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.
It is essential to the cuisine of Central Mexico, where it is most commonly added to Puerco con Verdolagas: my favorite way of eating them. There, slowly braised pork is finished off in a seasoned salsa verde and verdolagas are dropped in almost when it’s done (continue for more information and photo).
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Every year, just as summer peeks its warm face in Washington DC, I begin to crave fresh fruits and vegetables Mexican street cart style. One of the times when I have enjoyed it the most was last April. We were traveling through the Copper Canyon route, on a week long trip, from Chihuahua to Sinaloa. We had been waiting at the station in the town of Creel to catch the Chepe train to go to the next town.
As the station officer let out a scream that the train was approaching, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the fruit and vegetable cart. It was hot, we were tired and thirsty, and I saw Mr. Fruit Cart Man peeling some ripe and juicy mangoes. I grew weak in my knees.
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Chayote, also called chayote squash (it is from the squash family), choko, vegetable pear, mirliton and christophene, is a beautiful pear like shaped vegetable. Ironically, it has a texture similar to a pear that isn’t ripe, but less grainy. Yet the chayotes isn’t wholly sweet, it just has a sweet hint, barely a whisper, really. Its flavor is more neutral, like a cross between a pear and a cucumber… and zucchini. Well, you just have to give them a try.
Crispy, watery, very low-fat, with a clean and wholesome feel, chayote can be used many ways. Most typically in soups, as a warm vegetable side, a cold salad or very popularly stuffed either with a sweet or savory spin. They are most times cooked and best al dente, unless eaten stuffed (continue for more information and photo).
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I think the most commonly used zucchini in Mexican cooking is either what in Mexico is called the calabacita italiana, or Itailian zucchini, or the calabacita bola or round squash, which is similar to the Italian but rounder and smaller and used a lot in French cooking. Italian zucchini is different from the regular green zucchini found in most US stores, in that the later is large, thick and has a uniform dark green color. The Italian zucchini is smaller, a bit rounder with a chubbier appearance, and has a lighter green color that is randomly speckled with a cream color and is milder and sweeter in flavor (continue for more information and photos).
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Jícamas are one of the many Mexican ingredients that luckily, have become readily available outside of the country. Also known as Mexican yams or turnips, they are also a root vegetable. But they are far from the latter in flavor, texture or cooking uses.
They are mostly (and as far as I know also successfully) eaten raw. No need to try to cook them, for many of the qualities they are loved for would be lost. They have a similar taste and crunch as the water chestnuts, but in my view, jícamas are more refreshing, crispy, sweet and watery (continue for more information and photo).
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