MYSTERY GROCERY BOX # 3–MEXICAN INGREDIENTS
Bethany received the Mexican Mystery Ingredients Box, since she lived in NY for so many years, I thought sending her a Middle Eastern Box of groceries would be too easy. Bethany’s box included these ingredients: dried tamarind, Holas Santas (Holy Leaves), cumin, El Pato Tomato Sauce, Chipotle Peppers in Adobe Sauce, Horchata Especial de Morro, sugar cane sugar, and tortillas. Here are some photos.
Hola Santa–Holy Leaves
And here is Bethany’s virtual supper. Aprovecha (Enjoy in Spanish.)
Mystery Grocery Box … devoured!
The mystery box arrived on a grey day, in which the fridge was nearly bare and the ground cold. I already had supper planned however, and realized that a few ingredients needed research before I could put them to good use. It was relegated to the kitchen floor for a couple of days, and then at 5-o’clock one night I realized that the only thing on the supper menu so far was roast butternut squash, which I’d popped in the oven a bit earlier. Decided that something taco-ish would be the thing to go with it (and make my boys happy), so I thawed some ground beef and tried to figure out how to use most everything in that box I’d been tripping over.
A mad scramble ensued, as we were all hungry (blood sugars plummeting as usual) and there were a few things to figure out. The boys weren’t too happy to be kicked off the computer while I looked up Hoja Santa, and confirmed that Alumbre was indeed the same thing that my mom used to give me to cure canker sores, that lovely cauterizing crystal that stings like mad but works almost immediately. Into the medicine cabinet it went, and the rest of the ingredients were strewn about the kitchen counter. Drinks were first, as the Horchata Especial de Morro was a powdered drink mix with things like cinnamon, peanuts, chocolate, and I can’t remember what else in it. (A great article in the Washington Post tells more about this drink.) Sampled it while cooking and decided the boys would probably like it, and found it instantly reminded me of trips to South America, not surprising once I took the time (while writing this!) to Google it again and discovered that ground up Morro seeds are the base of Horchata drinks in El Salvador.
“Horchata! The name is just fun to say! But what is it exactly?? Horchata is a cloudy, milky-white drink found all over Spain and Latin America. Each country prepares horchata slightly different based on what grows in their region. In Spain, horchata is predominantly made from tiger nuts, which grow all over the region, especially in Valencia. In Puerto Rico, the drink is predominantly made with sesame seeds. In Nicaragua and Honduras, the key ingredient is semilla de jicaro, or jicaro seeds. In Mexico, the drink is made mostly of rice. And in El Salvador, the secret ingredient is the morro seed, referred to as semilla de morro in Spanish. ” (from here.)
Rebecca and I have a shared history in that country, and while I don’t specifically remember drinking this there, I do recall visiting a family on a river there and being served a drink with the same cinnamon-y flavor and texture. I also remember soapy hotel courtyards and a taxi getting rammed, stories for another day :).
Next up was the Hoja Santa, which Google informed me was sometimes combined with chocolate. Easy enough, it got dumped into a saucepan with some milk, a bit of water, grated chocolate powder stuff that someone brought me from a trip to the Caribbean last year, and a pile of the dried Hoja Santa leaves. I also popped in one of the brown sugar cones, (after trying rather futilely to grate it, see those few white flakes above?) which sweetened it up perfectly. Two “special” drinks at a meal? Unheard of in this water/milk driven household, and made for two very happy campers!
Then came the dried tamarind pods. Now I love tamarind, which I’ve used in paste form in Thai cooking and I adore it. Tangy and cheek-pursing but still sweet somehow. I’d never started with the dried version, but found that they need to be soaked/boiled a bit and then cracked open and the pulp scraped off the seeds. I threw them in a pot, boiled them for a few minutes, and then let them sit while I went on to other things. Spicy things …
Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce, to be exact. Reba hit the jackpot on this one, as I honestly had that very thing on my grocery list. I’ll be honest, one of the grocery lists, and probably one of the ones crumpled up in the bottom of my purse because the local grocery store doesn’t carry anything unusual or anything much that I’m used to buying. Nine years in NYC does ruin one’s expectations for any food shopping experiences in the country, at least in terms of variety! I moved to nearly-rural PA since my last post here, and it’s taking awhile for me to find sources for things like ethnic foods, though thankfully I can find great meats and dairy products and veggies from farms in the area. So having Chipotle Peppers in Adobo sauce was a major boon, because as you can see I was down to the very dregs of my previous stash.
I fell in love with them years ago thanks to Catherine Newman’s recipe for Tortilla Soup with Chipotle Cream, which we all adore and is in pretty constant rotation in my kitchen. The quick trick is to take the can of peppers and sauce, dump in the blender and whir till smooth, and then scrape into a jar and keep in your fridge. Any time you want some delish spiced sour cream on top of tacos or soup or whatever, stir a good dollop into some full-fat-only-please sour cream, and mmmm. I only made a little bit this time around as my husband was working in the city for the week, so it was just my boys and I, who aren’t terribly spice tolerant. They got plain sour cream.
I got the ground beef started, and tackled the nicely-soaked tamarind. I peeled off the shells, took the spines out, and was reminded muchly of peeling shrimp even though it didn’t feel at all the same. Inside were seeds covered with a sticky paste which had to be scraped off … it’s the part you actually use. I struggled to keep from licking my fingers in between each seed, but didn’t quite succeed. I also ran out of time to do them all, and so only about a teaspoon or so of the paste was tossed into the browned ground beef. I added a pile of the ground coriander from the fancy little tin included in the box, some oregano and chili powder, half a lime’s worth of juice, and a bit of water and left it all to simmer down.
As I wrapped up my cooking, I very belatedly remembered the poor squash that had started off the whole meal! It had been in the oven for close to 2 hours by then, and as you can see it was a wee bit overdone … but thanks to the forgiving nature of squash it was still delicious once I managed to pry it up off the tray and scoop it into a bowl with lots of butter and salt.
Cheddar was grated, green onions chopped, avocado diced, and the last two mystery box treats were opened … the super thin and crispy tostados, and the spicy Mexican tomato sauce. Boys are summoned, and the meal devoured. The tomato sauce was surprisingly spicy, and a really good addition to my taco salad version of the meal. The boys chose fried tortillas as their base, and piled them high. Fynn thought the hot chocolate tasted like peppermint, which was interesting as the Hoja Santa leaves seemed more licorice-based to me, but apparently its taste is notoriously hard to describe.
“The complex flavor of hoja santa is not so easily described; it has been compared to eucalyptus, licorice, sassafras, anise, nutmeg, mint, tarragon, and black pepper. The flavor is stronger in the young stems and veins.” (From Wikipedia)
After seeing me bring the camera to the table the boys wanted a turn, and chased each other around afterwards with much squealing and dancing. Sibling portraits, for your entertainment.
One other thing, if you find yourself with a bit of spicy tomato sauce to use up … it’s a fabulous addition to buttered noodles with lamb meatballs, or as pizza sauce with a kick!
Mystery Grocery Box … devoured!
Oh, and we even used the box :). Thanks for all the treats Rebecca, what a fun addition to my kitchen!
Just a little background. Bethany and I go back a long way–so long, that I don’t ever remember the first time I met her. Our parents are friends and although she grew up in Chicago, and I grew up in South America and on a farm in southern Illinois, our families spent time together. Later in college we would “Spring Break” together and even backpacked around Europe for a month. Thanks Bethany for dropping into my life yet again.