In the Little Stalls Behind Canino's: Fresh Chepil

If you're going to Canino's anytime soon, check out the unique Mexican herbs on sale in the little stalls out back. I bought some fresh chepil last time I was there. I first learned about chepil when I took cooking lessons at Seasons of My Heart Cooking School in Oaxaca. We used the herb in a soup called sopa de guia, which is made with huiche squash.

The soup includes the squash, the small, tender leaves of the squash plant, peeled and chopped stalks of the plant, and the chepil, which grows like a weed in the squash fields. After the mixture has boiled awhile, you add some squash blossoms. The chepil gives the broth a spinach-like flavor and color; the stalk retains a little crunch like celery; and the squash and blossoms lend a delicate, slightly sweet quality. It tastes like you're eating the entire squash plant and everything else edible in the surrounding field. "Sometimes the Zapotecs added caterpillars to their sopa de guia too," the cooking instructor, Susanna Trilling, told me. Modern recipes for sopa de guia also include onions and garlic.

I'm working on a Houston sopa de guia recipe, and I'll let you know how it comes out. Chepil is also used as a traditional flavoring in a pot of green rice, as an herb with sautéed squash, and in the famous Oaxacan green tamales de chepil.

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