I know I have gone on and on about how happy I am to have Mexican products available to us here in Cabo. It seems incredible that only a short few years ago we were limited in our selection, and now we are surrounded by such abundance, all with the Mexican cook in mind!
Epazote, arguably the most Mexican of all culinary herbs, has become a regular staple at our big box stores as they try to outdo each other vying for popularity with Cabo’s Mexican population, which suddenly outnumbers foreign residents and locals combined!
Black beans would not be black beans without epazote in central and southern Mexico. It is also used with wild abandon in quesadillas de comal, chopped with fresh corn, in soups and stews, and also as an herbal remedy reputed to be an antiflatuent and vermifuge. It is a pungent, slightly bitter herb that is fairly easy to grow, although it tends to dry out in our Baja hot season. I really love having epazote readily available at the markets, along with a wide selection of other fresh herbs like chamomile for tea; mint, which is used in a variety of Mexican dishes as well as a refreshing tea; laurel (Bay); thyme; basil and sage.
We can also get fresh banana leaves for tamales, a really good selection of fresh and dried chiles, and virtually all the competitive markets have a full-time nopalero, a man who stands whisking the spines from prickly pear cactus paddles–nopales–with a super sharp knife, trimming the edges so each paddle is perfect, ready for the kitchen!
What do do with nopales? Here’s a great tip: drizzle them with a little olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and grill them briefly on each side (you can do this in a hot skillet as well), then use them as a beautiful bright green base for pork in a mole sauce, chicken in chipotle… whatever your imagination can cook up! Serve with a side of rice and wow! Healthy, light and absolutely delicious. They taste a bit like green beans with lime juice, really fresh and tasty.
Ah, but I digress! I was going to talk about green corn. Recently huge shipments of fresh corn have been arriving in our major markets, and by the truckload to be sold on street corners and in the big arroyo where fresh produce appears out of nowhere when it comes in season. The markets use it as a come-on to attract the coveted market of Mexican cooks who mob the place with the cheapest price, using elbows and shopping carts to jockey for the best position as they load up on this most cherished of all Mexican ingredients.
This is a mystery to the foreign palate… these are not ears of sweet corn like those you would find in California, literally bursting with sugar and needing only a brief cooking to be at their tender best. These are tough, starchy ears of field corn that foreigners find inedible! What possible use could you find for these tough customers?
I was in the melee, sharpening my elbows to get my share, and I took the opportunity to ask people around me what they planned to do with the bounty. The answer? TAMALES! Fresh corn tamales must contain a lot of starch, or they will never set up. TORTA DE ELOTE! Mexican gastronomy contains few desserts, but fresh corn makes a delightful, moist cake popular with the whole family. ATOLE! This thick beverage, like a thin pudding, is so nourishing when made with fresh corn kernels.
Me? I was going to make a batch of Uchepos, Michoacan’s fresh corn tamales, delicate little morsels served right on the fresh steamed corn leaf with queso fresco and a dollop of cream.
And so the answer was the same from all of us as we clamored for our corn: COMFORT FOOD!
Muchos saludos a todos,