Saturday, April 08, 2006

Holy Mole – Epazote!

For , sponsored by the blog , I wanted to try something a little bit regional. Something with a little South of the Border flair. I wasn’t looking so much for anything unusual, but of course when I found it, I just bought it.

I mean, my herb guy is selling it, so people must eat it somehow, so there must be some sort of recipes to be found that use it. No guarantee how the yet to be identified recipe will actually go over for dinner, but my optimism shines through, despite my cynicism.

The herb of choice this weekend is . I’d heard of this on occasion. I do not think I’ve ever seen it before, but then again I’ve never looked.

It is a very unique herb, used mainly in Central America, especially Mexico, and especially the state (pronounced ow'ksahkah, rhymes with Alaska) in the very southern part of Mexico on the Pacific ocean.

When I researched it al little, first in McGee (On Food and Cooking), and subsequently in various Web sites, it’s clear that there is really nothing else that tastes quite like it. Apparently a fairly unique terpene – ascaridole – is responsible for this unique taste. There is some sort of citrus component to it, and we have been warned that it might be a bit of an acquired taste. But I am sure we’ve had it before in various dishes in Mexican restaurants both in California as well as in Mexico.

When we tried some of the Epazote leaves, they had a slight mint taste, maybe a little cilantro, but definitely difficult to characterize as the taste was unlike any other commonly recognizable herb. I liked it, but I can see where opinions could differ.

Aside from the characteristic taste it imparts to foods, it has three other interesting qualities: (1) it alleviates gastric discomfort (gas - i.e. from beans, for example), and (2) it kills intestinal hookworms, and (3) it is poisonous in large quantities. All sources reassure me that in small quantities such as we intend to consume it is not lethal. Traditionally, it is also prescribed for nervous disorders, asthma, and problems with menstruation. Quite a range of powers for one little herb!

To use the Epazote, I decided to make a simplified version of one of the seven classic mole sauces from Oaxaca – known as ‘Mole Verde De Oaxaca’, or simply Green Mole Sauce from Oaxaca. Oaxaca is actually known as the land of the seven moles, and this sauce plays a significant part in their cuisine.

If you’ve never tried a Mole sauce – well you just haven’t lived life to the fullest yet! Nothing more to say! Mole sauces are not only delicious, but some also allow you to incorporate pure chocolate into savory dishes. Chocolate for dinner. Chocolate for dessert. That’s livin’!

The mole sauce today does not contain chocolate (those recipes are multi-hour efforts just for the sauce), but it looks like there will be some good flavor involved. And some heat!

When the sauce was done, it had a bright green color, mainly from the Epazote and parsley, but also from the tomatillos. The Epazote flavor was very evident, pervasive even, but not overpowering or unpleasant. It’s hard to describe, but it’s more that you sense it’s presence than that you actually taste it. And it sticks with you for a while after you eat it.

Roasting the tomatillos, chilis and garlic really brings a nice smoky flavor to the dish. I used 3 Serrano chilies, so it was smokin’ hot anyways. 2 would more than suffice. And the slow braised chicken was just ready to fall apart – no knife necessary.

I served the Mole Verde and Chicken with the homemade chewy style tortillas that I wrote about a few days ago.

Mole Verde De Oaxaca
Oaxacan Green Mole with Chicken and White Beans

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

This recipe is adapted from one demonstrated in a class in Oaxaca by Chicago chef Rick Bayless, owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. Bayless says as one of the seven classic Oaxacan moles, this version is set apart from other Mexican green moles because of the anise flavor of the hoja santa leaf; the epazote gives it an identifying Southern Mexicanmark and the traditional seeds or nuts are replaced with masa for thickness and flavor. Since hoja santa is rarely available here, Bayless suggests a combination of fresh fennel and pepper in its place.

2/3 cup small white beans
3 whole boneless chicken breasts
1 quart chicken broth
1 medium white onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husked, washed
2 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 serrano chilies, or 1 jalapeno, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
1 1/2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon masa harina mixed with 6 tablespoons hot
Salt, about 1 teaspoon
Herb puree:
4 large sprigs flat-leaf parsley
2 small sprigs epazote or additional parsley
2 leaves hoja santa, or substitute
1 1/2 cups chopped green tops from fresh fennel mixed with 1/2 teaspoon
ground black pepper
Parsley sprigs for garnish

Soak beans in 2 cups water 4 to 8 hours or heat them to a boil 1 minute and then let stand 1 hour.

Drain beans; place in a large saucepan with chicken broth, 1-2 quart water and chicken. Heat to a boil, skim off foam, and then add onion and garlic. Cook, partly covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until beans and meat are tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (If the liquid level drops below the level of the beans and meat, add hot water.)

Meanwhile, heat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat. Put a piece of foil on the hot surface, set the tomatillos on top and roast, turning regularly, until blistered, blackened and soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove to a food processor or blender.

Roast garlic and chilies directly on the hot surface, turning frequently, until chilies are blackened and blistered, about 5 minutes, and garlic is blackened and soft, about 10 minutes. Scrape black skin off chilies and remove seeds; peel garlic. Add both to the tomatillos; add cumin. Puree.

When beans and meat are tender, pour them into a colander set over a large bowl; set aside. Skim fat off broth. (There should be at least 5 cups broth; if not, add water.)

Set the clean pan over medium-high heat; add lard or oil. When hot enough to make a drop of tomatillo puree sizzle, add it all at once. Stir constantly 4 to 5 minutes as the mixture sears and thickens, then add 4 cups of the broth. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat 20 minutes.

Gradually mix 2/3 cup of the remaining broth into masa harina mixture in a small bowl. Push the mixture through a wire mesh strainer into the simmering tomatillo mixture, whisking constantly, until thickened. Add the beans and meat, season with salt and let simmer, stirring occasionally, while you prepare herb puree.

For herb puree, put parsley, epazote if using, hoja santa or fennel mixture and 1/3 cup broth into a food processor or blender. Puree, adding a little more liquid if necessary. Stir the herb puree into the bean mixture. Add a little more broth or water if necessary to thin to a medium consistency. Serve in warm, deep plates; garnish with parsley. Enjoy!

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Blogger Kalyn said...

Fantastic post. (If I was grading the WHB entries, I would give you an A+.) I love the flavor of epazote, and I have even written a little about it on my blog, but I've only used it dried. My brother brings it to me from Mexico. I mostly use it in bean soups, but it sounds wonderful in your mole. I wonder if it would grow here. Apparently in Mexico it grows easily, almost like a weed.

7:08 AM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Kalyn, Thanks for the much too kind words! I really enjoy your WHB, and reading the interesting ideas from all the other contributors!

8:04 PM  
Anonymous sher said...

Oh boy!! That's my kind of food. It makes me so hungry looking at the picture. I love any kind of Mole. You're so lucky to find epazote in the stores. I'm going to grow it

11:42 AM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Sher, Thanks! The Mole was good! We're lucky to have a lot of very authentic Mexican foods and ingeredients in the area due to our location.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Maggie said...

I am growing it here in Adelaide South Australia, it gives a great flavour to bean dishes, I love it. Check out our blog Hills and Plains Seedsavers soon you shall be on our blogs to read list.

6:38 AM  

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