Purslane or verdolagas, one of those ingredients that Mexicans hanker for when outside of Mexico, is likely to be growing in your backyard. In Mexico, it is considered one of the quelites or edible herbs. It is nutritious and succulent, yet it has long been considered a weed in the United States. Indeed, once it grows roots, it spreads and grows fast.
Its name, Cascabel, which translates to rattle, comes from the sound it makes when you shake it. With its sphere, globe-like shape, the dried seeds have a lot of room to play and make noise in. Sometimes, because of that shape it is also called Chile Bola, as in ball. Different from most fresh chiles that are dried, it retains its shape and doesn’t flatten out once it is dry. Also, different from many chiles, it maintains the same name when fresh or dried.
It’s hard to think of Mexico without images of cactus plants. From landscapes to murals, to paintings, photos, plays, songs… and namely to the Mexican flag! Mexico’s coat of arms has an eagle eating a snake triumphantly standing on a cactus plant. As legend goes, that sign led the Aztecs to their promised land, Tenochtitlán.
Mexican chocolate is quite different from regular bittersweet chocolate sold throughout the world. It is sweeter, yet with contrasting layers of flavor that seem to sweep your tongue in waves as you take a bite. It is also grainy, practically gritty. It is traditionally made from a mixture of toasted cacao beans, ground almonds, regular sugar and cinnamon.
Don’t let their size fool you. These chiles pack a punch of flavor and more importantly, they have been spicing up Mexico’s taste buds for a long time in many ways. Different varieties of Piquín grow in bushes that have small and pointy leaves. The chiles are adorably cute!
The name Hoja Santa translates to “sacred leaf.” The leaves of the hoja santa plant are heart-shaped with a thick velvety texture. These leaves can grow up to a foot and sometimes more. I find them to be truly beautiful. Though hoja santa is found throughout Mexico, it is mostly used in the south. Mexican cooks use hoja santa judiciously not only because of it’s strong, unique, unexpected taste, but also because too much of it is not good for you, just like epazote.
I first tried chipilín in Chiapas, Mexico. First, in a soup, then in tamales, then in a stew, then in a delicious omelette… After walking around many towns in that state, I was surprised to find it grown in tall bushes in the front and back lawns of many homes. After being smitten with its flavor, which is a cross somewhat between watercress and spinach but a bit milder, and its lovely gentle but meaty bite, I came back to DC wishing I had a chipilín bush too!
It’s hard to think of Mexico and not think of limes. In Mexico, limes are everywhere and served with everything from peanuts, to fruit, to tacos, to a steak dinner. So, it’s hard to believe that limes did not originate in Mexico and were brought over by the Europeans from the Indo-Malaysian region. Yet, the fruit was eagerly embraced and incorporated into Mexican cuisine, so much so, that it has become a necessity in the Mexican kitchen.
Pumpkin seeds, Pepitas in Spanish, are one of the things I used to stuff in my suitcase when visiting Mexico. That’s because they have a mellow, somewhat nutty, almost sweet, barely chewy and nutritious nature. They are also one of the most nutritious seeds (they are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants).
Funny, it wasn’t until recently that allspice became incorporated into Mexican local cuisine. Allspice has been grown in Mexico since the 1600’s but was seen as an exotic and expensive spice for export. Allspice is as unique and simple as it sounds. It is the only spice that grows exclusively in the Western Hemisphere. When…