I spotted these at the edge of the Condesa tianguis a few weeks ago, at the stand in front of the Oxxo. The stand is staffed by a man and a woman from Ixtlahuaca, in the State of Mexico, and I like to buy there because they always have farm-fresh produce and homemade tortillas and wild mushrooms when it's mushroom season. I hadn't seen these specific quelites before, so I asked the woman what they were. She said chivitos. I liked their long stems and thin, tender leaves, so I bought a bag for around 15 pesos. Thought about combining them with quelite cenizo in a salad and figured the contrast in shapes would be nice. It was -- the cenizo-chivito salad was the best I think I've ever made in my life. It was grassy and green, and I was overwhelmed with the sense that I was eating something directly from the ground. According to my helpful quelites research guide ("Los quelites, tradición milenaria in México" by Delia Castro Lara, Fracisco Basurto Peña, Luz María Mera Ovando and Robert Arthur Bye Boettler), it turns out chivitos (calandrinia micrantha) are one of the handful of "collected" greens in Mexico, which means they're not cultivated. They tend to grow in corn fields or in the milpa, and they are are also called lengua de pájaro, or bird's tongue. The taste is interesting. Chivitos have the crunchy juiciness of lettuce, with a slight bitter aftertaste, like spinach. And they're herbal and grassy. Besides the quelites salad, I also used chivitos plain on their own, topped with a little lime juice and olive oil, as a side salad to roasted chicken and potatoes. This morning mixed them with scrambled eggs, topped with some roasted tomato salsa. Yum. If you want to seek them out, the man-and-woman team usually arrive to the Tuesday Condesa tianguis around 11 a.m. If they're out of quelites, you could also try another farm-fresh stand on the opposite end of the tianguis, sort of catty-corner to the chicharrón.
I love eating chiles rellenos, but I haven't quite figured out yet how to make them a quick job. I usually like to stuff them with beans, and I always forget to soak my beans the night before. Plus I feel compelled to do the capeado if I'm relleno-ing a chile, and sometimes I don't want to whip egg whites on a Tuesday, you know? That's what I love about these panela-stuffed chiles: the simplicity. All you do is char the poblanos on the comal, peel off the skin and scrape out the seeds, cut some panela slices and sprinkle them with fresh epazote, and then put them inside your chile. The cheese slices don't even have to fit! Actually, it's better if they don't, because then the cheese gets sort of melty and soft out the sides. You pan-fry the stuffed chile in a mix of butter and lard, or butter and olive oil. The butter is key -- it draws out the poblano's natural buttery notes. I made these on a weeknight and ate the leftovers the rest of the week. My love affair with the Poblano pepper continues. Chile Rellenos with Panela Cheese & Epazote Makes 4 4 poblano peppers 8 oz./200g panela cheese cut into 1/4"-1/2" slices 2 sprigs epazote (about 18 leaves), chopped 2 teaspoons lard 20g (about 2 pats) butter Directions To prepare the peppers: Rinse poblano peppers and dry them well with paper towels or a dish cloth. To char them, you can let them sit directly over a gas flame and turn using tongs; or, you can use a comal or dry skillet. I don't have gas in my apartment (I'm one of the .02% of households in Mexico City that doesn't), so I use the latter. Heat the comal over high heat and turn chiles quickly, blackening all over but also making sure they don't cook too long and turn slimy. Remove chiles to a dish towel once they're charred, and wrap tightly. Let sit for 20 minutes. This makes the skin easier to peel off. Peel the skin off chiles -- DON'T RINSE UNDER WATER, as this mutes that lovely charred flavor! -- and cut an incision into each one. Using your hands or a little spoon, scrape out the seeds as best you can. This is the most annoying part of the dish. Have I mentioned how much I hate seeding poblanos? Peeling, fun. Seeding, lame. To prepare the filling: Take one slice of panela and sprinkle with epazote. Place the other piece of panela on top, like a sandwich, and sprinkle the whole thing with epazote. Place your panela-epazote sandwich inside the chile. To cook: I had to do this in two batches. Heat a large (I used 10-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add half the lard and half the butter, and let melt. When hot, add two chiles. Cook until slightly darkened on all sides and cheese starts to melt. Serve with whatever you want -- I used some leftover ayocote beans that Janneth brought me from Tepoztlan.
I took a trip to Xalapa, Veracruz recently, and I ate way too much. Gorgeous, grasa-laden picaditas topped with cheese and plantain? Yes please. Mole? Mmm-hmmm. How about a side of it to accompany my cream-drenched enchiladas? When I got home and stepped on the scale (Lesley, don’t ever step on the scale again), I wanted to cry. Then I vowed to eat more vegetables. The lettuce at my local market looked a little sad, so I went with green beans, which are available year-round in Mexico because they’re native vegetables. The word “ejote” was “ejotl” in Nahuatl. I had a vision of cold, crisp green beans, mixed with some tomato and a little chayote. I think the universe really wanted me to eat more vegetables again, because this was the best salad I’d eaten in a long time. The chayote added just the right touch of the sweetness; the crisp green beans gave texture. Crumbled cotija cheese, salty and slightly sour, tied everything together. I made a simple vinaigrette to accompany this dish, but I didn't even need it. The cheese was practically the dressing. Crayton and I didn't finish this in one sitting. I ate the leftovers out of the bowl for the next few days. Does anyone else besides me love doing that? Green bean, chayote and cotija cheese salad Serves 4 generously Note: I used guaje tomatoes here, a Mexican variety that's slightly larger than a Roma. Feel free to use the ripest, freshest tomatoes you can find. Queso cotija should be available at most Mexican supermarkets. If you can't find it, you can substitute another salty, mild cheese. Just make sure it doesn't taste too aged, because that might overwhelm the other flavors in the dish. Ingredients 2 chayotes, diced into 1/2" pieces 8 oz/250g green beans, chopped into about 2” pieces (this equals about 2 heaping cups) 2 ripe tomatoes* (see note), chopped Good handful cilantro, stems included, chopped Cotija cheese to taste -- I used about 1/4 cup crumbled Vinaigrette (optional): 3 T. apple cider vinegar 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard dollop of agave honey, or sweetener of your choice 4 T. olive oil Directions Heat a saucepan of water to boil on the stove. Nearby, fill a large boil with water and ice cubes. (We're going to blanch the green beans.) When the water in the saucepan is boiling, add your green beans and a hefty dose of salt. While the green beans cook, place the diced chayote into a microwave-proof bowl and mix generously with salt. Cover with plastic wrap that's been perforated a few times with a fork, or with a sheet of wax paper. Cook until crisp-tender, about 2 to 3 minutes on high. Once green beans have boiled for perhaps three to five minutes -- they should be just slightly more tender than they were when you placed them in the pot; above all they should still be green -- remove them with a slotted spoon, and place them in the bowl of ice water. Let sit for at least five minutes to stop them from cooking further. This will make them nice and crisp later. Place chayote, hopefully cooled by now, and chilled, drained green beans into a serving bowl. Add the diced tomatoes, cilantro and cheese. Mix until well combined. (Taste here and see if you need more salt.) If making the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients and add the oil last. Whisk quickly until the oil and vinegar look fully integrated. Serve as a light lunch on its own, or to accompany something else. I used this as a side dish for pasta.
I think Tlaloc must have been paying attention to my dude-check-out-the-mountains post, because for the past five days, it’s rained every day. Nothing too scary. Just a nice, steady drizzle starting around 4 or 5. So my sandals have gone back into the closet. I've replaced my light cardigans for a cheery, cobalt-blue cropped raincoat. I know Americans tend to think of rain as dreary, but it doesn't feel that way here at all. At the markets we've still got mangoes, small stone fruits, luscious mameys (oh god -- you should see their sunset-red flesh) and, the best of all, an abundance of quelites, which I've talked about on this blog before. "Quelite," pronounced keh-LEE-tay, is a catch-all term for pretty much any tender Mexican green. Epazote is considered a quelite, as is purslane (verdolagas), watercress (berros), chaya, romeritos, pápalo, pipicha. I ended up buying a big bunch of tender, almost peppery-tasting quelites from one of my favorite vendors for 10 pesos. They sat in my fridge for almost a week, washed and disinfected and stored in my salad spinner. Last night I didn’t feel like cooking or eating out -- there is such a thing as running to my corner empanada joint too many times -- so I took out the quelites and made a quick guisado, tossing the leaves into a mix of tomato, onion and garlic. On my tours, I talk a lot about how guisados are one of the workhorses of Central Mexican cuisine. A guisado doesn't have to be anything fancy. It can have chile, or not. It can have garlic, or not. Generally it has a base of chiles, garlic and onions, and an acidic element like tomato or tomate verde. But the tomatoes don't necessarily have to be cooked and blended. I chopped mine. The result was comforting and simple, and I felt good for being healthy for once. You should know that last week I ate antojitos like a fiend. Gonna post a recipe for gorditas soon. Simple Guisado de Quelite (greens stewed with tomatoes, onion and garlic) Serves 4 with rice or grain of your choice With a guisado, there aren't really any rules, but Mexican cooks tend to not go overboard on the onion. You just want the perfume of onion flavor -- you don't want onion por todas partes. And of course it helps to use the freshest vegetables you can find. 2 pounds quelites, or any other green of your choice, washed and thick stems removed 1/2 to 3/4 small onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced 1/2 to 1 jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and minced (optional) 3 to 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped Chicken or vegetable broth, or water Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. (In Spanish, this is called "acitronar.") Then add the garlic and chiles and cook until aromatic, usually just a few seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook, lowering the flame a little so they don't dry out too quickly. When tomatoes have softened, add the greens and about 1/2 cup of liquid. Bring to a boil and add salt to taste. The amount of liquid is really to taste here, too -- you can make it as soupy or as thick as you like. Simmer the mixture gently, covered, until the greens are tender and the flavors have mixed together. Serve with warm tortillas, rice, quinoa, or grain of your choice.
One of the funny things about living in Mexico City is that it's tough to find basil here. The big bunches of fresh Genovese basil don't really exist -- I've seen them once in two years, at the Mercado El 100. We also don't get a large variety of year-round greens. We've got spinach and chard, and quintoniles and quelites in the rainy season. But I feel a pang in my heart whenever I hear Americans talking about kale, broccoli rabe and collards. Oh well. We've got mamey and drippy, juicy manila mangoes, and they don't. The point is: I'm always looking for new ways to prepare my old chard-and-spinach standbys. A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe for swiss chard pesto in Sunset magazine. How perfect! Why hadn't I ever thought of that before? (You may be asking what the heck I'm doing thumbing through Sunset magazine when I live in Mexico City. My mom, who lives in Washington, occasionally buys it for me. She subscribed when I was a kid, and the magazine still reminds me of all the things I love about California -- the sunshine, the fresh produce, the constant promise of eating dinners outside. Mexico feels like that at times.) I ended up making Sunset’s pesto recipe a half-dozen times, Mexicanizing the ingredients where possible. I swapped out the walnuts for pine nuts and then pumpkin seeds, and the parmesan for queso añejo. I also added more garlic, because there’s never enough for me. Although I will definitively tell you that five cloves is too much. Aack. All of the pestos were pretty great: the pine-nut version was creamier and nuttier than other pestos I've tried, while the pumpkin seed-añejo was slightly more crumbly, salty and sharp. (I didn't make it with walnuts, because those are in season only once a year here.) Drizzling the pesto over steamed chayote was just about perfect, even though the entire thing was green. I also bought some beet pasta from a little shop near Mercado San Juan, which made for a colorful purple-and-green dinner. Crayton said it looked like Mardi Gras. Here’s the recipe, in case you’re looking for something quick to make for dinner. I may even try it with epazote, which is growing like a weed outside my window. Swiss Chard Pesto Adapted slightly from Sunset Magazine Serves 4 with sauce left over Note: Don't feel hemmed in by the amount of chard you use. The original recipe called for two cups, but I didn't want to be bothered with measuring the leaves, so I just started using the entire bunch. You could also save the stems for a soup or to chop and stew into a taco filling later, with some tomatoes and spinach. Ingredients 1 bunch swiss chard (around 7 ounces), leaves removed, stems discarded or saved for another use 2 cloves garlic, peeled 1/4 cup grated queso añejo, or grated parmesan 1/2 cup pine nuts or pumpkin seeds 1/4 cup olive oil -- possibly a little more if you're using the pumpkin seeds Salt Pepper Directions In a food processor, add the garlic and pulse to chop. Then add the chard, cheese and nuts or seeds. Pulse until smooth -- feel free to scrape down the sides of the bowl to add in any errant cheese or chard bits. Add olive oil and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with pasta, vegetables, or (as I did with my sister-in-law recently) spread on crusty bread.
When I first moved here, I went a little crazy trying to find quinoa, the nutty, protein-rich seed that’s related to amaranth. I tried smuggling some in from the States, but it didn’t work. Mexican customs agents confiscated my supply. (Later they let me keep my brown rice flakes from India, which shows that their policies make no sense.) Eventually I found quinoa at Green Corner, a natural-foods store in Mexico City. And then I just kept buying and buying, until the bags of quinoa began multiplying in my pantry. Faced with an issue I’d never thought I’d have in Mexico -- I have too much quinoa! -- I tried to think of a way to use it, besides the usual steaming. My first thought was quinoa mexicana. It's basically the same thing as sopa seca de fideo or Mexican rice, except with quinoa as the main grain. I'd actually tried to make this in Dallas once and it didn't work out too well. But this time around, it was pretty fantastic: the quinoa soaked up the tomato puree, and I couldn't detect any of the bitterness/earthiness that quinoa sometimes exudes after cooking. (This is why Crayton isn't the hugest quinoa fan. But he loved the Mexican version.) Toasting the quinoa also toughened the seeds up a bit, which meant they had a nice, hearty texture. It wasn't quite in the Israeli cous-cous realm, but the dish was definitely more fun to eat than rice or noodles. Plus quinoa has more protein. How can you go wrong? I ate several tostadas with this quinoa slathered on top and served it twice as a side dish. In the future I might add a dollop of crema or some diced, fried chile pasilla. Adding a wee bit of chipotle en adobo to the tomato sauce might be a good idea, too. Sopa seca de quinoa Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish Note: I used boxed tomato puree for this because it's easy, but if you want to make your own tomato puree, blend perhaps three medium-sized tomatoes in a blender and pour into a pan heated with a little bit of oil. Season with salt and cook over medium-low heat until the tomato mixture turns a deeper red color and no longer tastes raw, perhaps 10 to 15 minutes. Add a little water if the mixture looks too thick. Ingredients 1 tablespoon oil 3 slices of onion, about 1/4-inch thick 1 cup quinoa 1 3/4 cups water 1 210-gram box of tomato puree (or a small can of tomato sauce, if you live in the States) salt Heat your oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and, when hot, add onion and quinoa. Stir constantly (this will burn if you leave it too long), until quinoa starts to brown and releases a pleasant, toasty smell. Add water and tomato sauce and stir. But be careful, because the pan might hiss and spit. Add salt to taste. Bring to boil, and then lower heat to simmer. Cook for 30 minutes (this is how long it took me in Mexico), or perhaps half that if you're at normal altitude. Feel free to check on the quinoa as it cooks. It won't hurt the dish. The quinoa may look wet when it's done cooking, but it solidifies a bit as it cools. If you find it too wet for your taste, cook with the lid off and let some of the liquid evaporate.
Día de la Candelaria in Mexico, a Catholic holiday that honors the purification of the Virgin Mary. It's also an important day for eating tamales. The holiday is a follow-up to Three Kings Day on Jan. 6, when families serve a Rosca de Reyes cake that's baked with hidden figurines of the Baby Jesus. Anyone who finds a Niño Dios inside the rosca must make tamales for friends and family on Feb. 2. It's been interesting to watch the holiday unfold here -- the markets have been filled with ceramic dolls of the Baby Jesus, many with long eyelashes and eyeliner. (Bringing said doll to mass is a big part of the Día de la Candelaria ritual.) However, I didn't know until recently that Día de la Candelaria is a truly mestizo holiday. February 2 formerly commemorated the first day of the Mexica new year. Guess what the Aztecs used to eat to ring in the festivities? Tamales. The Christmas tamale-making spirit passed me up this year, so I signed up for a Día de la Candelaria cooking course at the Escuela de Gastronomía Mexicana, where I take classes on Thursday nights. Yuri was teaching and he had a whole slew of tamales on the menu: strawberry, fig, pineapple, bean with chicharrón, corn with pork and epazote, cazón. I’d wanted to make one of the sweet ones, but he relegated me to the corn group. But I snuck a few peeks at what the strawberry folks were doing. When they came out of the steamer (as depicted above), I couldn't believe how amazing the masa was. Made with butter and milk instead of lard and chicken broth like the typical savory tamal, this was almost like a spongecake. A lone strawberry gem lay inside, soft and tart. ...February 2 is
I’ve made sikil pak three times in the past month, and each time I'd stare at the pile of pumpkin seeds in the bowl and think, "There's no way I'm going to eat all this." But then I would. Twice I split a batch with Crayton, and the other time I ate the whole thing myself with some tortillas I'd heated up on the stove. Sikil pak has the comfort of an herbed cream cheese you'd spread on a cracker, and the meatiness of a mushroom or eggplant chutney. It doesn't contain any dairy or even any major vegetables -- just a few scoops of pumpkin seeds ground to dust, mixed with garlic, onion, water and some tomate verde. It's great on tortilla chips, warm tortillas, cucumber slices, and (I'm imagining for next time) crusty slices of baguette. I first came across sikil pak about a year ago while thumbing through Diana Kennedy cookbook, searching for things to serve at my tamalada. I hadn't seen this dish anywhere in Mexico City, so I was intrigued. Kennedy's directions sounded easy -- toast the pumpkin seeds, grind them in a spice or coffee grinder, and add boiled tomatoes and spices. Unfortunately I added too many salted, unshelled pumpkin seeds and the dip came out too sharp and almost woodsy-tasting. Strangely, it tasted like it had meat in it. A few months ago, I saw another sikil pak recipe in one of my Cocina Estado Por Estado magazines devoted to Campeche. Turns out Sikil Pak is typical to Campeche and the Yucatán, which explains why I hadn't seen it locally. This recipe called for using raw, shelled pumpkin seeds and roasted tomate verde, onion and garlic. I decided to make the dish in the molcajete, because my cooking instructors have drilled into me that it's better. The result was totally unlike the weird chunky red thing I'd made before. It was thick like hummus and glossy like mayonnaise. Grinding it by hand, I had much more control over the texture -- were the seeds too dry and powdery? Did they need water? Pues ándale. I'll add a few spoonfuls. I got to see how the dip changed with each step, and what gave it that creamy white color. (Water and the juices of the tomatoes.) The next time I made sikil pak, I used the food processor because I was hungry and tired and didn't want to spend 30 minutes grinding. The dip wasn't the same. I was too scared the seeds would turn into peanut butter in the food processor, so I didn't pulse them finely enough. Instead of hummus/mayonnaise, I had a chunky spread. Not bad, but not as good. Plus... I don't know. I missed being closer to the ingredients. To grind everything with my own hands, twisting the tejolete, ignoring the dull ache in my wrist -- I was actively involved in preparing the food, and that meant something to me, because food was nourishment and our bodies depended on it. So yesterday, with the Bears game on TV and both Crayton and I yearning for game-day snacks (well, more me than him), I took out the molcajete and put it on the coffee table. I ground the dip during the first quarter and we enjoyed it with tortilla chips I'd baked in the oven. I didn't enjoy every single minute -- several times I looked down at the bowl crusted with chunks of half-ground pumpkin seeds and thought, "I just don't have the wrist strength for this. This dip will never be done." But in the end, I had my creamy wonder, and I was happy I stuck it out. Recipe below. ...
Verdolagas, called purslane in English, are a popular edible green in Central Mexico. They're most commonly stewed with cubes of pork in tomatillo sauce, until the leaves are limp and soft. I've been a bit scared to try them -- I've met two people so far who absolutely hate verdolagas. (In The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, Diana Kennedy describes verdolagas as "curiously acid" and "very much an acquired taste.") But they're cheap and abundant right now. And they're much prettier than your average quelite. Verdolagas have these thick, teardrop shaped leaves, jutting out from a tender central stalk. (Photo from The Kitchn) No vegetable this beautiful could possibly taste bad. So, a few weekends ago, I bought a kilo at the tianguis. Tore off a raw leaf and ate it when I got home. The leaf tasted acidic and intense, almost minty. But it was not that bad. I wouldn't put verdolagas in a salad, but I'd most definitely serve them under a blanket of stewed tomatoes. Marichu had an easy-sounding verdolagas recipe that called for making a boiled tomatillo salsa, frying it, and then adding the greens. In the end, this seemed like exactly what the verdolagas needed. A fried, liquified tomatillo bath lessened some of the greens' harshness. In fact, after 20 minutes of cooking, I'd dare call the leaves sweet. They didn't dissolve under the weight of the salsa, either -- the leaves kept their hearty shape and texture. Served these with leftover alubias and warm tortillas. It was a humble, comforting meal. I'll leave you with a few sentences from Ricardo Muñoz Zurita's Encyclopedic Dicitonary of Mexican food, under the entry for verdolagas. He calls them "meaty and juicy," which I'm inclined to agree with. ** Portulaca oleracea L. (Portulacáceas). Quelite herbáceo de la familia de las portulcáceas; mide en promedio de 15 a 50 centímetros de largo. Es suave, carnoso, jugoso y de sabor ácido. Se aprecia mucho como verdura, principalmente para elaborar diversos guisos y caldos. Juega un papel importante en la gastronomía del centro del país, donde es especialmente famosa la carne de puerco con verdolagas. Su nombre náhuatl es itzmiquílitl. ** Recipe below. ...
I really, really wanted to close out The Week of Huauzontles with a spectacular new recipe. But then the weekend came around, and our friends Julie and John had a despedida, and then I got stomach sick, and then our friend Justin came to town for a few days. And next thing I know it was Tuesday. My original point with TWOH was to enlighten a few folks out there about this scruffy, nutritious vegetable. As the week wore on and I was eating The Huauz every day -- leftover from the massive one-kilo bunch I bought at the tianguis -- I ended up learning a fair bit myself. You can really eat huauzontles in just about anything -- salsa, queso, scrambled eggs. You can stuff it inside a chicken breast, roll it up and cover it with mole sauce, and it’ll be pretty fantastic. (Also, anything tastes good with mole.) You can add it to rice and chicken broth, to soothe a delicate stomach. And it freezes beautifully, a fact I figured out on accident, because my fridge has some frozen-spot issues. Those bitter huauzontle stems that I used to fear would ruin any dish really don't taste so bitter after all. Well, some of them do, but not the ones near the fluffy buds. I'll close out with a simple little recipe I found on the Internet, for huauzontle-stuffed chicken breasts blanketed in mole. It's perfect for when you have an extra cup of huauzontles lying around and a bag of mole in the freezer. (Two things that are quite probable if you live and cook in Mexico.) ...