Posted in December-January, 2013 by East Capers Periodico, issue 65, p. 20
Republished with permission of East Capers Periodico..
By Renee Lagloire
Atole has been central to celebrations throughout Mexico for centuries. It is a delicious masa-based hot beverage that has its roots in ancient Mexico, having been consumed by the Olmec, the Maya, and the Aztec people. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the drink was known as “atolli,” becoming atole in Spanish. If chocolate was the drink of the rich and powerful in preconquest civilizations of Mexico, atole was the beverage of everyone else.
Atole is made primarily of corn that has been soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, and is then cleaned – a process called nixtamalization. The importance of nixtamal is that it allows for various minerals, amino acids, and vitamins to be absorbed into the human body. This makes masa-based foods, including atole, very nutritious, especially when combined with other foods.
To make atole, the nixtamaled corn is ground or milled, becoming masa. The masa is mixed with water (or milk) and piloncillo (sugar cones, similar to brown sugar) and is heated. Sometimes cinnamon, vanilla or anise is added. Chocolate atole, called champurrado is also a popular beverage. Atole de fruta has pureed pineapple, strawberries or other fruit added.
In the day-to-day life of modern Mexico, parents depend on atole for their children’s sustenance when they are sick. It is also a comfort food for many, and is especially appreciated by the elderly.
Atole, however, continues to play a role in the ceremonial life of 21st Century Mexico. It is served at Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebrations in November throughout the country.
It is also the beverage given during Las Posadas on the days preceding Christmas in some of the more traditional areas of Mexico. Las Posadas are community reenactments of Joseph and the expecting Mary seeking shelter in Bethlehem.Year after year, after knocking on many doors and asking by song for a place to stay, the request is finally granted, and the procession is given “shelter.” The guests are served atole and tamales. Atole, in addition, is featured at the Candlemas celebration (el Dia de la Candelaria). The host of this party is decided on Kings’ Day (January 6) when a traditional wreath-shaped sweet bread (Rosca de Reyes) is served, into which a small plastic baby doll is baked. The person whose slice of sweet bread contains the doll is obligated to serve tamales and atole at the Candlemas party, celebrated in February.
Atole is very soothing, and for its simplicity, is amazingly delicious. It tastes lightly of corn tortilla, with creamy hints of cinnamon and vanilla, a true marriage of flavors. Atole is also delicious as champurrado or de fruta. Its consistency can be thinner or thicker, depending on personal taste.
While atole is now available in a variety of flavors in instant form, you’ll find it more satisfying if you make it using this recipe. Enjoy!
3½ cups water
1½ cups milk
½ cup masa
1/3 cup shaved piloncillo or brown sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. vanilla
• Combine water, milk, masa, piloncillo, salt and cinnamon in a sauce pan;
• Using a whisk, bring the mixture to a rolling boil, stirring constantly;
• Reduce heat and simmer mixture for 5 minutes;
• Remove from heat and add the vanilla;
• Serve in mugs
Chocolate Atole (Champurrado)
Omit the sugar and the cinnamon. After removing the cooked atole from the heat add one tablet
(about 3- ½ ounces) Mexican chocolate, chopped, and whisk until the chocolate is melted.
Omit milk and use a total of 4 ½ cups water. Omit the cinnamon. Add 1 ½ cups pureed or finely chopped fresh pineapple after the mixture is re-moved from the heat.
Denise Elliott is the Chef and Renée Lagloire is the Anthropologist at Buen Provecho La Paz, where they offer Mexican cooking and culture classes from now until March 15, 2014, www.buenprovecholapaz.com.