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!
I have been a great fan of Rick Stein’s varied food oriented travel series over the years. His curios nature and infectious passion for regional foods combined with simple cooking methods makes for compelling viewing that has you itching to get right into the kitchen and do some newly inspired cookery of your own.
His recipe for Sumac Roasted Chicken from Turkey appeared in Rick Stein, From Venice to Istanbul which aired in 2015. I have cooked similar recipes in the past (see here), but with a stash of Sumac and pomegranate molasses already on hand I was raring to give Rick’s recipe a try.
Sumac is a wild shrub that grows thought the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Sumac’s deep red berries are dried and ground into a powdered seasoning with an assertive citrus like flavor. Sumac is also combined with other herbs and seeds for another popular regional seasoning mix called za’atar (See here). Both are ideal seasonings for various salads, grilled vegetables, meats, poultry, soups, and stews. Also an ideal finishing flourish for hummus (see here) and muhamara (see here) that I like to serve along with this dish.
Sumac is available at Middle Eastern shops and online.
For the recipe that follows I have made a few adjustments that ramp up the flavors a bit, but otherwise true to the regional recipe. I like serving it with a simple cooked Bulgar wheat with fried onions and red peppers along with a side of zesty hummus or muhammara to compliment the chicken.
Sumac Roasted Chicken serves 4 to 5
For the chicken:
- 1 whole chicken or 5 skin on breasts
- olive oil for drizzling
- sesame seeds
Rinse the chicken well, remove the backbone, and cut the chicken into 10 pieces. If you are using chicken breasts, slice the breasts in half crosswise.
If you are using a whole chicken, rather than discarding the backbone and trimmings why not make a stock for cooking the bulgur and for the marinade.
Place the backbone and trimmings in a stock pot and fill with water. Add a chopped onion, 3 bay leaves, a teaspoon of whole peppercorns and a teaspoon of dried thyme. Simmer for about 1 hour or until the stock has reduced by a little more than half.
For the marinade:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons ground sumac
- 1 teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- 1/3 teaspoon chile flakes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
- 1 or 2 tablespoons chicken stock
Combine all the marinade ingredients except the stock in a non-reactive bowl large enough to hold all the chicken. Stir until all the ingredients are completely combined. The consistency of the marinade will be quite thick and sticky. Ideally you want the marinade to stick to the chicken, but you might want to thin it out just a bit with a little chicken stock.
If you are squeamish you may want to use disposable plastic cloves for massaging the marinade into the chicken pieces, otherwise use your bare hands as I do. Take your time and press the marinade into each piece of chicken and patting it over the surface so it sticks to the flesh.
Once all the marinade coated chicken is in the bowl compress it so the marinade reaches every crevasse. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for at least 1 hour or ideally 2 hours at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400 f/ 205 c
Select a baking pan large enough to hold all the chicken pieces in a single layer without crowding. Lightly oil the dish and place the marinated chicken skin side up in the pan. Spoon any remaining marinade over the chicken and spread it out evenly. Scatter sesame seeds over the chicken and lightly drizzle with a little olive oil.
Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 30 minutes. The chicken and sesame seeds should be nicely colored and the chicken just done. If not, give it another 5 or 10 minutes depending on the size of the chicken pieces.
Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil for 5 minutes before serving.
Transfer the chicken to a platter or several pieces of chicken onto each individual plate. Add a generous portion of warm bulgur and a good dollop of hummus or muhammara.
A new addition to Galleries: Textiles from South East Asia.
Why textiles? In my wanderings across South East Asia I have discovered that textiles, like regional foods, mirror the stories, traditions, and the soul of a culture’s histories woven into cloth, just as the delights of food provide an opportunity to experience and absorb a culture’s roots and sensibilities around a table, or in some cases, gathered around a mat on the ground. I have been collecting antique textiles from Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and southern China for many years and adding them to Galleries seemed apropos.
Textiles are a quiet and unsung art form that is often overlooked or relegated to being a utilitarian mantle, but with a closer look you discover the brilliance and virtuosity of the artistry and the refinement of the symbolic depictions of myths, legends, and beliefs that express the complexities of cultural foundations.
…have a look here…