Dia de los Muertos is a three-day long celebration honoring the souls of the departed. It’s not a somber occasion like most people think, it’s a festive, uplifting holiday that really celebrates the lives of those who are no longer with us.
One of my favorite traditions is creating Dia de los Muertos altars at my restaurants. I always include photos and mementos of my grandmother and my father along with some of their favorite foods and other festive decorations like colorful sugar skulls and marigolds. We put them right at the front of the restaurants so people can see them as they walk in. Putting everything together on the altar has become a fun way for me to sort through my dad’s and grandmother’s things and remember the good times we had cooking, eating and sharing stories.
For me, the biggest focus is on the food. We run special menus at the restaurants highlighting my dishes that my grandmother taught me to make. I love to make her albóndigas and tamales de mole amarillo. My chiles rellenos also makes an appearance on the menu, as this was a dish that my dad loved. Take a look at the recipe below and I hope you enjoy this fun holiday. Be sure to take some time to remember all the special times you shared with those who are no longer with us.
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WHAT YOU NEED
- INGREDIENTS FOR CILANTRO-COJITA PESTO:
- 1 cup unsalted raw or roasted pumpkin seeds
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro, stems trimmed 2 inches from the bottom
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves1 cup olive oil, plus extra for storage
- ½ serrano chile or 1 jalapeño, coarsely chopped (yup, seeds too, if you can take the heat)
- 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup crumbled Cacique cotija cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- INGREDIENTS FOR CHILE RELLENO:
- 4 large poblano chiles
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
- 1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
- 1/4 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup diced Cacique® Queso Fresco
- 1 tablespoon Cilantro-Cotija Pesto (Below)
HOW TO MAKE IT
- For the Cilantro Cotija Pesto:
- Preheat oven to 400ºF.
- Spread the pumpkin seeds in an even layer on a dry baking sheet. Put the sheet in the oven and bake, checking them and shaking the pan every 3 minutes, until they start to dance, puff up, and brown lightly, about 10 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven, transfer the seeds to a bowl, and let cool to room temperature.
- Put the cilantro, basil, and olive oil into a food processor and puree for 2 minutes. Add the chile, garlic, pumpkin seeds, and cojita, and pulse until you have a coarse puree, season with salt and pepper to taste. * To store, put it into a container with a tight-fitting lid and pour 1/4 inch of olive oil over the surface to keep out the air. Each time you use it, stir that oil in, and replace with another 1/4 inch of oil before closing the container. This makes an airtight seal that will keep it tasting fresh for up to 10 days.
- For the Chiles Rellenos with Vegetable Picadillo:
- Turn two of your stove’s burners to medium-high. Place 2 poblano chiles on each burner and roast them, turning them occasionally with tongs, until they’re charred all over and soft but not mushy, about 7 minutes. Transfer them to a big bowl or soup pot, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and let the chiles steam for 10 minutes. Peel them, being careful to keep them intact. Rub off the skins; don’t rinse under water.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and corn and cook until the onion has softened and the pepper is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and transfer the mixture to a large bowl to cool slightly. Add the cheese and Cotija-Cotija Pesto and mix well.
- Cut a lengthwise slit in each pepper, pull out and discard the seeds and veins, but keep the stem on. Divide the filling among the chiles. Lay them in a 1-quart baking dish and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cheese is melting. Serve at once.
- Note: If you don’t have a gas stove, put your peppers on a baking sheet and cook them under the broiler until they char, turning several times, about 10 minutes all together.