Friday, September 25, 2015

Flor de Izote (Yucca) Blossoms Omelette

Flor de Izote (Yucca) Blossoms Omelette
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
In the last hot days of summer, a cool evening breeze sweeps across the region and starts signaling the beginning of fall and the change of seasons.  The arid countryside dresses in a festival of flowers in bright reds, oranges, lilacs and whites.  All over Mexico, the american southwest, and down towards Guatemala and El Salvador, one particular plant performs a spectacular show pointing towards the sky as if to appeal to the stars with a grandiose plumage of white flowers shaped like bells.  They make their way high on a plant of long, evergreen, pointy daggers that could very well function like swords.  It's a stark contrast of delicate flowers and firm, strong spears that have tips like needles.  

Izote (Yucca) Plant in Bloom
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
In México and all of Central America, it is called Flor de Izote or palma, but in the American Southwest it is called the yucca plant.  The general name yucca can apply to many species of trees and shrubs that are found mostly in the desert.  There are other common yuccas like the Mohave and the Joshua Tree, which can grow up to a majestic 60 feet high.  The izote or yucca plants will only bloom when there is pollination by the nocturnal moths which come out at night to feast on the nectar in the most perfect conditions.  

For hundreds of years, ancestral Mexican natives knew about the many uses for the flor de izote.  The green, dagger swords have been used for fiber in making mecate (rope), huaraches (sandals), mats, baskets and cloth.  The roots were cooked to make soap.  The fruits and blossoms were eaten raw or cooked as well as fermented to produce a beverage for sacred rituals. 

Rock Band U2 for The Joshua Tree Album Cover (1987)

When the famous rock band U2 (based out of Ireland), started to record their fifth studio album, which was released in 1987, they wanted to depict a theme  which would evoke a sense of location with spiritual imagery, ancestral open spaces, and the sacred land of the natives before any conquering.  Lead vocalist Bono’s travels to Mexico, Central and North America led him to eventually decide on the land bordering Mexico and California in the Mohave Desert.  For the band, the yucca plant or the joshua tree represented a plant that bloomed in the desert for a show of flowers once a year, yet at the same time it depicted freedoms and ideals, the rain, the dust and spiritual drought which they believed was in need of attention around the world.  They named their album The Joshua Tree in honor of the great ancestral desert plant which gave them the inspiration for many of the songs on their album.  It is a song that defines a restless spirit on the quest for sincerity and down home roots in lyrical ancestry.  It depicts a peaceful place in which there is nothing but sweet smelling earth and its not divided by races, governments, flags, streets or colors.  Its a place where everybody is one.    

These last summer days, if I came out at night I could see there were silvery moths flying around the yucca plants in my garden.  The plants had started to bloom and open their blossoms from the bottom up.  The breeze whispered softly and moved the petals and I could smell the perfume of the wet, soft earth.  Each morning, I came out to see even more blossoms had opened.  I left the plant to bloom for as long as possible. I wanted the moths to keep coming back for more nectar and do their work of pollination before I cut the blossoms to enjoy in a dish.    

The following is an old recipe for an egg dish that has been cooked traditionally during the last days of summer when the blossoms are available.  The blossoms are light and crunchy with an almost artichoke taste.  They’re very good raw in salads, cooked in soups, or sautéed in many dishes like guisos or moles.  They can even be lightly stir fried and served with a grilled dish like fish, chicken or steak.  

Flor de Izote (Yucca) Blossoms
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015 
Flor de Izote (yucca) Omelette 


10 to 20 Izote (yucca) blossoms)
1 jalapeño or serrano chile sliced
1/4 small onion or 1 spring onion sliced with the greens diced
2 eggs beaten
2 tbsp of water
1 green epazote leaf (optional), diced
1 tablespoon of Mexican crema
fresh cheese or Mexican queso fresco
Manchego cheese for grating on top
salt and pepper to taste

Remove the stems from the blossoms and wash in cold water, drip dry.  Beat the eggs with the water in a small bowl.  Heat enough oil to coat a 7 to 10 inch nonstick omelette pan over medium high heat.  Sauté the onions, sliced jalapeños or serranos and diced epazote leaf until wilted.  Pour in egg mixture and sprinkle the salt and pepper.  Mixture should set immediately at edges.  Drizzle the Mexican crema.  Gently push cooked portions from edges towards the center so that uncooked eggs can reach the hot pan surface.  Add the fresh cheese or queso fresco.  Cook on low heat until the top surface of eggs is thickened and no visible liquid remains.  Serve open on a large plate.  Add additional raw blossom petals and grate aged Spanish manchego cheese on top.  

Manchego cheese adds a buttery texture to the omellete.  It is a Spanish cheese that comes from the La Mancha region of Spain.  It is made from the milk of sheep of the manchega breed.  It is generally aged from 60 days up to two years.  It's so delicious sprinkled on the omelette.  Enjoy the omelette with a good cup of coffee, café de olla or even a chilled glass of champagne outdoors where you can feel the cool morning breeze.

Flor de Izote (Yucca) Blossoms
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015

Flor de Izote (Yucca) Blossoms
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

From Cooking to Brewing - Dark Chocolate Milk Stout

Dark Chocolate Milk Stout Craft Brew
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
Having a passion for cooking and an even greater passion for food almost always leads me to remember the healthy, hearty liquids that one might accompany with our meals and celebrations such as wine, champagne, spirits and beer, especially if they’re during memorable experiences.  There are others such as milk, tea, coffee, chocolate, fruit juices, etc.  But what lead me to another culinary adventure in the kitchen comes from old memories of an uncle that used to brew beer in México.  

My uncle had a big, bellowing belly that he proudly displayed unashamedly and wiggled like gelatin when he laughed or even coughed loudly, both were practiced religiously almost every other few minutes.  His snowy white hair and mustache were not always well kept, but he was an amusing raconteur.  He narrated the stories of his days working at a big brewery as well as other stories living on a big ranch.  

As a child, all I could imagine was him stirring a huge vat of mash (roasted grains) wearing a big dusty hat.  The vat is a huge container where crushed grain is mixed in with hot water and turned many times until it reaches a certain temperature.  Once the proper temperature is reached, it turns into wort that can be boiled, so that it can later ferment and become beer.  Then I would imagine him swimming in fermented beer and pouring beer into hundreds of little dark bottles that were perfumed with droplets of salty sweat mixing in with the beer as he capped the bottles.  He claims he put all the labels on the bottles by dipping the label in beer so that they would stick good to the bottle.  I guess beer is what beer does and I couldn’t help myself from shaping my imagination any better, as his way of telling the stories was always on the tall, tale side.

On one occasion we were invited to the annual beer festival which was held at the brewery.  We were warned by my mother that there might be some "unusual" odors due to the fermented beer.  Upon arrival, I was delighted by the smell of beer but I was shocked to find that there wasn’t a big swimming pool full of beer, nor was there a big slide to slide on that that made cottony foam in the pool.  All day prior to arriving, I was looking forward to sliding with my head first down.  There were hug vats containing mash and others that contained large amounts of beer ready for bottling.  My uncle tried to amend my disappointment of the absence of the pool full of beer, by letting me jump on the mountain of grain that was sitting there ready for roasting to start the next batch. 

Everyone present for the celebration sampled the beer and as the eating, and the dancing, and the accordeon music went on, so did the drinking.  In those days it was always a live ensemble band and especially in the northern part of the country, the accordion was a big feature.  The drinking did not exclude the little ones.  So, I guess I must have drank at least one full bottle of a dark, black beer that smelled like coffee and dirt.  I must have drank at least three drops of my uncles sweat in that bottle.  I don’t remember my age, but I remember I spilled beer on my white dress and socks.

Boiling the final extract for a Dark Chocolate Milk Stout
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
In my own kitchen I began the process of brewing beer.  I guess it all began with those delightful memories of my childhood.  My father always believed that a good beer was like good bread.  It will never allow you to thirst or starve.  My mother being a good cook, believed in the process of fermentation and in good, hardy marination with beer which she called “ranch style”.  The grill was constantly loaded with all sorts of good cuts of meat having previously been marinated with herbs, spices and beer.  Corn that was grown right there was also grilled.  Life was good at the ranch, and the beer is still flowing.  

Now, in my own kitchen I ventured from cooking to brewing.  For this batch I made an artisanal recipe that I acquired from the Northern Brewer.  It’s a traditional chocolate milk stout that has been brewed with lactose sugar.  The lactose will not ferment by the yeast but it adds an incredible creamy, milky, rich velvety sweetness.  On it’s secondary fermentation, I added bold, dark, pure exotic cacao.  I did not use the cacao seeds from the pods directly, but it was in ground form.  The cacao smells wonderful when it is being mixed in with the beer.  Once bottled, the final conditioning takes quite a long time.  It will be many weeks but the outcome is delicate, chocolatey, dark, with a hint of earthy coffee.

When finally at it’s perfect ripeness, the beer is poured, it explodes an earthy aroma.  It laces the glass with a rich espresso color and soft creamy foam with a hint of caramel forms thick at the top.  I think I did just fine, and I have my uncle to thank for instilling in me the love of craft beer.  Sadly, he passed away on his ranch in Hacienda San Jose, in August of 2013.  His name was Eustolio Alanis, and we lovingly called him “Tio Toto”.       

Bottling the brew after several weeks of fermentation.
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015