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Category: Mexico Tourism

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

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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.

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Cooks in the Food System – Connecting the Dots

woman selling vegetables in a market in OaxacaAgriculture 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.

 

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.

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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.

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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!
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