I am hosting the August/September round for Cook the Books featuring F.G. Haghenbeck’s The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo.
This historical novel is based on several notebooks allegedly discovered in Kahlo’s Coyoacán home. One of these notebooks, entitled by Kahlo as “The Hierba Santa Book” or The Sacred Herbs book is filled with her memories, recipes and musings.
The Secret Book chronicles Kahlo’s life from the catastrophic trolley accident of her youth through her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera. Along the way, Haghenbeck shares Kahlo’s recipes from the Heirba Santa book in a mystical chronicling of her wonderful yet tragic life. Each chapter includes at least one reflective recipe like “Horchata and Corn Gorditas” for Day of the Dead offerings.
I almost revisited Chiles en Nogada that I made for a previous post on Like Water for Chocolate (which reminded me a lot of this novel). Lupe, Diego’s ex-wife, teaches Kahlo to make these in Chapter IX.
Kahlo found herself among the most famous artists, art patrons, writers and intelligentsia of her time and these were the recipes and stories that intrigued me the most.
- Guadalajara-Styled Pulled Pork for Nelson Rockefeller (Chapter XIV)
- Mole De Olla for Georgia O’Keeffe (Chapter XVI)
- Snapper with Cilantro for Leon Trotsky and André Breton (Chapter XVII)
- Tequila Pork Loin for Nickolas Muray (Chapter XVIII)
- Huevos Rancheros (A Mexican Breakfast) for Picasso (Chapter XIX)
Of course, there were lots of dishes for Diego, between marriages and affairs.
I was most struck by Haghenbeck’s version of her meeting with Picasso.
Picasso’s singing was pleasant. Frida loved his serenade.
‘If you teach that to me, I’ll sing you Mexican songs. The kind in which pain bubbles up from the soul. And if we’re still up at dawn, I’ll prepare you a Mexican breakfast. I’ll make enchiladas and yellow beans,’ Frida said, and Picasso agreed with a nod of the head.
Although I think a competent cook could follow the recipes that end each chapter, there is a disclaimer in the book about the included recipes. The editors tacked on a few more traditionally written recipes at the end of the book. That being said, I mostly followed the recipe that commemorated her Mexican breakfast with Pablo Picasso.
The recipe is introduced with Kahlo’s words:
What I miss most when I’m traveling is getting up in the morning to the smell of coffee with cinnamon and something good frying on the stove for breakfast. It’s the start of a new day, and a reminder of how marvelous yesterday was.
Here is my revision of a Mexican Breakfast with Picasso. I added chorizo, cojita, and red onions.
Huevos Rancheros with Chorizo
4.5 oz. Mexican beef chorizo (half a stick)
1 T. olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
pinch of red pepper flake (or more or less to your taste)
1 (15 oz.) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1/4 t. of chopped fresh oregano
1/2 c. canola oil
4 corn tortillas
4 farm fresh eggs
1-2 T. diced red onions
Cook chorizo then drain on paper towels. While chorizo is cooking, heat olive oil in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flake and saute for 1-2 minutes. Do not burn. Add tomatoes and oregano and simmer while the rest of the dish is completed.
In a medium skillet, heat canola oil. Cook the corn tortillas for a few seconds until soft and remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Reduce heat and then fry the eggs in the oil, making sure not to break the yolk.
Place the drained tortillas on two serving plates. Divide and spread chorizo on top of the tortillas. Place an egg on each tortilla. Divide and pour tomato mixture over the eggs. Garnish with red onions and cojita.
This recipe serves two, just like Kahlo would have served it to Picasso.
In the final chapters of the book as Frida finishes her long dance with death, she remembers all the people that she’s loved along with all the food associated with the memories:
There were sugared breads-for-the-dead surrounded by bright and splendorous orange flowers. And there was also a menu consisting of the most delicious dishes from her own repertoire: Lupe’s chiles rellenos, the dear doctor’s ribs, Tina’s tiramisu, ice cream from Tepozteco, Eva’s apple pie, Mama Matilde’s shortbread, the mole poblano from her wedding, Mati’s soups, Covarrubias’s pipián , and, in the place of honor, the tamale with heirba santa, steaming as if it were still in the pot.
Some of her final thoughts are fused with remembrances and food.
You still have time to participate in Cook the Books. Find a copy of The Secret Book and whip up a Frida-inspired dish. Deadline for posting is September 30. For more information, check out the Cook the Books announcement post.
Also, please consider participating in the joint Frida event with Food ‘n Flix.
I am also hosting the September Food ‘n Flix round featuring Frida.
Obviously, I have an obsession with Kahlo’s life and works (you can read more about it here) . We recently visited the Gilcrease Museum of Art in Tulsa to view an exhibit of photographic portraits of Kahlo by Nickolas Muray. (You can read about our artsy adventures here.) I also sought out Frida’s Fiesta and am now a proud owner of this cookbook by one of Diego’s daughters.
Since the Food ‘n Flix September edition features the film Frida, I am planning on utilizing Frida’s Fiestas for that event.
You can also check out my review of The Secret Book at GoodReads.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In my very early twenties, I was exposed to Kahlo’s works at an exhibition at SMU. I was enthralled.
I had never seen anything so weird or wonderful. (Read more….)