Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I needed some relief for a very gray mindset today, and found rejuvenation among our little green things occupying Bucketville (our backyard filled with repurposed 5 gallon buckets).
The other day, a trip to Lowe's found us with a few herbal additions (funny how that works :)), and one that I found was the plant Culantro. I'd never heard of it till recently, but I'm glad I found it.
It can be used the same way cilantro/coriander is, but it is has a stronger flavor and long, broad leaves. It can thrive in places cilantro might not, and does well in the heat, and even better in partial shade.
In looking up its benefits, I was delighted to find that it is traditionally used in some cultures as a tea for flu, diabetes, and stomach ailments, and it is a primary ingredient used in the cooking base known as sofrito.
I'm also not familiar with sofrito, but in reading about it, something clicked and rang a very persistent bell in my head...it's a Caribbean/Latin mix of minced or sauteed vegetables that is the footprint for many dishes. Being able to adequately season such dishes as beans or rice (we don't eat a lot of rice, really) and such has eluded me since straying away from preservatives and mixes with MSG and chemicals in them. Most seasoning packets I once relied on for flavor in very basic foods have been bypassed now for some time, but aside from onions, garlic, and cumin, those other flavors I love in basic dishes such as savory bean and meat combination dishes have eluded my attempts to reproduce.
And in looking up culantro, I think I found the perfect traditional key to any number of meat and bean, as well as veggie meals...yay! I'm trying to incorporate more bean meals into our diets due to the likelihood we'll be falling back on them as a staple in days to come, as we try more and more to eat what we grow ourselves, and to buy less and less from the store.
Beans, in our climate, are a natural to grow. If you've followed this blog very long, you'll know about our decision to not plant out plants that will be harvested this year. The strain of waiting a full year...the prolonged suspense..is like having a winter with seed catalogs that stretches out for months and months...and months :) But we are potting some herbs, and caring for plants we'd already gotten. We're also acquiring medicinal herbs, too.
Back to the sofrito. Here are some articles I read, complete with recipes, for this signature staple. What basil is to pesto, culantro is to sofrito. For those who have no access to culantro, cilantro would be an acceptable substitute, but not as strong. Sofrito seems to be a wonderful marriage of garlic, culantro/cilantro, peppers, and any number of other ingredients that can be personalized and guarded by the cook, a prized "secret signature" mixture kept in the family as the base of so many dishes, as you'll see in some of these articles:
So, when those peppers and onions start becoming plentiful, you might try some making some sofrito in addition to those sauces and soups and chutneys and salsas and relishes! It can be whirred together easily in a food processor and frozen in ice cube trays for savor all throughout the year :)
We'll be trying it on beans...once my little baby plant grows up a little.
Till then, I'll pinch a leaf and enjoy the scent, and close my eyes and forget all anvils...