Passover steeped in Mexican flavors
Author Pati Jinich shares recipes and roots in Seder meal
Steeped in flavor: This dish was developed by Pati Jinich's sister Karen. Piloncillo is a Mexican brown sugar; substitute a dark brown sugar that is kosher for Passover, if need be. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
Pati Jinich will gather her husband and three sons at their home in Drummond, Md., for a meal that reflects their story as Mexican Jews, a tiny religious minority, an estimated 40,000 people, in a country that is overwhelmingly Christian.
"I was one of three Jews in a class of 120 kids," Jinich recalls in an email. But since her family was not very involved in Mexico City's Jewish community, she felt "sort of not from here and not from there." She celebrated Jewish holidays with family and went to Christmas posadas with friends and Sunday mass with her Roman Catholic nanny. One place where faiths and traditions intermingled "so beautifully" in Mexico was at the table around food, she notes.
Although she doesn't keep kosher, Jinich uses food to keep strong her family's Jewish faith and traditions. She wants her three sons, ages 6 to 13, to be "comfortable in their skin" so they'll know who they are and develop a good idea of what they want to do in life. She works to weave together the culture her sons experience in the U.S. with their Mexican and Jewish heritages.
"All these identities enrich each other," Jinich says, as she serves dishes she'll make for the Seder.
Jinich is host of the public television series "Pati's Mexican Table" and author of a just-published cookbook, "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30). A onetime political analyst, she now works as the chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, where she introduces her beloved homeland to others through Mexico's foods and flavors.
She tapes her cooking shows in the spacious kitchen of her handsome house, which is ringed with lush gardens where assorted chilies and culinary herbs share space with ornamental plants. On a nearby sideboard, gleaming proudly, are tall silver candlesticks fashioned by her maternal grandfather, a talented silversmith.
Jinich's family came to Mexico from Poland, Austria and Czechoslovakia in the early decades of the 20th century. And, like most people in a new land, they began using the foodstuffs they found, along with Mexican cooking techniques, to create new fare that reflected their new lives, while retaining what mattered to them. On important occasions, like Passover, dishes from the Old and New Worlds sit side by side.
"The food retained its soul and its meaning,'' Jinich explains. "They enriched it with the flavors they found."
Take this recipe for chicken in a tomatillo, chipotle and piloncillo sauce. Created by her sister Karen, a restaurateur in Mexico City, it symbolizes to Jinich what Passover is about.
"It has all the elements one is reminded to consider," Jinich wrote in an email. "Sour and tart to remember bitter times, sweetness to appreciate good times and a spicy kick to add some needed spunk to life."
Chicken in a tomatillo, chipotle and piloncillo sauce
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 50-60 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
Note: This recipe, called pollo con tomate verde chipotle y piloncillo in Spanish, was developed by Pati Jinich's sister Karen. Piloncillo is a Mexican brown sugar; substitute a dark brown sugar that is kosher for Passover, if need be. If you can't find chipotle in adobo sauce certified kosher for Passover, Jinich recommends cooking one jalapeno along with the onion. "It will be a different dish,'' she says, "Yummy, but different." This recipe is easily doubled to feed a crowd.
6 chicken pieces with skin and bones (thighs, legs, breasts or a combination), patted dry
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt