Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Epazote and Esquites!

I walked for hours and hours. Ok not really hours, but at least 45 minutes. Store to store, Associated, Met, Trade Fair, a who's who of ghetto grocers. I went from the big stores, to corner bodegas, the Mexican Bakeries, and I couldn't find it. Epazote, the herb that I needed for dinner. It was a sunny Monday afternoon, my first day outside and on my feet after a very long, rainy week where I sat on the couch, watched bad tv, and coughed my way through the days. I wanted esquites for dinner. We had already bought the corn and the limes at Mango Rico, the chile powder and the cheese at Tulcingo Bakery. But could not find the one thing that makes the dish what it is. Now many people nowadays know and love Mexican style street corn. What's not to love? Boiled or grilled corn, slathered in mayo, sprinkled with sharp cotija cheese, a dusting of spicy chile powder, a squirt of lime, pierced with a stick for ease of eating, it is probably one of the most perfect street food inventions. I, who do not enjoy mayonnaise in general, make an exception for these elotes, as they are called in Mexico. But what many people may not realize who are not lucky enough to pass a street-corn vendor as often as they should, is that there is another dish, often sold by the same women, that is, dare I say, even better than an elote, and that is esquites. Take that same corn, peel it off of the cob, and simmer it with water and a few sprigs of epazote until tender, a touch of butter if you would like. The broth becomes full of the essence of corn, rich and sweet. Pour the corn and some broth into a bowl or cup, usually styrofoam in these parts, and then it gets a squeeze of lime, a hearty shake of cotija cheese, lots of chile, and a spoonful of mayonnaise (which I usually omit, as I do have a mayo phobia). Same exact ingredients, but it is a whole different level. I think it's the broth. Or perhaps because you don't have to work as hard to eat it as its sister on the cob. Who knows? I am a huge fan. So, back to the story. No epazote at Mango Rico, none at our local Associated, all blocks away from our house. We went home, dropped the rest of the ingredients off, and I went out solo to search the streets of Queens. It's always around when I don't want it, why can't I find it now? I crossed Roosevelt Avenue, and stepped into every grocery store that I passed. No, we don't have any, next. Four, five, six stores later, I had just about given up. Apparently there was a shipment of epazote coming into every single store tomorrow. I called Jose, frustrated. Can't you just make it without it? He refused. It would not be the same, he says. Did I need to re-think and re-shop dinner? I had already walked circles and decided to head home a different route. Seven stores, eight, nine, still nothing. I was a block away from the house when I decided to pop into Tulcingo, where we had bought the cheese and chile powder, just in case. That was when I spotted it, a wet plastic bag full of the stinky herb hiding among the cilantro. They had no idea why the crazy white girl had a huge grin on her face while carrying a bag of epazote up to the register. Elated, ecstatic, I didn't care, dinner was saved! Sure I felt kind of like an idiot, but I needed the exercise after a week of couch potato-ing it up. I returned trimphantly to the house, handed the bag over, and sat back while the master put the corn on to boil. Nothing like a little adventure to build an appetite. I couldn't have been prouder if I had grown it myself.


  1. The same question is addressed on our blog at

    What both blogs are trying to say is that you can do this at home even if you're afraid to pronounce the names of the ingredients.

  2. P.S. Here in Mexico, it is not a fork we find in our roads, it is a knife. "Un cuchillo en el camino", we say. Perhaps somewhere they find spoons, who knows?