I developed a taste for authentic Mexican food when I had the opportunity to spend a year living in that culturally rich country. With encouragement from a close Mexican friend, families I spent time with, and vendors at the fabulous markets that I frequented, I returned home with some simple Mexican cooking skills, and the smell, taste and desire for all-food-Mexican deeply imbedded into my culinary palette.
Since I started growing food somewhat seriously, I don’t let a year pass without starting plants that take me back to that time, and when I would make my twice-weekly shopping excursion to the market near the Zocalo in Oaxaca. There, Oscar (an unlikely Mexican name), the vendor that I returned to week after week, would kindly pick out 3-4 avacadoes that would ensure I had a ripe one for each day until my next visit. Ready access to those avacadoes, jicama, mangoes, papaya, coconut, limes, large bundles of cilantro and epazote, fresh corn tortillas, endless varieties of chili peppers, dried black beans and tomatillos made up a good portion of my daily fare.
Living where I do (Zone 5) I cannot grow much of the food that I came to enjoy in Mexico, however I do manage to grow enough of my favorites each year to satisfy my hankering for a Mexican flavor hit on a regular basis. Tomatillos, and ancho, pasilla, guajill0, d’arbol, and jalapeno peppers are at the top of the list. Cilantro and epazote are next. And then, black beans.
Tomatillos, which I use for Salsa Verde, are easy to grow. So easy that you may never have to plant them again since the husk covered green fruit offers up volunteers quite readily if you let it drop in your garden bed. On the other hand, the peppers take a fair bit of nurturing to get going and keep going. They love the heat so our growing season will likely not be long enough if you don’t get them started indoors by then end of February. Cilantro and epazote are a must-have flavor in Mexican cooking…and they are easy to grow. Black beans, while easy to get started and to grow, will most likely have to be picked before they dry on the vines, and then hung in a dry place until the pods dry out and they are ready to be shelled and winnowed – making a lot of work at the end of a long season!
The amount of work involved in growing the beans is a factor I reconsider each year – particularly after I discovered that I could buy 50 lbs of organic black beans for $25.00 at one of my local food stores. In spite of my annual reconsideration I still like to grow them even though I complain a lot about the work involved. It has something to do with seeing those big glass jars filled to the brim with food that satisfies in many ways. Every time I want a feast of beans I celebrate them, and I do so with much greater fervor since I figured out that I don’t have to grow them every year.
Dried beans will keep well for 2 – 3 years in a cool, dark and dry place. Yes! This year I won’t be growing them, but everything else is well on its way in the greenhouse waiting for spring warmth and summer heat.
Hasta la vista!
NOTE: I use varying combinations of tomatillos, peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro and lime juice for my Salsa Verde. It changes from year to year. Try it – you’ll love it on just about everything!