Ana's Casa

2014-01-03T11:50:00Z 2014-01-03T17:22:08Z Ana's CasaJane Ammeson nwitimes.com
January 03, 2014 11:50 am  • 

We had just met Ana Elena Mendez the day we arrived in Merida, the capitol city of the Yucatan. But such is the hospitality of Mexico that the next morning my friend Lisbeth and I are sitting in the dining room of Casa Lecanda, her elegant and exquisitely restored 19th century mansion, sipping rich full bodied coffee from Chiapas, munching on barras which are like baguettes, cuernos (horn shaped rolls) and conchas or sweet rolls while marveling at, well, just everything.

“It’s so beautiful,” we say, repeatedly.

But it wasn’t always so. When Ana found this Yucatecan home several years ago, parts of the roof had fallen in, birds were nesting in the rooms and the courtyards, now so well manicured with palms, red flowered Chak Kuyché trees and ferns surrounding the swimming pool, fountain, walls covered with beautiful climbing bougainvillea, small sitting areas tucked away behind foliage and even a third courtyard with Merida made hammocks for resting, wasn’t quite what it is now.

“It was a jungle,” she tells us. “You couldn’t see the end of the building.”

Which may have been a blessing.

Owned by the same family since it was built, the house, located in the city’s historic center and just two blocks from the elegant Paseo Montejo, a stately boulevard lined with 19th century mansions and cosmopolitan restaurants and boutiques, had stood empty for over 20 years. And here, in the humidity and heat of the northern most point of the Yucatan Peninsula, that’s long enough for some serious decay.

But that didn’t detour Ana. Originally from Mexico City, she’d moved to Merida, the pre-Colonial capital city of the state of Yucatán, Mexico, after living in San Diego for 20 years and before that London and Italy.

“A friend brought me here,” says Ana, who always looks regal but pproachable with her sleek well coiffed black hair, fashionable clothes and friendly smile.

It was, as they say, love at first sight. Able to look beyond the ruins, Ana instead appreciated the high ceilings, large wood doors (imported in the late 1800s from New Orleans), windows that could be shuttered against the intense heat, marble archways, original French antique tiles and hard wood floors.

Working in tourism, she had decided that Merida needed a small and intimate boutique and so she and her son, Stefano Marcelletti, worked with a team of architects during the renovation. Their goal was to maintain the casa’s authenticity by incorporating its original materials and elements including woodwork, clay floors, thick stone walls and decorative finishes as well as to retain the original Meridian style with flourishes of European luxury which was very common during what is known as the golden age of the city’s sisal barons.

Ana’s gamble paid off. After arriving home, I Googled and found that Casa Lecanda Boutique Hotel was recognized as a 2013 Fodor’s 100 Hotel Award winner in the “Home Suite Homes” category and Travel & Leisure magazine featured the hotel in their November 2013 issue.

But it isn’t only the architecture that Lisbeth and I marvel at. The menu offers many authentic Yucatan dashes. We start with glasses of epazote juice, a dark green herb popular in Yucatecan cookery and often used in beans dishes because it helps counteract the gas sometimes produced by the legumes. Its flavor is intense, sharp and almost lemony and with all the emphasis on green drinks now days, must be healthy as well.

“For me the Yucatecan cuisine stands apart from others as it is truly a local cuisine,” Ana says. “All the ingredients used in its preparations are grown locally and differ from other parts of Mexico. It is very colorful and a blend of intense rich flavors such as recado rojo, habanero and lima. All the typical dishes--cochinita, papazules-- are served the same way in each household regardless of social status.”

Cochinita is a slow roasted pork dish, papazules are warm tortillas filled with chopped hard cooked eggs and then covered with a pumpkin seed sauce. Recado rojo is a red achiote sauce, habanero, a hot pepper and lima or lime.

I have ordered the Yucatecan eggs which Ana tells me are made with three different local ingredients.

“ The eggs are scrambled eggs with a sausage from nearby Valladolid,” she says,” along with a native plant called chaya and a special cheese called El Gallo Azul.”

The dish, I learn, goes with black smashed beans on the side—thank goodness for the epazote.

Yucatecan Eggs

For the beans:

1 cup canned black beans

2 habanero chiles, stemmed and seeded

2 sprigs epazote or cilantro

1 medium white onion, cut into thick slices

3 tablespoons canola oil

Salsa:

2 sprigs epazote or cilantro

1 medium white onion, cut into thick slices

1 pound plum tomatoes, cored

Kosher salt, to taste

Eggs:

5 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for frying

4 corn tortillas

1 small, ripe plantain or large banana, peeled and cut into ¼″ slices

4 eggs

2 to four ounces chorizo

2 ounces Gouda or Edam, cut into ½" strips

½ cup fresh or frozen peas, thawed and slightly cooked

¼ cup crumbled queso Cotija (available at Hispanic food markets and often local grocery stores)

Purée beans, 1 Chile, epazote, ¼ the onion, and ¼ cup water in a blender until very smooth, at least 2

minutes. Heat lard in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Add bean purée, and cook, stirring constantly,

until thickened to a loose paste, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set beans aside.

Wipe skillet clean, and return to heat; add remaining chile, onion quarters, and tomatoes, and cook, turning as needed, until charred all over, about 14 minutes for chile and tomatoes, about 12 minutes for

onions. Transfer to a blender along with salt, and purée until very smooth, at least 2 minutes. Return skillet to heat along with 3 tablespoons oil; when hot, pour salsa into skillet, and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly reduced and thickened, about 10 minutes.

Transfer to a bowl and keep warm.

Pour oil to a depth of 2" in a large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, and heat over medium-high heat until very hot. Add tortillas one or two at a time, and fry, turning once, until crisp and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels and set aside.

Add plantain or banana slices to oil, and fry until tender and caramelized, about 2 minutes. Wipe skillet clean, and return to medium heat with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add eggs to skillet, and cook to desired doneness, about 4 minutes for over easy.

Place tortillas on plates top each with an egg, pour salsa over the eggs and add Gouda or Edam slices on top, then peas; and sprinkle with Cotija. Place fried plantain or banana slices around tortillas. Serve with black beans on the side.

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