• One pound salted cod

• Four potatoes sliced thick

• Two sliced onions

• Four sliced hard-boiled eggs

• Two teaspoons capers

• Two large garlic cloves, minced

• A quarter cup of pitted green olives

• A half cup of golden raisins

• One four-ounce jar of red roasted peppers, drained

• One bay leaf

• One eight-ounce can of tomato sauce

• One cup chicken broth

• Half cup olive oil

• A quarter-cup of white wine

Instructions:

• Soak the salted cod in about two quarts of water and change the water three times over the course of eight hours. Drain and cut the fish into bite-size pieces.

• Place half the potatoes cod fish, onions, hard-boiled eggs, capers, garlic, olives, roasted red peppers, and raisins in a pot. Then place the bay leaf on top and pour half the tomato sauce and half the olive oil. Repeat with the remaining ingredients in the same order. • Finally pour the chicken stock and white wine on top. Do not stir.

• Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

Buñuelos

• Four cups all-purpose flour

• One teaspoon baking powder

• One tablespoon sugar

• Half teaspoon kosher salt

• Four tablespoons melted butter or freshly rendered lard

• Half cup whole milk

• Two eggs

• Vegetable oil for frying

Instructions:

• In a mixer with a hook or paddle attachment, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.

• With the mixer off, pour in the butter and milk and break the eggs directly on top. Slowly raising the speed, beat the dough until it is smooth and shiny, about 15 to 20 minutes.

• Form into a ball in the mixer bowl. Lightly cover the dough with a tea towel and let the dough rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

• Divide the dough into 16 to 20 balls the size of a golf ball. Place each on a baking sheet as it is formed. Cover the balls lightly with a dampened tea towel to keep them moist.

• Pick up a ball and flatten it with a rolling pin or your palms to make a disk about 5 inches across. Place it back under the dampened towel with the balls. Continue with the others.

• Cover a table with a clean tablecloth to dry the buñuelos.

Pick up the first disk you made and, starting in the center, gently stretch it out to make a large, almost transparent disk 12 inches across, pulling along the edge. Lay it on the tablecloth to dry, about 30 minutes. Continue with the others. When they are finished, turn each over and allow the other side to dry another 30 minutes, or until the tortillas feel completely dry.

• Place a wire rack over a baking sheet for draining.

• Pour the oil into a skillet to about 1 inch deep. Heat the oil to 375 F over medium hot heat. Carefully slide a Cover a table with a clean tablecloth to dry the buñuelos into the hot oil and press it down gently with a fork. The oil will bubble and the buñuelo will blister, and the bottom side will turn golden in less than a minute. Turn over and fry the other side for less than a minute. With tongs, remove it from the oil, hold vertically and let it drain back into the pot a few seconds. Place it on the wire rack to drain well and then on a flattened brown paper bag.

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