In the garden

Your Beans Are Seeds

Most of us know this, but in case it's news, your beautiful Rancho Gordo heirloom beans are also viable heirloom seeds. 

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Just toss some in the ground and cover by about half an inch, keep them moist (but not over-saturated) and within a week you'll be the proud parent of a new crop of legumes. 

You can eat them as green beans, shelling beans or dried beans. They are hard to screw up. Runner beans seem to prefer cooler nights but beans are easy. 


Fermenting Chiles

Everyone seems to have fermenting fever these days and I'm no exception. Kraut, beets, kombucha and kimchi are all my companions in the kitchen. I'm sure this is a healthy thing but even if it isn't, I love the off-the-grid self sufficiency and the delicious flavors. In the unlikely event that kombucha is the equivalent of a Pepsi, I still choose the homemade drink. 

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In the photo you can see my latest batch of serrano peppers, onions and garlic in a 5% brine. I used to add some dried Mexican oregano but I didn't like the way so much would float to the surface and the whole point seems to be to keep everything submerged. Adding later actually tastes better to me. The fermentation takes about a week but I like to keep it going as I can. Too long and the chiles can turn to mush. This isn't a horrible thing. You can just gently strain the jar and put the remaining vegetables into the blender and call is salsa. 

The top of the Mason jar is secured with a very clever gadget called Kraut Source. I was in on their initial Kickstarter funding and it's one of the very few new gadgets that has stood the test of time. I have three and I'm considering more.

 


A Beautiful Runner Bean from Michoacan: Ayocote Purepecha

I will soon be writing more about a recent trip to Morelia that changed me in a lot of ways. For now, I wanted to introduce you to some lovely beans that chef Lucero Soto, of the famed Lu restaurant had waiting for me in my hotel room when I arrived. 

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This is a single beans with many colors. I suspect it's an Ayocote (Phaseolus coccineus), but Lucero told me it's not. It came from Purepecha farmers in the countryside outside of Morelia and it was incredibly thoughtful of her to remember my relationship with beans and take the trouble to have them greet me in the hotel room. She even told me this but I was checking in and not really listening and when I got in, I thought, What strange trail mix these Mexicans have! A day or so later, I was wanting a snack, so I opened the bag and started munching. This wasn't trail mix or granola. These were beans. 

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When cooked, they were delicious. A little starchy and with very thick skins. We had them this last Sunday, along with a pork dish I invented and some asparagus. All agreed it was a fine meal. 


Piloncillo Shortbread Cookies

I recently bought some fun cookie stamps. Why, I'm not really sure. I don't love baking the way I love cooking but these were so much fun and so easy that I may change my mind. 
Piloncillo isn't as sweet as refined sugar, which may be a problem for some but I found these sandy discs to be perfectly sweetened. 


Next I think I would sub some of the flour for ground nuts or our pinole. Maybe. These really were perfect as they were and the staff here at Rancho Gordo (and let's face it, they can be picky) gobbled them up. 

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Piloncillo Shortbread Cookies

1 cup butter
3/4 cup Rancho Gordo piloncillo
1 teaspoon Rancho Gordo Pure Vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups undifted All Purpose Flour

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream the piloncillo with the butter until well mixed. Add the vanilla and then the flour. Beat at a low speed until very well mixed. 

Form the dough into one inch balls. Place then on an ungreased cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Smash with the bottom of a juice glass or use a cookie stamp. Bake for about 10 minutes. They should be cooked but not brown as they'll continue cooking for a while after you take them out of the oven. 

Allow to cook thoroughly. 

Adapted from a recipe by Rycraft Cookie Stamps. 


 


The Four (and a half) Culinary Plants Every Mexican Home Cook Should Be Growing

The deeper you dig into Mexican cooking, the more addicted you get to the unique flavors and ingredients. A bunch of cilantro from the grocery store is fine but you start to crave more. Unfortunately, this means no spur of the moment trips to the store for your herbs. You normally will need plant them yourself. You may even get to the point where you grow your own corn for homemade tortillas. I did once!

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Culantro (Eryngium foetidum)

We all know cilantro, or fresh coriander, but before the conquest, this unique flavor was provided by culantro. It's not as delicate and won't bolt in the summer the way cilantro does. I've tried growing cilantro and I like that it's stronger tasting than the store-bought but I found it a bother. Culantro, on the other hand, it's hardier and bolts at the end of the season, but reseeds itself easily so I'll have another supply the following Spring. 
I've heard that in Mexico City, certain aficiandos insist on culantro for their tacos over cilantro. I'll leave that to the experts. I'm glad to have access. 

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Epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides)

Occasionally you find fresh epazote in the Mexican markets and once I even found it in my local mainstream supermarket, packed in plastic with the other herbs! I wouldn't be able to make it without a plant near my kitchen. Its most famous use is with beans, making them more digestible, it's said, but I think the real value is culinary. It's odd at first but it's great and you start wondering about new ways to use it. It's classic to put a leaf or two on a simple quesadilla but I love it with sauteed mushrooms or grilled octopus. 

In Hidalgo, I've had it mixed with fried onions and ricotta cheese. 

You can find it dried but personally I think it's as worthless as dried basil. It really deserves to be consumed fresh. 

It can be invasive so I always grow it in a pot. It comes back every year. 

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Hoja Santa, Hierba Santa, Acuyo (Piper auritum)

This seems to be only available as a cutting so you need to meet a nice person from Oaxaca or do a web search. I've purchased it before online but my best pot is from a clipping. The plant has a slight root beer and anise flavor. This tastes much better than it sounds. If you read my blog, you know I love to wrap fish in it and it's an essential part of mole verde. You see it mostly in Oaxacan and Veracruzano cuisine. It likes a moist environment with indirect sun but it can be invasive under the right conditions. 

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Nopal (Opuntia ficus indica)

All this plant requires is excellent drainage, a sunny spot and occasional water and you will be well fed with cactus paddles for a vegetable and prickly pears as a fruit. I really don't understand why we don't embrace this wonderful plant more. I think they're beautiful and if you have a flair for the dramatic, consider a row of nopales alternating with red roses. I've seen it and it's pretty spectacular. 

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Papaloquelite (Porophyllum ruderale subsp. macrocephalum)

I wouldn't call this one essential unless you love the food of Puebla and the cemitas sandwich in particular. It's oily, strong and has the romantic flavors of gasoline and mint. It's nice chopped up on grilled meats with salt and garlic and it's essential to the Dagwood sandwich known as a cemita. It's not really key but I think you should know about it and it's easy to grow. 


Fish Baked in Hierba Santa

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Easy fish with Hoja Santa (a.k.a. Hierba Santa in Oaxaca and Acuyo in Veracruz). Line a cookie sheet with the leaves and top with trout. Squeeze juice from 6 key limes over the fish and put the used limes in the fish cavity. Sprinkle with white onion rings and finally drizzle with olive oil. Top with more leaves. Bake at 350F for about 25 minutes. The fish stays moist and the clean up is a snap!
(if you are a skin eater, you won't love this technique. Otherwise perfect, I'd say).

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Here's a snap of the plant from last summer, which is now leafless and sad. 

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(Note: this is an even easier variation on a dish I tried earlier last year.)

 


A Day in the Bean Fields

We just got back from a little roadtrip to the beanfields and on the whole, we're looking good for the new season. There's nothing more beautiful to me than a beanfield. It's full of hope and potential. The reality is often different but for a moment, you can imagine each of the flowers turning into pods which hold the beans for that special dinner you're going to make with our harvest. I think it's romantic. 

These are the scarlet runner flowers, which are edible and tasty!

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....and a field of scarlet runners

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Yellow Indian Woman, also known as Buickeye. 

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A secret Italian cannellini we'll "unveil" later in the year, suggested to me by Marcella Hazan. I'm really happy they are doing so well. 

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A happy field of Rio Zape: 

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Immature Rio Zape

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Red Nightfall, just hitting their stride:

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Masa Fantasies

Hoja santa (or sometimes Yierba Santa) (Piper auritum) is a delicious leaf used throughout much of Mexico for flavor and as a wrapping. I've had very little luck growing it at home, which has been frustrating as I've heard over and over that's invasive! Well, this year they decided they were happy and I have a nice crop of hoja santa leaves to play with. 

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In Oaxaca, where this plant is used a lot, they make a delicious little masa snack called tetela. I wasn't sure about how to make them but I did steal the technique and the results were great. You can make these without just about anything that inspires you. I liked the fact that the leaf helped block the bean juices from permeating into the wet masa. 

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Diana Kennedy came up with the phrase "masa fantasies" to cover the hundreds of snacks and treats you can make with masa. The same item may have a different name in other parts of Mexico but they all have a certain creativity in common and they all tend to be delicious. 

The secret is to take your time and let the weight of the tortilla do the work for you. This filling was simply Sangre de Toro beans (I'm loving these more and more) and a few ripped hoja santa leaves. 

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After all three sides are done, you can wet the seam and try and make it seamless, but I didn't care that much. 

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You just heat them up on a medium skillet or comal. My next experiment would involve deep frying them. Or maybe you can and report back. 

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Remember, the filling could beans and cheese, cheese and salsa, just about anything. 

I've seen Oaxacans scramble eggs on yierba santa leaves on clay comales. They would use the leaf as almost a non-stick pan and then scramble the leaf into the eggs right before serving. I've also seen them press the leaf right into the masa and then toast both sides. I love these when lightly toasted as they have a very mild, almost minty flavor. When the leaves are fresh, it's somewhere between anis and root beer that you taste. 

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This last snack I just pressed the leaf into the masa to make a tortilla that I toasted on both sides before adding scrambled eggs and Sangre de Toro beans and Felicidad hot sauce. 

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