You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Epazote’ tag.

work table

work table

Here’s to the herbs, spices and flavorings that have become familiar to me over the years and which I love to use.  It’s easy in a city like Minneapolis to trek around and explore the street-party of international and specialty markets, which increases your odds of laying hands on some of these ingredients, some of which are not only exotic, but challenging to find (Minneapolis even has a stretch of Nicollet Ave, called Eat Street).

This is what God made the internet for.  Most of the below items that I found over the past 20 year period  are now often locally available.  I like shopping for them in person, because you don’t have to pay increasing mail/shipping costs, or tap your foot as you wait for delivery trucks.  Anyhow, combing your territory for these little treasure is always a much better adventure provided that you have the gift of time.

I’ll highlight more specialty ingredients sometime in the future (Africa, SE Asia, Central America), and if you think today’s list is exotic, just wait!

Asfoetida – a gum (tree) resin used in cuisines from India.  It is a penetrating flavor and aroma – only use  a small pinch and fling it into hot oil when frying pappadums.  It actually has an startlingly unpleasant scent before you cook with it, but it is also a key ingredient in authentic Indian-style cooking with an exciting taste.  For centuries, the non-physical and magical attributes of Asafetida have been- at the least -equal to to its health and aesthetic qualities.

Curry Leaf – another India item – I’ve used this herb both fresh and dried – just like the name says, it tastes like delicate curry spices.  Look for it in either form at your local Indian grocery, which is likely one of the only places you’ll find it.

Epazote is an Indigenous herb with a pronounced flavor, with many uses in Central American tribal cuisines, as well as Southwest US tribes.  It’s easy to grow (I’ve planted it in my garden many times) and I put it in various sauces and salsas, and it is a great addition to dry beans when you cook them, thought to have carminative properties.   Having the virtue of being an antidote or preventive to flatulence.  Easy to grow in your garden, which is good – I prefer using fresh over dried leaves when I have the choice.  It has an indefinable, almost chocolatley presence on the palate and in the nose.

Galanga Root – I have this fascinating spice in my kitchen in its fresh and dried state (both sliced root and in powdered form) as well.  It can be found in Asian markets in its fresh form, often labeled as Thai Ginger.  The taste is difficult to describe, but it really doesn’t taste like ginger at all.   Use it when you make Tom Ka, Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk and Galangal.  Also known as Geing bot, and a couple of other perplexing names and spellings, it features regularly in Indonesian cuisine as well.

Grains of Paradise– A year or so ago I started searching for this peppery spice, and it took weeks to locate.  It is related to the African Alligator Pepper.  It has a spiky, pleasant flavor – unmistakably hotter than black pepper- and in the United States it found its way  into the brewing industry, for craft beer.  I later found out that this was one of the reasons it was scarce, as I began looking for it.  It has heat, powerful floral citrus and warm spice notes.

Gumbo File – This is not an exotic spice, since it is a unique Indigenous North American ingredient derived from finely ground leaf of sassafras.  This prominent ingredient in authentic Cajun and Creole cuisines around Louisiana has always been used by the Choctaw tribe (Five Nations) because of its thickening and flavoring virtues in cooking.  You can probably find it in the spice and baking aisle of your local supermarket.  It’s used as the name suggests in some preparations of Gumbo and is also sprinkled over a bowl of the stew at table to further enhance the flavor.

Juniper Berry – I love using this spice.  It does come fromf juniper and is generally fairly easy to obtain, because in addition to use in Native American cooking, it has been employed for centuries in traditional European kitchens as well, often to balance the strong tastes in game.  I always always always have this in my spice cabinet.  In cuisine francaise, it is a familiar companion to a strong burgundy:  A noble Rhône (Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge, a good 1981 if you can manage it).

Keffir Lime Leaves– Prominent in SE Asian cookery, Keffir leaves are becoming steadily more familiar in the US.  I have found the dried leaf in my local co-op/natural food store.  You can probably also find it- fresh or frozen- in larger Asian groceries and supermarkets.  It adds a bright citrus fragrance to curries and stir fries and has numerous applications.

Yuzu Juice– Never heard of this before?  Neither had I.  And this amazing flavoring agent was a beast to find.  I couldn’t even find it in the Japanese section of one of our major Asian super-marts.  It is the juice of an inedible Japanese citrus fruit, used only in the juice or grated rind incarnations.  Yuzu is one of the components for traditional sushi dipping sauce (Ponzu), mingled with soy sauce.  Bartenders also have come to rely on the addition of yuzu to high-end cocktails to add an intriguing and deliciously aha-moment to beverages at the bar.  The taste is often described as the love child of lemon and tangerine.

Res El-Hanout – Apparently like many curries, each family & household commands its own concoction for Res El-Hanout (الحانوت رأس), sometimes with up to a dozen or so individual spices.   It is used in the Moroccan kitchen and throughout North Africa in one form or another.  I love cooking chicken with this spice blend and it will transform any ingredient into a unique dish to place on your dinner table.  This was another spice that took some searching on my part, until I rejoiced when I stumbled upon it in a Middle Eastern grocery four blocks away from me.  I was whooping madly inside my head.

Szechuan Peppercorn – I was first introduced to this deliciously prickly spice when I was living in Taiwan.  My landlord at that time taught me how to make Ma Po Dofu (an iconic Szechuan tofu and pork main dish); and when I first tried to make this recipe back in Minnesota, I had to find this ingredient.  I don’t believe you can make Ma Po Dofu without it, it’s that essential.  Part of the reason is flavor, and another is texture.  This small peppercorn, which is small and reddish brown, has a woodsy, flowery personality, and a sensation on the tongue that is somewhere between heat and a tannic-bite.  The crunchy kernel also retains its almost dinty character, even after you grind it and cook it!  It is fairly easy to find in your Asian grocery.

Smoked Salt – Fortunately this aromatic item has moved out of boutique kitchen stores and is becoming easier to buy.  It is usually made from sea salt (as opposed to mined) salt, and there are a number of interesting incarnations and applications.  I first was introduced to Hickory Salt about 20 years ago, and more recently there are new smoked salts in a number of forms.  This is a wonderful ingredient, and I love using it in the absence of smoked meats when preparing rice and beans, for example, or other recipes that feature smoked cured meats.  It’s especially great to use when making vegetarian foods, adding a pleasant smokiness, but omitting the smoked ham, bacon or turkey leg.  Include it in a rub for fowl, meat or fish, and vegetables, to give it a grilled depth.  Team it up with smoked paprika (available in both sweet and hot powders) to develop complex flavors.

Sumac – another ingredient native to both North America and Africa, and historically used by peoples in both continents for many centuries.  It’s used everywhere from the Bosporus and Mediterranean cuisines, to tribes around North America.  It’s versatility can be grasped when you realize that it can be made into a refreshing cold beverage (like lemonade) or in soups, baked and grilled dishes, adding a puckery, fruity tone.  In North America there are varieties of sumac that are inedible, and in fact poisonous.  If you forage this wild food, you must know the difference.  I bought mine at the Middle Eastern market.

Advertisements

My friend Hortensia brought me  fresh tomatoes from her garden- and some other beautiful green things.  Then I went to the store & brought back another very Native fruit- the avocado- some cilantro, and a poblano pepper.

Avocados AKA Persea Americana AKA Alligator Pears are  mashed together with homemade, spicy tomato salsa, making a rich & delicious accompaniment to many foods.  That is more or less the  form of guacamole most familiar for many people here- and if you make it from scratch, it is greatly appreciated.

OK, you twisted my arm, and I will surrender my recipe to you. This is how I make my famous, authentic smoked pepper Eskimo Guac.

Please locate the following ingredients, if you can:

-a Poblano green pepper (a green, sweet pepper would also be good)

-1/2 a  small red onion, shaved thin & chopped to atoms (I use a mandolin)

-1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

-a clove of garlic, also minced to smaller atoms

-a lime, halved & juiced

-1/2 tsp cumin

-1/2 tsp hickory salt (otherwise use plain, table salt)

-one tsp chili powder (or ground, dried red chili)

a couple of dashes of tabasco sauce

-a full 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

-if you happen to have it on hand, 1/2 tsp dried, or 1 tsp fresh Epazote (fresh is better).  This is a traditional Native herb, and it gives an almost indefinable, gently sharp, chocolate flavor, when not cooked.  When cooked with beans, it aids digestion, and it also tastes very, very good.

2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

There is only one ingredient here that requires some special attention- the poblano pepper.  Roast it over a fire of some kind, or roast it almost black in a heavy skillet on top of the stove:

This may take several minutes, but be patient.  The pepper builds up steam inside & cooks.  The charred outside gives you some complex, deep flavors.

When the pepper is no longer recognizably green, take it off the heat & place it in a paper bag:

Now, seal the bag & forget about it for a while.

After a few minutes, open the bag & scrape off the charred skin.  You can use the flat of a knife, your fingers, or even paper towels.  Clean out the ribs and seeds, and then cut into fine strips.  Then chop the pepper very finely.

Now you can begin to mix your salsa together- everything all at once.  And now you can also split & mash your avocado.  I think I use almost 1/2 cup of salsa to each avocado.  Some people like to keep the avocado in big chunks, or cut in large pieces -you can do it whichever way makes you happy.

finished guac and salsa

finished guac and salsa

salsa fixings

salsa fixings

When I entered the whole foods restaurant business I had been prepared

by my family, & my own exploration of foods.  Salsa was a joy to learn,

- with the summer farmers market you can find everything you

need for a very traditional salsa.  You can use it as a springboard

for many other variations.I like color (you eat first with your eyes),

so it's nice to use red onions (or scallion), multicolor tomatoes-

and I love a little heat, but you can keep the Scoville factor down

by removing the inner membrane/seed of a jalapeno (or serrano 

pepper, for that matter). Chilies can vary widely in heat; a jalapeno

grows according to its individual characteristics as well as growing

conditions.  Chili (like coconut and chocolate) is a natural mood

elevator, and is abundant in the Vital Amino (Vitamin) C.  I like

to use a few ingredients that you don't always encounter in US versions

of salsa fresca - namely hickory salt (just a 1/2 tsp in a small batch of

maybe a pint; also a little ground chili powder (any variety- to get an

idea of what's out there, go to 'Seed Search, Native foods' on the web-

you'll also be saving Indigenous seed varieties. I  visited their storefront

in Tucson AZ many times and it's an amazing place.

One other ingredient I really like to use is fresh or dried Epazote,

a piquant Native plant frequently found in Central American Indigenous

cookery, with an intriguing chocolate undertone. When I make

guacamole I usually make salsa fresca first, and then 

combine a little bit with smashed up avocado, along with a little

extra cracked black pepper and maybe a little salt.