florr day muh-GAY.
I was recently in DF (Distrito Federale) on a search and discover mission to see what seasonal goodness I might find in the markets. I had some idea of what was in season, but was ready to be surprised. I’d read about the Sullivan Tianguis (this is a Nahuatl word, used to refer to a weekly traveling market) on Culinary Backstreets, and not only was it was a quick bus ride away from my AirBnB room, it promised not to be a huge rambling affair, which on that particular day I was not in the mood for.
It’s easy to be distracted and pulled in by any of the vendors plying you with tastes of the fresh pick of the day. I did take a few handouts of mamey… more on that in another post– let’s just say for now, I was converted! But already familiar with mamey, I was here to find something new.
Then, a lovely pile of maguey flowers stopped me dead in my tracks. I knew these were edible, but had expected that if I wanted to get my hands on any, I’d likely have to get someone to harvest some for me. The vendor pointed to the long stamens sticking out of some of the buds and explained in Spanish that I should remove these. I bought a few bunches and wrapped them carefully for the long journey home. They are in no way fragile like flor de calabaza (squash blossoms)and, in fact, are more like daylily buds – firm and slightly rubbery.
Maguey flowers are definitely special because this plant–a cousin to Agave tequilana from which tequila is made– blooms only once in its 30+ year lifespan. As it reaches the end of its life, it sends up a single central stalk, rapidly shooting up a foot or more a day to a height of up to 40ft. If that stalk is cut before the flowers bloom (the stage these buds were at), a sweet liquid sap called aguamiel collects in the central core of the plant. It is from this aguamiel that mezcal is made.
I had an idea to pickle them in escabeche – treating them kind of like okra. I made a simple spiced vinegar solution with onion, garlic chiles and oregano, then blanched some of the buds whole before letting them do their thing in the pickling brine. Later, I viewed a few YouTube links describing traditional preparation and learned that not only were you supposed to remove the stamens, the stem also was to be discarded, leaving only the petals. So much waste! While there was a slight bitterness from the stem and stamen(?) I didn’t find it at all unpleasant and thought the bright yellow whole buds were lovely, intact.
Supposing that I should follow a recipe for a change, I invited my friend Pueblito over to prepare the remaining buds as described in several similar recipes I’d seen. This is a pre-Columbian food and not in the culinary lexicon of the average Mexican householder, so she was delighted to have the opportunity to cook and eat this plant. Basically, after tearing the petals off, they were to be cooked with the usual suspects: onion, garlic, oregano, tomato and chiles. According to a few of the videos they had a “sabor como pollo”. Tastes like chicken? We’ll see…
We proceeded to take apart the blossoms…
And we were not left with much…
I followed the recipe: onion, garlic, chiles, tomato and oregano, and added a sprig of epazote…
Of course we served them in tortillas with a crumble of queso fresco.
In the end, I guess what they mean when they say it tastes like chicken is that the petals have a mild flavor… and it’s the seasonings that make the dish. The pickled buds were more tasty, Pueblito and her husband Antonio agreed, with a little crunch and squeak. Next time, I’ll see if I can remove just the stamen keeping the bud as whole as possible and definitely keeping the stem… unless I find evidence that these are toxic ( I monitored my gastrointestinal response after eating several whole pickled buds and felt perfectly fine). But if anyone knows, I’d be eager to hear about it.
Sullivan Tianguis: in Mexico City every Saturday and Sunday. Location is convenient to la Alameda, Museo del Chopo and lots of other points of interest. At Reforma Metrobus stop– it runs alongside James Sullivan Park just off Insurgentes.