On the menu tonight only: Heirloom tomato gazpacho with fresh blue crab.
Heirloom Tomatoes padrón peppers, Redwood Hill goat feta, olives
After months of trying, Matt recently found a source for chepil, a distinctive Oaxacan herb. Adam Sanders of Copala Organics has relationships with a number of farmers from Mexico working the land around Salinas, California. On a recent visit to Francisco’s Oaxacan Organic Farm in Chualar CA, Adam noticed a row of an herb he wasn’t familiar with and asked what it was – turns out it was chepil. Recalling that Matt had put out an APB for chepil months earlier, he called with the good news. We waited a few more weeks for the plants to mature, then recently harvested them.
We’re featuring chepil in a classic Oaxacan-style tamal. Instead of the common method of fresh masa surrounding filling in the center, the chepil is mixed with the masa and distributed evenly throughout. Matt purchased his first chepil tamal in Oaxaca from a toothless village woman, out of a basket, while taking a market tour with Susana Trilling (expert on all things Oaxaca). He recollects that it was “so earthy, and truly tasted like Oaxaca.” I had one the other night and would concur.
Thanks to Adam and Francisco for bringing chepil to Comal!
This week we’ve been featuring a Oaxacan specialty called a De Ese, which literally translates to “of this”. Not sure about the origin of the name, but the end product is delicious. A few months before Comal opened, Matt made a visit to Oaxaca. I urged him to visit Itanoni, a small, humble tortilleria that had made a big impression on me when I’d visited several months earlier. Itanoni means “flower of corn” and its owners are deeply committed to resurrecting and preserving the many varieties of heirloom corn (“maiz criollo”) that are quickly disappearing. It’s an inspiring place.
It was during my visit to Itanoni that I better grasped the pivotal role that corn has played in Mexican culture since it was first cultivated there 9,000 years ago (on that note, I just noticed that culture and cultivate have the same latin root). Corn gets a bad rap these days in many ways, but it is a remarkable plant and a visit to Itanoni (or Oaxaca in general) quickly underscores that fact. It’s a foundational food and an amazingly versatile one at that.
It was at Itanoni that Matt discovered the De Ese, and it’s the only place either of us found that serve this simple, rolled taco. I snapped this picture last night of Juana constructing one of Itanoni’s De Ese creations. The tortilla is pressed, then a full hoja santa leaf is laid on top. From there Anasazi bean purée and cascabel salsa are spread on the leaf, along with some queso Oaxaca or “quesillo”, which is essentially Oaxacan string cheese. The hoja santa leaf has a flavor that brings to mind anise and sarsaparilla – my friend Troy called it the Mexican version of shiso. Not that it tastes like shiso, but I get his point.
While researching Itanoni, I came across this thoughtful blog entry that muses on two things that were on my mind this weekend – the De Ese and Mexico’s Day of Independence, which is September 16th.
And a couple other links of interest: