Hibiscus Infused Agave Nectar

One of my favorite simple Mexican recipes is an infusion of agave nectar with dried hibiscus flowers.  Hibiscus flowers, or Flor de Jamaica in Spanish, are commonly used in Mexico to make a refreshing iced tea rich in Vitamin C.  They do the same thing in Jamaica, but under the name of Sorrel Flowers.  The dried flowers are slightly tart and lemony- and even Arab immigrants to the Americas have used them as a substitute for Sumac. There is much more you can do with them beyond tea.

Hibiscus-Infused Agave Nectar

Hibiscus-Infused Agave Nectar

To make the infusion, heat about 1 cup of agave nectar or so over a low flame.  Add a handful of dried flowers and stir.  When you can see that it has heated up a bit, turn off the flame.  Let the pan sit while the flowers infuse the nectar. You can then drain the flowers and reserve the honey, or pour them both into the same container. The other day at Whole Foods I saw hibiscus flowers in syrup being sold for something close to $10.  This is much tastier and economical.

What can I do with these flowers you may ask?  This morning I chopped up some local strawberries (some of you might have to wait for Summer for this one) and topped some Greek yogurt with the fruit and hibiscus nectar.  I like to eat the chewy, sweet and sour flowers as well, so I left them in there.  You can also make a nice Margarita and drop in an infused flower for texture and color. Vanilla ice cream is another great vehicle for this sweet treat.  I would love to hear your suggestions if you also have some!

Yogurt, Strawberries and Hibiscus Agave Nectar

Yogurt, Strawberries and Hibiscus Agave Nectar

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Papaya, Cucumber, and Ginger Salsa

Please allow me to preface this entry by saying that I know almost everything I have posted so far has been a salsa or dip.  I am aware of this issue, but right now I am working with limited kitchenware and a very understocked pantry.  I promise that in the future I will be putting up things that are a bit more substantial. In the meantime, enjoy the light fare.

Papaya, Cucumber, and Ginger Salsa

Papaya, Cucumber, and Ginger Salsa

So anyway, last week we had Taco Night at our friends’ apartment here in South Beach.  It was a super fun pot-luck dinner of all things Mexican and the like.  I made a few salsas, but this one was my favorite: Papaya, Cucumber, and Ginger Salsa.  It really came together because I had a huge papaya that was overripening at a speed that I could not keep up with.  I also happened to have a cucumber in my fridge, as well as some spring onions.  The ginger was an afterthought that totally made sense.  All I did was chop up about 1 cup of papaya and 1/2  of an English cucumber into medium-sized dice.  Then I thinly sliced about 2 spring onions (scallions), using the white and light green part.  I then finely minced a good 1 inch piece of peeled fresh ginger.  I added the juice of 2 limes and a splash of rice wine vinegar (totally optional).  To give it some color I mixed in a small handful of cilantro.  I seasoned with salt and added a touch of honey. I did not use any chile peppers, because I had the ginger in there, and I knew there would be plenty of other spicy sauces.

I love this salsa on grilled fish, like Mahi Mahi and tuna.  You could also use it with grilled chicken or quesadillas.

Black Bean Hummus

Yesterday I made black bean hummus.  I love traditional Lebanese hummus, but black bean hummus has a different flavor and texture to offer, and quite frankly, the more hummuses (?)in the world there are, the better.  Plus, here in Miami black bean hummus is ubiquitous.  I keep seeing it everywhere I go, and so I thought it was relevant to my work here.  The other day at Books and Books on Linoln Road they randomly brought us out a small plate with a dollop of the dip with some water crackers.  That was when I knew I would make my own.

Black Bean Hummus

Black Bean Hummus

I had made some for my friends last May when our book club meeting coincided with Cinco de Mayo (the strange American holiday that gives everyone an excuse to get drunk off of Margaritas).  Everyone loved the recipe and I swore I would have posted it, but somehow it has taken me this long.  I had vowed to prepare the Black Bean version with pumpkin seed butter instead of tahini, but nowadays no one can really be bothered by buying expensive ingredients just for a few recipes, so I thought I would stick to tahini, which is a bit more versatile.

So the recipe is this:

1 cup dried black beans
2 garlic cloves
2 juicy limes (about 1/8 cup)
2 tablespoons tahini
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin

Cover the black beans with water and leave to soak for 8 hours to overnight.  Drain the beans of their soaking liquid and place in a medium-sized pot amply covered with fresh water.
Bring the pot to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 1 ½ hours or until cooked through.  The beans should mush easily when you squeeze them between your fingers.  Drain the beans of their cooking liquid.
In a food processor blend the garlic cloves with some salt until they are finely chopped.  Add the beans and continue to chop while slowly pouring in the olive oil.  Add the tahini and lime juice and season with the cumin.  Continue chopping until it becomes a smooth puree.  If you need to add more liquid you can add a few tablespoons more of oil or just plain water.

Feel free to add minced jalapeno, chipotle powder, smoky paprika, or even roasted red pepper.  Whatever tickles your fancy.  I like to serve it on a plate with pita chips or flat bread and some cilantro.  Jazz up the plate with freshly grated carrots or chopped tomato- anything goes as long as its vibrant.

Some people might complain that I start with dried beans, rather than canned.  That is the way I cook, and I think it is important to know how to do those things.

Dalia Pascal

So this is my first entry that is non-food related, but I want this blog to encompass other things besides just recipes.  There is this designer that I totally love, and wanted to share her name and what she is doing with everyone.  Her name is Dalia Pascal and she designs handbags and jewelry.

Dalia Pascal Handbag

Dalia Pascal Handbag

I picked up this bag at the airport in San Jose del Cabo.  I am normally not an airport shopper, but when I saw this bag I had to have it.  Dalia designs the bags and works with indigenous women around Mexico, who hand embroider the fabric.  The intricate embroidery of textiles is a dying craft in Mexico, and pretty soon we will not see the beautiful work that make places like Oaxaca and Michoacan so rich.  Dalia’s line features diverse textile designs, all handmade.  She is helping the preserve the technique of hand embroidery, while updating its use for more trendy styles. I am really in love with my beautiful bag and hope everyone looks for her stuff the next time you are in Mexico.

Mole Crumble

The idea for Mole Crumble first came about when we were developing the episode for the Oaxacan Guelaguetza two summers ago.  The idea was to make a dish that incorporated many of the flavors of mole, but in a simplified and deconstructed way, so that people could whip it up without any ceremony.  Although Mole is supposed to be made for special occasions and requires a lot of time and dedication, I could not help but want to adapt it into an everyday thing.  Enjoying the broken down concept of mole, and its rich flavors and textures, does not necessarily take away from the fancier occasions when a real mole is made from scratch.  That is when Mole Crumble has its place.

Mole Crumble

Mole Crumble

Mole is one of the traditional dishes of Mexico.  However, there are many types of mole; the city of Oaxaca has at least 7, and Puebla is famous for its namesake sauce.  And within each of these types of mole, cooks improvise and add their own special touches.  What I love about moles is the integration of nuts and seeds. Some add pine nuts or almonds, while others have pecans and pepitas.  In traditional preparations of the sauce, those ingredients provide weight and thickness. My favorites are sesame, peanuts, and chocolate.  I use those three for my mole crumble, because their flavors balance each other out, while providing a great texture to compliment many chile sauces.

I prepared this batch of Mole Crumble for the cooking class I presented the other day, and had this left over.  I thought I would store it and save it to use as a topping for whatever occurs to me in the future.  But then I thought I should photograph it and share it with all of you, becuase it is a really healthy way to add texture and color to a dish.  To make a small batch, combine 2 T raw peanuts (roughly chopped), 2 T raw cacao nibs (roughly chopped), and 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds.  This is a very visual combination, so if something looks off balance, simply adjust the quantities.

I like this on top of Kitchen Caravan’s Orange Chile Ancho Sauce.