Growing up in Mexico City, my sisters and I used to prepare exotic meals, perfumes and potions for the inhabitants of our enchanted forest. That was our dog, the bluebird, snails, butterflies and ladybugs that happened to peek into our backyard and witness our extravagant mess. It also included any family friend who happened to stop by and become a willing victim. We sometimes offered cooking classes too.
My mother set us up in the backyard on a big blanket with random pots and pans, while she cooked laborious weekend meals. There was a fig tree, an apple tree, a peach tree, a couple of what we called Chinese orange trees and tons of azaleas and herbs that offered an immense array of witch-crafting material. But among our most prized ingredients were dried jamaica flowers, known here as hibiscus flowers, stored in a big jar in the kitchen.
Although not native to Mexico, with a contested origin between Africa and India, jamaica flowers arrived in colonial times and are now deeply integrated into Mexican cuisine. Mainly used to prepare agua de jamaica, one of the freshly flavored waters (aguas frescas), they are enjoyed daily throughout Mexico. Agua de jamaica is extremely popular because its tart flavor, also refreshing and light, complements Mexican food so well.
As a treat, and to make our wait more bearable, my mother would bring us a big pitcher of agua de jamaica. We would drink it, of course, but we would also pour it into ice cube molds with wooden sticks to make mini popsicles, or mix it with gelatin to make happy-looking jello, both of which are common in Mexico.
It was more fun, however, to sneak into the kitchen to get the dried flowers and experiment firsthand. Oh, how fascinating it was to see how they slowly infused the liquid in which they were soaking with an intensely deep and vivid red color. Their flowery and fragrant smell seemed to help with our magic spells, too.
After my husband and I moved to the U.S. in the 1990s, I would stuff them in my suitcase or ask someone to bring some when they visited from Mexico. My craving intensified while I was pregnant, since aside from their tangy taste (more welcome when carrying extra weight), their diuretic and digestive properties and richness in vitamin C and minerals are common knowledge in Mexico.
Luckily, I don’t have to stuff them in my suitcase anymore. As with most ingredients used to cook Mexican food, they can be found in a store close by or with the click of a button, which is wonderful because I use plenty of them. The traditional jamaica water is a staple on my table, but most of all, I am still playing with them in my own enchanted forest or busy kitchen.
Like other adventurous Mexican cooks, I have been experimenting with and expanding their culinary uses. For example, the easy-to-make concentrate used to flavor water makes a rich and sophisticated base for a thick and syrupy sauce to drizzle over gamey meats such as duck, venison or lamb.
An even more daring approach, which I find irresistible, is to munch on these wholesome flowers. However, they are hard and rather tasteless as they are. They have to macerate for at least a couple of hours before they become deliciously chewy and release their tart and cranberrylike flavor. Thus, they are perfect for making exotic vinaigrettes.
The concentrate has also been splashed into margaritas for some time now, and I was recently surprised to find hibiscus-infused tequila at a restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C. While I am no tequila connoisseur, it tasted heavenly.
These days when my mother visits, she tries to set up my three boys on a big blanket with pots and pans in our backyard. Within 10 minutes, the potion-making ends in a wrestling match. However, since one of their favorite things is to have brownies outside, maybe next time we bake some I can drizzle sweetened jamaica syrup and whipped cream on top. That is a recipe I still haven’t tried.
Article written and photos taken for and published by NPR’s Kitchen Window on July 22, 2009.
Watercress, Goat Cheese and Pecan Salad with Hibiscus Flower Vinaigrette
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- 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup safflower or corn oil
- 1 garlic clove finely minced
- 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper or to taste
- 1 cup hibiscus flowers
- 12 ounces watercress rinsed and drained
- 8 ounces fresh goat cheese cut into 12 slices (can be crumbled, too)
- 1/2 cup pecans or pine nuts lightly toasted
- Pour the champagne vinegar into a 3- to 4-quart mixing bowl. Slowly add both the olive oil and the safflower oil as you whisk them into the vinegar with a fork or whisk. Mix in the minced garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Add the flowers and toss them well. Let them macerate from 4 to 6 hours.
- Remove the flowers with a slotted spoon, reserving the vinaigrette. Chop the flowers and return them to the vinaigrette. You may use then, or cover and refrigerate up to a week. Mix very well before using and taste for seasoning as it may have become a bit more tart as the days go by and need more salt and sugar.
- Place the watercress in a salad bowl. Toss with some vinaigrette and top with goat cheese slices and toasted pecans or pine nuts.
25comments inJamaica Flowers Charm the Kitchen
Omg this is my favorite
Aw thanks, Joseph.
thank you Patti! my favorite plus my favorite gelatin flavor 😊
Hi Pati! I would love to make the Jamaica concentrate. However, if I make it without sugar, will it still keep for months in the refrigerator? I add cinnamon and sometimes ginger. Would those ingredients also affect it? I want to keep it for months! I just wonder if sugar is what preserves it. Thank you!
It will keep in the refrigerator for weeks without the sugar. Sounds great with ginger!
So in order to make agua de sandia or agua de piña would the recipie be the same, just substitute the jamaica for the fruit? BTW, ur show is the best! We’re huge fans in San Antonio!
Oh thank you so much and hola San Antonio! And the answer is no: to make hibiscus flower you have to simmer and steep the flowers in water because they are dehydrated and you want to rehydrated and unlock their flavors. But for fresh fruit, all you need to do is cut the fruit, remove any seeds, and throw it in the blender along with water and sugar or a sweetener like agave or honey to taste. Easy!
Thank you for the Jamaica [Hibiscus] recipes AND the exceptionally good commentary about the plant and its flowers. I a botanist with many Hispanic friends, and was introduced to Jamaica many years ago. The recipes always began, “My mother puts…” or “My wife likes to….” For a drink for myself, in the evening I put a handful of dried flowers in a two-quart pitcher, fill it with cold water, and refrigerate it overnight. By morning is is a rich red “iced tea” which I sweeten [I use Truvia] and drink with a twist of lime. Now I am ready to make the concentrate, then the vinaigrette, etc.
Again, thank you, Patti, de mi corazon!
Con gusto, Ray!
Joanne T Ferguson
WOW! The seared duck looks and sounds delish, TRUE!
Since being to Egypt, ABSOLUTELY love hibiscus anything too!
Has LOTS of health benefits, lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, keeping the body (in EXTREME temperatures) cool..LOTS of GREAT ways to use in a recipe!
I use it A LOT in baking and cooking too!
Here’s my recipe for Coconut, Lemongrass and Hibiscus Ice Cream for all to hopefully enjoy TRUE!
Hope you have a great day too!
i live in miami.florida,, is there any place that sells the flowers, that are or i have seen on patty’s,, show,,, example, flowers for making ICE CREAM,,, or a mial house,,, any info would be of a great help,,, thx. jeff
Ask your local grocery store or natural foods store, I am sure they most carry them in Miami!
question,, is,,como bien,,,
question, do you know of other dry flowers that come out of mexico,, any others would help,,, that are use for cooking, or for your aqua…got the JAMICA,, now wish for all others,,,
great show always learning,,,thx
Was wondering if I could dry my own hibiscus flowers? Do I dry the whole flower with pistels and can I use any variety? Ps love your show, coconut flan amazing!
Hola Joyce, Thank you so much for watching the show!! To dry hibiscus flowers, you have to make sure you are using the “Hibiscus Sabdariffa” variety; and, yes, you can dry the whole flower. Here is some more information on hibiscus flowers: http://patijinich.com/pati_2020/2010/01/hibiscus_or_jamaica_flowers/
I made jamaica this week and it was great! I kept the concentrate in the fridge and enjoyed it all week long. I gave some away to friends and they loved it too. Thank you!
I agree with Bobvbie Meraz – Love your recipes, but can’t seen to find them on line to print. Especially looking for the flnk steak tacos. I could not find it to print on line.
Hi Audre, You can find all recipes from the shows under the TV Show section of my website – you should see links reading “Season One Recipes” and “Season Two Recipes” in the drop down menu. I hope this helps? Here is a link to the flank steak tacos: http://patijinich.com/pati_2020/2011/05/jamaica_infused_steak_tacos/
I just tried the iced jamica tea. It is delicious!
I cant believe i would ever want to cook with hibicus flowers n now i cant find the recipe for the flank steak tacos pls help me. I cant wait to surprize my husband who is from Durango Mexico. I really enjoy watching u on pbs thank u….
Hola Bobbie, Thank you for watching! Here is the recipe for the flank steak tacos: http://patijinich.com/pati_2020/cgi-bin/mt5/mt-search.cgi?search=flank+steak+tacos&IncludeBlogs=3&limit=20&x=0&y=0. Let me know how they turn out.
I am so thrilled to even read about mexican food. estoy una aficionada de mexico, y por las cuatro ultimos anos = tengo la marivillosa oportunidad de vivir con una amiga que me da el gusto de la cusina mexicana.
es la razon de mi enthusiasmo, gracias para todo
vivo en quebec, durante le verano en una pequeno isla
come hay tan en tu pais que me gusto tan
en septiembre voya tener 91 anos,y espero que los angeles
von darme el placer de estar en tu pais una otra vez
es como estar en paradiso
excusar, hablo mucho y fui muchas veces en la maravilla cudad de mexico. gracias de estar en mi vida
tu cronica me da tan placer
nb bebi el te de flor de jamaica peso no supo que es posible
de usar los por cusinar, son los mimos = gracias
Thank you very much for your kind comments and I am so glad you like to read these posts. It is my pleasure to write them! Let me know if there is anything in particular you are interested in…
Pati : I just love the way you take us all to these amazing food feast travels………
Thank You !