aztec bear

Budín Azteca

To start in on Mexican cooking for this project, since our default home cooking skews alternately to Mexican or Italian due to family tradition and general predilection, it seemed proper to begin with the grand dame of all of them—Diana Kennedy. The Cuisines of Mexico, originally published in 1972, is considered an authoritative reference, detailing indigenous cooking and ingredients with scholarly rigor while providing guidance in how to cook this food at home without losing too much of the spirit of the original. There are no foodie frills, and no restaurant empires at stake, just an intense passion for making sure these traditions are well-documented, shared, and preserved.

Leafing through the book, I resolved to eventually cook about half the things in it, but I hit jackpot with the Budín Azteca (also known as Pastel de Moctezuma)—a layered tortilla casserole apparently rooted far back in Aztec tradition…that bears every resemblance to a lasagna. For a household that considers enchiladas and pasta our ultimate comfort foods, this dish hit us where we live.

Tomatillos for green sauce and poblanos for rajas, plus chicken poached in a handful of aromatics.

Homemade tortillas were not strictly called for in the recipe, but they always make things better. (Yes, that’s technically a pizza skillet.) These came out a little bit fat, but that made for good strata in the casserole.

Making rajas. Friends, don’t overcrowd your sauté pan like this.

Also, I have to remember to taste test each of my poblanos if I ever make this dish for a crowd, because 6 of them were totally mild, and one of them was pure fire. My fingers are still tingling.

Filling up our layers. We were appreciating that though the whole thing all together is a little bit of a project, some of the components could easily be made ahead to break up the labor a little bit.

This dish turned out to be just the comfort food we expected; cozy and creamy, but with the fresh green flavors from the peppers and tomatillos brightening up all that cheese and tortilla. Not an everyday kind of dish, but there will surely be some kind of occasion to provide an excuse to make one.