Quetzalcoatl and the Rabbit in the Moon
Camping, I am firmly convinced, is something that is only ever done for the sole pleasure of drinking a cold beer out of doors, under a clear and cloudless sky, while next to a lightly smoking and crackling fire. No reason other than this is likely to draw me away from the comforts of my bed and the four sturdy walls that surround it to sleep separated from the elements by nothing but a few microns of fragile nylon and mesh. I’m not enough of a lover of being outdoors to take pleasure in sleeping so exposed, so thinly separated from dirt, bugs and things that go bump in the night. But a cold beer, a hot fire and a brilliant and perfect full moon crowning the clear sky, well, all thoughts of the comforts of a bed evaporate.
And sitting by the fire, the moon itself becomes a topic of conversation. “Do you see the rabbit in the moon?” I ask, receiving a quick “No” and a look that might indicate the thought that I am slightly delusional. To me, having grown up knowing the legend of the rabbit in the moon, I see nothing but the rabbit on its surface, never the man in the moon, or any other being.
I had to refresh myself on the full story of this legend, but it’s something that has informed my thoughts of food for years. Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, a powerful and prominent deity in Toltec and Aztec mythology, took the form of a human man so he could walk the earth. As a vulnerable man, he walked in the heat and light of the day, walking until he grew thirsty and hungry, but continuing to walk until it grew dark and the sky filled with stars and a blank silver moon. He walked until the hunger and thirst grew too strong, and in the dark, he sat beside his path, suffering in a way he never had as a god. He noticed near him a small rabbit eating alone in the dark. “What are you eating?” he asked. “Grass,” replied the rabbit, “would you like some?” Despite his uncomfortable hunger, Quetzalcoatl declined, as this simple meal is more than enough for a rabbit, but hardly suitable for a human. Concerned, the rabbit asked him what he would do. “Die of thirst and hunger probably.” Getting nearer to the humanized god, the rabbit gave another offering, “I know I am nothing but a small rabbit, but if you are hungry, you can eat me.” Touched by the humility of the rabbit, the man gently picked him up, and revealing his true form raised the rabbit up to the sky, taking him as high up as the moon, where the image of this kind rabbit was imprinted on the blank surface of the moon. As he did this, Quetzalcoatl told the rabbit he was no longer just a small rabbit, that his portrait painted in light would forever tell the story of his kindness to all men. And with this reward, he returned the rabbit to where he found him.
Even if food is just the fuel needed to continue on a walk, it is also a gift and a kindness.
Braised rabbit with prunes, yams and brussel sprouts
Rabbits can be easily purchased at Asian grocery stores, or can be ordered through a specialty butcher shop.
3 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup prunes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons canola-olive oil blend
Yams (or sweet potatoes) and brussel sprouts in a quantity as desired.
Cut the rabbit into 8 to 10 pieces, removing the spine, splitting down the front and separating the breast piece from the bottom half. If you are not experienced at animal butchery, it may be easier to do with with a pair of sharp kitchen shears than with a knife. Heat a heavy bottom pan over medium high heat. Pat the meat dry and season generously with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat. Brown the rabbit pieces to a golden color. Remove the rabbit from the pan, and drain any excess fat. Lower the heat, add the stock, white wine, prunes, and garlic. Scrape up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, and add the rabbit. Cook over a gentle heat, uncovered, until the rabbit is tender and the sauce is significantly reduced into a lightly thickened sauce. Baste the meat with the cooking liquid throughout the process.
While the rabbit is cooking, peel the yams, and cut into approximately one inch pieces. Cut the stems off the brussel sprouts, and split in half, removing any unappealing outer leaves as necessary. Separately, season each with a light amount of olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste, and roast at 400°F, until they are lightly browned and softened. They will have slightly different cooking times, so it is best to cook them separately.
Serve the rabbit over a bed of yams and sprouts, with the braised plums and pan sauce as desired.
Minerva Orduno is a Valley chef. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org