An enthusiastic gardener and foodie, my coworker E is well-versed in a wide variety of herbs and spices and has a knack for finding wonderful flavors. Last week, she introduced me to sorrel, and brought me a lovely bunch of big sorrel leaves from her garden. Upon tasting the lemony, tart flavor, I flipped out; it was so delicious! Then I used it in a tasty slaw. I was so happy that I had blindly purchased a sorrel plant for my garden on recommendation from the nice lady at the co-op! I am quite excited for the sorrel to grow larger.
Later in the week E outdid herself. She was bringing in a couple of epazote plants for another coworker, and made sure to point them out to me. I was so intrigued; I'd seen dried and fresh epazote at some of the Mexican grocery stores in my neighborhood, but never really bothered to investigate it. She told me to smell it. I saw a twinkle in her eye, so I knew I was in for a surprise. I excitedly rubbed the spiky, dark green leaves between my fingertips, then brought my fingers to my nose for a whiff.
Oh my! It smelled so unusual; pungent, peppery, and spicy. It was almost reminiscent of kerosene or turpentine (in the best way possible, I swear), with a strange, minty twist. I'd never smelled anything like it, and I was positively entranced by it. Especially after E started talking to me about using epazote when cooking beans.
I love beans, and anything that can be done to enhance the awesome deliciousness of beans gets a big thumbs up from me. Apparently, epazote (pronounced eh-pah-zoe-tay) is traditionally used in Mexican cuisine when cooking black beans. While researching epazote, I found a lot of quotes that said that preparing a proper pot of black beans without epazote was totally unthinkable! No only does it add a lovely, deep, earthy flavor, but it also has special properties that help to reduce the gas in the beans and ease digestibility. Epazote is also used to season a wide variety of other dishes, like sopes, enchiladas, chile, and eggs. Wow, who knew? My friend E did, obviously, as well as any Mexican cook. It was high time that I be in the loop as well.
Upon further research, I found out that epazote is a Mexican herb in the Goosefoot family (related to spinach, chard, beets, amaranth, and quinoa). It is not only great in the kitchen, but also very impressive medicinally. It helps reduce that unfortunate gassiness that some people get after eating too many beans. It also is used for amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, malaria, asthma, among other things. Epazote essential oil is actually quite toxic if used in large amounts, so if you eat a really really really inordinate amount of epazote, watch out. Hmn, I'm noting a pattern here; I seem to be eating lots of things that have toxic qualities...sorrel, rhubarb, chard. I guess I like to live on the wild side.
A few days after my introduction to this fine herb, I saw lovely little epazote plants at the farmers market. I knew I had to make one mine. I bought one and promptly planted it in my garden, but had to snip off a few sprigs first to use for something. Since I didn't have black beans, I decided that azuki beans would do just fine.
This dish is sort of an East meets West mash up of Japanese beans prepared Mexican-style; the sweet flavor of the azuki beans is a natural compliment to the fragrant cumin and spicy red pepper flakes. The epazote isn't discernible specifically, but the beans have a deep, earthy, rich flavor and aroma that I know azukis don't have if left to their own devices. I imagine that flavor is the epazote whispering sweet nothings at me! Yum, I'm including epazote with my beans from now on! No wonder it is considered a vital addition to any good bean pot. I hope my little epazote plant grows big and strong so I can harvest all the leaves and dry them for tasty beans all winter long.
I think this dish would be perfect for summer grill outs and back yard parties, a great substitute for those boring old baked beans. Or serve it with Mexican style meals in place of black beans or pinto beans. I had it for dinner with some fluffy quinoa, a fresh tortilla, and some fresh radishes and greens from my garden. The next morning I ate it with a poached duck egg (a recent introduction to my diet, hooray!) and sauteed greens. Hearty breakfast, right? I was helping a friend move and needed something that would stick. I tried including a homemade tortilla from the night before, but it was all dry and nasty. Boo! I need a few more cracks at those tortillas before they are any good.
¡Ay, caramba! What's with me and all this Mexican-inspired food? Fajita hash, Mexican beans, and tortillas all in one week? This is super atypical for me, but I'm going to roll with it.
Mexican Azuki Beans with Epazote
yield 6 servings
I took inspiration from this recipe at Chow.com. Their recipe uses chorizo as part of the bean dish; if you desired a heartier, meaty dish you could definitely add the cooked chorizo to the mix toward the end of the cooking process. There is not really any substitute for epazote. If you don't have it, just increase the amount of other seasonings to make up for its absence.
2 cups dried azuki beans
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 cups water
2 large sprigs fresh epazote (or 2 tablespoons dried)
1 diced onion
2 diced carrots
2 diced celery stalks
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp Mexican oregano or marjoram
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
optional: cayenne pepper, to taste
sea salt or tamari to taste
Soak beans overnight in cold water to cover. Drain and rinse.
In a large soup pot, heat olive oil, then add cumin seeds and heat until fragrant. Add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and saute over medium heat until the vegetables become soft. then add beans, water, broth, and epazote. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook undisturbed for 1 1/2-2 hours, until beans are soft. Add salt/tamari in the last 10 minutes of cooking, adjusting seasoning to taste.
Serve beans hot with grains, vegetables, or in tortillas or wraps.