If you're like most diners who occasionally enjoy a great meal at one of your local Mexican restaurants, you already know that chili powder, chipotle, and cumin are regular standby spices in traditional south-of-the-border cuisine. However, top-quality Mexican food offers a widely varied flavor profile that uses many ingredients than a great deal of people are not familiar with. Following are just five of the many great herbs used in Mexican cooking.
Papalo tastes like a lively, more pungent version of cilantro and dates back to pre-colonial times. It's sprinkled and shredded into salads, blended into guacamole, and included in tacos, tamales, and cemitas. Its taste becomes more pungent the longer it's allowed to ripen -- many people prefer it when it's picked when leaves are still young and fresh.
Resembling rosemary in appearance with small, pale colored succulent leaves, Romerita nonetheless tastes like a slightly earthier version of spinach. It's traditionally served with shrimp and other types of shellfish and is often reserved for holiday feasting. Hierba de conejo Featuring heart-shaped leaves and a tender, musky taste, hierba de conejo is frequently used in meat tamales and moles. It's strong taste is reminiscent of a cross between mint and eucalyptus. Successful use of this herb requires a light touch -- otherwise, its flavor may overwhelm that of other ingredients.
Chepil is particularly important in Mexican cuisine because of its drought resistant properties -- it's often one of the few things left in the herb garden after a period of low precipitation and little extra household water for keeping vegetation hydrated -- even though it comes from a plant that grows up to six feet tall. Its tiny, tender leaves taste like green beans and are frequently used to enhance rice dishes. Chepil is also used in a renowned Oaxacan dish, tamales de chepil that is frequently served at community and regional celebrations and other festive occasions.
Commonly known as wormseed, epazote is usually harvested from the wild rather than cultivated in home or commercial gardens. Many Mexican cooks consider episode essential in crafting a perfect pot of black beans. It's also a popular ingredient in mushroom quesadillas. Its small, serrated leaves feature a strong, pungent taste with deep floral notes, and, like hierba de conejo, require a light hand in the kitchen. Use of Epazote dates back to Aztec times.
Keep these ingredients in mind next time you visit a Mexican restaurant near Tucson Arizona.