Friday, March 15, 2013

La Licuadora

This was our very first purchase in Mexico because without it you can't cook much around here.  In fact, if suddenly there were no more blenders in the country, I think everyone would starve to death.  Whether you're making salsas or moles or margaritas you need one of these.  And, unlike in America, you don't just discard it and buy another if it breaks.  There are fix-it shops here that exist just to keep your blender alive.

In every market there are stands that sell nothing but blended fruit and vegetable drinks.  You can also buy them pre-made and concentrated like from this stand which specializes in drinks made from grains.  Here you can buy barley drink or rice drink or oatmeal drink.  I always wondered why there were large packets of oatmeal in the supermarket when I'd never seen oatmeal on a breakfast menu.  Turns out you whiz it up in the blender with some milk or water and feed it to the kids.  It's considered very healthy -  probably is.  By the way, I bought a bottle of the barley concentrate but no matter how much I diluted the stuff it was still teeth-achingly sweet.

Here are some of the more unusual fruits and vegetable that get made into drinks.

This is the fruit of the cashew tree.  You can see the actual nut part on the end of the fruit.  Unfortunately, there is a toxic oil related to the same irritant found in poison ivy that exists between the hull and the kernel of the cashew which makes it inedible.  In fact, until a safe way was found to extract the nut (which involves soaking and roasting them to render them harmless) people used to eat the fruit and throw away the nut.  Cashew fruit has a very short shelf life so now it's the other way round.

The fruit is still very popular here and is in season now.  Blended it becomes this lovely pale pink color although, to my taste, it had a slightly astringent quality which reminded me of an unripened persimmon.

Although cashew fruit didn't win me over this did.  This is chaya, a plant native to the Yucatan and the only leafy green (other than lettuce) that you will find in the market.  The English name is tree spinach.  At first I didn't know what to do with it.  And when I checked on line I was warned repeatedly not to eat it since it contains cyanide and must be boiled for at least twenty minutes - or ten minutes - or two minutes - depending on what post you read.  I tried boiling it for twenty minutes hoping for something akin to Swiss chard but it was pretty dreary.  Here people use it two ways.  First as a wrapping for tamales but most of the time as a drink blended raw with pineapple called chaya con piña . 

I figured that everyone here is still walking around after drinking it on a regular basis so I bought a bottle at the restaurant around the corner and it was so refreshing and tasty I am now a fan.  I've also been told that it gives you a slight buzz which Bruce thinks is probably due to the alkaloids in the plant. 

This is called pepino kat.  Which translates as pepino (cucumber)  kat  (something in Maya).  So I don't know what it would be called in English or Latin or even Spanish.  The man who sold it to me told me to peel it and put it in the licuadora and that it was good for the kidneys.  It seems you can pretty much turn anything into a drink.  I've even had one made from the seeds and stringy bits inside of a cantaloupe.  Zap them up with water; let sit for twenty minutes; strain and quaff.

Bruce came back from his hunt for a hammock at the market and said he'd seen a woman selling bits she'd hacked off of an animal's head with horns.  We examined this photo he'd taken carefully and I guessed it was some kind of plant.  I went back to the market and found her and she confirmed that, yes, it was the root of a plant called cabeza di chivo (goat's head).  You take a hunk and boil it in a litre of water for five minutes until it turns blue and then you drink it.  Once again, it's good for the kidneys.  I asked her how much it cost and she said if I just wanted a small piece she'd give it to me.  I know this doesn't involve the blender but I had to put it in since it was so fascinating.  I went home and googled my head off but couldn't find an answer as to what it might be.  The Spanish entries said the plant was native to Puebla and I found a reference in English to something called a kidney tree so maybe that's it.  If anyone can figure out what it looks like growing, let me know.

But as much fun as the blender beverages are, here are bushels of my favorite daily Mexican drink.  We can buy a sack of these local oranges for 60 pesos - that's around $4.50 U.S. - and drink lashings of fresh squeezed OJ every morning.  Viva Mexico!