Mexico's glorious sauces include one with an inglorious side effect. It is manchamanteles, an ornate composition of chiles, fruits, seeds, nuts and aromatics that has sent many a tablecloth to the washtub. In Spanish, manchar means to stain, and mantel means tablecloth, so the name carries a warning.
Although the laundry potential remains constant, the character of manchamanteles may vary. Some cooks make the dish with pork, others with turkey and still others with chicken. There is room for variation also in the selection of fruits and chiles.
Like the better-known chocolate-darkened mole of Puebla, manchamanteles is elaborate enough for a celebration. It takes a special day to inspire the work involved in a dish that requires more than 40 ingredients, as does the version devised at Tamayo in East Los Angeles. We've chosen this manchamanteles to head a menu honoring Mexican Independence Day, which is tomorrow.
Tamayo's manchamanteles is made with chicken. The bird is first roasted with an ancho chile marinade, then cut up, doused with the sauce and presented in a pretty but spicy ring of diced fruit. Unlike mole poblano , the sauce contains a large amount of fruit--plums, papayas, bananas and pineapple--and also fruit juices. The taste is decidedly sweet. And then comes the zing of chiles.
Manchamanteles is served occasionally at Tamayo, not every day. The idea of including it on the menu was inspired by the Fonda El Refugio, a restaurant in Mexico City known for traditional foods.
The remainder of the Independence Day menu is also from Tamayo and incorporates some festive variations on old-time Mexican dishes. Sangria, for example, is topped off with Champagne. And bread pudding comes dressed up with chocolate sauce and squiggles of Mexican crema.
The pudding is based on a Mexican bread called telera, which acquires its distinctive shape from two lengthwise, parallel indentations. These large, soft rolls are available at some Mexican bakeries. We bought them from a bin at Tianguis on Whittier Boulevard in Montebello. Other ingredients that make the dessert unusual are dried apricots, apricot brandy and passion fruit juice.
For an appetizer, there are chips and a salsa that contains a dash of the heady chipotle chile. Dinner starts with a creamy, full-flavored cheese soup that is a cheerful shade of green, the result of blending in watercress, cilantro and fresh poblano chile.
Lots of greenery also goes into the rice, which is moist in texture rather than dry and flaky. And a crisp vegetable relish, Verduras Marinadas, is a startling magenta, as likely to decorate the tablecloth as manchamanteles. Beets supply the strong hue.
Although time-consuming, manchamanteles is a good dish for parties because it can be made in advance. The chicken should be marinated overnight, and the sauce can be put together the day before the dinner and reheated. The special ingredients are stocked in Mexican markets and many supermarkets. The most difficult to find will probably be dried chipotle chiles, which are used in the main dish and the salsa. This chile is expensive, selling for $8 to $10 a pound at booths in the Grand Central Public Market in downtown Los Angeles. If necessary, use canned chipotles , which are more readily available and less expensive.
Mexican Independence Day Dinner
Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa
Crema de Queso
Budin de Pan
1 (750-milliliter) bottle red wine
1 1/2 cups bottled sweet-and-sour mix
1 cup cherry brandy
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup Triple Sec
1 (750-milliliter) bottle Champagne
Thin slices orange, lemon and lime
Combine wine, sweet-and-sour mix, brandy, orange juice and Triple Sec. Pour mixture over ice in tall glasses. Add generous splash of Champagne to each serving. Garnish edge of glass with citrus slices. Makes 6 servings.
CREMA DE QUESO (Cheese Soup)
5 tablespoons butter
4 cups watercress leaves, coarsely chopped
4 cups cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
4 cups spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 large poblano chile, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 quart chicken stock
1 1/2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
2/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 pound Parmesan cheese, grated
Cubed Jack cheese
Melt butter in heavy 2-quart saucepan. Add watercress, cilantro, spinach, celery and chile and cook until celery is tender. Remove vegetables and set aside.
In same pot, combine chicken stock and potatoes. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Puree half of mixture in food processor or blender. Add half of vegetables and blend until smooth. Return to saucepan. Repeat with remaining potato-stock mixture and vegetables and return to saucepan. Add cream, bring to boil and add Parmesan cheese. Cook until cheese is melted.