El Restaurante Mexicano July/August 2011 : Page 17
SPECIALREPORTa;-EXICO with watercress, huazontle and other leafy greens BY KAREN HURSH GRABER, WRITINGFROM-EXICO -%.53",/33/-A walk through Mexico’s mar-kets reveals a wealth of fresh, healthy greens that foreign-ers do not usually associate with Mexican food for many reasons: one is the prolifera-tion of Mexican restaurants that serve heavy fare, another is the fact these greens tradition-ally have been used in home cooking rather than in restaurants. But times are changing, and modern Mexican chefs are incorporating greens along with other pre-Hispanic foods into their menus. Gathering greens was important to Mex-ico’s ancient inhabitants, who had a mostly vegetarian diet. These greens continue to play an important part in daily meals today. Consumers—many of them talented, young Mexican culinary school graduates who em-phasize the creative use of indigenous ingredi-ents—buy whatever is fresh and economical at the market. ...modern Mexican While many people in Mexico continue to collect chefs are wild greens, most varieties are incorporating grown commercially, mak-greens along with ing them widely available in other pre-Hispanic markets countrywide. These foods into their include watercress, lamb’s quarters, huazontle (“Aztec menus. spinach”) and purslane, along with more common greens like spinach, chard and lettuce. The green leaves of squash vines, chaya, amaranth and beets are frequently used, especially in soups, sauces and salads. JULYsAUGUST
Menus Blossom With Watercress, Spinach And Other Leafy Greens
Karen Hursh Graber
A walk through Mexico’s markets reveals a wealth of fresh, healthy greens that foreigners do not usually associate with Mexican food for many reasons: one is the proliferation of Mexican restaurants that serve heavy fare, another is the fact these greens traditionally have been used in home cooking rather than in restaurants. But times are changing, and modern Mexican chefs are incorporating greens along with other pre-Hispanic foods into their menus.<br /> <br /> Gathering greens was important to Mexico’s ancient inhabitants, who had a mostly vegetarian diet. These greens continue to play an important part in daily meals today. Consumers—many of them talented, young Mexican culinary school graduates who emphasize the creative use of indigenous ingredients— buy whatever is fresh and economical at the market.<br /> <br /> While many people in Mexico continue to collect wild greens, most varieties are grown commercially, making them widely available in markets countrywide. These include watercress, lamb’s quarters, huazontle (“Aztec spinach”) and purslane, along with more common greens like spinach, chard and lettuce. The green leaves of squash vines, chaya, amaranth and beets are frequently used, especially in soups, sauces and salads.<br /> <br /> Featured “Green” Fare<br /> <br /> Salad is the most common dish to showcase greens, and spinach in particular is being used with other ingredients to make original combinations. It is paired with panela cheese and roasted pistachios in the house salad at Casona de la Santisima Trinidad in Puebla; with hibiscus fl owers, goat cheese and hibiscus dressing at La Tequila in Guadalajara; and with peaches and oranges in the ensalada tropical at Puebla’s El Parillaje. In Puerto Vallarta, La Palapa serves spinach salad with a tequila citrus vinaigrette<br /> <br /> Spinach is also frequently used outside the salad bowl. It is served as an appetizer at Susana’s in Rosarito, where it is sautéed, combined with onions and goat cheese, enclosed in phyllo and drizzled with pesto. At La Palapa, spinach is included in the lobster taco with Chihuahua cheese and roasted tomato salsa. And at the same restaurant, spinach is sautéed with chilaca chiles and served as an accompaniment to braised short ribs. At Gaia in Cuernavaca, the consome Gaia is a soup made with spinach and corn, infused with lime and garnished with fried won ton. In Cabo San Lucas, Mango Cantina offers a first course of baking shells stuffed with a mixture of spinach, shrimp, bacon and mushrooms, With a cheese gratin.<br /> <br /> Another green that appears frequently on menus is watercress. It is featured in a salad with grapefruit, purple onion and tomato at Que Lejos Estoy in Oaxaca; in a watercress, bacon and mushroom salad at Maria Corona in Cabo San Lucas; and with octopus carpaccio and citrus vinaigrette at La Casa de los Muñecos in Puebla.<br /> <br /> Abundant at markets and often used in home cooking is chard, called acelgas. The tamales de acelgas at Casa de Maty in Tapalpa are wrapped in its broad leaves, and it is one ingredient in the filling for Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zarita’s tamalitos de acelgas at Café Azul y Oro in Mexico City. Chard accompanies roasted suckling pig at Ensenada’s Restaurante Laja, and it is wrapped in chard and grilled at Mexico City’s El Mayor.<br /> <br /> Lettuce is also being used in new ways, with several varieties now being grown in Mexico, where iceberg and romaine were once the only choices. Today, chefs use arugula, frisee, endive, red leaf and curly leaf types in dishes such as the arugula and frisee salad with smoked duck breast and regional cheese at Le Kliff in Puerto Vallarta, and in the duck magret with lettuce and endive at Reforma 500 in Mexico City. At Paxia, also in the capitol, a Lettuce salad is served with thin sheets of dried pineapple, grapefruit and mango, then garnished with goat cheese. At Gaia, the organic lettuce salad includes mango, sun-dried tomatoes, pears and goat cheese dressed with tamarind vinaigrette. Casa de los Muñecos serves endive salad with an epazote reduction, fig marmalade and goat cheese, and Casa Rafael’s in Cabo San Lucas offers the popular beef cut arrechera grilled and served in a lettuce roll.<br /> <br /> Some regional greens also find their way onto restaurant menus. Chaya is popular throughout the Yucatán for use in tamales and soups, such as the cream of chaya soup at Hacienda Chichen in Chichen Itza. In Oaxaca, the green leaves of the squash plant are used to make the sopa de guias, or squash vine soup, served at La Casa de La Abuela.<br /> <br /> In Central Mexico, huazontle is a common ingredient. Tlaxcala’s Las Cazuelas de Tlaxcala features tortas de huazontle, a popular regional dish served with tomato sauce, and in Mexico City, Chef Alicia Gironella D’Angeli of El Tajin restaurant makes a huazontle and pasilla chile pie. Verdolagas, or purslane, is also popular in this region, the birthplace of the classic Mexican dish puerco con verdolagas, pork with purslane, served at the Casa de los Muñecos in Puebla.<br /> <br /> Mexicans even use greens smoothie-style beverages called licuados. The licuado verde is a “green smoothie” made with watercress, spinach and lettuce at La Natural in Tlaxcala.<br /> <br /> Serving Tips<br /> <br /> When planning menus, keep in mind that many greens can be interchanged without producing a significant difference in flavor. Spinach is particularly versatile and can be used in place of chaya in several recipes. This versatility means you can use the most economically priced greens, as long as they are fresh. The bright taste and texture of fresh greens make them a good canvas to color with Mexican sauces, dressings and seasonings.<br /> <br /> Pairing greens with fruit in salads is a good way to use seasonal fresh fruit. Tropical fruits like mango and citrus varieties add a Mexican touch to any salad, as do dressings such as tamarind, hibiscus and chile vinaigrettes.<br /> <br /> In main dishes, greens go naturally with pork, and work with different cuts of pork and diverse seasonings and preparations. Greens also compliment fish and shellfish. Leaf wrapping fish before grilling or steaming is a time-honored technique. And don’t forget greens when planning fillings for tacos, tamales and enchiladas, where they go well with different types of cheese and mushrooms.<br /> <br /> When describing dishes on a menu, listing greens and other vegetable ingredients will add to the appeal of the food and help make diners aware that Mexican food can be healthy as well as delicious.