In Pittsburgh, there are only two Mexican grocery stores–Reyna Foods and Las Palmas. Reyna Foods has been around for some time and caters mainly to the American crowd. It carries mainstream Mexican brands, such as Goya and Herdez. Las Palmas is a newer, family-run group of four supermarkets/carnicerías spread throughout the city. It is principally frequented by Mexican/Latin American customers and carries an abundance of fresh Mexican produce, as well as harder to find products like queso Oaxaca and piloncillo.
This summer, while I was shopping at Las Palmas, I ran into two women that decided to stop in just to see what this neighborhood grocery store had to offer. They saw Roberto and me buying various Mexican ingredients such as jícama, tunas, and dried chiles and stopped us to ask how we planned to use each ingredient. We struck up a conversation with them and started explaining how each item could be used. They were very excited at the possibility of new ingredients and thanked us for the help.
So, I thought it might be interesting to detail a typical Mexican ingredient each month and then provide a sampling of recipes that demonstrate how to use it–1) a recipe that shows a typical, classic, or traditional use 2) a recipe that is inspired by the ingredient and has Mexican roots 3) a new-age recipe that fuses Mexican and U.S. cultures. This will be a little experiment for me, so we’ll see how it goes.
I decided to start off with one of my favorite Mexican ingredients of all time–flor de jamaica. Flor de jamaica is a type of hibiscus flower that is sold dry like in the picture above. It is usually boiled to rehydrate it and releases a beautiful ruby red color.
Flor de jamaica has many health benefits. It is said to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol and aids the digestive and immune systems. It is also said to have anti-inflammatory properties. It is a diuretic that is high in vitamin C and helps to speed up metabolism.
Its flavor is reminiscent of cranberries, and in fact the first time I ever tried it, I thought I was drinking a delicious cranberry juice. Flor de jamaica can be found at almost any Mexican grocery store for a relatively cheap price. It is also sold as a tea in many larger grocery stores. If you cannot find it at either of those locations, you can buy it online here.
Have you ever wondered how to use a certain ingredient?