Category Archives: Mexican Food and Drink

Natural Healing–Wandering Jew Matali tea

wandering-jew

My interest was piqued one day at the tianguis (flea market) in Valle de Santiago when the elderly woman wrapped in her dark blue rebozo against the cold that sold us the plant (for 10 pesos). She mentioned that this plant, which I knew as Wandering Jew, was called “Sin Verguenza” (Without shame) because it propagates without any special care whatsoever.  She then said that it was good for treating diarrhea.  I had not heard anything ever before about medicinal uses of Tradescantia zebrina, so when I began my Herbal Materia Medica course through Herbal Academy, I added it to the list of herbs I wanted to investigate more thoroughly.

Before I had even begun my investigation, my husband plucked and ate a leaf as a cure for his upset stomach one day.  As he didn’t die, and in fact, felt much better, I thought there might be something to this old wives’ tale.

I found out that Tradescantia zebrina was native to Mexico. However, I didn’t find anything in English about its medicinal use except a vague reference to a tea made from its leaves called Matali. So that’s what I searched for.  Bingo!  Youtube video and everything!  Matali is a tea common in Tabasco used for treatment for urinary infections and kidney issues.  

The preparation in the video was far from exact, so I tried digging deeper.  One recipe for a kidney cleanse instructed boiling the leaves in water and allowing it to cool.  Add lemon juice and honey.  

There was no mention on how many leaves or how long to boil the concoction.  

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one looking for this recipe.  Yahoo respuestas led me to yet another recipe.  There I was told that there is no exact number of leaves used in making the tea.  Boil some, taste, and if it seems weak, add some more leaves.  If it is too strong, add more water to dilute the tea.  Okie Dokie.

There was a separate recipe for dysentery treatment. An unspecified number of leaves should be crushed with a bit of water. The mixture should then be strained.  Mountain honey (the best I could figure miel de monte translates as) and lemon juice are added.  This tea should be drunk 3 times a day for the duration of the illness.

Much to my surprise, I found the Chinese Traditional Medicine also listed a tea made from the Wandering Jew for stomach ailments.  In Chinese, this plant is called Shui Gui Cao (Water Turtle Grass) and is recommended for kidney issues.  Here I found some harvesting advice (don’t touch the sap because it might cause skin irritation) and a description of what the tea tastes like “slightly tasteless with a light herbal aroma having a purple/pink color after being boiled for a few hours.”

A few HOURS?  Well, that’s still not specific enough.  So I kept searching.

Finally, I found a site that gave a more precise recipe.   Use 200 g each time.  Soak 15 pieces of red dates in a container.  Wash the Shui Gui Cao 3 times.  Boil 1.5 liters of water.  Add the Shui Gui Cao, red dates and 12 slices of ginger.  Cook on low heat for 1.5 hours.  Add brown sugar for sweetness.  It can be reheated for maximum benefits.  Drink 2 to 3 hours after eating or on an empty stomach for best results.  

Another site gave the same recipe, however, cautioned not to use an aluminum pot to make the tea since it would cause a chemical reaction and result in a slow form of poisoning.  Ok.  Good to know!

There were quite a few things this tea was accredited to cure including bladder problems, piles, uric acid, blood in the stool, pulmonary tuberculosis, cough, kidney infection, poisonous snake bite, vaginal discharge, urinary infection, hemoptysis, nephritis dropsy, acute conjunctivitis, swollen larynx, even diabetes.

The diabetes cure had a recipe too.  Make a cup of tea using 3 leaves.  Drink 3 cups per day.  If making the tea is too bothersome, you can just eat one leaf 3 times per day.

I wasn’t the only person to look deeper into medicinal use of the Wandering Jew plant. One study showed that a methanolic leaf extract from the Tradescantia zebrina plant had the highest antioxidant content of the plants studied.  Antioxidants are good.   Dr. Jim Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database cited a 1969 study by Maximino Martinez listing this plant as a treatment for dysentery.

wandering-jew-tea

Well, with this information, it was time to make matali myself.  I boiled a handful of leaves for 2 hours as instructed and got weak tea colored water. It wasn’t pink.  And it tasted like, well, boiled water.  So maybe I didn’t put enough leaves in it.  I thought I’d try just making a cup with 3 leaves.

I choose leaves with the purplest underside, boiled the water and added the leaves.  AND….the water turned out exactly the same color.  I sampled it, and it was tasteless, although I did notice my tongue had a thin coating of blah afterward, so much so that I went and brushed my teeth and tongue to get rid of the feeling.  

I was disappointed, so say the least.  Apparently, there is something I am doing that prohibits the pink color of matali tea. I’m wondering if it is the species of Wandering Jew that I am using?  Perhaps if I used the full purple leaf variety rather than the variegated plant, the tea would turn the promised pink color.  Has anyone been successful?  Do tell!

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Natural Healing–Coriander Cilantro tea

Continuing with my free Herbal Academy Materia Medica Course, I decided to try teas made from the other local herbs I was investigating.  (See Hibiscus Tea, Feverfew Tea)

Coriander, known as cilantro in Mexico, is used in an endless variety of local cuisine.  I love cilantro!  It has such a fresh flavor! I was amazed to discover that not everyone has the same reaction when eating cilantro.  Some people taste soap, metal or dirt instead of freshness.  Apparently, it’s a genetic thing. (See A genetic variant near olfactory receptor genes influences cilantro preference) How unfortunate!

Coriander has quite a number of health benefits.

cilantro-tea

Coriander seeds contain zinc, which helps with digestion, copper, which is used to produce red blood cells, potassium, which helps control blood pressure and heart rate. They contain bioactives that have antimicrobial, antiepileptic, antidepressant, antimutagenic, anti-inflammatory and anxiety inhibitors.

Coriander seeds have been shown to lower blood sugar, ease Irritable Bowel Syndrome, decrease blood pressure, contain an antibacterial compound that fights Salmonella choleraesuis, thus useful in cases of food poisoning,  lower cholesterol, be useful in treating urinary tract infections, and been shown to prevent neurodegenerative disease when included in diets high in turmeric, pepper, clove, ginger, garlic, cinnamon.

Coriander Seed Tea is recommended for cystitis relief. Simply steep one teaspoon of whole coriander seeds for 5 minutes for each cup. Strain and add honey or sugar.

Cilantro (coriander) leaves are also jammed packed with good stuff.  It’s rich in antioxidants and dietary fiber and is a good source of vitamin K, which helps in building bone mass, vitamin C, and vitamin A.  Cilantro has been shown to bind the heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, lead, and mercury together which helps the body eliminate them altogether.  Cilantro has also been proven to regulate the body’s oxidative defense systems which in turn protects us from oxidative stress. Cilantro has been shown to be as effective as valium in lowering anxiety and improving the quality of the sleep cycle.  Like the seeds, the leaves also lower blood sugar levels and help protect against cardiovascular disease because of its high potassium level.  Cilantro lowers total cholesterol and triglycerides. It can prevent oxidative damage associated with cardiac damage and prevent myocardial infarctions. Cilantro can help prevent colon cancer.

And that’s just the tip of the benefits iceberg!

cilantro-tea-cup-elixir

So in line with my herbal classes, I decided to make cilantro tea. The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of fresh leaves per cup.  Steep up to 10 minutes.  Remove leaves.  Add sugar or honey.  I also added a bit of orange peel to the concoction.  

I’ll be honest and say that the taste was ho-hum.  It tasted, well, like cilantro tea.  I think I’ll get all the goodness in solid form like maybe salsa, pico de gallo, on tacos with onion, and so on.  In any form, it’s a tasty part of our Mexican diet and not too difficult to grow.  I’ll post more information once I harvest my first batch this year!

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Fruits and Vegetables

Did you know that in addition to corn and chocolate being native to Mexico, avocados, peanuts, squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and papaya are all Prehispanic delights?

avocado pictograph

Aztec pictograph indicating “the place where avocados grow.”

Avocado is thought to have originated in the state of Puebla. The oldest evidence of avocado use dates to about 10,000 BC, found in a cave located in the town of Coxcatlan. The word avocado comes from the Spanish aguacate which comes from the Nahuatl word āhuacatl which goes back to the proto-Aztecan word *pa:wa. The Nahuatl word also can be translated as testicle.  Since this fruit was considered an aphrodisiac, perhaps because of its similarity to male reproductive organs, young girls were kept indoors during the annual avocado harvest.

Aguacate maduro, pedo seguro.  Ripe avocados–farts for sure!  

Without the avocado, there would be no Guacamole! The name Guacamole comes from the Nahuatl work āhuacamolli which translates as avocado sauce (see Mole).

The tomato also comes from Mexico. The name comes from the Nahuatl word tomatl which translates as “fat water.” The Aztecs cultivated the tomatl and came up with a new species they called xitomatl which translates as “plump thing with a navel.”

A la mejor cocinera se le va un tomate entero.   A whole tomato can escape the best cook. Meaning everyone makes mistakes.

And what would salsa be without the tomato?

The papaya was also a common domesticated fruit in Mexico before the arrival of the Spanish. It was called chichihualtzapotl in Nahuatl which meant zapote nodriza (mothering or nursing zapote.) The papaya had medicinal value to the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The Aztecs applied papaya fruit to their skin for relief from insects bites. Asthma was treated with boiled papaya leaves applied to the chest.

cacahuate

Nine flowers of Mexico

The modern day name for the zapote fruit, papaya, comes from the Mayan word páapay-ya which means zapote jaspeado (marbled or spotted zapote).

Peanuts may have been domesticated in Argentina or Bolivia. However, its cultivation in Mexico was well-established before the arrival of the Spanish. Peanuts were called tlalcacahuatl or tlalli auh cacahuatl in Nahuatl which gives us the Mexican Spanish word cacahuate that is used today.

peanut seller

One of our local peanut vendors in Moroleon, GTO

Me vale un reverendo cacahuate.  It’s as important to me as a holy peanut. Meaning it’s not important to me at all.

The oldest pumpkin seed found was in the Guila Naquitz Cave in Oaxaca and dates as far back as 7000 BC.  Squash has been cultivated in the Tehuacan and Oaxaca valleys and in Tamaulipas since 6000-5000 BC. Its cultivation predates the domestication of maize and beans by about 4,000 years. (See Las Tres Hermanas)

Squash was a ritual offering presented in honor of the dead during the month of Miccailhuitontli by the Aztecs and is still considered an appropriate addition to the altar during El Dia de los Muertos celebration in Mexico in the form of calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin).

Sweet potatoes are native plants that are found from the Yucatan on down south to Venezuela. The Maya domesticated the plant at least 5,000 years ago.  In Mexico, sweet potatoes are known as camotes which comes from the Nahuatl word camotli. Camotes enmielados (honeyed sweet potatoes) are yet another specialty food traditionally made and served for El Dia de Los Muertos.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little week-long foray into traditional eats in Mexico as much as I have!  And remember–La vida es un camote agárrese de donde pueda.  Life is a sweet potato.  Hold on to it where you can.

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Mole

mole pic

Mole (pronounced moe-lay) comes from the Nahuatl word mōlli (sauce) or chīlmōlli (chile sauce). There are some misconceptions here that mole is only the brown chocolate sauce that in Mexico is called mole poblano. As you will see, mole comes in quite a variety of delicious flavors, all of which have chiles rather than chocolate as the common ingredient.

There are several legends about the origin of mole. One is that the nuns at the Convent of Santa Rosa is Puebla were in a lather about the visit of the archbishop. They rustled up what ingredients they had on hand and dumped it all in a pot to simmer. They killed the old turkey wandering around the yard too. When the archbishop arrived, they served poor ol’ Tom turkey smothered in the sauce made from leftovers. When asked, the nuns declared that they had made “mole” (a mix).

Then there is the legend that the monk Fray Pascual invented the dish, again to serve to the archbishop, or maybe it was the viceroy, there seem to be several versions. While the monk was preparing the meal, a sudden wind knocked over the spices into the pots where the turkey was simmering magically creating mole.

I say, poppycock! Mole predates the Spanish invasion in Mexico. Bernardino de Sahagun writes about mollis being used in a number of indigenous dishes in his work General History of the Things of New Spain. A popular Aztec dishes of the time was the totolmolli (turkey hen or chicken in mole sauce).

Where doubt sets in is in the use of chocolate in the sauce. Both the Aztecs and Mayans considered chocolate sacred. Therefore, it was reserved for the highest level priests and royalty. Thus, to include chocolate in a dish for the common people would have been considered sacrilege. That doesn’t mean that there were NO sauces with chocolate, only that they were not served to those who were not priests or royalty. (See Chocolate) Perhaps Cortes was fortunate enough to be served chocolate mole as he was considered a reincarnation of the god Quetzalcoatl and the recipe got out. We may never know.

Up until recently, mole was the standard dish eaten at celebrations of all social economic classes in Mexico. The expressions Ir a un mole (to go to where there is mole) means to attend a wedding, one of the traditional ceremonies that customarily served mole. Nowadays, the upper classes have stopped preparing and eating it, preferring imported foodstuff to traditional at their parties. This is yet another loss in the ongoing processes of colonization. Language, food, and customs are insidiously being replaced. Women no longer learn the art of cooking mole from their mothers. Mothers no longer teach their daughters.

In a few remaining places, the preparation of mole is still a community event, usually in honor of a patron saint or local holiday. In these communities, each person involved has a part to play in the production, much like the tamaladas that gather to make tamales (See Tamales). There is always one person, usually a woman, who is given the honorary position of molera, the head chef. It is she who makes the final determination on how much of each ingredient is to be used.

That is no easy task. Mole poblano has about 20 different ingredients. Oaxacan moles can have more than 30. Recipes are approximate, variations are practically limitless. But, under the direction of the molera, the ritual of the mole is not lost.

In general, when making mole:

Mole ingredients can be classified into 4 distinct groups–the chiles, sour ingredients (like tomatillos), sweet ingredients (like fruit and sugar) and thickeners (nuts or tortillas). Ingredients are roasted and ground into a powder or paste. This is mixed with water or broth and simmered while being stirred constantly until it thickens. Chocolate, if included, is added at the end of the cooking process. It’s always served over something, meat, poultry, eggs or rice.

It’s important that those making mole not become angry, otherwise the mole will boil over or spoil.

The paste or powder can be prepared separately and often can be purchased to reduce the steps in making this unique dish.  Interestingly enough, these powders have such a strong scent that they have been registered as explosives at the Mexico City airport. This strong flavoring is the basis of the expression “en su mero mole.” Mole is an acquired taste and to be in your own mole, is similar to the English expression to be or not to be one’s cup of tea.

Below, I’ve provided a link to recipes of a number of mole sauces.

Moles with chocolate

Mole poblano is the most well-known mole. It is considered one of the national dishes of Mexico. It is often served with turkey when prepared for weddings, birthdays and baptisms. During the Christmas holiday season, it is often served over shrimp garnished with rosemary.

Mole coloradito is made to be served over pork, chicken or beef and it is a red brick color. It is a specialty of Oaxaca.

Mole negro also known as mole oaxaqueño is one of 7 distinctive types of mole made in Oaxaca. Mole negro is served with chicken, turkey or pig head. It has up to 34 ingredients and 6 types of chiles. It also has bananas, gingerbread, almonds, peanuts, avocado leaf, cinnamon and chocolate among other ingredients.

Mole xiqueño is the specialty of Xico, a town in the state of Veracruz. It’s a fruity mole with raisins, xoconostle, bananas and nuts in addition to the chocolate.

Moles without chocolate

Chirmole, also known as chilmole or relleno negro is a dark mole and is common in Yucatan.

Huaxmole, also known as guaxmole or mole de guaje is made with guaje seeds, also known as huaxin, cacalas or cascalhuite, which taste like garlic. It was traditionally prepared for holy day festivals and served over goat meat.

Mole de caderas also known as mole de chivo is a specialty of the states Oaxaca and Puebla. It is meant to be served over goats that have been fed large quantities of salt, giving the meat a distinctive flavor. It is traditionally prepared during the annual goat butchering festival, usually sometime between October and December. During the festival, there is a “danza de la matanza” which ends with the sacrificial killing of a male goat. There is also an altar prepared by the butchers who make offerings and prayers so that the goat harvest is at least as good as if not better than the previous year.

Mole Michoacan. This red mole is prepared with pumpkin seeds and they must not have shell nor salt so the final flavor is not altered and is a speciality of Michoacan.

Mole Amarillo is another of the Oaxacan specialties. It gets its yellow color from the yellow chihuacle chile. It’s also seasoned with hoja santa which gives it a licorice flavor.

Mole chichilo from Oaxaca is served with beef and comes in negro (black) and rojo (red) depending on the manner the chiles are prepared. Of the seven specialty moles of Oaxaca, mole rojo is the spices.

Mole prieto, also known as tlilmolli, comes from the state of Tlaxcala. It has traditionally been part of the ritual festivity in honor of the goddess Toci, patron saint of textiles and health. It prehispanic rituals, this mole was served with deer, turkey or Xoloitzcuintle, a Mexican hairless dog bred specifically for food. Nowadays, it is served with pork. During the pre-festival preparations, a bottle of liquor is buried and a cross made of nopales and chilpotle is placed over the spot. This is done to prevent the mole from boiling and spoiling.

Mole verde, yet another mole from Oaxaca, uses green tomatoes, parsley, and green chiles to give it its distinctive herb flavoring. It’s often served over chicken with chayote, green beans, and white beans.

Pipián is a peanut or pumpkin seed sauce served over chicken. It comes in rojo (red) and verde (green). Pipian verde is also made with ajonjoli (sesame seeds) or pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Mole tamaulipeco, from the state of Tamaulipas, is served over chicken stuffed with olives. Ingredients include onion, garlic, olives, raisin, tomato, tomatillo, cinnamon, thyme, parsley and capers among others. It’s often served with white rice with chiles and carrots in vinegar.

Mole Soups

Mole de olla is more of a soup rather than a sauce. It is made of xoconostle, squash, green beans, corn, potato, chambarete (beef shank) simmered into a broth of chile guajillo and chile pasilla, seasoned with garlic, onion, and epazote. It is served with pieces of chopped serrano pepper and lemon.

Mole de panza is cow stomach stew, also known as menudo. Mole de panza uses cilantro rather than oregano as seasoning.

Remember to “parece ajonjolí de todos los moles” be like the sesame seed of all moles, involved in everything!

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