Sunday, September 03, 2006

Holy Cow, what a leaf! WHB

After last week’s dubious find for Weekend Herb Blogging, plus a less than optimal week this week in general, you would think I would be a bit more selective, cautious, circumspect, in my hunt for a WHB topic for this week. (In any event, that’s still my excuse for the pictures this week!).

Last week’s topic is still sitting in the fridge, half consumed. But I think the verdict is negative on ‘pipicha', despite the fact that I really like the name a lot.

That was a bit in the back of my mind as we set off on our weekly sojourn to the Farmer’s Market. Plus, my mood was a bit down because of all the goings on of the week in general.

But I hadn’t even completely focused on the odd shaped leaf sitting on the table at the herb vendor’s booth when all that was forgotten.

Like a 100K volt jolt through the temples, everything was instantly reset. Tired demeanor gone. Heavy spirits lifted. Circumspect and cautious attitude evaporated into the usual carefree and adventurous one.

All this accomplished in a flash by the sight of giant deep green leaves.

I’d never seen these before. More than a foot long, wide and heart shaped, paper thin. Deep green on one side, silvery on the other.

Hoja Santa. Said the herb guy.

I did learn one thing from last week. No, no, not to bring a pad of paper and a pencil with me (old dogs, new tricks, and all that …). But to bring along someone with a better memory than mine – TeenGirl. Who also has a few years of Spanish under her belt. So she immediately gets it that despite its pronunciation: ‘Hoy-ya Santa’, there is a ‘j’ involved, and that it is therefore probably most often found in Mexican cooking.

So we bought three of these huge leafs. Gently rolled up and placed into a little plastic bag.

Hoja Santa – Holy Leaf. Quite a name! People must have been impressed with the plant to give it this name.

It also has the odd nick name of ‘root beer plant’. Somehow the aroma is faintly reminiscent of root beer. It comes out just a bit after cooking, not so much when raw. It is also called ‘Mexican Pepper Leaves’. I like Hoja Santa better.

Here are a few links with more detailed info:

These leaves are often used in two basic ways – either as a wrapper, much like a banana leaf, or as a flavoring for the classic Oaxaca Mole Verde.

Used as a wrapper, fish is often wrapped with other herbs or salsa, and either baked or lightly poached. Also popular is to use the leaf as a wrapper for tamales. Oddly enough, as I understand it, the leaf itself is not usually eaten. It is mainly a flavoring agent that is discarded as the filling is eaten.

In a salsa or mole, however, the leaf is chopped into strips, added to the sauce, and eaten.

The flavor it truly unique – but one that everyone immediately agreed was truly excellent. A definite keeper. Worth exploring other uses for. Aside from the slight root beer nuance, it has a definite anise flavor to it, a bright flavorful note that provides a nice foundation for a lot of other flavors. It is very complementary to cilantro, garlic, and hot chili peppers.

There are some sources that indicate that, much like sorrel, there could be some toxic components to the herb. I could not find a definitive yes or no on this. And most sources agreed that consumed in a normal amount, the potential for being toxic was negligible.

We decided to try wrapping some stripped bass filets in the leaf, and baking them along with some Salsa Verde. For this edition of , sponsored this week by Genie of .

This is a recipe I sort of invented based on some menu descriptions from some restaurants in Mexico. In essence, the leaf is laid out, some salsa verde is spread over the inside of the leaf, the fish is wrapped up in the leaf, more sauce on the outside, and then the dish is baked. I put it at 400ºF for about 20 minutes. Next time I would reduce the heat a bit, maybe 350.

The picture didn't turn out that good this time, not sure why. The fish was hard to photograph in general, being fairly white and lacking a lot of texture. It actually looked very appetizing in real life!

The result, however, was wonderful. A very flavorful way to cook fish. As mentioned, the anise-like flavor predominated, but there was just a hint of that root beer. The salsa verde was a perfect complement. We made this one with medium to low heat, so that we could be sure to taste the Hoja Santa. But I think the Hoja Santa flavor would come through just fine with a full strength heat salsa as well.

A truly unique, very enjoyable taste experience. We will be using this on a regular basis – assuming we ever find it again!

Stripped Bass in Hoja Santa with Salsa Verde
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

4 stripped bass fillets
4 Hoja Santa leaves, fresh
1 lime, juiced
salt, pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salsa Verde (recipe follows)
Additional chopped cilantro for garnish, if desired

Place the fillets on a plate, drizzle with the lime juice, salt pepper, and garlic. Let marinate for 1 hour.

While the fish marinates, make the salsa.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

In a baking pan, lay one Hoja Santa leaf out flat (we put the green side on the outside). Spead some of the salsa Verde on the leaf. Place one fish fillet on top of the salsa. Add another tbsp of salsa on top of the fish. Wrap the fish up in the leaf (our leaves were plenty big enough cover one fillet completely). I tucked the ends of the leaf under the roll, but you could tie it if desired. Repeat with the remaining leaves and fillets. Spoon some more of the salsa over the rolls. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until just cooked through. To serve, pull open the leaf. Generally, the fillet and sauce is eaten, not the leaf wrapper. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Enjoy!

Salsa Verde
Recipe by surfindaave

2 pounds tomatillos
½ cup water
1 jalapeno chili pepper
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1-2 Hoja Santa leaves, chopped

Heat the tomatillos in a pan with the ½ cup water and the jalapeno chili pepper over medium heat. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minute, until the tomatillos are softened. Put the contents of the pan into a food processor, and puree until smooth. Clean the pan, add some olive oil, and heat over medium heat. Add the tomatillo puree, and cook until somewhat thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in cilantro and Hoja Santa leaves.

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Blogger Kalyn said...

You just continue to amaze me. We don't have anything nearly this interesting at my farmer's market.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that looks so fucking gross. the best leaf of all is that of the cannabis sativa plant.....that shit is nasty

6:03 PM  

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