Category Archives: Food & Recipes

You Are Invited: Italian Cultural Festival in Oaxaca

How Oaxaca Got Her Name: Guaje Seed Pods

When the Spanish arrived in southern Mexico in 1521, they found a region called Huāxyacac, the Nahuatl word for the pod of the tree Leucaena Leucocephala. Of course, they couldn’t pronounce it easily, so they renamed it with the moniker, Oaxaca. Originally, Oaxaca was pronounced wa-shaka from a medieval Spanish root. Now, the X is silent, so we say, wa-haka.

Ready to eat guaje seed pod. Yummy in the tummy.

The tree is also known by the Maya as Uaxim and in English as Leadtree, White Popinac and Wild Tamarind. The pod, spelled phonetically as either Huaje, Guaje or Huaxya, is not edible. Inside the pod container are small green seeds that plump up in early spring (here, in Oaxaca it is late January and early February). The growing range is from Central America to Southern California.

Peel open the deep purple pod and there you have a tangy, somewhat bitter bright green pea that is rich in protein. My Zapotec friends tell me this is a food staple eaten by the grandparents. That means food for the centuries.

Ready-to-eat guaje seeds. I’ve acquired a taste for them!

It will cure your digestive problems, says my friend Arnulfo.

Ah, just like mezcal, I answer him, and he smiles.

We both know there is truth to folk medicine here in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca. Indigenous food is sustainable.

The land on which I live in Teotitlan del Valle is dotted with these trees. The ones closest to the casita are over twenty feet tall and branches laden with pods hang over the rails of my rooftop terrace now. The pods are within plucking distance. That makes me happy.

Landscape is dotted with guajes, good for erosion control and shade.

When I go up there to read a book in the hammock, I reach out, grab a branch and pick off a pod, open it up and pop the seeds into my mouth. They taste healthy and refreshing. A friend suggested they would be good in salad, too.

There are lots of tips for cooking with guaje seeds from this gourmet food site, Specialty Produce. The ground dried seeds flavor guacamole and traditional Oaxaqueño moles.

When you are in Oaxaca this time of year, give the guaje a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. You’ll find them on comedor tables as a snack, and in markets tied in bundles ready to take home. Be sure to hold the pods up to the light so you can see how plump the seeds are. That’s the It’s Ripe test.

Ripe ones are easily plucked. Open like beans!

 

 

It’s not too late to celebrate Mexico’s Three Kings Day, today!

Here’s my debut feature story at Mexico News Daily published today! I hope you enjoy. Again, happiest New Year.

Celebrate Kings Day with rosca de reyes

 

India Journal: Visit to Pure Ghee Textile Designs

Ghee, clarified buffalo or cow butter, is the essential cooking and flavoring oil in India. Ghee also has religious significance and is used at life cycle celebrations throughout the country. It is highly nutritious and is part of the ayurvedic system, which forms the basis of spirituality, food, and health.

Eating with one's hands, to become one with the food.

Eating with one’s hands, to become one with the food.

One could say that ghee is the foundation of Indian life and culture, just as the tortilla is elemental to Mexico. I would venture to say that Aditi Prakash carefully chose the brand name Pure Ghee for the textile design company she started seven years ago to connect what she makes to what is second nature here. Elemental. Essential. Necessary.

Trademark cloth flowers embellish zipper pulls on scrap fabric bag

Trademark cloth flowers embellish zipper pulls on scrap fabric bag

Aditi employs women who are migrants, takes them off the street, trains them in sewing skills and gives them employment. Women sew. Men complete the finish work, led by a master tailor from the neighborhood, who supervises the apprentices. There are two levels of quality control and each product is nearly perfect, just like ghee.

Pure Ghee staff member who oversees quality control

Pure Ghee staff member who oversees quality control

Aditi invited Nidhi and me to her home for a simple Indian vegetarian lunch, to see her workshop studio, so I could learn about the processes and products, and meet the staff who make the bags and accessories that make their way to shops and boutiques throughout the country.

Master tailor finishes edges of new bag design.

Master tailor finishes edges of new bag design.

First, let’s talk about lunch.

Aditi says she uses turmeric in everything. Nidhi echoes this. Turmeric has antiseptic healing powers they say. They add it to yellow lentils with salt and cook the lentils in a stove top pressure cooker for about 30 minutes.

Ghee, chili mustard and curry leaves simmer on stovetop

Ghee, chili mustard and curry leaves simmer on stovetop

In a separate spoon with very large bowl, Aditi combines about 1/4 c. ghee, fresh curry leaves, red chilis from her home state of Hyderabad, cumin and mustard seed. The bowl of the spoon goes over the gas burner until the mixture simmers and cooks, coming to a low boil.

Aditi serves lentil soup in small bowls, a garnish to rice and vegetables

Aditi serves lentil soup in small bowls, a garnish to rice and vegetables

This is added to the lentils, that now has the consistency of a thick soup.

In another cooking pot is potatoes, cauliflower and peas.

Food is ayurvedic, Aditi says. Nidhi adds that cooking is not written down but passed through the generations as part of the cultural tradition. She learned from her mother. Both are independent, creative women who prepare vegetarian meals in the Hindu tradition daily for their husbands.

Silk-cotton draw string bags worn with the sari

Silk-cotton draw string bags worn with the sari for evenings, weddings

Homemade roti, a whole grain flat bread that looks like a tortilla (they both make this from scratch), and brown rice are served as a base for the lentils and vegetable medley. Everyone uses shallow metal plates that look like a cake pan.

Aditi Prakash in her showroom. People find us, she says.

Aditi Prakash in her showroom. People find us, she says.

We eat with the fingers of our right hand, important to bring the five elements from table to body, in complete circle of life and sustenance.

Traditional plaque in Aditi's home.

Traditional plaque in Aditi’s home.

Aditi’s husband is a filmmaker. Both work from home and they built a three-level workspace where each has dominion. Aditi supports craft artisans from throughout India and as an industrial designer, has helped many refine their products to bring to the marketplace.

Bag patterns hang in small workshop space

Bag patterns hang in small workshop space

After lunch and a modest shopping spree (thank goodness Pure Ghee accepts credit cards), the three of us went off to the Nature Bazaar, a cooperative of crafts-people and textile artists from throughout the country.

Artist Nidhi Khurana, New Delhi, November 2016

Artist Nidhi Khurana, New Delhi, November 2016

Aditi says this has one of the best selections in all of Delhi, with very fair prices. It is off-the-beaten-path for tourists but well worth the visit. For me, it will need several hours. There are textiles, lengths of cloth by the meter, paintings and drawings, folk art, brass bells, sari, indigo and Khadi clothing, jewelry from Afghanistan.

Pure Ghee workshop in action

Pure Ghee workshop in action

If you haven’t noticed, India is about color, texture and sound. It is about silk, cotton and the resurgence of tradition. Both Nidhi and Aditi say that the sari is standard daily dress for women.

Lunch preparation, a vegetarian Hindu meal accompanied by Hyerabad mango pickle.

Lunch preparation, a vegetarian Hindu meal with Hyderabad mango pickle.

I’m going back to Nature Bazaar today. There are over 100 vendors with central payment stations. And, yes, credit cards accepted. Perfect for the cash crisis in play now. I’ll be writing more about this. Perhaps tomorrow.

Sneak preview of Nature Bazaar: piles of indigo and block prints

Sneak preview of Nature Bazaar: piles of indigo and block prints

 

 

 

Oaxaca Tropical Fruit + Tomato Ginger Chutney Recipe: With Some Heat!

Tropical Fruit + Tomato Ginger Chutney atop Boulanc's walnut infused rye bread

Tropical Fruit + Tomato Ginger Chutney atop Boulanc’s walnut infused rye bread

I’ve been sequestered in my Teotitlan del Valle casita for some days now (without internet connection), more out of choice than anything. Best to hide from the heat of the day under the ceiling fan with a sewing or cooking project.

Saucepan with fruit and spices before taking the heat

Saucepan with fruit and spices before taking the heat

So, after a trip to the Tlacolula market on Sunday where I saw an overabundance of fresh mango and papaya piled to the rooftops, I had to have some.  Then, there were the tomatoes, everywhere.  Did you know that tomatoes are one of Mexico’s gifts to the world?

A full pot before the cooking begins!

A full pot as the cooking gets underway!

I went home and made up this recipe for a chutney jam that is great on toast or to accompany meat, poultry fish or top on steamed veggies and rice.

Lime juice and zest makes this recipe tangy sweet a la Oaxaca

Lime juice and zest makes this recipe tangy sweet a la Oaxaca

Ingredients:

  • 1 large, ripe mango, peeled and cubed (1/2″ cubes)
  • 1 small, ripe papaya, peeled, seeded, cubed (1/2″ cubes)
  • 1 small, ripe pineapple, peeled, cored and cubed (1/2″ cubes)
  • 8 plum tomatoes, peeled (score top, immerse in boiling water for 30 seconds until skin can be removed), and quartered
  • 2 medium white onions, peeled, julienne cut
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 hot red peppers (see example)
  • 6 cubes of candied ginger, diced fine (can substitute candied kumquat)
  • juice of six small limes to equal 1/2 c. liquid
  • zest from 2 limes
  • 3 cups granulated natural cane sugar
I grow these peppers in a pot on my rooftop terrace. They add the heat!

I grow these peppers in a pot on my rooftop terrace. They add the heat! They are either Fresno or Serrano peppers. Not exactly sure!

Put all fruit and spices together into a six quart saucepan. Add lime juice and zest. Stir in sugar. Stir well. Put saucepan on a heat diffuser over low heat for temperature control and so bottom of pan doesn’t burn. Sugar and juices will dissolve together into a thin syrup with fruit floating around. Bring to simmer.

Note: Remove the peppers mid-way through the cooking process if you don’t like spicy.

Continue cooking on simmer, stirring frequently, until liquid reduces by 50% and thickens to a jam consistency. You can use a thermometer or test for doneness if liquid drops in thick globules from a metal spoon raised about 12″ above the sauce pan.

When it's done, it looks like this. Of course you can always sample for thickness.

When it’s done, it looks like this. Of course you can always sample for thickness.

We live at 6,000 feet altitude here in Oaxaca, so cooking takes time. The chutney jam was ready after about 2 hours on the burner. Patience here is a virtue!

The lowest flame on my stove. Note the heat diffuser.

The lowest flame on my stove. Note the heat diffuser.

Refrigerate to eat within the next week or two. Or, process for 10 minutes in canning jars in a water bath until the tops seal.

I'll freeze a small batch and eat the rest. Maybe you'll come for dinner?

I’ll freeze a small batch and eat the rest. Maybe you’ll come for dinner?

Tips: Last week I used cantaloupe and did not use tomatoes or pineapple. I also substituted kumquat for ginger. You could also add thin slices of oranges and lemons instead of the lime and use 1/4 c. vinegar. Muy sabroso!

Candied ginger, my stash from Pittsboro, North Carolina, used with consideration.

Candied ginger, my stash from Pittsboro, North Carolina, used with consideration.

I want to acknowledge two friends who gave me recipe inspiration:  Natalie Klein from South Bend, Indiana, and David Levin from Oaxaca and Toronto. Natalie is a friend of 40+ years who shared her tomato ginger chutney recipe with me and I have adapted it many times, even canning and selling it.

Close-up of the fruit and spice medley

Close-up of the fruit and spice medley

David (and friend Carol Lynne) returned from Southeast Asia a few months ago where they took cooking classes. David has made chutney ever since. He inspired me to try my own hand at the concoction.

Lime zest sits on pile of julienned white onions

Lime zest sits on pile of julienne white onions

More years ago than I care to count, I owned and operated a gourmet cookware shop, cooking school, and cafe. It’s in my DNA.