“Jamaica Flowers Charm The Kitchen,” NPR’s Kitchen Window
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.
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“Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to attend a vanilla class taught by Patricia Jinich, chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, where she sauteed vanilla bean for a salad! She said that, contrary to popular belief, vanilla did not originate in Madagascar but in Veracruz, Mexico. And she shared a love story about the legend behind the pod…”
No matter how hard we tried we just couldn’t stay dry.
A single step out of the plane and it all seemed part of a magical realism novel from Gabriel García Márquez. In that hot, humid and tropical pueblo, every move was slowed down in a permanent mist, which made my clothes feel damp. Under the open sunny sky, that mist was shiny and full of light as it transformed the colors from the exotic overgrown plants, colorful houses and small streets. There were cute little insects, bees and hummingbirds moving all around. Wide chubby trees offered some shade, as people walked by with no hurry, wearing earth colored hats.
And everything, absolutely everything, was infused with the lusciously sweet aroma of vanilla.
No. I don’t do drugs.
This is a true description of a small town in the region of Totonacapan in the state of Veracruz, where vanilla originated and is still heavily grown. Also where my husband and I were invited to a wedding, more than a decade ago. And it was in that small pueblo, where I tasted the best horchata I have ever tried.
Continue reading We could all use a little Horchata…
The cinnamon mostly used in Mexican cuisine is called Ceylon and it is also known as true cinnamon. It is quite different from Cassia, which is mostly found in US stores. However, as time moves on, one can find true cinnamon in an increasing number of stores here (continue for more information and photo).
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Ay, ay, ay! Patita, espérate mamacita! My nanny repeated, as she snatched the hot plantain tightly wrapped in aluminum foil, from my hands. Her hands were more resistant, she insisted, as they were older and had cooked so much. She would hold my chosen package with an open hand, so the camotero (sweet potato street cart man, who also sold plantains) could tear up the foil. As the steam flew up to the skies, he poured a more-than-any-child-could-wish-for amount of sweetened condensed milk… and so it fell, sweet ounce, by thick ounce, onto that moist, rich, filling and immensely satisfying treat. Sheer joy, that was.
I devoured it in what seemed a couple bites, just to lick the last but yummiest remains from the crumbled foil. There we were, standing on the street corner where my family lived, mischievously laughing: it was already getting dark, almost dinnertime, and no, no, no, I wasn’t supposed to be having any. Oh dear, how I miss that woman! Now every time I eat a plantain, I get a sparkle of that sheer joy.
Continue reading Three tasty ways to eat ripe plantains
Plantains are now available almost anywhere in the United States. They have the appearance of being thicker, longer and bigger type of bananas. But they are not. No wonder they are called macho bananas, plátano macho, in most areas of Mexico. Although from the same family, plantains are a different ingredient. They are starchier, meatier, firmer, milder in flavor and have much thicker skin than bananas and are better treated as vegetables in a culinary sense, since they are only eaten cooked (continue for more information and photo).
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