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Posts Tagged ‘tortas’

herbs

 

The other morning Steve and I got to chatting about Mexican food with our waiter, Ivan, at our favorite local diner, Café 82 on Broadway and 82nd Street.  Ivan is from Moreles and when I began asking him something about tacos and tortas, he whipped out his cell phone and starting showing me photos as he explained how his mother (who, he said “sold food for 20 years”) made his favorite dishes.  Then, it turned out that Ivan had been in the restaurant business in his home state before making his way to New York City so we had plenty to talk about.  Fortunately for us it was a slow morning so he could talk for a bit.

As Ivan talked, my egg white omelet gelled on the plate as I yearned for some of the deliciousness that he described.  When he got to cemitas, a typical Mexican sandwich made with “Milanesa” (you got it, just as it sounds a chicken cutlet breaded and fried as for the Italian veal cutlet Milanese) Ivan gave us the filling – Milanesa, sliced avocado, jalapeños, red onion, queso, tomato or pico de gallo, and papalo piled on a cemita sesame roll.  I got everything except the papalo.  I had never heard of it.

That was all Ivan needed to hear.  “Tomorrow I will bring you papalo and pipicha (showing each in photos on his cell phone) from my supermarket in Queens” (a borough of New York City).  Now he really had me – pipicha, what was that?  “Very strong herb” said Ivan, as he assured me that I would like it once I tried it.

True to his word, the next morning Ivan handed me a shopping bag that was emitting an aroma that was a mix of the laundromat, wet towels, cilantro, lemon rind, a weeded garden in the rain….it was, in fact, indescribable.  It was papalo and pipicha.  Papalo was very pretty; it looked a bit like soft green watercress.  Pipicha looked tall and weedy – just like something a gardener would like to get rid of.  My bill for my bag of herbs was $2.75 – certainly could tell we weren’t shopping in Manhattan.

We were having friends in for dinner so I made a pureed bean soup as a first course, seasoning it with just a few sprigs of the pipicha and then I garnished the bowls with papalo.  Let me tell you, the pipicha gave the soup a really indefinable flavor that caught everyone’s attention as they tried to guess what I had put in the soup.  The papalo leaves created a great conversation point.

The next day we used the papalo to give “authentic” flavor to some burritos that I cobbled together for dinner.  Haven’t quite figured out how to use the bundle of pipicha yet – it is pretty strong. But the best thing that came from our conversation with Ivan was the promise that his wife would spend a day in the kitchen with me.  I can’t wait!

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