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Author: Margret

The Frutas y Verduras of Day of the Dead

graveyard decorated for Day of the Dead Guanajuato Mexico

graveyard decorated for Day of the Dead Guanajuato Mexico

sweetbread in graveyard decorated for Day of the Dead

In the slew of social media postings leading up to Day of the Dead, there’s a good chance the food most posted about is the traditional sweet bread: Pan de Muertos. True, who doesn’t love fluffy light sweet bread scented with orange and coated all over with the sandy crunch of fine sugar?

But, whether living or dead, ‘man cannot live on bread alone’. Vegetables and fruits are necessary nourishment for the returning souls, and on Day of the Dead altars they also represent the deep connection to the source, to Mother Earth.

Let’s take a look at some of the fruits and vegetables typically found on Day of the Dead altars.

Photograph of two jicamas

Jicama

It’s said that on the altar, this tuber represents the earth from which man comes, and to which we return in death. As water is necessary for sustaining life, this watery vegetable can also serve that purpose to give the dead precious refreshment. The vine of the jicama may also be used to make an arch over the altar.

Citrus

The glow of sweet oranges and tangerines, along with the bright golden cempasuchítl flower (Mexican marigold) light the way for the dead. Their sweet juice also gives sustenance.

Photograph of a pile of tangerines with leaves

Photo of a platter of candied squash for the Day of the Dead altar

Squash

Calabaza en tacha is a preparation of small hardened squash cooked soaked in a syrup of piloncillo (raw cane sugar formed into pylon-shaped cones). Holes are bored through the wall of the squashes in order to fill the centre with the syrup before roasting. The seeds are left in – to be used by the dead to find their way back – and the sweet syrupy dish is a rich delicious treat.

Seasonal Fruits

Guayaba (guavas) and tejocotes (a Mexican crabapple) are seasonal fruits that perfume the altar and rejuvenate the soul. Both are also ingredients in ponche – a warm fruit punch that is served from Dia de los Muertos into the Christmas season.

Photo of pile of guavas, one cut in half as a flower to show pink fruit inside.

pile of cut sugar cane

SUGAR CANE

While neither fruit nor vegetable, sugar cane joins guayaba and tejocote as another ingredient in the seasonal ponche. Some say the long canes, sometimes attached together into a tripod formation, represent a place on which enemies can be hung, but most look upon it for the sweet and juicy sugar itself which family enjoys snacking on at the gravesite with the usual chile and lime.

To honor the memory of the dead, It’s important to personalize the ofrenda, so other favorite fruits like papaya, or cooked plantain might also be offered. The dearly departed deserve plenty of sweet sustenance in order to refresh them, and to ease the soul’s long journey back to its resting place.

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A Chef Shares His Love for the Plant Foods of Oaxaca

Chayote “Mashed Potatoes”

Chayote "Mashed Potatoes"
Print Recipe
Chayote "Mashed Potatoes"
Print Recipe
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
Chayote preparation
  1. First, you have to wash and peel the chayotes. You can peel them with a regular peeler, but be careful. Chayotes give off a slippery resin that can end up on all over the palms of your hands.
  2. You can scrub off this resin after peeling, but there are ways to keep it off your hands. You can cut the tip off the chayotes and let the them rest for about 30 minutes. This should get rid of most of the chayote resin. If you oil your hands a little, this too will keep the resin from adhering to your skin.
Once your chayotes are ready, move on
  1. After they’re washed and peeled, cut the chayotes into large chunks and remove the large seeds in the middle. Cook them in water with a bit of salt and sugar until they’re soft, or you can steam them.
  2. Once the chayotes are soft, remove them from the fire, drain them and start mashing them. It might be tempting to use a blender or a food processor for this, but don’t do it. Chayotes are so high in water content you’ll end up with chayote soup in the blender.
  3. Next, heat the olive oil on a pan and then add the onion and garlic. When the onion is transparent, add the mashed chayote mixture to the pan.
  4. Season to taste. You can add salt, pepper, and chicken bouillon(or other seasoning). You could also add scallions and even grated cheese if you want a thicker consistency. Chayotes are like a blank canvas for your culinary creativity!
  5. Let the mashed chayotes simmer for a few minutes so the liquid will evaporate a little, and they’re done!

 

Frutas y Verduras Sopa de Guías

Sopa de Guías

Frutas y Verduras Sopa de Guías

 

 

Eating the vines…

Guias (Gee-uhs) are the vines and leaves of the squash plants that wend and weave their way around the bases of the corn in the ‘milpa’. To make these fibrous vines more palate-friendly, they are chopped first into small pieces before being boiled, to make them more tender. These greens, boiled in water along with herbs, corn husks and onion, are the base of Sopa de Guias.

This humble soup is a perfect example of how little is wasted in Mexico’s culinary landscape. That said, a soup like this has the potential to taste like little more than watery broth with boiled greens – perfectly welcome when prepared and offered with love and humility. As a restaurant patron, however, most of my own taste-tests in Oaxaca left me wanting a bit more for my 80 or so pesos – until I tried the offering at Casa Oaxaca, El Restaurante in Oaxaca City.

In keeping with the style and reputation of the restaurant, the presentation of this soup is more “haute” than the “humble” version Chef Alejandro Ruiz was raised on. There’s no trozo de elote (slice of corn on the cob) to gnaw on, instead the corn kernels have been scraped into the bowl. Delicate golden-orange petals of the squash flower adorn the bowl before the broth is ceremoniously poured over at the table  Nevertheless, he stays true to tradition;  in his extensive knowledge of the range of herbs of Oaxaca; these along with a small amount of chile pasilla paste, bring  warmth and complexity to the simple broth.

Aside from the chocoyotes – dimpled little masa dumplings which generally contain some lard to lighten them up– this soup is traditionally a vegetarian dish. Should a bit of lard be a deal-breaker, ask for them to be left out and enjoy this soup with a tortilla instead.

 

 


Casa Oaxaca, El Restaurante

http://www.casaoaxacaelrestaurante.com/php/spa/index.php

A Gurrión 104 A, Oaxaca Centro

Phone number+52 951 516 8531

Strongly recommended that  you call ahead for reservations, or stop in and make reservation in person if you are in Oaxaca

Join a Frutas y Verduras experience!

Our experts will introduce you to a world of  wonderful flavors that you just won’t find without a knowledgable guide.

Join us in Mexico’s most iconic cities: CDMX, San Miguel de Allende, Merida and Oaxaca.

Book your experience today!

Get the eBook

Learn how to choose, eat and pronounce Mexican Frutas y Verduras wherever you go with our eBook! Download here

Meet Ramón – the Maya Nut

Ramón: Breadnut, Ojite, Ojoche, Capomo, Jushte, Ash, and Ox… AKA the “Maya Nut”.


In 2014, when I travelled to Chiapas to see what I’d find there for Frutas y Verduras  I was hosted by a young couple who were working in a community in the rainforest of Chiapas as part of an NGO. The project was to make use of the seed from a tree they called ramón.

The fruit  and the seed from the tree were both edible, but the seed in particular was known to be highly nutritious, At times of famine it had been valued as a food source  but once the desperation for food was relieved, the process of drying, roasting and grinding them was more, perhaps, than local people wanted to do with this food they associated with harder times. Instead, the trees were being felled for lumber, an unsustainable practice that was endangering an eco-system where a great many foraging animals depended still on this tree for their food. Even, still,  some Maya locals were collecting not just the fruit, but the seeds themselves to eat with corn, either as a drinkable gruel (atole) or made into tortillas,  Since the early 2000’s, NGOs in Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua)had been working with communities to make best use of this resource, and, as this couple told me, it was important for Mexico to follow suit.



Thanks to Google, I was able to conclude that they were talking about the ‘Breadnut’, or ‘Maya nut’ tree. (Brosimum alicastrum). Although interesting, it didn’t fit my criteria for Frutas y Verduras as it wasn’t a fruit /vegetable that  the average traveller would likely stumble upon in a market setting and take home to cook or snack on, so I didn’t pursue it further.

The Bread from the Breadnut

Now 3+ years later, with a longing for some good bread, I wandered into Panaderia Rosetta*,  a bakery-cafe  in the Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City, and a mecca for all good things bready. There on the shelves, I sighted a hearty-looking round “peasant” loaf. Nut brown, with a sprinkling of oats on the top. My kind of bread. I asked what it was.

“Pan de ramón – un nuez de Chiapas”.

“It’s ramón bread – a nut from Chiapas”


I hadn’t thought about it since my visit with that young couple, so I was delighted to buy a loaf and taste what ‘ramón’ had to offer.

The bread from Rosetta was dense and chewy.  My first bite revealed a nutty and sweet earthiness that reminded me of the hot chocolate of Oaxaca.  Although it was described as a ramon and avena(oat) bread, it was made on a  base of wheat flour. However, ramon could  be well used in an assembly of ingredients for a gluten-free bread.

 

Reading up on it, I learned that this ramon powder, in addition to being used as an alternative flour,  is being added to teas and some coffee-alternative hot beverage mixes to add an earthy richness. Unlike coffee,however, it’s caffeine-free and is said to have a relaxing effect due to its content of the amino acid, tryptophan. According to the Maya Nut Institute, it’s even being used to add flavor (and nutrients) to beer.

 

 

Ramón’s Food Value

Ramón is not a ‘true’ nut, it’s a drupe, like a  plum, cherry, or almond. This means it does not contain the alkaloids or allergens that people with nut allergies react to.

Fat-free, gluten-free, ramón is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants with 19 of 20 possible amino acids along with folic acid and proteins.

The seeds can be eaten fresh and, traditionally, when they are collected, they may be  cooked until soft and mashed – but as a food product for distribution they are more often dried and roasted after which they can be kept for up to 5 years without loss of nutrients.

 



To incorporate the flour into your baking, Refer to this RECIPE PDF FROM THE MAYA NUT INSTITUTE

 

 

 

For the communities where the tree grows, harvesting ramón is  accessible work for young and old – children can easily gather the fallen nuts which are easily split open to be processed into a usable food. With a supportive infrastructure for distribution, and a system to manage the forests to ensure that none are over-harvested, ramón, this “Maya nut” as you may see it called, is a sustainable food.  If you consider it, the common acorn is a similarly viable food source, one that native people in the northern parts of North America utilized, though Europeans never took to it as a food; it was left to the squirrels.

As many of us look upon our consumer food supply with skepticism, this is inspiration to look in our back gardens. After all,  foraging animals are one indication that a plant will be good to eat. Ramón is just one of many ingredients that are being “rediscovered”… naturally “organic” and an opportunity to sustain many.

 


TRY RAMÓN

If you can’t find ramón powder at your local health foods market, you can order it through Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Worldwide-Botanicals-Organic-Capomo-Masica/dp/B076L6WHJB

Teeccino is one company using ramón seed in its beverages.

 *if you are in Mexico City, Panaderia Rosetta (and its various outlets) currently offers Pan de Ramón on Fridays.

 

READ MORE ABOUT IT:

http://www.new-ag.info/en/focus/focusItem.php?a=424

https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/species/ramon-tree

http://mayanutinstitute.org/ ( you can donate to their initiatives here)

Huatulco’s Fresh Fruit Gem: Hagia Sofia

In the winter months, that special breed known as “Snowbirds”

fly south to enjoy the “Bahias de Huatulco” – the numerous bays that make up this Pacific coast of Oaxaca. Some stay for months, others arrive on the many large cruise ships that dock there and explore for the day.

Huatulco is well-known for diving and snorkelling, for surfing and other water sports. Fewer visitors think to venture inland to the mountains.

But a short drive north of the town of Santa Maria de Huatulco, there is a lush and exotic eco-agriculture project called Hagia Sofia, a labour of love by one man, Armando Canavati Nader, who recognized the potential of the region to grow exotic fruits that, while not native to the region, are well suited and are sought after on the export market, much due to their “superfood” potential.

 

noni fruit
Noni fruit, native to Southeast Asia/ Australasia

Fruits native to Southeast Asia, like mangosteen, and the noni, sought after for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory , anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties (basically, keeping all ill health at bay..) and used as a super-juice ingredient and as a supplement – both may have commercial viability. in my conversation with Armando, he spoke of these fruits known for their value in traditional medicine as having potential to create employment for the impoverished local indigenous communities surrounding Hagia Sofia.

 

As we wander through this lush agro-ecological plantation carambola (starfruit) glistens in the sunlight.

Other exotics too, like poma rosa (rose apple), marañon (cashew apple)along with different types of maracuya (passionfruit) and vanilla, their vines wrapping around branches and trunks and sprawling along the ground. Let’s also not forget cacao – I had no idea how it grew from the tree! – and coffee. As native trees are cleared throughout Mexico to make way for commercial orchards, the work of people like Armando to preserve and protect native fruit-bearing trees and plants is all the more important. Different species of mango; trees of chicosapote, with its heavenly sweet fruit and the latex sap which is the origin of “chicle” : natural chewing gum,  and other zapotes – negro and blanco.

 

 

Aside from fruits trees… oh, the exotic flowers! With all its lush growth, Hagia Sofia is a natural sanctuary for butterflies and birds.

As the sun climbs high  in the sky and you’re sweating from a bit of an uphill climb (nothing treacherous), there’s an opportunity to cool off either in, or beside, the spray of the Magdalena river. It’s both refreshing and well-timed.

To top off the day, a lovely simple lunch is served from an open kitchen with wood-fired comal. The ingredients come, in part from the property, and the rest from the local community depending on what’s in season.

 

 

In words I have taken from their own website – because it can’t be said better:  “Hagia Sofía is a paradise to return to nature and spiritual peace”.

 

Armando serving up a delicious lunch of quesadillas, nopales and beans

 

 

 

 

“www.hagiasofia.mx” for all information and reservations can be made on email via “reservaciones@hagiasofia.mx” Right in town, near the surf shops by the docks, you can also  go directly to the office of Hagia Sofia to book your visit.

Cooks in the Food System – Connecting the Dots

Chef Eduardo Vera in Oaxaca City

 

Agriculture starts with seeds and ends on the plate. The cook stands in the middle. By influencing our food habits to become more respectful of family farmers, cooks have the potential to be great “shakers”.

~Phrang Roy
“Link biodiversity with the pleasures of food” by Janneke Brull

Article in full, here.

woman selling vegetables in a market in Oaxaca

The Slow Food movement,  the 100-mile Diet, Monsanto and other agriculture giants – awareness of the many issues we face as eaters have, for years now,  influenced my choices any time I considered a recipe. Is it in season? (Living in Canada, the answer to that for 9 months of any year, would be no). How was it grown, what’s its carbon footprint… cooking is a responsibility.

As a cook in Mexico, it’s possible to go straight to the source, to cook and eat locally and responsibly. There’s almost always going to be a mercado or tianguis where you can go and buy your ingredients from people who are directly connected to where the food was grown or raised. It’s remarkably easy to stop supporting Big Agriculture.

 

Join a Frutas y Verduras experience!

Our experts will guide you through vendors and stands so you can taste the wonderful flavors of Mexico yourself. Held in 4 of Mexico’s most iconic states: CDMX, San Miguel de Allende, Merida and Oaxaca. Book your experience today!

The Earthquake and Our Food Choices

As I write this, it’s a month after the earthquake. I’m in Mexico City, living in the Roma-Condesa neighborhood.

 

A neighbourhood tianguis in Mexico City. Produce here far outshines that of any supermarket or hip organic store

 

There was major destruction near my apartment, many lives lost, and while I was lucky to have been spared any damages – aside from lingering anxiety any time a truck passes, shaking the building – several friends who live nearby were displaced from their homes. Resources and assistance, by civilians and international aid, poured into this neighbourhood within hours of the disaster. To call it ‘heartening’ would be an understatement.

This was not true for a great many communities. In less wealthy, less tourist-oriented communities, assistance came too slowly, many said. No matter how you look at it, the poor don’t have insurance or emergency funds for repairs.

Destruction caused by September 19 earthquake- Morelos

From Tlalpan and Xochimilco in the southern part of the city, to pueblos in Morelos, Puebla, Oaxaca and Chiapas, millions of poor were affected.

In these areas, subsistence milpa farms are the foundation of the local economies. From small, densely productive sustainable agricultural plots, comes beautiful food – the ingredients of their heritage, the base crops being corn, beans, squash and chiles. The community shares what is needed and sell or barter the rest.

In most towns and villages, aside from the mercado(s), tianguis –roaming markets–  set up each week at set locations under colorful tarps. These tianguis are typical throughout Mexico –in Mexico City, the sheer number of them is astounding. Amongst the more “commercial” vendors,  there are the true regional entrepreneurial growers who have travelled for hours in some case with their baskets of freshly picked produce. In many cases, they are women, sometimes bent and wizened, sometimes with small children in tow.

 

vendor-SanJuanmercadoOutside the Mercado San Juan in the historic centre of Mexico City.

I’m ashamed to say I don’t recall this vendor’s name, though I did ask him at the time. He told me they were from Puebla, and for more than 40 years he has set up outside the market, along the sidewalk. The stalls inside were too expensive, he said. He is now blind, and was accompanied by his grandson and six year old great-granddaughter. While we talked he was teaching her how to add and make change. She goes to school ‘on some days’, she told me.

It is October, now, post rainy season and high time for harvest of the corn, beans, chiles and the other milpa crops.  However, those who farm, harvest, glean and sell, have other serious matters to attend to like building shelter, and repairing what homes can be salvaged. More hands will be needed and this will undoubtedly affect the children whose families are poor – they will be kept home to help.

Floods of donations were collected to assist earthquake victims. But what can we do in the long run? What if each of us made a greater effort to support their work as agricultural guardians?

Given the choice, the supermarkets and big-box stores where shiny apples and perfect peppers grown for the masses by big Agro, are not where I want to put my pesos.  Frutas y Verduras – A Fresh Food Lover’s Guide to Mexico was my own small effort to make foods less known by us foreigners more approachable.  I encourage you, now more than ever, to take the time to discover the beautiful foods grown lovingly by real people who work the land with their  hands, who pray for rain and who trust in nature.

 

Until the end of this year, I will contribute 25% of all sales of Frutas y Verduras (both iOS and Kobo) to groups that I will personally be vetting, who are actively working on the re-building of pueblos especially in agricultural areas.

nabo or turnip greens

Get Your Greens!

nabo or turnip greensCraving Kale? Give Some of Mexico’s Local Greens a Try.

Kale has been, for a few too many years now, considered the superfood you must eat for good health. How that trend started, I have no idea, but be assured, there are other greens to rival it.  Sure, now, you can find it in Mexico, in part because big Agro grows it here in Mexico to meet the demand in US and Canada, and also because the Norte American buzz has created a demand among the food-conscious and affluent (ask an average Mexican about kale (kel) and it won’t register). But who needs it in this country where there were already plenty of fantastic, hearty, and just as “super” healthful greens to be had already?

So let’s leave (my gripes about) kale aside, for a moment, shall we?  “Hojas de nabo” (turnip leaves) are a cruciferous green that has been naturalized in Central and Southern Mexico and has become integrated over time into milpa plantings. When you buy this from a regional vendor there’s a very good chance it is grown organically (versus kale from the supermercado) as the milpa is a healthy, biodynamic and sustainable system.

Flor de nabo is easy to recognize by its little yellow flowers. Pictured with it, to the right, malva (mallow)

“Nabo” means turnip, of no specific variety, and along with collards and broccoli rabe (rapini) are all of the same family.

When you refer to ‘Hojas’ de nabo’, you emphasize the desire for the leaves… likely a vendor will understand that to mean the type in the main photo with wide leaves more akin to collards.  But by putting the word “Flor” in front of “nabo” (as in, flor de nabo) you can expect the flowering type like broccoli rabe with small yellow flowers, inflorescence like broccoli, and juicy stems.

As “naming” is largely a concept that is agreed upon, it can always happen that in any particular region, farmers have come to know their plants by certain names that may not follow conventions. Just be sure to ask  ¿es para comer o para pájaros?  (Is it for eating, or is it for birds?) If it’s for eating… just take it home and cook it as you would any other green. It’s all good!

 

 

 


Find out more about this and more than 50 other regional fresh ingredients of Mexico….

Frutas y Verduras – The Fresh Food Lover’s Guide to Mexico, is your handy digital “field guide” . Now available on iTunes and Kobo stores (Android, Windows and iOS using Kobo reading app)

 

Super-Fruit from a Cactus – Garambullo

Think you are seeing blueberries?

Think you are seeing blueberries? Nope, these are garambullo,  one of many cactus fruits enjoyed by locals in the central parts of Mexico. Like other  red-purple-blue fruits such as cranberry, pomegranate and blueberries, the pigment indicates high levels of anthocyenins which is among those flavonoids highly recommended for good health.

Wait…what are flavonoids again?

Just think about eating a broad spectrum of color – each colour group plays a role in protecting your body’s cells against disease and boosting function of organs. This particular red-blue family is understood overall to be anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial; for guarding the  liver against damage, reducing blood pressure, improving eyesight. And if you have heard before of “free radicals” these anthocyanins scavenge for them. Feel better? You should– free radicals are troublemakers; un-paired molecules that float around damaging  healthy cells which, in the worst case scenarios, leads to cancer and heart disease.

Now that you know ‘why’, let’s talk about ‘how’ to enjoy garambullo fruits.

When you are in parts of Central Mexico (from Queretaro, north to San Luis Potosí, generally) where cactus dominate the landscape, you’ll find garambullo in season in May. It’s a short season, but the harvest is frozen, so thereafter you can find it … well, until it runs out. As a paleta (popsicle) or nieve (fruit sorbet) it’s absolutely delicious. Slightly blueberry, a bit of grape or raspberry to the flavor, and a color of technicolor magenta. While there will be added sugar, there is not much–the fresh fruit flavor is allowed to shine through and the little seeds just slip down your throat easily. You could easily justify it as a ‘not-so-guilty- pleasure’.
Right now, I am experimenting with using it to make a  naturally fermented fruit vinegar. You can follow any standard recipe you like.
Try this link for some ideas
http://www.instructables.com/id/Fruit-Vinegars/
Any thoughts on other ways to use these special fruits?  I’d love to hear your ideas!