I was so surprised to find fresh Epazote so readily available here in the US if you know where to look for it.
It really doesn’t take much to get me excited when it comes to finding unusual ingredients that are readily available and have no substitutes. Epazote is certainly one of those ingredients and sorely missed in favored rustic Mexican dishes while living in Thailand.
Epazote ( dysphania ambrosioides) is a lush green wild herb, or weed if you will, that originates from southern Mexico, but can be found growing throughout Central America, parts of South America, and in temperate zones in North America. Epazote is a nahuat word that roughly translates as “stinky sweet” in the nahuate language of the Aztec and Maya cultures. That may not be the most enticing description to peak one’s curiosity, but perhaps epazote’s culinary heritage may be convincing enough for the adventurist cook in you to give it a try.
Epazote has been used since ancient times as a culinary ingredient as well as for medicinal remedies. It’s piquant flavor is unique and defies categorization. I would loosely describe epazote’s flavor as resinous or medicinal, with assertive notes of fennel or anise, followed with a minty peppery finish. It is an acquired taste for some, but an essential flavor for those with a seasoned Latin palate.
Epazote’s contributions to Mexican cuisine can be traced back through the centuries. It is Mexico’s indigenous ingredients and unique flavor sensibilities that have contributed to the evolution of tradition Mexican food into one of the most fascinating cuisines in the world.
Epazote has had many names over the centuries including payqu, herba santae, Jesuit’s tea, Mexican tea, wormseed, and the list goes on and on. Added to soups, stews, frijoles de la olla (beans cooked in a clay pot), Oaxaca moles, pork or iguana barbacoas from Chiapas and the Yucatan, as well as a flavoring chocolate, and an ideal footnote when added to enchiladas, quesadillas, papas, tamales, and for wrapping local cheeses.
Epazote’s introduction into Mexican cooking is credited to some ancient cooks who realized epazote’s capacity for reducing flatulence and bloating following a robust meal that included hearty portions of cooked beans!
If you are in doubt try this recipe for home cooked beans. (click here).
Another favorite recipe using is epazote is Papazules from the Yucatan (click here)
Fresh epazote can be found at Mexican markets, some specialty super markets, and online, as well as growing wild along the road or in vacant lots. If you are a gardener, epazote grows like a weed and ideal to have on demand just outside your kitchen door!
If fresh epazote is not available dried epazote is acceptable, but without the full flavor of the fresh.
The magic of epazote awaits. Buen proveco!
Alas, I have finally found some beautiful plump fresh tomatillos at a local Mexican market here in the States. I doggedly attempted to grow tomatillos year after year in my garden in Thailand , but with very little success. The maturing tomatillos always fell prey to marauding aphids or scummed to a feathery mold just about the time they were looking ripe and ready to pluck from the vine.
So I’ve been dreaming about making my favorite roasted tomtillo salsa for years on end. Nothing could be simpler really. A couple of ingredients thrown under the broiler or onto the grill, tossed into a blender and voila. You have a gorgeous tart fresh green salsa that enlivens so many loved regional Mexican dishes.
Tomatillos originate from Mexico and have been cultivated since pre-Columbian times by the Maya and Aztec cultures. Tomatillos are from the nightshade family with the fruit encased in a parchment like covering that is removed before use. Tomatillos, though larger, reassemble cape gooseberries, also a nightshade that has been cultivated by the Incas in Peru.
Fresh tomatillos are available in the US in Mexican markets, at Whole Foods, in some super markets, and online. They are also available canned, but I urge you to seek out the fresh tomatillos which have a decidedly more tantalizing zesty flavor of their very own.
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde is delicious served with tortilla chips, with grilled meats, fish, and vegetables, tacos, enchiladas, tamales, empanadas, and quesadillas filled with Mexico’s renowned regional cheeses.
This is a quick and easy recipe that you will find yourself making again and again.
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde
makes about 2 cups
- 6 to 8 plump fresh tomatillos, husk removed, and rinsed
- 1 large clove garlic, skin on
- 3 to 4 fresh serrano chiles
- 3 tablespoons finely diced onions
- 2-3 tablespoons finely sliced cilantro leaves
- ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt or more to taste
Position an oven rack about four inches below the broiler and preheat.
Place the tomatillos, garlic clove, and the serrano chiles centered on a baking tray and place under the preheated broiler. Broil for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the tomatillos, garlic, and chiles are beginning to char and deeply colored. Turn the tomatillos, garlic, and chiles over and broil another 4 or 5 minutes until deeply colored.
Promptly remove the tray from the oven and set aside. Transfer the chiles to a small bowl, cover with cling film, and set aside to sweat.
Remove the stems from the tomatillos and remove any loose chard skin and discard. Cut the tomatillos into pieces and place them in a blender or food processor.
Remove the charred skin from the garlic and discard. Mince the garlic and add it to the tomatillos in the blender or processor and pulse until the contents are relatively pureed, but still with some texture.
Once the chiles are cool enough to handle remove the chard skin and discard. Slice the chiles open lengthwise and scrape out most of the seeds and discard. Quarter the chiles and slice and dice them.
Add the diced chiles to the pureed toamatillo mixture and pulse until the chiles are combined.
Transfer the tomatillo mixture to a small bowl and add the diced onions and the sliced cilantro leaves. Stir to combine and then add salt to taste and stir until well combined.
You can add a small amount of cold water to thin the salsa if needed.
The salsa is then ready to serve or you can transfer the salsa to a non-reactive bowl or container, cover, and refrigerate for 3 or 4 days.
Serve the salsa chilled or at room temperature depending on the application.
Here is yet another cookie recipe adaptation that I have gleaned from Elizabeth Prueit’s TARTINE cookbook. This time around it is a batch of wonderfully soft oatmeal cookies with chunks of white chocolate, plump currants, orange zest, and a hint of vanilla and nutmeg. I have to say there is an insightful playfulness to Elizabeth’s recipes that have me returning to her cookbook time and time again. Leafing through TARTIN’s pages is as much about being inspired as it is about having confidence in knowing you will come away with some amazing cookies that you know everyone will love!
Big Orange -White Chocolate – Oatmeal– Currant -Cookies makes 24 to 36 cookies
- 12 oz / 340 g white chocolate, chopped into 1/8 inch pieces
- 1 ½ cups currants, soaked in warm water until plumped, and drained
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup/ 8 oz unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp dark molasses
- ½ tsp salt
- 4 tsp freshly grated orange zest
- 2 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1 ½ cups old- fashioned rolled oats
Preheat oven to 350 f/ 180 c
Have ready 3 cookie sheets lined with parchment paper or non-stick liner.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and nutmeg in a bowl and set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium high speed until light and creamy. Slowly add the sugar and continuing beating until light and fluffy.
Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula. Add the whole egg, egg yolk, vanilla, molasses, salt, orange zest, and orange juice and beat on medium low speed until well mixed. Add the flour mixture and mix until combined. Stop the mixer and add the currants and the rolled oats and fold them in using the silicone spatula until well combined.
Have ready a small bowl of water.
For big cookies scoop out the dough into 3 ½ oz / 100 g portions. Roll portioned dough into balls and set aside on a platter.
If you want to make smaller cookies scoop out 2 ¾ oz/ 75 g portions of dough. Baking time will be 7 to 10 minutes.
For best results you want to bake 6 large cookies on each baking sheet. This allows for even baking and ample space for the cookies to spread out as they bake.
Position six pieces of dough on the lined baking sheet. Dip your fingers into the bowl of water and then gently press the dough out into about 3 inch rounds. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies should be slightly browned around the edges while the centers will still feel a little soft.
Promptly transfer baking sheet with the cookies to a wire cooling rack. After about 5 minutes you can slide the parchment or liner with the cookies from the baking sheet to the cooling rack. The cookies will firm up as they cool. Be sure the cookies are cooled to room temperature before serving or transferring them to an airtight container for storage.
Continue baking batches of cookies until all the cookies are baked and cooled to room temperature.
Store in airtight containers fora couple of weeks. I you decide to refrigerate the cookies for longer storage be sure to bring them to room temperature for serving.
Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a uniquely Mexican holiday that celebrates the lives of the dead on the 1st and 2nd of November every year. The origins are attributed to Aztec animist beliefs combined with Catholicism, the dates coinciding with the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Contrary to what you may think, Dia de Los Muertos is a joyous familial occasion that is celebrated with food, drink, music, and entertainment in homes and in grave yards throughout Mexico, Latin America, and in parts of North America where there are Latin American communities.
The imagery of vividly decorated skulls (calaveras) and dancing skeletons (calacas) associated with Dia de los Muertos was popularized by Mexico’s most famous graphic artist Jose Guadalupe Posada in the mid 1800’s. His work influenced a whole new generation of famous Mexican muralists and painters that followed him including Diago Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Frida Kahlo.
Popular Dia de Los Muertos foods include typical Mexican favorites that are prepared ahead of the celebrations and served throughout the day and night, and often into the wee hours of the morning. Frijoles de olla and moles de Olla, are popular clay pot meals that include various meats, vegetables, chiles, and of course beans. Typically cooked over a fire or slowly braised in the oven as I have done for the recipe that follows. The mole is then tucked into warm tortillas, topped with picante salsas, and served with a chunky guacamole. Essentially you have a hearty meal in hand and the mole de olla will hold up until the last of the revelers eventually wend their way home as the sun rises!
For some more Dia de Los Muertos recipes, click on the following links.
Sopa de Maize y chile Verde con Pollo (click here)
Mexican Roasted Pumpkin Soup; sopa de Calabezza (click here)
Dia de Los Muertos Mole de Olla con Pollo y Chorizo Serves 6 to 8
- 2 pounds skinless chicken breasts, sliced into plump strips
- 2 pounds Mexican chorizo, divided
- 3 tablespoons olive oil + more as needed
- 3 large onions, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
- 2 large green bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
- 2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
- 4 to 6 green or ripe red jalapeno chiles, seeded and cut into strips
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 ribs celery, diced
- 1½ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
- 1 cup tequila
- 6 cups cooked black beans (or canned)
- 1 quart hot chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons pure ground red chile powder
- pinch of ground clove
- salt to taste
- chopped cilantro leaves
- flour tortillas, warmed
- fresh crumbled cotija cheese (or mild feta)
- fresh cilantro leaves
- chunky guacamole
Choose a large wide pan with a lid that will fit on the oven wrack set in the middle positioned of the oven.
Preheat the oven to 325 f/ 160 c
Place the pan on the stove top over medium high flame. When the pan is hot add some oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the chicken pieces and seer until the chicken is nicely browned and releases from the pan easily. Turn the chicken and seer until nicely browned. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside on a large platter.
Add the chorizo to the pan and seer until the skin is deeply browned and releases easily from the pan. Turn the chorizo and seer until deeply browned. Remove the chorizo from the pan and place it in the platter with the chicken.
Add a little more oil to the pan if needed. When nearly smoking add the onions and saute while deglazing the pan as the onions begin to soften. Promptly add the green and red bell pepper and saute until the onions and peppers have wilted. Add the garlic and celery and cook another two or three minutes. Then add the jalapenos and saute while tossing until the contents are evenly combined.
Pour in the tequila and stir continuously until the tequila is nearly absorbed into the vegetable mixture. Add the cumin seeds, oregano, and marjoram and toss until evenly distributed into the mixture.
At this point return the browned chicken and chorizo to the pan and add the beans. Stir to combine and then add the stock to just cover and stir. Cover the pan with the lid and place it in the center of the oven. Braise for 1 hour undisturbed.
Open the oven and transfer the pan to the stove top. Remove the lid and stir in the red chile powder, ground clove, and chopped cilanto . Stir to combine and then season with salt to taste. If the mole is looking dry add more stock as needed.
Cover the [pan and return it to the oven to keep warm while warm the flour tortillas, assemble assorted salsas, and make the chunky guacamole.
Stack the warmed tortillas in a basket lined with a kitchen towel to keep them warm.
Place your salsas of choice on the table along with the guacamole.
Remove the pan from the oven.
Place a warm tortilla on a plate and spoon a generous portion of the mole de olla just off center. Scatter some crumbled cotija cheese, or feta, over the meats and vegetables and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. Serve open faced so salsa can be added before folding the tortilla for eating.
The beauty of the chunky guacamole is it is easily forked and eaten along with bites of the filled tortilla.
- 4 Haas (bumpy skinned) ripe avocados
- 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
- 2 to 4 serrano chiles, stem and seeds removed, and minced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves
- fresh lime juice to taste
- olive oil for drizzling
Slice the avocados in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Crosshatch each half of the avocado and then slice the hatches in half lengthwise. Gently remove the chunks of avocado and place them in a chilled bowl.
Place the diced onions, minced serrano chiles, and sea salt in a mortar. Crush and grind the ingredients with the pestle into a moist paste.
Scrape the paste over the avocado chunks and add the chopped cilantro leaves. Spritz fresh lime juice over all and then drizzle with just a little olive oil. Toss gently until the paste is evenly spread over the avocado chunks. Taste and add more salt and lime juice to taste.
Chill the chunky guacamole until just before serving.