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!
Chef’s Table Season 5 has arrived on Netflix with four documentary episodes on chefs who celebrate their native cuisines through traditional foods, their origins, their cultural bonds, and a return to sustainable organic farming.
This season of Chef’s Table, as well as all the preceding seasons, should not to be missed by anyone who loves food and cooking.
This is compelling food television at its very best!
Chefs’s Table Trailer ( click here)
Chef’s Table Season 5
Episode 1: Christina Martinez South Philly Barbacoa & El Compadre
Both restaurants are located on South 9th and Ellsworth, South Philadelphia
Episode 2: Musa Dagdeviren CIYA Kebap and CIYA Sofrasi, Istanbul, Turkey
Episode 3: Bo Songvisava Bo Lan, Bangkok, Thailand (www.bolan.co.th)
Soi 24 Sukhumvit 53, Bangkok BTS Thonglor station
Episode 4: Albert Adria Tickets, Enigma, and Pakta, Barcelona, Spain
The episode with Christina Martinez had particular resonance for me as I have an enduring love for Mexico and its cuisine. But also, as a working chef in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure to have worked with dedicated kitchen crews who were all immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Christina’s story is so like millions of others in many ways, but told through her love of her native food and culture. Her determination to make the best of her circumstances as an immigrant and thrive and, by example, giving a face to the mostly invisible immigrants who work behind the scenes in the American food industry.
Of course I am also very familiar with the food culture in South Philadelphia and was delighted to learn that Christina and her husband Ben Miller have been growing native Mexican corn on a farm in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, where I grew up.
Episode 3 also has particular resonance for me as Bo Lan Thai restaurant is here in Thailand. The lush photography, the street food, the markets, and Thai kitchen banter feels particularly familiar of course as this is where I live. Thai food is like none other and is only really understandable when you encounter all the totally unrecognizable produce and spices that are at the heart of real authentic Thai food.
All a real visual feast for anyone who loves food!
All eyes will be on Brazil this week when the 2016 Summer Olympics, ready or not, will kick off in Rio de Janeiro!
looking beyond the games, Brazil is a mesmerizing country. A tropical paradise with a 3000 mile coastline of glittering beaches, vast rainforests that are the lungs of the world, and an endless abundance of natural resources. But it is Brazil’s multicultural population of indigenous Indians, Europeans, West Africans and Asians who have assimilated each other’s cultures and customs that make Brazil such a spellbinding destination. A country with vast wealth and striking poverty, yet it is the Brazilian’s irrepressible expressive spirit that has captivated a worldwide audience with its lavish Carnival celebrations, the samba, the bossa nova and of course incredible food!
It is Brazil’ abundance of exotic fruits, vegetables, beans, meats, poultry, seafood, nuts, cheeses, coffee, and wines that makes Brazil a cook’s paradise. I’ve always felt that cooking is a point of departure for a vicarious journey into the heart and soul of a country, its customs, its people, and especially its deeply rooted food traditions
I have included a very brief history of Brazil’s evolution and a list of informative award winning Brazilian films following the recipes. See below.
Feijoada is Brazil’s national dish. It is creamy black bean stew, or cassoulet if you will, with a variety of meats and seasonings influenced by Brazil’s European and West African emigres. Black beans are native to Central and South America, with Brazil being largest producer of black beans in the world. Every region of Brazil has its own variations of feijoada, but what would be considered an authentic feijoada may include a pig’s ear and tail, organ meats, smoked ham hocks, and blood sausage, all of which I have dispensed with for the sake of practical convenience for the home cook. This is a really festive dish to cook up for a big crowd. Just turn on the music and fill the kitchen with the beautiful sounds of Brazil’s Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, and Tom Jobim while you’re cooking!
Feijoada: serves 6-8
Know your dried beans! Cooking times for dried black beans can vary from 1 ½ to 5 hours depending on the how old the beans are. This is impossible to determine unless you have a very reliable source! On the side of caution I would highly recommend cooking the beans separately and then add the remaining ingredients for the feijoada to finish the cooking. In Traditional recipes the beans and meats are cooked together, but as stated, this is risky business.
- 3 cups black beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 4 bay leaves
Pick through the beans and remove any debris that may have been collected up with the beans in the drying process. Rinse the beans thoroughly in cold water and drain. Place them in a large bowl and cover with water. Cover the bowl and place it in the fridge to soak overnight. After soaking, transfer the beans to a colander and strain off the soaking water. Rinse the beans and set aside.
Select a heavy bottomed stockpot and place it on the stove over medium flame. Add the olive oil and when hot add the onions and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the black beans and the bay leaves and stir. Fill the pot about ¾ full of water and stir. Turn up the heat and once the water is boiling lower the heat to a steady simmer. Be sure to stir the beans every 15 minutes so the beans don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
It is also a good idea to have a kettle of boiling water on call to replenish the water that has evaporated as the beans cook. Adding cold water just slows down the cooking process.
Ideally the beans for this recipe should be cooked al dente, meaning still holding their shape with a semi soft flesh, as the cooked meats will be added to the beans that will then continue to cook for another 45 minutes.
Test the beans from time to time to avoid overcooking. The best way to do this is to select a bean from the pot and place in on your work surface. The bean should feel firm on the outside. Using your index finger, firmly press down on the bean and slide it towards you. If the flesh feels semi soft, the beans are done. If not, continue cooking, testing from time to time and adding more boiled water as needed until the beans are are cooked as described.
Once the beans are done, using a slotted spoon, transfer about 1/4 of the beans to a bowl or food processor. Add some cooking water and mash or process the beans into a puree and set aside to use later.
Feijoada: meats and accompaniments
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 slices smoked bacon, sliced into small strips
- 1 pound pork shoulder (or smoked ham), cut into bite size pieces
- 1 large onion, diced
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ¼ pond carne seca (jerked beef), pre-soaked and cut into small strips
- 1 pound pork ribs, separated
- 1 pound Portuguese Linguica sausage (Spanish chorizo, Italian hot sausage, or other)
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- fresh orange slices
- Farofa (see recipe below)
- Malagueta pepper sauce (see recipe below)
- sautéed kale or collard greens (accompaniment)
- cooked long grain white rice (accompaniment)
Select another heavy bottomed stockpot and place it on the stove over medium flame. Add the olive oil and when hot add the bacon and pork shoulder and sear until lightly browned. Add the onions and garlic and continue to cook until soft. Add enough water to fill the stockpot to the halfway mark. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the carne seca and cook for 30 minutes. Then add the pork ribs and continue to cook for 20 minutes, adding more water as needed.
While the meats are cooking, add 1 tablespoons olive oil to a skillet set over medium high heat. When hot add the sausage and brown on all sides. Add a little water and deglaze the pan and set aside to cool. When the sausage is cool enough to handle cut it into bit size pieces and set aside.
At this point you are going to add the meats to the cooked beans.
Reheat the beans to a simmer and then add the meats along with the stock to the beans. Bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Then add the reserved sausage and deglazing liquid and the reserved bean puree and stir in until well combine. Continue to cook another 15 to 20 minutes, again stirring from time to time. The feijoada should have the consistency of cream soup. Skim off excess fat that has risen to the surface and discard.
Taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Finished!
Feijoada is always served with sautéed kale or collards along with steaming hot long grain rice, so you want to have them prepared in advance.
Spoon the feijoada onto individual plates, being sure to include a selection of all the assorted meats for each serving, as well as an ample amount of beans and cooking broth. Garnish with fresh orange slices as pictured. Add the kale (or collards) and rice to each plate and serve promptly.
Place a small bowl of Farofa and a bowl of Malagueta pepper sauce on the table.
Storage: Any leftover Feijoada improves with age and will keep for 3 to 4 days refrigerated.
Farofa: This is a condiment that is served with most bean dishes throughout Brazil. It has a slight nutty flavor that is surprisingly complimentary.
- 1 cup manioc flour (cassava flour)
- 1 tablespoon bacon fat (or olive oil)
- 2 garlic cloves, microplaned
- several pinches of sea salt
If manioc flour is unavailable, you can substitute chickpea flour, rice flour, or all purpose flour.
Place the bacon fat or oil in a skillet set over medium low heat. Swirl the pan as it heats up to coat the bottom of the pan. Scatter the flour evenly over the surface of the pan. Add the garlic and salt and stir continuously, being sure to turn the flour over as it browns. After a few minutes the mixture will turn a light golden color. Do not over cook! Transfer the toasted flour at just the right moment to a bowl to cool.
Mola de Pimenta Malagueta (Malagueta pepper sauce)
Malagueta chile peppers are native to Brazil. They are very hot! They are hard to find outside of Brazil, but small Thai bird’s eye chiles are an excellent substitute.
- 1 red onion, finely minced
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 3 or more Malagueta chiles (or very hot red or green chiles, fresh or pickled), minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 to 2 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar
- sea salt to taste
You can remove the seeds from the chilies if you would like to reduce the heat a little bit.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet set over medium heat. When hot add the onions, garlic, and chilies. Cook for 5 or 6 minutes until the onions are very soft and translucent. Press the onion mixture against the bottom of the pan while cooking. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar and stir to combine. Stir in salt to taste.
Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Brief history of Brazil
The Portuguese first sailed into Porto Seguro in 1502. The native Tupinamba Indians were the only inhabitants. Small Portuguese colonies sprouted up to fell and trade in Pua- Brasil red wood. Sugar cane was the next trade resource with plantations that required laborers. At first the native population was enslaved, but many either escaped or died from European diseases. The Portuguese then turned to West African slaves for a labor force. As trade grew various interlopers became increasingly troublesome so the Portuguese monarch installed a governor and a established a capital in what is now Salvador.
At the end of the 17th century precious gems and gold were discovered that essentially launched a gold rush of fortune hunters that needed to be regulated, so the capital was moved to Rio de Janeiro to centralize control.
Cotton and tobacco were introduced to bolster the emerging economy, followed by cattle ranching in the interior. It became clear to the Portuguese monarchy that the Portuguese in Brazil were stripping the country of its natural resources rather than developing a local economy. King Dom Joao VI, who was chased out of Portugal by Napoleon’s armies in 1808, arrived in Brazil and implemented major changes in the direction the country was heading. Investments were made in government buildings, a university, a bank, and a mint, and ports were opened to international trade.
Once Napoleon was defeated Dom Joao decided to return to Portugal, leaving his son Pedro I in charge of governing Brazil. But Pedro had other ideas and proclaimed Brazil’s independence from Portugal on September 7, 1822 and renamed the county The Brazilian Empire. Pedro I stepped aside in 1840, leaving his son Pedro II, who was 4 at the time, to rule. He grew up to become a progressive thinker, a supporter of freedom of speech and civil liberties, and abolished slavery in 1888. With the abolition of slavery a landowner’s rebellion ensued. Eventually Brazil’s first republican government was formed in 1899.
Brazil’s second wave of immigration began in 1800 and continued through the world wars, which greatly influence the face of modern day Brazil as one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.
In 1930 a military coup seized power with military rule continuing until 1985 when a civilian government was restored with a transition to a democratic republic. The first direct elections were held in 1989. There have been six elected presidents since, many of whom werecaught up in political scandal and corruption.
Brazilian films: Another window of interest you might like to explore.
A short list follows of award winning films.
Embrace the Serpent 2015
Waste Land 2010
Linha de Passe 2008
City of God 2002
Central Station 1998
Four Days in September 1997
Gorgeous Dutch cheese!
Dutch cheeses bring back such fond memories of my years in Holland, with early morning jaunts to my local shop in Lienden’s village square for cheeses and fresh baked breads to take home for a real Dutch breakfast. The nagelkaas pictured is a treat indeed, brought back by my dear Dutch friend Mathilde on her return from a recent trip to Holland. Dutch cheeses are available worldwide of course, as well as here in Thailand. But, as good as they are, most are young cheeses that do not capture the depth or variety of flavors you find in artisan aged Dutch cheeses in Holland.
The cheese pictured is a traditional boeren (farmer) kaas (cheese), also known as nagelkaas, that dates back centuries from the province of Friesland in the north east of Holland. The cheese was produced on small farms using skimmed milk or buttermilk, boldly flavored with cumin and clove, and aged to perfection. Nagelkass is now made with whole milk by artisan cheese makers in central Holland, a few of which ship worldwide. Aged Dutch cheeses are also available at select speciality cheese purveyors in larger cities worldwide.
If you are travelling to Holland be sure to visit Reypenaer shops in Amsterdam or visit Wijngaard Kaas’ historic warehouse and shop (click here) in Woerden.
Visit Reypenaer Cheese (click here) for more information and international shipping.
If you are cheese shopping in Holland, a quick reference guide for identifying Dutch cheeses by age.
- Jong (young), aged 4 weeks
- Jong-belegen, aged 7 or 8 weeks
- Belegen (mature), aged 16 to 18 weeks
- Extra belegen, aged 7 to 8 months
- Oud (old), aged 10 to 12 months
- Over jarig (very old) aged more than 18 months
En eet smakelijk!