Celebrating The Dead With Chiles And Chocolate
The Day of the Dead is celebrated from October 31st through November 2nd, from Latin America – and especially Mexico – to New Hampshire.
Family and friends gather to remember, honor, and celebrate deceased loved ones – and food plays a big role.
“You want to make that dish or that something for your loved one, and eat it, sharing it,” says Marigen Delgadillo. “The thought is that the essence of what we're having and eating is being also shared by our loved ones who have already departed.”
Delgadillo and her husband, Martín, are the co-owners of Consuelo's Taquería in Manchester.
For the last four years, they've held a special Day of the Dead dinner here, selling out a month in advance.
“It's to bring everyone together,” explains Martín Delgadillo. “It's a day to celebrate. We take this day as a day to remember our people that are not here anymore with us, but at the same time we make a party.”
For this party, Consuelo's partners with nearby Dancing Lion Chocolate, and its owner, master chocolatier Richard Tango-Lowy.
“I've always liked Consuelo's, since they opened,” Tango-Lowy recalls. “Martín and Marigen are charming, and Martín is definitely Mexico City, you get him talking and he so loves food. It just came to me that we needed to do something together.”
Tango-Lowy says bringing combining Mexican food and chocolate is a natural, with chocolate consumption going back to the Aztecs and Mayans.
But for this dinner, he goes all-out, incorporating chocolate into everything.
Guests are welcomed at the door with traditional, spicy, frothy drinking chocolate, thickened with masa, a kind of corn flour. Next, there's a salad with a chocolate-based dressing, and then the main course.
The first year, they made a green mole, which does traditionally include chocolate, but since then, they've gotten more creative in bringing chocolate into other Mexican dishes.
This year, the dish is chiles en nogada.
Big poblano chiles are fried, and stuffed with meat and fruit, then covered with a walnut cream sauce, and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. It's an important dish in Mexico, where the green chiles, pale sauce, and bright-red pomegranate match the colors of the flag.
For tonight's version, Tango-Lowy has added rare Peruvian Piura, thought to be the oldest-grown variety of chocolate. “It's not one I would normally throw over food for 35 people,” he says, “but, when I tasted the poblanos it was just obviously the right chocolate, and I couldn't stop myself from doing it.”
While chocolate normally isn't part of chiles en nogada, Martín Delgadillo says the taste is well worth the break from tradition. “I love it. You know, food is like a canvas, you can control whatever you want in order to make it happen, and this is what happens today, and we think it was a great touch to the chiles en nogada.”
The guests – a pretty even mix of Dancing Lion and Consuelo's customers – certainly think so, too.
“The pomegranate seeds and chocolate, it was very rich, it was delicious,” says Melissa
Penson-Mesa. Her husband, Enrique Mesa, who happens to be the chair of the governor's Committee on Latino Affairs, says he appreciates the creativity, too. “I never thought I would have chocolate with my salad, in my lifetime,” he laughs, “and I'm really glad that one off my bucket list is checked off there.”
“I just think it's great to have Consuelo's and Dancing Lion working together,” adds Penson-Mesa, “because that's the spirit of the Day of the Dead anyway, family and unity and everybody coming together.”
The dinner ends with sweet, skull-shaped breads, and Tango-Lowy's pumpkin-beer-lemon bonbons.
On an altar nearby, mementos of the deceased look on – of members of the Delgadillo family, of a friend of one of the guests, and of one of Tango-Lowy's heroes, a great chocolatier.