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squash blossom


Posted by monkeyarcher on 2007.03.11 at 13:09
With the garden being in a post-winter shambles, I haven't been feeling too inspired lately. But, over by the wall where I planted it with the watermelon, I discovered that my Epazote didn't give up the ghost, but instead is now coming up from its roots, so a moment of inspiration is with me now...

Epazote leaves and flowers

Description and cultivation
Epazote is an annual or short-lived perennial herb native to the Latin Americas. It grows fairly easily in temperate climates or during the summer months in cooler climates, being cultivated by gardeners not only in the Southwest but also all the way up to New England and Europe, where it is sometimes known as Mexican tea, skunkweed, goosefoot or wormseed. It can reseed easily and has been called an invasive weed by many.
Its leaves are oblong and most times have a somewhat serrated edge. They grow on a bushy plant that will also grow rather large spires of virtually invisible white flowers and seed pods, giving it a rather unruly weed appearance. The picture below shows the flower spikes at their best, and most likely in a somewhat young condition, where the above picture shows a more common flower spike. If you look carefully you can see little white spots. Those are the flowers, which will quickly be replaced by green-yellow seed pods. During the blooming period, which seems to last quick a while a couple times a year, it is best to just keep cutting back the flowers, as they pretty much destroy any ability the plant has to look non-ugly. And it will help slow the spread of unwanted seedlings, although they grow slowly enough that they are easy to weed and can only become a problem in areas of neglect.
eazote flowers

Personal experience has led me to suspect that they might release a chemical while growing that will suppress the growth of less hardy plants that try to encroach on its territory. Planted next to a rose bush, it had no effect onthe roses, but other flowers such as violas refused to grow around them, in a well defined circle. I have seen no one else comment on this, so it could be just a coincidence, but one that I have always kept in mind when planting.

In Mexican and Latin American cooking, it is regionally common, although its uses can vary. While many sources seem to indicate that the dried herb is interchangable with the fresh, practice does not hold this to be true.
I personally loved it the first time I tasted it, and also find its scent to be quite pleasant. This is not a universal opinion and many have described it as an acquired taste (or in less polite terms). I think that part of the problem lies in people using the dried in place of fresh.

Fresh, it is used culinarily. It has a strong flavor and scent that is difficult to describe. The terms "anise", "citrus", "resinous", "savory", "mint", "putty" and "petroleum" have all been used to try and describe it, but none really capture it. As such, it has no substitutes and if none is available it is better to just leave it out of a recipe.
Traditionally it is used with beans, since it has antiflatulent properties, but its flavor goes well with eggs, soups, potatoes and shellfish. It blends well with oregano, cumin and chilis, which is why you will find it in many traditional recipes such as tamales, enchiladas and moles.
One of my favorite uses is also one of the simplest. Just chop up a small handful of leaves and sprinkle into a quesadilla. Even better when you use Monterey Jack or Oaxaca Cheese. You can cut back on the amount of epazote if you like, but don't go stronger. More on the reason why in a moment.

a couple more recipes...
from apinchof.com
Corn and Black Bean Salad with Tortilla Strip Croutons
For maximum flavor, make this salad the day before. Store in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving. This salad also works as a salsa.
2 cups frozen corn kernels, cooked according to package directions and drained
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (4.5 ounces) diced green chiles
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium tomato, cored and diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped dried epazote
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Tortilla strip croutons, recipe follows

Place the corn, black beans, green chiles, garlic and tomato into a large salad bowl. Sprinkle with the coriander and toss well.
Whisk together the oil, vinegar, epazote, salt and pepper; pour over the corn and bean mixture. Toss well. If time allows, cover and place in refrigerator overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.
To serve, mound on a salad plate and scatter the tortilla croutons over the top.

Tortilla Strip Croutons
6 six-inch corn tortillas
Canola oil for frying
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Cut the tortillas in half, stack and slice into half-inch strips. Heat 1/2 inch of the oil in a deep, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Oil is ready when a test tortilla strip dipped into it sizzles heartily. Carefully drop about one-third of the strips into the hot oil; keep them moving with a slotted spoon and fry until crisp, about 4 minutes. Using the slotted spoon, carefully transfer to drain on layers of paper towels. Repeat two more times with remaining tortilla strips.
Mix together the salt and ground cumin. Sprinkle this mixture over the warm tortilla strips and toss lightly to coat.

Yield: six 1/2 cup servings

from Chow.com
Mexican Black Beans with Epazote
By Aliza Green from Field Guide to Herbs & Spices
1 pound dried black beans
3 cups chicken stock
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 1 pound dried black beans overnight in cold water to cover. Drain and rinse.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place the beans, 3 cups each chicken stock and water, and 2 large sprigs fresh epazote (or 2 tablespoons dried) 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 1/2 pound chopped fresh chorizo sausage. Remove the chorizo, leaving the fat in the pan. Add 1 diced onion, 2 diced carrots, 2 diced celery stalks, and 1 tablespoon chopped 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 1 tablespoon ancho or New Mexico chile powder, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, and salt to taste.
Cover and bake for 1 hour, or until the beans are soft.

from epicurious.com
This is a classic Mayan dish from Yucatán made with the minimum of ingredients. Warmed corn tortillas are dipped into a pumpkin seed sauce from which the green oil has been extracted, and flavored with epazote. The tortillas are filled with chopped hard-cooked egg and topped with a tomato sauce. The final touch is given by little decorative pools of the green oil. Great care has to be taken to ensure that these ingredients are the freshest — slightly rancid or bitter pumpkin seeds can ruin it — and great care also should be taken in the preparation.
2 1/2 cups (657ml) water
2 large leafy stems of epazote
1 scant teaspoon sea salt
8 ounces (225g) hulled raw pumpkin seeds, about 1 2/3 cups (313ml)
12 freshly made, warm corn tortillas, 5 to 5 1/2 inches (13-14cm) in diameter
5 large hard-cooked eggs, shelled, roughly chopped, and salted
For serving:
1 cup (250ml) salsa
2 large hard-cooked eggs, white and yolks separated and finely chopped
12 epazote leaves (optional)
Have ready a warmed, not hot, serving dish or warmed individual dishes.
Put the water, epazote, and salt into a small pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Spread the pumpkin seeds in a thin layer over the bottom of a large skillet and heat through gently over low heat, turning them over from time to time. The seeds will swell, but take care not to let them become even slightly golden or the sauce will lose its fresh green color. You might want to keep a lid handy because often some of the seeds will start jumping out of the pan. Spread the seeds onto a metal tray to cool completely before grinding to avoid the blades seizing up with the volatile oil.
Using an electric coffee/spice grinder, grind a portion of the seeds at a time to a slightly textured consistency, 5 to 6 seconds. If the seeds are ground too fine, then it will be more difficult to extract the oil.
Have a small glass bowl ready for the oil.
Put the ground seeds onto a plate that has a slight ridge around the rim. Measure out 1/4 cup (63ml) of the epazote broth and little by little sprinkle it — don't, for goodness' sake, pour the whole lot — over the seeds and work it with your hands, first having put the telephone on automatic answering. Gradually add the liquid until you have a crumbly but cohesive paste.
Tilt the plate a little to one side and put a folded cloth underneath to hold it in that position. Start squeezing the paste and you will see that drops of oil will begin to extrude. Add a little more warm liquid if necessary — you probably won't need the whole amount — and keep squeezing until you have collected almost 4 tablespoons of dark green oil. (This is pure vitamin E, and great for the hands.) Crumble the paste into a blender jar, add the remaining strained epazote broth, if desired, and blend until smooth.
Transfer the sauce to a skillet and warm through over the lowest possible heat, stirring almost constantly because the starch content of the seeds begins to swell and the particles tend to coagulate in the bottom of the pan.
Dip one of the warm tortillas into the sauce: it should be lightly covered. If the sauce is too thick, dilute it with a little extra warm water. Work as quickly as you can, dipping each tortilla into the sauce, holding it with tongs but supporting it with a spatula so you don't get left with a bit of broken tortilla in your tongs. Sprinkle some of the chopped egg across one-third of the tortilla, roll it up, and place it on the warmed dish.
When all the papadzules are assembled, pour the remaining sauce over them. (If the sauce has thickened and become grainy looking, put it back into the blender with a little extra warm water and blend until smooth.) Now pour on the tomato sauce and sprinkle the chopped egg whites and yolks. Decorate with the optional epazote. As a final touch, spoon in little pools of the oil. Serve immediately or the oil will sink back into the sauce and all that work will have been for naught! Of course, it is more colorful and attractive to serve the papadzules together on one serving dish.

Makes 12 papadzules.
From My Mexican Kitchen, September 2003 by Diana Kennedy Clarkson Potter

Epazote is also found as a dried herb. In my opinion, this is when you get the unpleasant qualities. The dried herb seems to lack the savory and rich qualities of the fresh herb, and while some recipes say you can use them interchangably, I have only encountered people using the dried herb as a medicinal tea. An unpleasant tasting medicinal tea. People drink the tea to help with flatulence, releave stomach or menstrual cramping, clean the body of worms and was also used as an early birth control since it also contains an abortificant.
Remember when I said that you didn't want to add more than a small handful? This is because it is mildly toxic. That is how it is able to get rid of worms, you know. This puts it in the category of herbs that should be used with caution, like nutmeg and sage.
Baby Epazote plant

This might not be the most complimentary of descriptions, leading one to wonder why I am happy that I have it growing, but I truly love this herb and never feel like I have a good herb garden going until I can go out and pick this stuff any time I want it. And it is definately worth trying if you happen to find it at your grocery stores.

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