lunes, 11 de mayo de 2009

yerbas & spices

Through a process i like to call taste and error, i have come to learn and identify many old favorite flavors amongst a sea of new and unusual looking plants. This process is an integral part of my cultural immersion as plants have become something of a medium in my communication. i love cooking, i love el mercado, i love gardens, and i love plant nurseries. For these loves, i frequently plunge myself into awkward partially-intelligible conversations in which i'm sure i come across as a gringa loca; HOWEVER, i usually emerge with new and valuable knowledge of the aforementioned heart throbs.
Case in point numero uno: my quest for CILANTRO
A favorite of mine, i came into Nicaragua confident that cilantro was as spanishy as a word can get, an herb requisite in mexican cuisine, certainly an EASY FIND throughout all Latin America! Imagine my dismay when i scoured the market, inquiring constantly cilantro? Hay cilantro? Busco cilantro? and the ladies kept showing me this plant:
obviously NOT cilantro, to which i shook my head and kept searching, oblivious to the identical cilantro scent of Eryngium foetidum, commonly known as culantro (with a hard c, like a k) or Puerto Rican coriander. the above plant grows abundantly in our backyard and has become essential in all my soups, sauces, and salads.

Happily, I made the connection between mentha and mint on my own. despite the lack of any apparent physical similarity, the nose knows While i'm content using mentha in my mojitos, we all know this woody plant with rounded leaves is not a member of the authentic square-stem Mint Family. so what is it?

They handed me this one on a plate: Oregano
Plectranthus amboinicus

Also known as Cuban Oregano, Mexican Mint, and Spanish Thyme. Call it what you will, these guys propagate beautifully from cuttings and do wonders for a spaghetti sauce.

My garden boasts two basil varieties--again, smelling is believing.
The purplish leaves are tiny but pungent, and somehow i got the idea that this one is of Thai basil descent, but i haven't made an official identification yet. It does provide a fantastic flavor in combination with coconut milk, garlic, hot chiles, and one final herbal wonder in mi jardin:

Zacate Limón
Andropogon citratum

Nothing beats the zing of lemongrass in a Thai coconut soup! Not to mention its presence as a grassy bed end plant. Stalks are always available and will propagate readily.

4 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

Ha! I had the very same problem regarding culantro in Panama; drove myself crazy trying to find it until another gringa showed it to me; growing in my lawn of course!

Liz dijo...

Cultural immersion: gotta love it ;) i think i'm much more comfortable asking dumb questions than i was a year ago. live and learn!

Melissa dijo...

Liz, the mint-tasting plant in your picture is the Jamaican peppermint tree, Satureja viminea. We grow a few in our yard, not too far from San Marcos, on the south side of Jinotepe.

Just checkin' out your blog now, might take me a few days to get through all this content, keep up the writing!

Liz dijo...

Hola Melissa! thanks for solving the mint mystery, finally! Do you do any gardening at your place? i'm sure we have other plants in common.
Hope you're staying warm & dry,