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Like Water For Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel


SethG
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I began reading Like Water for Chocolate today in the serialized New York Times Great Summer Read insert. (I think this Great Summer Read thing is a wonderful idea, by the way.)

Each chapter contains a recipe. I had no plans for dinner tonight, and no ideas, so I made the recipe for "Christmas Rolls" featured in chapter one. These are hard dinner rolls stuffed with a mixture of chorizo, onion, sardines, canned serrano peppers, and oregano, then baked. And although the recipe left the reader to fill in a lot of blanks, I thought the results were pretty damn tasty.

Anybody else made any of the other recipes in the book? I don't know yet what the other recipes are. I bet we have the book in my apartment somewhere, but I'm looking forward to the surprise of each daily installment, so I haven't checked.

I'm going out of town later in the week, so I can't cook through the book in one week, but I thought it might be neat to have a thread where we can post what we think of the recipes, if anyone has any interest. Having read just the first chapter, I'm not yet prepared to say that I think the book is a classic, but making the featured dish has certainly enhanced the experience of the book for me.

My more detailed impressions of the Christmas Rolls:

The recipe specifies one onion, 1/2 a chorizo sausage, one can of serrano peppers, and one tin of sardines. I found that not one of these items comes in a standard size, so I sort of made up the mixture to suit my tastes. I assumed she meant a half of a large chorizo sausage, so I used two or three of the little ones you find packaged together in American supermarkets. I found the canned peppers to be pretty bland, so I tossed in about half a habanero pepper as well.

The recipe states that homemade rolls are best, but gives no guidance as to how to make them. I was concerned that the author really meant the dough to contain sugar, since I've seen sweet hard rolls a lot in Mexican bakeries, but I eventually went with more of a standard French bread dough for the rolls. I also had no idea how to stuff them. I ended up poking a hole in the side with kitchen shears and then forced the filling in with my fingers.

The recipe says to bake the filled rolls for ten minutes, at an unspecified temperature-- I went with 375 degrees, and it worked out well.

I have no idea if these tasted as they're supposed to taste, but I did think they came out really nice.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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I enjoyed the book too. I seem to recall some kind of disclaimer early in the book stating that the recipes were not written to be followed, they were intended to be viewed in a more literary sense.

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I too love like water for chocolate. a few years back, well more than a few, ie when the book was first published, the BBC contacted me to cook the recipes on the air, along with the reading of the book in a serialized form. We--well i--prepared a whole roster of the dishes, including the one with roses and quail. i remember that the day we were taping that was valentines day, and there were red rose stands all over london, and a big snow fell so there were no customers they were practically giving them away, and it was tooo cold to go running around and besides the roses would have frozen, so we went by taxi from this stand to the next, buying up bunches and bunches of red roses.

the roses were just to set the scene however the rest of the recipes were crafted and cooked. i had to adjust them quite a bit, as in QUITE a bit. but it was the inspiration and lyricism of the dishes, their descirptions and ingredients that was a dream. a dream to cook, to eat, and most importantly for our radio series, to listen to. very evocative and i have the lucky quality of always feeling as if that book is part of my life, and i in turn, am part of its. at least here in britain.

enjoy

x marlena

Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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Marlena,

Do you still have any of those recipes around? I'd love to take a look at how you "translated" the recipes from Like Water For Chocolate into workable ones!

Seth, it's one of my favorite books. Absolutely beautiful in the language, sensuality, and of course the focus on food!

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I enjoyed the book too. I seem to recall some kind of disclaimer early in the book stating that the recipes were not written to be followed, they were intended to be viewed in a more literary sense.

The disclaimer was printed in the NY Times with chapter one yesterday. It states that the publisher hasn't tested the recipes. I thought it was an odd disclaimer-- does the PUBLISHER usually test the recipes contained in any book? Or is the author relied upon to arrange for whatever testing is appropriate?

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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I thought it was an odd disclaimer-- does the PUBLISHER usually test the recipes contained in any book? Or is the author relied upon to arrange for whatever testing is appropriate?

Well, um, it's not a cookbook, is it? :hmmm::smile:

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Here's one you actually can do. Check out the recipe for

Quail in Rose Petal Sauce that Robb Walsh contributed to RecipeGullet. It is based on a scene in the novel.

Laura Esquivel's novel Like Water for Chocolate made the dish famous. Tita, the Mexican cook whose dishes literally express her emotions, makes the sauce from roses given to her by Pedro, her forbidden lover. Putting this recipe together, I felt a little like I was preparing a witch's potion. And the most magical of the ingredients were the red roses.

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Well, um, it's not a cookbook, is it? :hmmm::smile:

No, it's a "novel in monthly installments with recipes."

Note that part at the end about recipes. If the reader is not intended to cook the food in these recipes, it's kind of a sham, isn't it?

I believe Ms. Esquivel is delighted when people try to cook from the book. Clearly she's no cookbook author, however, and thus the recipes will always offer some ambiguities or other challenges. This is part of the book's charm, I think.

The fact that it isn't a traditional cookbook is obvious. That's partly why I find the disclaimer strange. What, will someone who fails to recreate the Christmas Rolls sue for the damage to his or her psyche? For the lost evening?

Today's chapter is accompanied by a recipe for... wedding cake. I am not making wedding cake today. But this cake is so weird I think I might try it later. It calls for 300 grams (10.6 oz. or about 2 and a half cups) of flour and SEVENTEEN eggs. This is for a cake to serve 18 people. It also contains grated lime peel. And there's an apricot filling, and a fondant icing that contains lime juice.

The flour/egg ratio is not a typo. It is discussed in the text. But it is kind of crazy, right? I'm trying and failing to picture what this cake would taste like. A fritatta? A custard?

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Well, um, it's not a cookbook, is it?  :hmmm:  :smile:

No, it's a "novel in monthly installments with recipes."

Note that part at the end about recipes. If the reader is not intended to cook the food in these recipes, it's kind of a sham, isn't it?

I believe Ms. Esquivel is delighted when people try to cook from the book. Clearly she's no cookbook author, however, and thus the recipes will always offer some ambiguities or other challenges. This is part of the book's charm, I think.

The fact that it isn't a traditional cookbook is obvious. That's partly why I find the disclaimer strange. What, will someone who fails to recreate the Christmas Rolls sue for the damage to his or her psyche? For the lost evening?

Today's chapter is accompanied by a recipe for... wedding cake. I am not making wedding cake today. But this cake is so weird I think I might try it later. It calls for 300 grams (10.6 oz. or about 2 and a half cups) of flour and SEVENTEEN eggs. This is for a cake to serve 18 people. It also contains grated lime peel. And there's an apricot filling, and a fondant icing that contains lime juice.

The flour/egg ratio is not a typo. It is discussed in the text. But it is kind of crazy, right? I'm trying and failing to picture what this cake would taste like. A fritatta? A custard?

I figure the NY Times printed a disclaimer because they don't want people writing, calling, and/or e-mailing them if they try the recipes and they don't come out good. They may well be inundated. :wacko:

I find it strange that the Times should call it a ,""novel in monthly installments with recipes." Does the author call it a novel with recipes? I mean, it's a novel. The recipes are part of the novel. The point is trying to figure out how the recipes fit into the novel (if they do at all), not really how the recipes will turn out. (Not that one shouldn't try them, but I don't think that's their main point.)

It's not just that it isn't a "traditional" cookbook. It isn't a cookbook at all. It's a novel. It's fiction. The Times is just covering it's bases. (As newspapers are wont to do. :rolleyes: )

Anyway, I think I'm just a bit peeved that they're printing this book because I never liked it :raz: . I think they could have made a much better choice, especially after starting off with a book as wonderful as Gatsby. But in truth, even though I never liked it, I was always curious about how those recipes might come out. So I wish you luck with them, and I do look forward to reading about how they turn out. :smile:

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I think the disclaimer comes from Random House, not the NY Times.

And the "with recipes" line is all over the book, see?. Looks to me like it came from the author.

Anyway, this novel vs. cookbook thing is a false dichotomy. Can't it be both? What about Tender at the Bone, or The Apprentice? Are they memoirs or cookbooks, or both?

I do agree that the book so far, while pleasant enough, isn't in the same category as a masterpiece like The Great Gatsby. Still, it's very enjoyable, and the Times has promised us nothing more than a "summer read," so I think it is a fine choice for the series.

Edited by SethG (log)

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Here's one you actually can do. Check out the recipe for

Quail in Rose Petal Sauce that Robb Walsh contributed to RecipeGullet. It is based on a scene in the novel.

Today's Times has two chapters, one of which features the quail dish. Thanks for linking to that adaptation-- but I don't have access to any rose petals at the moment.

The other chapter features turkey in mole sauce, however, and I might make it tonight. The mole seems very similar to Rick Bayless' recipe in Mexico One Plate at a Time (if my memory serves me well), but a little less complicated. I made the Bayless version a few months ago, and he strongly advised putting it all together and letting the flavors mingle for a few days before serving. I think I'll refer to Bayless for help in filling in some of the blanks in Esquivel's recipe, but otherwise just use her method and see how it comes out tonight. And I think I'll use chicken and chicken stock instead of turkey.

By the way, I really like typing the name "Esquivel." It's no "spatchcock," but it is fun, isn't it? Esquivel Esquivel Esquivel.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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So how did the mole come out? Aren't you dying to know?

It came out really nice. And Esquivel's recipe isn't bad-- although she gives the reader nary a clue about how much liquid (wine & stock) to add to the chile/nut paste. And she includes items in the ingredient list (peanuts and the seeds from the chiles) which she never mentions again. Just a couple minor problems!

I consulted with Mr. Bayless just to get some idea of how much stock I ought to be using. I didn't want the dried chiles to overwhelm the dish. His recipe calls for roughly double the number of chiles and about 6 or 7 cups of liquid. So I ended up poaching a couple pounds of chicken in light chicken stock to cover and then using about 3 cups of this liquid to make the sauce (along with about 1/3 cup of white wine). (I have a feeling that Ms. Esquivel would advise using a lot more liquid, as her recipe is apparently intended to provide sauce for a whole turkey, though likely a much smaller turkey than we get in American supermarkets. But I thought the amount I used made a nice sauce with the right kind of spiciness. And it thickened up right away.)

I don't have a large mortar, so I gave myself permission to grind the toasted almonds, sesame seeds and the fried chiles in the blender. This required the addition of several spoons of stock to the blender. I didn't make it a complete puree, but left a little bit of texture to better approximate the real thing. (I didn't use the food processer because I feared it would obliterate the texture I wanted. I did use the food processor to make the bread into crumbs before sauteeing it with the onion and garlic.)

Ms. Esquivel doesn't specify amounts for several of the spices in the recipe, and I ended up using a big pinch of each, pehaps as much as a quarter teaspoon. She calls for sugar to taste, and I kept adding it until it tasted right to me; I added at least a tablespoon, maybe two. I thought she called for too much chocolate, although if I'd used more liquid I might not have felt that way. If I made this again, I'd cut back by half on the chocolate, although my chocolatey mole was no problem last night, believe me.

I considered toasting the peanuts and adding them to the blender with the almonds, but in the end I decided to use them raw as a garnish, along with more toasted sesame seeds. I discarded the seeds from the chiles; the sauce was spicy enough.

We have a lot of sauce left over for tonight!

Today's first chapter is accompanied by a recipe for Northern-style Chorizo. It looks really very simple and quite doable-- I may give it a try, but not this week. The second chapter printed today features a recipe for homemade matches. This I'm unlikely to try.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Since this recipe has been worked over so much by you, it is now yours, any chance of you posting it in RecipeGullet?

Yeah, okay. Good idea. I will, next week.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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SethG, it sounds like you're really enjoying this adventure! I, too, love the book. And not only is Esquivel fun to type...it's fun to SAY! I enjoyed the book so much I also bought the DVD, which of course is subtitled, not dubbed.

I wonder if some of those recipes might be included in Diana Kennedy's "The Cuisines of Mexico?" Perhaps I'll take a look and let you know.

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My adventure was derailed by a trip out of town last Thursday. I didn't know that the "Great Summer Read" series is only being included in the New York editions of the Times. I was mightily pissed off to find no LWFC chapters in the Washington edition over the weekend.

So I bought the book, but of course without the pressure of serialization I didn't read any more of it over the weekend.

I do intend to finish it, and to see if any of the other recipes are worth trying. I do think the recipes are authentic and good (I actually think they're better than the novel!), although they require a little investment and faith from the reader.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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I finished the book today while I was sitting in a courtroom, waiting for a case to be called.

There are definitely many other recipes that look to be worth a try. In addition to the chorizo, I may make the oxtail soup, the Champandongo (a layered casserole containing beef, pork, cheese, and mole), the cream fritters, the beans with chiles, and the chiles in walnut sauce. I will post here (and maybe in RecipeGullet) about the results.

WARNING: there are spoilers in the paragraphs below. Don't read on unless you're familiar with the plot of Like Water for Chocolate.

As I neared the end of the book, I was feeling a bit worn down by the continual need to suspend my disbelief in the face of the numerous "magical realism" twists in the narrative. Then it occurred to me that most of these implausible plot turns conveniently cause the deaths of people standing in the way of Tita's romance with Pedro. I then realized that I had been reading LWFC all wrong. I had assumed that the reader is to accept the magic at face value, thereby missing the real point and all of the black humor in the book. For in reality there is no magic. Tita's account of the events of her life is a self-serving document, written to explain away the obvious: she is a cold-blooded serial killer.

It was lucky for Tita that the Mexican revolution was going on all around her as she quietly killed her whole family. Had the local police been less distracted, they might have taken a sample or two of the "magic" dishes that caused such havoc. If they'd ever bothered to look closely at the events at the ranch, the REAL story wouldn't have been hard to piece together.

Humiliated by her mother's refusal to let her marry Pedro, Tita deliberately ruined her sister Rosaura's wedding party by adding poison to the wedding cake, making everyone sick and accidentally killing her mentor Nacha. Nacha's death sank Tita further into a lonely psychosis, and simultaneously revealed to her the power she could wield if she chose to. Not knowing what to do next, Tita lay low, but tried to put together an aphrodisiacal Quail dish that would woo Pedro away from her sister. Unfortunately, this dish too missed its target, hitting Tita's sister Gertrudis instead, tragically sending her into a life of prostitution she would not escape for years.

Tita was still only semi-competent as a food contaminator, but she could see the possibilities if she kept at it. And keep at it she did. She successfully ruined a batch of sausages, although they spoiled too quickly for anyone to be sickened by eating them. She somehow managed to kill Roberto, the hated spawn of the unholy marriage of Pedro and Rosaura, through time-delayed poisoning before his parents moved him away. And she further practiced hardening her heart by killing pigeons.

All of this was just rehearsal for the main event: killing her mother. Tita accomplished this by skillfully manipulating her mother into poisoning herself. Tita included trace contaminants in her food-- just enough to make her mother suspect something and keep her off balance. And then Tita applied the master stroke: she contaminated her mother's bottle of syrup of ipecac, and let her mother desperately drink the fatal dose, ironically hoping to counteract the nonexistent poisons in the food.

Secure in new feelings of omnipotence, Tita could afford to bide her time, waiting decades before poisoning Rosaura, and in a final abominable act, killing Pedro and herself in a greusome arson/murder/suicide. Although her motivation is clear through most of her life, it remains a mystery why she chose to kill Pedro and herself at the moment when she finally had him where she wanted him. Perhaps he rejected her and she simply erupted with rage. Or perhaps her love for him had long been buried under her seething, murderous hatred: hatred for her mother, her sister, for Pedro, and finally for herself and her inexcusable actions.

I see the book now in a whole new light. I think I like it. (And yes, I'm kidding.)

Edited by SethG (log)

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Geez Seth!! :wacko: You had me going until the "I'm kidding." Here I am starting to worry that kind, gentle, bread baking, family man Seth may have some very dark underbelly.... :laugh:

Did you ever see the movie? I believe in every tear drop of the magic!

What a great thread!!

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I think I did see the movie, but my only recollection of it is that I thought it wasn't as sexy or as fun as another food movie called Tampopo.

Now that I've unlocked the dark subtext of the novel, however, I think other movies are closer analogues. Movies like Angel Heart and Mulholland Drive.

By the way, I just took a look at the reader forums over at the NY Times web site. I was thinking about posting my theory over there, just to see what would happen. But the reader forums are really a bust-- most of the postings are inquiries from readers who didn't get the inserts in their daily delivered papers. The postings that do discuss the books are borderline illiterate. One posting, about the great Gatsby, refers to protagonist Nick's "disalusionment" and "cokneyed romanticism."

Edited by SethG (log)

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Seth, I might even be able to get Sam to read the book with your interpretation! I love it! I always thought the book - for all that it was enjoyable - had a little too much touchy-feely fairy tale stuff. :raz:

K

Basil endive parmesan shrimp live

Lobster hamster worchester muenster

Caviar radicchio snow pea scampi

Roquefort meat squirt blue beef red alert

Pork hocs side flank cantaloupe sheep shanks

Provolone flatbread goat's head soup

Gruyere cheese angelhair please

And a vichyssoise and a cabbage and a crawfish claws.

--"Johnny Saucep'n," by Moxy Früvous

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Seth - you're killing me! You've snapped me right out of that soft focus, Vaseline-lensed interpretation of the most romantic story I've ever read. :biggrin:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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  • 1 year later...

For some reason I pulled Like Water for Chocolate off the shelf in my office today, which reminded me of this two-year-old thread, which I enjoyed at the time even if I was mostly talking to myself! I'm thinking about making the Ox-Tail Soup from chapter seven. Seems like a good antidote to a potentially rainy, cool Spring evening.

Looking over the recipe, such as it is, there are a couple question marks. I'm worried about my soup having too weak a beef flavor. Esquivel specifies two oxtails, and she says to use more water than you usually would to cook them, seeing as it's a soup. I think that, in an attempt to keep to the spirit of the type of home cooking we're talking about, I'm not going to measure out the water, but will instead pick a pot that seems right and just go with it. I can always add water if it seems too rich, I guess. I may add some veal stock to the cooking water if I have any left in the freezer, just to "beef" it up, as it were. This seems like a reasonable thing to do, as Esquivel later mentions adding "seasoned broth," although it's unclear if she's talking about anything other than the water in which the oxtails are first cooked.

Esquivel also specifies chiles moritas in the ingredients but never says what to do with them. I'm planning to soak them (or dried chipotles, if I don't find moritas) to soften them up, and then I'll seed them, chop them finely, and include them in the pan in which the onions, garlic, potatoes, and beans are cooked before being added to the soup. Unless someone tells me that's the wrong thing to do.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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