Capomo

Caffeine and I parted ways a number of years ago. I’m one of those people who can wake up, raring to go without any extra stimulus. But it is still nice to have a hot cup of something first thing in the morning. For years, it was Pero, the coffee substitute made from roasted grain. Every summer, when I make my annual trip north of the border, I bring back Pero. At least that was the plan until this year when covid upended everyone’s travel. I had tried capomo before, and didn’t really like it, but now I had no choice. Maybe I just bought a poor quality. Now I really like its mocha flavor with a hint of chocolate. I don’t miss Pero. In fact, I now prefer capomo.

Capomo is ground from a dried, tropical fruit in the fig family, Brosimum alicastrum, and makes a satisfying, hot morning beverage. It can also be served over ice and used in a variety of recipes, like smoothies, baked goods and ice cream.

Capomo is also known as breadnut or Maya nut, and by the Spanish name ramon, and the indigenous names ojite, ojushte, ujushte in Mexico, and ojoche in Costa Rica. It is not a true nut, but a drupe harvested from the Brosimum alicastrum tree, which grows in southern Mexico, in our state of Jalisco, and is also found in tropical regions of Central America and the Amazon. It is known throughout Mesoamerica as a nutritious food source, where it has been stewed and roasted by indigenous people for millennia.

Making a cup of capomo is as easy as making coffee. The ground, roasted “nut”, resembling ground coffee, can be simmered in water or steeped in a French press. I multi-tasked a milk foamer into a French press, as it has a very fine screen with a plunger. I’m not even a week into this, and I’m already looking forward to my morning capomo routine. A soothing way to start the day.

French Press Capomo

  • 2 cups (475 ml) water
  • 2 rounded tablespoons (25 g) capomo
  1. Add capomo to French press.
  2. Bring water to a boil.
  3. Pour water into French press and stir a few times.
  4. Put plunger on French press, but don’t press down. Allow to steep for 4 minutes.
  5. Slowly push plunger down.
  6. Pour capomo into cup, and add milk or sweetener of choice if desired.

Alternate methods: use a drip coffee maker; or add capomo to a tea ball and steep in hot water; or steep capomo in a saucepan of hot water, then strain. Use the same proportion of water to capomo as given for French press method, adjusting for the strength preferred.

Notes ​~

​~ I bought a 500 gram bag (just over one pound) of Caffiana Capomo from Pepe’s, our local tienda de abarrotes (grocery store) in Mascota, for 126 pesos, about $6.00 USD. Caffiana doesn’t have an internet presence, so it’s possible their market is local in Jalisco.

​~ If your local grocery store doesn’t carry capomo, order online in Mexico from Wayak Táanil, which also sells capomo flour for baking. Farmacia San Pablo, Chedraui supermarkets, City Market (Mexico City), natural food stores, and the Wayak Táanil office in Roma Norte, Mexico City, sell Wayak Táanil organic capomo. wayaktaanil.com

​~ Outside of Mexico, capomo can be ordered online.

Agua Fresca

I can’t count how many times we have sat down in a little restaurant in Mexico after shopping, errands, or just being tourists. Hot, dusty, and foot-tired, we are here for the day’s comida corrida, an inexpensive mid-day meal that is the closest thing to a Mexican home cooked meal, except a bill comes at the end. Nevermind that. We appreciate a basic, well prepared, three or four course lunch that invariably includes a cold pitcher of agua fresca. Maybe there will be a choice between two fruit flavors. Maybe no choice, and we are happy with whatever we get. 

Aguas frescas are nothing more than fresh, tropical fruit blended with water, and lightly sweetened. You can get fancy and use carbonated water for a bubbly version.  A copious amount of ice assures that the pitcher is running with condensation, leaving a wet spot on the tablecloth.

Common fruit options are papaya, piña (pineapple), sandia (watermelon) and naranja (orange), in which case it’s called a naranjadaLimón (lime) agua fresca is also common, which is a limonada. Guava would be good, too, but be sure to strain out the buckshot seeds. We always ask for ours with no sugar, or poco — a small amount. We are no match for the Mexican sweet tooth.

I used Archimedes’ Principle to get an exact proportion of three parts water to one part fruit by filling a quart measuring cup with 2 2/3 cup water, and dropping in chunks of fruit until the water level reached the four cup mark. A little tidbit of knowledge from science class too many years ago, and in this case, maybe precision carried to an unnecessary degree.

AGUA FRESCA

  • 1 part chopped, fresh fruit to 3 parts cold water 
  • Sweetened to taste with sugar or stevia, or not sweetened at all, if the fruit is sweet enough
  • Lots of ice
  1. Mix well in a blender with sweetener of choice until fruit is pureed.
  2. Strain. 
  3. Pour into an ice-filled glass. 

Proportions of water and fruit are up to you — more watery or more fruity, depending on your taste. Straining out the fruit pulp is optional. Add a bit of fresh ginger or mint to the blender, if you have them on hand, but if not, your agua fresca is more true to the refreshing beverage that accompanies an everyday comida corrida in Mexico.

Notes ~

~ If you use carbonated water, puree the fruit, adding a little bit of plain water if needed to get it moving in the blender. Strain, and add carbonated water.

~ If you are not adept at skinning a pineapple or papaya, here’s how to do it. For a papaya, cut off about 1/ 2″ (13 ml) off the top and bottom. Cut off the top of the pineapple about 1″ (26 ml) below the stalk and 1/2″ off the bottom. Stand fruit on end, and using a sharp serrated knife with a slight sawing motion, slice from top to bottom, removing a thin slice of peel. A serrated bread knife is good for this. Proceed all the way around. The thinnest slice will minimize waste. Cut the papaya in half lengthwise, and scoop out seeds. Cut the pineapple in quarters lengthwise and cut out core.

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Agua de Jamaica

Agua de jamaica is everywhere in Mexico — in almost every restaurant, offered by many street stands, in large, glass jars in the markets. The grocery stores sell jamaica (ha-MY-ka) by the bag-full, and bulk herb and grain stores sell it loose. It is always served cold with plenty of ice, and in Mexico it is also served overly sweet, like red liquid candy. If we order it with a meal, we only order one and a glass of ice water. A few tosses back and forth between the two glasses, and we have two ruby drinks that are half as sweet, but still refreshing.

If you order this colorful drink in Mexico, don’t ask for  de Jamaica, as I once did, only to be corrected. Ask for agua de jamaica. Apparently, a tea is a hot drink, and an agua (water) is served cold.

Known as hibiscus in English, and flor de jamaica in Mexico, jamaica is the herb that gives some Celestial Seasonings teas the bright red color and a slightly bitter flavor. If you drink Red Zinger tea, you are drinking tea infused with hibiscus.

The stronger the brew, the more noticeable the bitter flavor, which leads to more sugar added to mask the bitterness. This recipe uses less jamaica, but it needs less sugar because the bitterness is minimized. Iced jamaica tea can be mixed with fruit juice, like mango nectar, though I have never seen it served with juice in Mexico.

Hibiscus tea is made from one particular plant, Hibiscus sabdariffa. It doesn’t grow in our yard, but another hibiscus blooming outside (below) is just as red, though not for used for tea. The tea is not made from the petals, something I used to think until I learned that it is the part of the flower around the petals, the sepals, that are used for tea .

Jamaica Iced Tea — Agua de Jamaica

  1. Bring two cups of water to a boil.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of lightly packed jamaica/hibiscus.
  3. Turn off heat and brew for 3-5 minutes. Strain, discarding jamaica.
  4. Stir in 2 tablespoons of sugar or sweeten to taste.
  5. Add 2 cups of cold water or fruit juice.
  6. Pour over ice and serve.

Makes one quart.

Post Script: As my readers have reminded me in their comments below, this tea is also delightful without sugar.

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Champurrado, Drink of the Gods

If chocolate is considered food for the gods, champurrado, chocolate atole, must be their drink. February 2 is Día de la Candelaria when tamales and atole will be served. Las mujeres (the women) are already grinding cacao beans to make chocolate for champurrado. I’m taking the easy route, and using Ibarra chocolate, the sweet table chocolate used for making hot drinks.

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Russ and I were touring the colonial city of San Luis Potosí when we first encountered champurrado on a plaza in front of the city’s baroque cathedral. This has now been many years ago, but the memory has stayed with me. I can’t remember my first taste of chocolate candy or my first bite of a juicy peach — I was too young. But champurrado came into my life when I was old enough to fully appreciate and remember its smooth chocolate richness. I’m sure I immediately had a second cup. I hope I did.

And somewhere in the mountains, when we were still traversing Mexico with our vintage Avion trailer, we found atole strainers made of woven horse hair in a village market. The hand-woven mesh of dark hair was stretched across rough, hand-cut hoops of pinewood and tied onto the hoops with fibers, and meant to strain out the larger bits of masa. This was a handcraft we had never seen before, nor have we since. We bought three graduated sizes of strainers, but I never use them. They are appreciated as a craft from a by-gone era. (They are in the background of the top photo.) Cheap, plastic strainers are now in every Mexican kitchen, including mine, and that is what I use when making atole.

Día de la Candelaria marks the halfway point between winter solstice and Spring equinox. It is the day tamales are served to friends by the person who found the little doll in their piece of Rosca de Reyes, Three Kings Bread, last month on El Dia de los Reyes, which marks the end of the Christmas holidays. If your slice of rosca hid the baby doll, you’re about to host a tamales and atole fiesta this week.

I could have used whole cocao beans, ground with cinnamon, but I went the easy route. Someday I’ll try grinding beans with cinnamon, but in the meantime, it’s so easy to open a package of Ibbara tablets, and it’s how 99% of mujeres in Mexico are making champurrado.

cocao_beans

Champurrado 4 servings

  • 5 oz. (142 grams) fresh masa
  • 6 cups (1.5 liters) water
  • 3 discs Ibarra chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 pinch of salt
  1. Crumble masa into water and whisk well until dissolved.
  2. Strain through a sieve into a pot, discarding solids.
  3. Heat the masa liquid in a pan over medium heat and stir until thickened, about 8 minutes.
  4. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until chocolate is dissolved.
  5. Serve hot.

Notes:

Chocolate is made from seed pods of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). “Theobroma” means “food of the gods”. The Mayan people knew cacao had divine associations. It was used in their rituals and consumed in great quantities by the Aztec emperor Moctezuma.

Atole has sustained people of Mexico since pre-Columbian times. Taken as a nourishing gruel, it can be sweetened with piloncillo, an unrefined sugar, and sometimes fruit. For special fiestas, champurrado — chocolate atole — is served with tamales.

 

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Licuado de Nopal– Cactus in a Glass

Licuado de nopal, a cactus smoothie, has recently become my new favorite breakfast drink. I had it few years ago at nearby El Tigre Golf Club’s Sunday Brunch, and then promptly forgot all about it until I read about this green drink last week on Muy Bueno Cookbook. Their (always) gorgeous photos helped inspire me to make it, and it turned out awesome.

Muy Bueno Cookbook uses water in their recipe, though Yvette, the main MBC hermana, writes me that she is now using fruit in her daily drink. The first time I made it, I used cut-up watermelon, including the seeds, instead of water. The taste was delicious, but the color was murky green, so you will not see a photo of that version. Today I made it with freshly squeezed orange juice. Not only was it a beautiful, green color, it tasted refreshing.  Licuado de nopal  has become a part of  my morning routine. After drinking a glass this morning, I took a 30-minute power walk, something I used to do until a month ago when the morning chill and dark made me lazy. Now Chucha and I are walking again, right after my green refresher.

Licuado de Nopal serves 2

  • 2 medium-sized nopal pads, chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice or 1 cup cut-up watermelon or other fresh fruit
  • 2 mint leaves, optional, plus more for garnish
  1. Add all ingredients to blender and zizz until smooth.
  2. Pour over ice (optional) and add mint leaf for garnish.

Notes:

Nopales are the young, tender “paddle” leaves of Opuntia cactus, the common prickly pear cactus of Mexico and the American Southwest. They are eaten as a vegetable all over Mexico and are found in Mexican grocery stores in the US, as I learned last year when I visited Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Nopales are quite prickly to handle if the spines have not been removed, but if you buy them in a grocery store, they are already de-spined. We have a thriving prickly pear cactus in our yard (photo above, with an agave in the foreground), but I don’t harvest its pads. Every time I tried, I became a human pin cushion, my fingers stuck with impossible-to-see, minute spines. Mexicans must be born with the knowledge of how to de-spine prickly pear pads, but I lack this skill. I’m now content to buy them from the supermarket and leaving the handsome specimen in my yard untouched.

A bit of etymology and history: Nopal is from the Nahuatl word, nopalli, meaning pads.  An Aztec legend tells of finding a new homeland by looking for an eagle perched on a cactus, eating a snake. On this spot, Tenochtitlan (meaning place of nopal cactus), was settled, taking its name from nochtli, another Nahuatl word for nopal. Tenochtitlan is present day Mexico City, and this image of the eagle on the cactus is depicted on the Mexican flag.

If you live in a small Mexican town, like I do, you will find fresh nopal, de-spined and either whole or pre-cut, at your local carnicería, the meat market. I have no explanation for why they are sold at carnicerías and not in the produce section at the little, corner grocery stores. In large supermarkets, they will be in the produce section, where you will also find sugar, another puzzlement for me.

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