Archived Story

Always right time to try something new

Published 11:14am Thursday, February 20, 2014

Last week I decided to go shopping for fresh produce at one of the Puerto Rican produce stores in my neighborhood.

These groceries are known for offering excellent deals on certain varieties, as well as Latin specialty products. It was really fun to shop in a store where fresh pinto beans, cactus and plantains are readily available. It was also by far the best deal on fresh cilantro, mint and parsley I’ve found in Chicago. I had a great time perusing the aisles, taking in some of the unfamiliar or atypical fruits, vegetables and herbs.

There was a fresh pepper variety I wasn’t familiar with. It was bright green and small like a habanero but round. I asked a fellow shopper if they were hot and she said no, they were sweet. Her English wasn’t extensive, and my Spanish is extremely limited, but we managed to have a conversation about cooking, pointing out the different veggies we liked to work with. She motioned towards the fresh herbs and asked if I’d ever worked with recao, otherwise knows as Mexican Coriander. I told her I hadn’t.

She said she didn’t really know how to explain it in English, but it was good, a main ingredient in sofrito, (which I later discovered is a popular Latin Caribbean tomato sauce) and I must try it.

I bought some upon her recommendation, not really sure what to do with it, but excited about the chance to work with something new.

I’m so glad I did; Mexican coriander is delicious! It’s similar in flavor to cilantro, but much stronger. Because the flavor is so strong, it really works well in soups and sauces that need to simmer over time. I used it in a chili variation because it was a cold winter night.

I’m so thrilled I expanded my horizons and tried something new. It goes to show that the world of plants is vast, but the language of good food is universal.

Cook’s Note: In Southwest Michigan, you will probably have the most luck finding recao at La Perla in Benton Harbor or El Paraiso in South Bend.

Mexican Coriander Chili

½ tablespoon grapeseed oil
¾ cup red onion
1 ½ – 2 cups green cabbage, chopped
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 carnival or acorn squash, peeled and        cut into ½ inch pieces
8 cups vegetable stock
6 ounces tomato paste
1-2 serrano peppers, finely chopped
½ cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and        drained
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 cup corn
2 15 ounce cans pinto beans, rinsed        and drained
½ cup fresh Mexican coriander, rough        chopped
¼ cup fresh parsley, rough chopped
About 1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
2 teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon paprika
Sliced green onion for (serving)
Avocado for serving (optional)
Hemp seeds for serving (optional)
1. Heat oil in a large stock pot. Add the onion and cook until almost translucent.
2. Slowly add the vegetable stock, then the squash, cabbage, and garlic. Bring to        a boil, reduce to a simmer, then slow stir in the tomato paste with a heavy whisk. Let simmer about 10 minutes or until the squash starts to become tender.
3. Add the quinoa, let simmer another 5 minutes, then stir in the serranos and
spices. Let simmer 8-10 minutes, then add the tomatoes, corn, pinto beans, and          fresh parsley. Cook another 5-7 minutes.
4. Turn off heat and let sit, about 10 minutes. Serve topped with sliced green onions, avocado, and hemp seeds.

Yield: about 10 cups soup

 

Kat Barry, a Saint Joseph, Michigan native, is owner of Kat’s Hot Cakes vegan catering, and co-author of “The New Chicago Diner Cookbook: Meat Free Recipes from America’s Veggie Diner.” She also develops recipes for eHow.com where you can find over 30 of her vegan instructional cooking videos. She is also a certified yoga instructor. Follow @katshotcakes on twitter. Kat can be reached via email at: kat@katshotcakes.com.

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