On a recent trip to Los Cabos San Jose in Mexico, I visited an organic farm and restaurant which featured many herbs in their food. Getting to the Huerta de Los Tamarindos (The Orchard of the Tamarinds) organic restaurant was an experience, as we had to drive on a bumpy dirt road, which was apparently a dry riverbed. From dirt to a beautiful, verdant farm with a restaurant overlooking the acres of plants: vegetables, herbs, flowers, trees and animals freely roaming in a nearby field.
Chef Gabriel Castillo met us upon our arrival to give us a tour of the farm. Many crops were planted on raised soil in long rows. I was very surprised to see a row of spearmint growing in the ground. Chef Gabriel said that they harvest herbs so often that there is no danger of mint spreading.
The most interesting herb was the Hoja Santa leaf. A large, heart-shaped leaf used in seasoning, wrapping tamales, making sauces and drinks. The herb tasted like anise, sassafras and black pepper, though its flavor is difficult to describe. Chef Gabriel used the leaf, instead of flour, to make the base for a tasty, crunchy pizza. A true gluten-free food.
Hoja Santa (Piper auritum) is a perennial that can grow to over 6 feet in height, and can take over the garden if not pruned on a regular basis. It is also called Mexican pepperleaf, or root beer plant. Apparently, the herb can be grown in certain parts of California, Texas, and Florida, but there is not a whole lot of information available. Meanwhile, it is best to enjoy this complex herb if you happen to be in the Baja peninsula or other parts of Central America.
With permission from Chef Gabriel, here is a recipe for Herb Oil that he used frequently in food preparation. You probably have all the herbs in your garden, if not, you may consider growing them in the spring.
(Pictures: Chef Gabriel holding pizza and leaves of Hoja Santa ).
From the kitchen of Los Tamarindos Organic Restaurant, Animas Bajas, San Jose del Cabo:
- 2 oz of rosemary
- 2 oz of thyme
- 2 oz of sage
- 2 oz of marjoram
- 2 oz of basil
- 2 oz of oregano
- 2 garlic heads, minced
- 1 qt extra virgin olive oil
- 1 qt sunflower oil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Remove all the leaves of the herbs and mince them. Mix all the ingredients and place in a large container. Store in a cool, dark place.
What a wonderful way to incorporate common herbs. The herb oil can be used in many ways that you may find it a good substitute for plain oil. Try it by sprinkling a few teaspoons on freshly popped corn. Super tasty.