Vegetarian Michelada

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My parents just got back from a two week vacation in Mexico. While we suffered through rain, ice and snow here in Virginia, we occasionally received photos via email of palm trees, clear blue water, and sunny sandy beaches. So one night last week, we cranked up the heat in the house and whipped up some tacos and spicy micheladas for dinner.

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A Michelada is a Mexican beer cocktail that Kyle and I first tried in Portland, Oregon, of all places.We encountered the michelada on several restaurant menus in Portland, including Pine State Biscuits, where it may have actually been billed as a “beer bloody mary” and Por Que No Tacos.

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It appears that micheladas hang out at authentic Mexican restaurants and hipster havens. I’ve never seen a michelada on a restaurant menu in Richmond, but I’m sure I will soon. I would venture to say they became really hip in Austin eight years ago, in Brooklyn four years ago, and in Portland two years ago. So at that rate, the hipsters in Richmond started drinking them last year and I’m just now finding out about them. We’ll all be drinking them at Sunday brunch by next year.

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The next time you are in Portland, please make sure you throw on a flannel shirt and get to a Pine State Biscuits location before you leave town. Their egg and cheese biscuit sandwich with a fried green tomato was a heavy, delicious breakfast that kept me full while sightseeing until mid-afternoon.

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Their Stumptown Coffee is also excellent.  If you’re on vacation, get yourself a cocktail too. The beer cocktail that Kyle ordered came with a can of Rainier beer on the side, which we figure is the PBR of the Pacific Northwest?

We decided to try our own recipe for a michelada last week, because most of the recipes I found included some type of fish sauce, clam juice, anchovy or oyster sauce, which we generally try to substitute out if we can. So here is our recipe for vegetarian micheladas, which is still a work in progress and completely adaptable for your own tastes. I only measured to develop the recipe, but I doubt I will ever measure the ingredients again. Customize the number of dashes of each ingredient you use to suit your mood that day. Stir, taste, and season again if it’s not quite right the first time.

Also a note on beers: I tried these with lighter beer (Pacifico, Modelo Especial) and dark  beer (Negra Modelo), and while these are most commonly made with the lighter Mexican adjunct lagers, I prefer a darker beer in mine.

Vegetarian Michelada

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Ingredients:

  • 1 lime wedge
  • Sea salt
  • Chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 3 Tablespoons tomato juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon liquid aminos
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 dashes hot sauce (Tapatio)
  • 2 pinches ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces of cold beer

Preparation:

  1. Mix equal parts sea salt and chili powder in a bowl.
  2. Rub the lime wedge around the rim of a pint glass.
  3. Dip the glass upside-down in the chili powder salt mixture to make a chili-salt rim.
  4. Add the lime wedge to the glass. Add lime juice, tomato juice, liquid aminos, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and black pepper to the glass and stir.
  5. Top with 12 ounces of cold beer. Stir, taste, and adjust seasoning.
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Vegan Meatballs in a Sweet and Spicy Mole Sauce

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Ever since Brittany and I brought home a second place win at the Richmond Vegetarian Festival Food Fight Iron Chef style cooking competition, I’ve been thinking about how to make our vegan nut meat into meatballs. I have to give Brittany credit for introducing me to nut meat, which is basically coarsely ground walnuts, seasoned to taste like ground beef. All alone, nut meat probably isn’t fooling anyone into thinking they’re eating real meat. However, the taste and texture definitely resemble meat when you use this ingredient in tacos, casseroles, and anything with a sauce.

I did some research on nut meatballs (hehe) but wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on recipe testing until I settled on a creative sauce. It all came together for me when I planned the next vegetarian beer dinner in the same week that I tasted Xocoveza Mocha Stout. This beer smells remarkably like Mexican hot chocolate, and I could not get enough of the smooth, rich taste when I tried it on draft at The Beer Mongers in Portland, Oregon last month. I was immediately inspired to pair this delicious Mexican Chocolate Stout with Meatballs in a Mole Sauce at our next beer dinner.

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Xocoveza Mocha Stout is a collaboration between Stone Brewing, Cervezeria Insurgente, and home brewer Chris Banker. I’ve tried a few different attempts at a Mexican Chocolate Stout, including Kyle’s own winter 2012 home brew, which was a Mexican chocolate milk stout, as well as some variations from popular microbreweries that have hit the market over the last two years. This is the only one that I have tasted that really nailed the aroma and taste of Mexican hot chocolate with a hint of coffee.

For the food pairing, I wanted to make sure that I brought in the same chili and chocolate flavors in the sauce as well as the meatballs themselves. I used Annette Ramke and Kendall Scott’s Walnut Meat-Less Balls recipe posted on Nava Atlas’ VegKitchen as a base recipe, then I gave it my own twist. I recommend you do the same, swapping spices to get different flavors and to put your own spin on this great base recipe for vegan nut meatballs.

Vegan Meatballs in a Sweet and Spicy Mole Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup baby bella mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons wheat germ
  • 3 Tablespoons rolled oats
  • 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2 Tablespoons tamari
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Sauce:

  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1/4 cup vegan dark chocolate chips
  • 4 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder

Preparation:

  1. In a medium sauce pan, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onions, mushrooms, and garlic for 4-5 minutes, until soft. Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  3. When cooled, add onions, mushrooms and garlic to a food processor. Add remaining meatball ingredients (walnuts through black pepper) to the food processor and blend until smooth.
  4. Form mixture into small balls and place on cookie sheet. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. Uncover, flip meatballs and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  5. While meatballs are baking, make the mole sauce. Heat all ingredients in medium sauce pan for 10 minutes on low-medium until chocolate is melted and sauce is bubbling. Ladle over meatballs and serve warm.

What the Heck is a Chayote Squash, and What to Drink for Cinco de Mayo?

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These weird little squashes have been staring at me from a bin in the produce section of my grocery store for far too long. I have passed by the bright green chayote squash dozens of times, wondering how to cook them and what they taste like. I finally picked up three of these weird little gourds last week, and I stumped the cashier when I went to check out.

“Excuse me, what is this?”

“Chayote. C-H-A-Y-O-T-E.”

“I don’t see the code for that, are they pears?”

“No, they’re labeled ‘chayote squash’ on the bin. Maybe they’re under ‘squash’?”

asks coworker in next lane: “Do you know the code for these?”

coworker: “No, they look like pears. Charge her for pears.”

Pears were $3.99 per pound that week, and I have no idea how much the chayote were priced per pound. I guess chayote is not a fast-mover at the Carytown Kroger. In the cashiers’ defense, the chayote does look a bit like a pear that is trying to eat itself.

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The chayote originates from Mexico, where the fruit, leaves, blossoms, and roots of the plant are eaten. The squash has a very thin green skin attached to the green-to-white flesh. The skins and seeds are edible, although I found that many recipes call for the skins and seeds to be removed. The flesh is very crisp, and the raw squash has the texture of a potato and a very mild flavor like a broccoli stalk. The chayote can be eaten raw, but it is often cooked and seasoned, or eaten in a sauce with other more flavorful ingredients.

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I found a great vegetarian recipe for Chayotes Rellenos from world-renowned chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, of The Border Grill in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Santa Monica. I had never tried one of their recipes before, so it was an evening of firsts.

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The chayote was very easy to work with. I left the skins on, but boiling caused them to peel off. The texture and flavor of the cooked chayote was similar to summer squash. I loved that this recipe incorporated epazote, and the crunch from the almonds added an unexpected and pleasant texture to the filling, which probably would have been pretty mushy otherwise, due to the cooked squash and mushrooms.

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I topped the cooked stuffed squash with some fresh pea shoots, which were an impulse purchase from Relay Foods. I normally would have tossed some cilantro on there, but I was out (rare occurrence!). One thing that recipes for stuffed squash or eggplant NEVER tell you is what to do with the extra filling. Am I the only one who always has extra filling after stuffing my vegetables?

I put the extra filling in a glass baking dish, topped it with cheese, and baked it at the same time and temperature indicated in the recipe. It worked out great.

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If you’re feeling inspired by Cinco de Mayo and you want to try out a Mexican dish besides tacos or nachos, I suggest that you give chayotes a try. Although they do not pack a ton of flavor on their own, they are very versatile and do soak up the flavors around them. Next I would like to try them in a really spicy curry, topped with chopped fresh mango, and I do not intend to wait for another holiday to do it.

What to Eat on Cinco de Mayo

If you are feeling less ingredient-adventurous but you do still want something Mexican-inspired on your table this week, check out my recipe roundup from last week.

What to Drink with Mexican Cuisine

If you want to branch out from the standard Corona, Sol, or Tecate that are very popular this time of year, head to your local craft beer store. Kyle and I collaborated on this list of brews drink with Latin American food.

For an authentic Mexican beer that is a cut above the rest, seek out Negra Modelo or Bohemia.

For a local Virginia alternative to the Mexican light lager, try Blue Mountain Brewery Lager or Legend Brewing Co Pilsner.

If you like hoppy beers, try Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai or Smuttynose Finestkind IPA.

If you intend to sit on a porch and sip beer for a few hours, pick up Sierra Nevada Summerfest or Lagunitas Daytime.

And if you just want a beer that looks great in a Cinco de Mayo party spread and is refreshing on a warm evening out on the back deck, pick up Breckenridge Brewery Agave Wheat. When you choose a beer that is infused with an iconic Mexican ingredient and labeled with a skeleton wearing a sombrero, you get an A+ for sticking to a theme!

 

5 Vegetarian Recipes for Cinco de Mayo

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Cinco de Mayo will be here next week. Do you know what you’re making for dinner yet? Nah, me neither.

Luckily, I consider tacos to be a major food group, so I have plenty of vegetarian taco and burrito recipes here on Vegology. I never grow tired of coming up with new combinations, and Kyle and I have some variation of tacos for dinner on a weekly basis. I love them so much that I cannot possibly convey to you how extremely excited I was the first time I was linked to by F*%$ Yeah Vegan Tacos. I have several taco recipes here under the tacos tag, and some other fun Mexican inspired recipes in this post to help you plan for your Cinco de Mayo celebration. The first five recipes are Vegology originals, then there is a bonus Serious Eats recipe at the end for elotes, which are my current obsession.

Enjoy!

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Try out these MexiKali wraps that add a healthy dose of leafy greens to your standard black bean burrito. Plus there is a onus recipe for my Chipotle-style cilantro lime brown rice in that post as well.

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Embrace Springtime and make a batch of Radish Salsa to tide you over until fresh tomatoes are in season. Serve with corn chips, pita chips, over tacos and nachos, or just eat it plain like a salad!

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These Cilantro Lime Seitan Tacos feature a great vegetarian meat substitute that, as the old cliché goes, “tastes just like chicken!”

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If you’re still experiencing winter weather and want to curl up with some fall and winter veggies, try these Spicy Cauliflower Tacos with Sunchoke Hash. It is amazing how much grated and sautéed cauliflower can resemble meat when seasoned the right way.

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For a sweet and springy dessert, try these Strawberry Goat Cheese and Black Pepper Empanadas, which make for a unique and tasty end to your Cinco de Mayo meal.

Bonus recipe!

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My current obsession is Mexican street corn, and this recipe from Serious Eats is perfect! Make this one as soon as you can get your hands on some fresh corn this year. You will not regret it.

To see what I’m cooking this weekend (and to get sneak peek photos of test recipes like the grilled corn above), make sure you are following Vegology on Instagram and Twitter.

How Melissa’s Produce Got Chile Peppers Into My Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I recently received an email from Melissa’s Produce, proclaiming that Hatch Chile Season is upon us! I had no idea what a hatch chile was, but already I was excited to find out. Within a few days, I had a box full of hatch chiles and a cookbook sitting on my desk, along with some information about this short-lived seasonal pepper. Because I had so much fun learning about and experimenting with these versatile peppers, I want to share my hatch chile experience with you.*

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Hatch chiles are grown in New Mexico and harvested for just a few weeks each year, in late August and early September. They range from mild to hot, and they taste best roasted, with their thick skins peeled off. I learned all of this while flipping through the cookbook in my office, when my coworkers asked me why I had a box of peppers sitting on my desk. I had the samples shipped to work, and consequently I left the office that day with just half the peppers in my possession. The other half went on to other experiments in five of my coworkers’ homes. I can only imagine that by now they have been grilled, roasted, stuffed, and chopped into a variety of dishes.

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A few local Kroger grocery stores partnered with Melissa’s Produce to host hatch chile roastings over the last two weeks, and I visited one last weekend to see the pepper roasting in action. There were samples of three heat levels to help shoppers decide which peppers to buy: mild, hot, and extra hot. The hot ones were my favorite, but a lot of people preferred the extra hots. While there, I saw several people buy whole cases of peppers and then have them roasted on-site for free. I opted to roast mine myself, in two batches. The first batch of mild peppers that were delivered for free, I roasted under the broiler in my oven. The second batch of hot peppers that I purchased at Kroger (for $1.40 per pound!), I roasted on a charcoal grill.

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After roasting, it is best to peel the peppers (with gloves!) to remove the skin and seeds, slice them, and freeze them for use over the next few months. Another way to experience hatch chiles in the off-season is to stock up on the hatch chile powder now, and then toss it in soups, stews, chili, and enchiladas into the fall and winter months. I froze six peppers after roasting and peeling, and I cooked with the rest, using the Melissa’s Hatch Chile Cookbook.

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I could not believe how many great recipes were in this book, all using hatch chiles, and I was very glad to see that most of the recipes were vegetarian. The book covers all types of dishes, including breakfast, snacks, soups, stews, sides, entrees, desserts, and even beverages! I am looking forward to trying that hatch chile margarita!

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So far I have used the hatch chiles in black bean tacos and in chocolate chip cookies. I used the mild peppers in the cookies and couldn’t even taste them. The cookie recipe is seriously good – great flavor and consistency, not too soft, not too crunchy. However, next time I think I will use the hot chiles to balance the sweetness of the cookie because I was a little bummed that the cookies did not taste as weird as they sounded. The cookbook really opened my eyes to how versatile these peppers are, and I am glad that I stocked up when I did because I am looking forward to continuing to test recipes from the book and create more of my own.

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* I did receive a free box of hatch chiles and a cookbook when I expressed interest in learning more about the chiles and testing the recipes for my blog. As always, my opinions are all my own, and I never recommend a product without testing it first.

Seitan, Stripped

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Earlier today, I was standing in line in a local coffee shop, when I was tapped on the shoulder by one of my colleagues from work.

“Oh, hi there! Great to see you! What brings you to my neighborhood?”

We had a nice three minute conversation until it was my turn to order. On my way out, I met a member of my coworker’s family, wished them both a good day, and waved goodbye. As I walked away from the coffee shop, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a pane of glass. Then I came to the horrific realization that my tank top had slid down and about an inch of my zebra print bra was exposed. How long had it been that way? How many people had seen? Why do these things always happen to me?!

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I had been thinking all morning about what I was going to write about in my next blog post. With the humiliation of my unintentional striptease on my mind all afternoon, these seitan strips seemed like an appropriate topic.

I made these a couple of months ago, when Kyle decided he wanted to reduce the amount of soy in his diet. I cook with soy-based protein sources quite often, so his request required me to branch out a bit. As I struggled to put together the meal plan and grocery list that week, Kyle suggested that we cook with seitan. I’ve used the ingredient before, but I find that the pre-packaged seitan that is sold in stores tends to be high in sodium, so I’ve shied away from it.

A little research taught me that it’s a very high protein food, so I determined that it was worth investigating further. I quickly discovered that seitan is easy to make at home, where you can control the amount of sodium, with just a few ingredients. Most of the salt comes from the broth that it’s cooked in, so I searched for a low sodium vegetable broth and a few more essential ingredients, then I got to work. My stripped-down version has just the ingredients I want in my seitan, and nothing more.

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The basic recipe includes vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, water, liquid aminos or soy sauce, oil, broth, and seasonings. I made mine in a slow cooker according to this recipe from the Cathe’s Kitchen blog.

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The dough for the seitan comes together pretty quickly, then it gets dropped in a slow cooker bath of broth, onions, garlic, and herbs to simmer for a few hours. This time of year, when it starts to get pretty hot outside, I am a big fan of slow cooking to keep my kitchen cool.

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The seitan loaves look kind of creepy when they come out. I think my first batch had too many air bubbles, but I’ll get the texture down with some practice.

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The loaves freeze and defrost really well, so I recommend that you make a big batch. When you are ready to serve them, simply cut into slices or strips and cook them like you would chicken cutlets. If you want to simmer them in a sauce, it is best to brown them in a pan first, which makes the texture less spongy.  My favorite way to prepare them so far has been to marinate and grill them. I have only done them on the George Foreman indoor grill, but I am looking forward to getting them on my charcoal grill this summer.

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The strips are delicious when marinated in cilantro and lime, grilled to perfection, then stuffed into warm tortillas with roasted poblanos, corn and tomato salsa, and avocado.

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Whether you are looking for a way to prepare store-bought seitan strips, or you are experimenting with your own homemade version, this taco recipe is a simple introduction to seitan. The marinated and grilled strips are also great in sandwiches and on salads. I tossed them with some toppings over rice to bring to work for lunch, and they even tasted great reheated in the microwave.

Cilantro Lime Seitan Strips

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Ingredients:

  • 1 lb plain seitan (store bought or homemade), sliced into strips
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon agave syrup
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Combine olive oil, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, agave, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  2. Spread seitan strips in a shallow baking dish. Cover with marinade.
  3. Marinate for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove seitan from marinade and grill for 6 minutes on each side, or until dark grill marks appear. Brush with marinade while grilling if desired.
  5. Serve hot. Stuff into warm tortillas, sandwich between two slices of bread, or place on top of rice or a salad. Cover with desired toppings and enjoy!

Stay cool and have a great week!

Epazote

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Epazote is an herb that I had never heard of until six months ago, when I received a jar of it for Christmas. Kyle expertly chose a wonderful gift for me last year, and he presented me with Penzeys Spices “Taste of Mexico” box on Christmas Eve.

This gift was perfect for a few reasons.

  1. Obviously I enjoy cooking and writing about it.
  2. For a few years I visited Mexico every January, and I miss those trips so much. Kyle brought a little piece of Mexico to me this year.
  3. I love to try new things, and this box was full of them.

We cook our own version of Mexican food a lot in this house, and I have really enjoyed trying out the new spices and herbs in this set. The most intriguing one to me was epazote because I had never heard of it before. Upon researching the herb, I discovered that after at least five annual trips to Mexico, I have probably eaten it dozens of times. It is most commonly cooked in black beans, which I eat a ton of when I am south of the border.

I have delayed writing this post for awhile because I wasn’t really sure how to handle this subject delicately. I sometimes fail at subtlety and instead approach sensitive topics like a literary wrecking ball. I have finally determined that the best way to say it is simply and boldly.

The most commonly reported benefit of epazote in the diet is the prevention of flatulence.

There, I said it. But there are other more intriguing properties too. The most interesting tidbit I found on epazote is that, in large quantities, it is poisonous to humans. In small quantities, it relieves abdominal discomfort. What I did not find was a specific quantity at which you go from relief of abdominal pain to calling the poison control hotline. It looks so non-threatening to the naked eye, however we were playing with fire when we pulled out the epazote.

Do not worry; this story does not end at the hospital. Kyle and I have both survived several dinners with epazote-seasoned black beans since cracking open this jar. I think the dried epazote smells like bay leaves, but it tastes totally different. The taste is really difficult to describe, as it is not like any other herb I have tasted. It is kind of sweet and earthy, with this one zesty note that I can’t put my finger on (similar to anise and tarragon). I am sure I did not do epazote any justice in that poor description. All I know is that taco night in our house is even better since epazote came into our lives.

A few more facts for you ingredient geeks like me:

  • epazote is derived from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, like avocado, chocolate, chile, and coyote
  • it contains a carminative agent, meaning it reduces gas
  • it has been added to pet food because it is said to expel intestinal worms in our furry friends
  • some people have found it helpful in the treatment of asthma, malaria, and other diseases (however you should check with your MD first before incorporating this or any diet change into your treatment plan)
  • epazote can be used in beans, soups, chili, tacos, quesadillas and salads (and more!)

We did not conduct an experiment in our house to test the carminative properties of this common Mexican herb. Mainly because I come from a bit of a science background, I felt that I would quickly be in over my head if I tried to design and perform any type of scientific experiment measuring diet and flatulence. I have a feeling we would develop a new hypothesis that epazote either promotes or hinders the optimization of upstairs living space, as one of us would certainly get a lot of use out of the guest bedroom during that study.

So I have to ask: has anyone else tried epazote? What did you think?

Epazote can be purchased from specialty herb and spice shops, and from most Latin markets or grocery stores.