Xocolatl- An interpretation

Here is my interpretation of the hot bitter cacao-based Mayan drink xocolatl. I only made 2 1/2 gallons for 150 people because I didn’t think many people would like it, or even try it. I was so wrong. I should have made double the amount that I did. So while this recipe only makes about 150 3-oz servings, I would suggest doubling the serving size.

The pre-contact Mayans drank hot cacao drinks the way we drink black coffee or strong tea- as a stimulating beverage. It’s powerful, so only powerful people could drink it.

Possibly the most important part of these cacao drinks is the “broth” at the base. This isn’t the meat broth or pulse broth we’re familiar with from medieval European cooking, but chile broth. The liquid resulting from rehydrating dry chiles- of whatever kind- is a beautiful rich broth that can be used to add a subtle heat to all kinds of dishes. The chile broth added a lovely back-of-the-throat warmth to both the cacao drink and the braised turkeys. I look forward to playing with this technique more in my home cooking.

Madhavi’s Xocolatl

2 pounds of raw cacao paste
2 whole vanilla beans, slit down the length
2 teaspoons of fresh-ground achiote
1/4 c whole allspice berries
2 1/2 gallons of water
6 oz dried guajillo chiles
1-2 c honey
1 tsp + of salt

First make the chile broth. Heat the water to boiling and add the chiles. Let them steep until the water is cold.

Chop the chocolate into splinters. Strain the chile broth, use the chiles for something else. Start the chile broth heating in a wide pot over medium heat. Add the chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the rest of the ingredients, including the first cup of honey, and bring the mixture almost to a boil. Turn the heat off and let everything bloom and steep for at least an hour. Taste and add more honey only if necessary. It should be bitter but not unpleasantly so. Strain through a fine wire strainer.

If you want to serve it hot, then heat back to almost boiling slowly, whisking like mad the whole time. The mixture will scorch very quickly!

I loved this drink so much more than the over-sweetened, milky “hot chocolate”. If you want to try it on a home scale, you can buy 4 oz bags of cacao nibs, which can be used in the same way. A heaping tablespoon of cacao nibs makes a big mug of Xocolatl.


Foods of the Medieval New World

My next full feast is a full year from now, Martinmass 2012. The theme of the event is Mayan, of course. It’s the End of the World! We’re going to have so much fun with the whole theme. Of course, I’m doing a Mayan feast…

Wow. I know a decent amount about modern Central American food, but nothing about pre-Columbian Mayan food culture. First I had to figure out what foods they did NOT have.

No wheat. No rice. No barley, rye, spelt, emmer, or buckwheat. Only corn and a little amaranth.

No milk. No cheese, cream, buttermilk, no milk products of any kind. The Mayans had very few domesticated animals, and zero milk-producing domesticated animals.

None of the common livestock. No cows, goats, sheep, camels, oxen, or pigs. Very few large mammals in Central America. This also means no familiar animal fats, no lard or sheep tail fat for cooking in. They mostly ate wild game birds, insects, reptiles, fish, and shellfish. They did eat the tapir, which is related to the horse though it looks like a pig, and monkeys. A single source so far says they also hunted wild deer and peccaries and possibly also ate dogs. As far as I can tell, bird eggs were also not a part of their diet but they did eat iguana eggs.

It’s difficult to even conceive of a cuisine based on what foods they had available, yet they did have a cuisine. They had a wealth of fruits and vegetables, including guava, yuca, sweet potato, avocado, chili peppers, beans, tomatoes, papaya, sopadilla, and pumpkins.

Some recognizable dishes and cooking methods that will make this feast much more approachable include tortillas, tamales, pozole, pipian sauce, and pit-roasting, called pib. And the feast must include cacao, of course.

This is going to be so much fun!