My Grandfather's Menudo, Veganized

This is an excerpt from Canciones de Mis Padres, recipes and journal entries exploring legacy, Mexican identity, and veganism. Read the full story in Issue #01 here.

When my brother, Gabriel, married his long-time girlfriend, Melissa, we traveled to El Paso for the wedding. After all of the formal festivities had died down, we schlepped back to his house and as I sat on the carpet, sleepily massaging my feet, a sea of people flowed through the door. It was late, and it was time for menudo.

When my partner and I were falling in love, in the very beginning,  I made it for him, too. I spent hours butchering and cleaning cow's stomach, picking out as many hairs as I could with designated 'meat tweezers.' I used my grandfather's recipe and even though my hands ached the next morning, I felt comforted by the ritual. 

Later, I learned that the butchering and the tweezing only ever meant anything because of the conversations we had in the process. It was the time spent together, not the animal between us. The spices, the chiles - these are the things that anchor myself to my grandfather, even now in the emptiness of his absence.

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Generally, almost exclusively, those telling me that veganism is antithetical to my culture are not people of color. They are not fellow Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. The notion that veganism is the white erasure of Mexican identity contains several implications, one of which is that we as a people cannot be modernly researched or learned. We must stay primitive to be comfortably within the confines of what outsiders perceive as Mexicaness. What most fail to understand is that my culture and the history of my people never leaves me; it is always of me and with me. I can be moved by the science that tells us that meat and dairy consumption is harmful to the planet and I can act on that knowledge while retaining my identity because we are forever intwined.

I reject the assertion that to be Mexican is, inherently, to be violent, uneducated, and exploitive. There are vegans in Mexico, right now, carrying on the legacy of their padres with pride.  We know that the key to our culture is our language, our spices, and the hours we spend together. 

This is the recipe that my paternal grandfather made every Christmas. The key to mimicking the taste of menudo lies in bamboo shoot water (from the can), added right before serving. Mix in 3-4 tbsp of this water, depending on how 'gamey' you want the dish to taste. 

Nachos Menudo

4 servings

6 oz oyster mushrooms
1 cup of white hominy
40 g dried guajillo peppers
1 tsp chili powder
¼ tsp cayenne powder
¾ tsp salt
3 cups of filtered water
2-8oz cans of bamboo shoots
Mexican oregano, to garnish
White onion, to garnish
Lime juice, to garnish
Bolillos (bread rolls), optional

Directions

1. Begin by removing the stems from your guajillo peppers, by hand.  Place in a heat-safe bowl.

2. In a kettle, boil filtered water. Once boiling, add to the bowl of peppers and cover with a towel or pan. Rehydrate the chiles for at least 20 minutes. 

3. Using tongs, add the rehydrated peppers to a blender.  Pour in a ½ cup of the warm pepper-water to the blender and puree. Set aside.

4. Mushroom preparation: Separate the stems from the caps, or petals. Break the petals in two. Chop the stems roughly, if you'd like. Note that these do take longer to cook.

5. In the can, wash and drain your white hominy several times.  Add 1 cup of hominy to a small saucepan with just enough water to cover every kernel.  Place on medium heat and cook for 20 minutes or until soft. Drain and set aside. 

6. In a medium stockpot, add guajillo paste and set heat to medium heat. Once warm, add oyster mushrooms and stir constantly for 5 minutes. 

7. Add 3 cups of filtered water, hominy, chili powder, cayenne, and salt. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring often. 

8. Remove from heat and serve immediately.  

To serve: Add the juice of half a lime, 3-4 tbsp bamboo shoot water, a tablespoon of chopped onion, and most importantly, Mexican oregano — which is very different from Mediterranean oregano. Crush Mexican oregano in the palm of your hand with the opposing thumb and sprinkle liberally.