Charming and carminative

The traditional Mexican herb epazote adds flavor and subtracts gas

Epazote, you'll be happy to know, is an anthelmintic. Please tell me you had to look this up, too. (It has to do with purging intestinal worms.) It's also a carminative, which means it allegedly prevents the build-up of intestinal gas caused by eating beans. (Insert your own adolescent humor here.) Epazote, furthermore, is not the kind of herb you would grow in a polite herb garden with defined boundaries; it takes over, it smells of creosote to some (the name's Nahuatl roots refer to an animal with a rank smell, such as a skunk), and it's not pretty.

So much for its indelicate side. Variously called pigweed, goosefoot, wormseed, Jerusalem oak, and even Mexican tea, Chenopodium ambrosioides has its origins in Central and Southern Mexico and Central America, but it has extended its reach to every cracked sidewalk from Los Angeles to Manhattan. You may even have some in your backyard without knowing it. I regularly abuse my potted epazote by failing to water it, and it energizes its way back every time. This is good, for though dried epazote can be useful in cooked dishes, it is an herb generally best used fresh. Despite its increasing geographic range, it is little used in Northern or West Coast Mexico (or in this country, for that matter), but is much appreciated in its tierra de origin where its earthy, citrusy flavor pervades black bean dishes, among others

There's a recipe for simple chilaquiles with epazote in Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen. You to start with a batch of cooked tomato-chipotle sauce, either homemade or from a dependable bottle. Combine 2 cups of the sauce in a large skillet with 2 cups of broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable), 8 ounces of thick tortilla chips and, get this, a handful of fresh epazote leaves. Cover and simmer until the chips are beginning to soften, remove the lid and stir together. Serve with crumbled queso añejo or grated parmesan. It will be punchy.

Epazote has extended its reach to every cracked sidewalk from Los Angeles to Manhattan.
Epazote is an indispensable ingredient in quesadillas - the simple kind with only grated cheese and our oily weed for a filling. You could use pre-made tortillas but, at least this once, get some reliable masa (or, in a pinch, use masa harina) and make your own; tortilla presses are cheap, and masa is even cheaper. Grate a little Monterey Jack (just under an ounce per serving), and collect fresh epazote leaves to equal the number of 'dillas you intend to make. Assemble by sprinkling a portion of cheese on a raw tortilla, add the single epazote leaf, fold in half and pinch together; the resulting media luna is fried in deep fat until golden. Less daunting to dieters is the griddle method: Toast a raw tortilla until it just begins to loosen, add cheese and epazote to one half, fold over, continue toasting until the bottom is brown, flip to finish toasting, and that's it. Serve with very cold Mexican beer.

Even more traditional is the pot of black beans with epazote. Rinse two cups of dry beans in the usual manner, removing any stones that might appear; soak in water to cover (plus a little extra) for six or so hours, then drain. Put them in a pot with 6 cups of water, add a little lard or bacon fat if you wish, a good-size sprig of epazote, and some diced white onion. Cook slowly, partially covered, until the beans are tender, add salt, then - and only then - remove the epazote sprig and serve. With more Mexican beer; it cuts the creosote every time. •

Scroll to read more Flavor articles
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.