In the US, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of romance, a day focused on couples. In Mexico, it has another significance. It is called El Dia del Amor y la Amistad, meaning “The Day of Love and Friendship.” El Dia del Amor y la Amistad expands the definition to honor romantic and non-romantic love. No one is left out on Valentine’s Day in Mexico.
The celebration of friendship and love is so strong that schools and churches host Valentine's events for their communities. A popular game played in school is “El Amigo Secreto,” similar to Secret Santa, where participants exchange small gifts leading up to Valentine’s Day. “Kermes,” a carnival-like event, often hosts a faux wedding where the “groom” must invite the “bride” to a meal of tacos, or he must pay a fee. Couples often give gifts, including serenades, poems, and romantic meals. But one of the most important elements of these celebrations is food! If you’re in Mexico for Valentine’s Day, expect a large meal of spicy, delicious food.
If you’d like to celebrate Valentine’s Day a little differently this year, consider adding some Mexican spice to your dishes. Let’s explore a full menu of unique dishes you can use this Valentine’s Day; your hard work will show through with these complex Mexican flavors.
A Spicy Main Course: Pollo Pibil
Did you know that spicy food helps release endorphins? Scientists believe the release of endorphins contributes to attachment and bonding between partners, which means a spicy meal may be just the thing for a fulfilling Valentine’s Day. Pollo Pibil combines heat and acid to create a spicy, addicting chicken dish. Adjust the amount of Achiote paste to raise or lower the heat level.
- 6 roasted garlic cloves
- ½ cup Achiote paste
- ¾ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup grapefruit juice
- 1 tsp. oregano
- ½ tsp. ground cumin
- 3 lbs. chicken
- 2 banana leaves, alter natively you can use aluminum foil
- 1 tomato
- ½ red onion
- 6 Epazote leaves (found at your local Hispanic Grocery Store)
How to cook
- Blend achiote paste, orange juice, grapefruit juice, oregano, and cumin. Blend until the mixture is smooth.
- Marinate chicken in this blended sauce for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. If you have time, marinating overnight will give the chicken an even better flavor.
- Lay out banana leaves or foil pieces approximately 12”x12” in size. In the center of the leaf or foil, place a single piece of chicken and ladle it over with the marinade. Add slices of tomato, onion, 1 epazote leaf, and 1 piece of roasted garlic. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
- Wrap the leaves or foil into rectangles. If you are using banana leaves, you can wrap foil around them to keep the leaves from breaking open.
- Cover the bottom of a dutch oven or large pot with more banana leaves or aluminum foil. Pour in 1 cup of water, then place the bundles of chicken in the pot. Cover with more leaves or foil, then place the lid on the pot.
- Turn the burner to medium-high heat, cooking for 12 minutes while bringing the pot to a boil. Reduce the burner to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Continue checking the water and refill it as needed.
To serve Pollo Pibil, unwrap your chicken bundles and remove the leaves or foil. Move the chicken and vegetables to a plate and cover with any remaining sauce. Common side dishes include white rice, tortillas, and pico de gallo, which we will explore next. Pollo Pibil is a relatively quick dish that will look like you spent all day in the kitchen. Use it to surprise your loved one this year!
A Romantic Side Dish: Strawberry Pico De Gallo
What could be more romantic than strawberries? Instead of covering them in chocolate, why not add them to a colorful salsa and use them as a side dish? If you’re looking for a quick recipe with ingredients you may already have, look no further. It can also be made in bulk if you’re attending a Mexican Valentine’s Day party!
- 1 jalapeno pepper
- 2 cups strawberries
- ½ cup red onion
- 1 tbsp. cilantro
- ½ tsp. salt
- Juice from 1 lime
How to make
- Chop jalapeno, onion, and strawberries. Jalapenos and onions should be small while strawberries can be bite-sized. Roughly chop cilantro leaves, removing the stems.
- Mix chopped items in a large bowl and add salt and lime juice to taste.
This quick side can be served right away. Making this dish not long before serving will result in the best texture, but feel free to save any leftovers in the fridge for up to 2 days. Pico de Gallo can be used as a topping over meat or salad or served as an appetizer with tortilla chips.
A classic dessert: Caramel Flan
Perhaps no dessert is so associated with Mexico as flan, but flan was not invented there. During the Spanish occupation of the 1500s flan made its way into Mexican cuisine. With such a long history, flan is now associated with home cooking and small local restaurants. The simple ingredients remain the same: sugar, egg, and milk, but it can be served with a variety of toppings. We’ll explore a simple caramel flan, but feel free to add any fruit or sweet toppings you have around the house.
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 5 eggs
- 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
- 12 oz. evaporated milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
How to cook
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Over medium-low heat, cook sugar and water in a saucepan for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Use a moistened pastry brush to brush down any sugar crystals sticking to the side of the pan. Be sure to stir the mixture so your sugar doesn’t burn.
- Pour the melted sugar into 1 large baking dish or several small baking dishes for individual portions. Allow the mixture to coat the bottom of each dish; let stand for 10 minutes.
- Mix cream cheese in a bowl until smooth. 1 at a time, beat in each egg and combine thoroughly, then add sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and vanilla extract. Mix thoroughly and pour into the sugar-lined dish(es).
- Boil water and pour into a large baking pan, about 1 inch deep. Place custard dish(es) into the baking pan and bake for 50-60 minutes. After removing them from the oven, place custard dish(es) on a wire rack to cool for another hour, then refrigerate overnight.
Use a knife to loosen the flan from its dish. Place a serving plate on top of the custard dish and flip over, tapping gently to help the flan fall onto the plate. Slowly raise and remove the custard dish. The caramelized sugar should create a soft caramel sauce to impress even the pickiest eater.
Bring authentic spice into your Valentine’s celebrations! Putting thought into a unique menu is a great way to show how much you care, and just think, this could become a cooking tradition that celebrates your love. There’s no better way to honor Valentine’s Day than to add a little spice.