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Alegría Farm Newsletter | Oct 29, 2012

Epazote and Papalo, fabulous South-of-the-Border herbs

Unless you are very familiar with traditional Mexican and South American cuisine, there are two relatively unknown herbs hiding in your bouquet: epazote and papalo. These two herbs are staples in the south and chefs will often offer sprigs of papalo on the table so you can pluck the leaves and add them to your meal raw to foods, much like finding parsley or mint on a dish in a restaurant.

Epazote’s use in food and medicine can be traced all the way back to the Aztecs, who called it epazotle, which means “smelly animal.” The scientific name is Chenapodium ambrosioides, although it is also commonly referred to as pigweed, skunkweed, wormseed, goosefoot or Mexican tea.

These less-than-elegant names are given to epazote due to its strong, pungent flavor and its scent, which has been compared to citrus, mint, and even gasoline. Epazote adds a tasty kick to a variety of dishes. It is most often found in connection with legumes, especially black beans. Epazote has strong anti-flatulence properties and is known to help treat other ailments, including asthma, malaria, and the eradication of intestinal parasites.

Epazote should be used carefully, as it has a very strong taste and can be toxic in very large doses. Younger leaves are milder than older leaves, which should be used more sparingly. To store, treat epazote like fresh parsley: cut off its stem ends, refresh with cold water, and store in a wet paper towel in the fridge. You can also eat the flowering ends.

Papalo is found in abundance in Mexican and South American cuisine. Its scientific name is Papaloquelite porophyllum ruderale or macrocephalum. The name papalo comes from the Nahuatl word, papalotl or butterfly, because of its resemblance to butterfly wings. It is sometimes referred to as Bolivian coriander, although it is actually part of the daisy family and has no relation to coriander. Additionally, because of its tolerance to heat and its similarities to cilantro, it is often referred to as summer cilantro.

Papalo’s taste is similar to cilantro with a dash of arugula, and therefore is often used in the same dishes as cilantro. However, its use actually predates cilantro in salsas, and in some parts of the South America cilantro is only used in guacamole and salsas if papalo is not available. Papalo has a much stronger taste than cilantro; therefore, it should be used in lower quantities. In addition to being used in salsas, raw papalo is often added to dishes at the last minute, preserving its strong, unique flavor.

Like epazote, papalo helps to ease stomach issues that can arise from the spicy, bean heavy foods found in Mexican and South American cuisine. Other common medicinal functions are the treatment of liver ailments and reducing high blood pressure due to its vasodilating properties.

The papalo and epazote found in your Alegria Farm bouquet will impart the strongest flavors because they have been picked an hour before their delivery and are at their peak nutrition.

On our website http://www.alegriafresh.com/produce.html there is a one page description of the nutritional effects of each plant we are growing and their effects on the body. Please make use of this information. If you believe Hippocrates that your food is medicine, then let Alegria Farm be your “Farmacy”.

Enjoy a Mexican feast with a new twist by incorporating papalo and epazote. You can make delicious black beans and salsa using the recipes below.

Mexican Black Bean Recipe from Chow.com:

1 pound dried black beans
3 cups chicken stock
3 cups water
2 large sprigs fresh epazote (or 2 tablespoons dried)
1/2 pound chopped fresh chorizo sausage
1 diced onion
2 diced carrots
2 diced celery stalks
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon ancho or New Mexico chile powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin

Soak black beans overnight in cold water to cover. Drain and rinse.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place the beans, chicken stock and water, and epazote in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil on the stove top, skim off foam, then cover and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
In a large, heavy skillet, brown chorizo sausage. Remove the chorizo, leaving the fat in the pan. Add onion, carrots, celery stalks, and garlic to the pan and cook over medium heat until the vegetables become soft.
Remove the pot of beans from the oven and stir in the vegetables and chorizo, along with ancho or New Mexico chile powder, ground cumin, and salt to taste.
Cover and bake for 1 hour, or until the beans are soft.

Papalo Salsa from the Gourmet Sleuth:

2 roasted and deseeded chopped chili peppers
2 roasted and deseeded green peppers, chopped
3 small green tomatoes, chopped
4 roasted garlic cloves
6 papalo leaves
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 spoonfuls of minced onion

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and let sit in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving.

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