From Oaxaca with Love, my favorite Seedy Salsa

8 Jul

It’s recipe time- back by popular demand! Okay, really I just got one request, but I aim to please, folks. It turns out that a chef that cooks Mexican food in Gothenburg, Sweden, got turned on to my Oaxacan mother-in-law’s refried bean recipe via my ex-roommate Jeremy from Indiana who’s currently residing in Sweden. (I love this interconnected universe!) So in honor of fabulous roommates now residing in other places, I bring you more delights from small-town Oaxaca.

I’m showcasing one of my favorite salsa this time, partly to share with you lovelies who haven’t been to Mexico an important lesson about Mexican salsa: it’s not all this tomato-jalapeño business like you get with your chips in those “authentic” Mexican restaurants in the U.S. (Shocking, I know.) It’s not even all spicy, although there are usually peppers of some kind involved. Salsa just means sauce- you know, something to add flavor to food. It is a great way to serve more or less the same food about 10 different ways; just change the salsa.

The problem with sharing many of the best Oaxacan recipes is that many of the ingredients are not exported items. You just can’t find chepiles in Kentucky. I’d bet there aren’t any guajes in Sweden, either. With that in mind, this salsa is for the lovely folks of Gothenburg, since I hope you can find these ingredients there.

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Guajes grow on a tree and you eat the softish seeds on the inside of the pod. It’s easy to open the pods, making for convenient snackfood if you have a tree around. (You’re jealous, aren’t you? My guaje tree is better than your convenience store.) You can also make salsa from it, of course.

chepil2

Chepiles- perhaps my favorite food to eat in tamales… They cook down when heated like spinach but are so tender in their flavor. (Don’t let this picture fool you- they aren’t eaten raw.)

This salsa is made out of what we call semillas. Even though semilla is just the generic word for seed, this is the most common snack-food seed in Southern Oaxaca: the seed of calabaza. Calabaza means something like pumpkin or squash. Soft, small summery squash, though, is called calabacita (little squash). You can use the seeds of any hard gourd/squash- acorn squash, butternut squash, any squash or pumpkin with hard seeds.

These seeds are also really good for you, by the way; they’re full of iron, among other things.

Here are some examples of our calabazas (ambigious pumpkin/squash goodness):

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softer but still not very soft squash “calabaza”

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harder, winter-ish squash “calabaza”

semillas

more cheap and delicious convenience food- semillas!

Here, you can just go buy a bag of already-roasted semillas for 5 pesos (pretty cheap).If you can’t buy roasted seeds, it’s pretty easy to roast them yourself. Just separate them from the fleshy part of the squash as best you can- it doesn’t have to be completely separated because the rest will come off easily when they’re dry. Here, they get put directly on the comal (griddle), like so many foods. (Ovens aren’t commonly used unless you’re producing a bunch of bread or something.) A frying pan will do if you don’t have a griddle. Alternatively, you can roast them in the oven.

Space the seeds out a little on your griddle or oven pan so that they’re not on top of each other. Add some salt and toast them (over low heat on the griddle) or roast them in the oven (at 400 degrees Fahrenheit / 200 Celcius) until they’re browned on the outside, turning occasionally. The smaller the seed, the faster they’ll roast.

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Tortillas roasting over a traditional comal

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This is more like the comals used on an inside stove, which goes right over 2 burners on the stove. Getting a fire started is okay on a special occassion, but mostly I’m grateful I don’t have to do it every day.

 

If you want seeds just for snacking, you can also add a little oil and some spices before roasting. I really like mine with some cumin and cayenne pepper (my recipe from back when I used to have to roast them myself, bwahahaha). You can eat them with the shells and all; they’re delicious and nutritious. It’s good to prepare them anytime you are using a squash with edible seeds- less food waste and more healthful snacking for you.

Here’s the recipe for Salsa de Semillas (by Paulina, my badass, feminist, Oaxacan mother-in-law who shows lots of love via what she cooks for us):

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Paulina and me on the coast during my first visit, before she was my mother in law

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Paulina showed me how to make salsa in the traditional molcajete on my first visit to Mexico

It’s not meant to be spicy, so if it’s hot for you, use fewer chili peppers.

Ingredients

1 cup roasted semillas (approximately)

10 dry, red, medium-to-low-spicy-level chili peppers- chile costeño is what is used here, but it’s hard to come by outside of here. You can substitute maybe 8-9 chiles del arbol mixed with 1 chile guajillo.

1 (medium to large) or 2 (small) cloves garlic

3 leaves of Pitiona (optional) (apparently known as Bushy Matgrass in English)- If you don’t have this, don’t worry.

water

salt to taste

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chile costeño

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Pitiona, a common herb used in cooking and natural remedies here (Sorry, guys, this probably doesn’t grow in your backyard, either.)

Preparation

Step 1: Roast the seeds, as described above, if you are not buying pre-roasted semillas.

Step 2: Roast the chili peppers.

Roast the chiles on a dry griddle or frying pan on low-medium heat, similar to how you roasted the seeds. It only takes a few minutes, though, and you need to move them around on the pan every minute or two. It’s okay if they get blackened a bit, but you don’t want them crispy. You also don’t want tons of smoke from them filling up your house, so keep the heat fairly low and don’t let them get too burnt (and open a window). When they are a little black on each side (more or less- you don’t have to turn them over one by one), put them into some water to soak for about 15 minutes (longer is okay, too, but not necessary- you just want to soften them up for blending).

Step 3: Combine ingredients.

Put seeds, chili peppers, garlic and (if available) pitiona in a blender or food processer. You can also use the traditional mortal and pestle if you prefer (if you are working on your arm muscles, for example). Add a little bit of water to help the blender grind it up, and then add more to make it liquidy. Be careful, though. There is no exact amount of water, but add little bits at a time to get the right consistency. You want your salsa to be thinner than a normal paste but not watery like ketchup or something. It should be somewhere in between. Add salt if needed (depending on how salty your semillas already are).

That’s all! You can enjoy your salsa on any food. We especially love it on eggs and beans (my family’s common breakfast), but it can go on all kinds of stuff: rice, cauliflower- anything that needs a bit of pizzazz.

If you try this salsa, let me know! I want to keep my mother-in-law updated on her worldwide fame in the kitchen. Take care and buen provecho.

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It should look more or less like this.

P.S. Sorry, y’all, but all the photos are from Google and not me, except for the plastic bag full of semillas and the pics of Paulina and me. I’ll try to do better next time. xoxox

3 Responses to “From Oaxaca with Love, my favorite Seedy Salsa”

  1. Bunny Eats Design July 11, 2016 at 1:10 am #

    Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of a home made meal by a Mexican bartender who loves food. She used these dried chillis and the flavour was incredible. I must ask her where she got them from. Hopefully she got them from our country and not from back home!

    This post would make a great addition to Our Growing Edge, a monthly blog link up just for new food adventures. It’s a fun way to share your new food experiences with other foodies. This month’s theme is TRAVEL which includes any recipe or food experience inspired by travel.

    More info including how to submit your link here: http://bunnyeatsdesign.com/our-growing-edge/

    • exiletomexico July 11, 2016 at 8:19 am #

      Hi! Thanks for reading and thank you for the information! I will look into submitting it.
      Did the bartender use chile costeño or chile del arbol? I would be soo amazed if you found chile costeño; I never even see it in the states.
      It’s great to hear from other food lovers! Let me know if you make this recipe.

      • Bunny Eats Design July 11, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

        Oh I have no idea which one she used. I should ask her to give up her secrets.

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