Welcome to a new series on cooking with farmers. Not just farmers but also the farmstand workers who patiently calculate your erratic “one bunch of this/two of that” weekly tab. And the guy you've likely never seen because he's stationed in the back of a truck, trying not to smash the basil as he sorts through 30-pound palettes of heirloom tomatoes for a crew of awaiting chefs.
All are people who know what to really do with an overabundance of summer squash, a few too many peaches and, yeah, that crosnes impulse buy. Because they often go home with the produce we don't buy, if they're lucky. They're also incredibly busy, often up before daylight, so their recipes reflect a practical hunger for a really great supper.
As summer is ideal time for things, quite literally, to grow like weeds, we begin with Susana Leyva, Coastal Organics' Santa Monica Farmers Market stand representative (most Wednesdays and Saturdays) on epazote (or lamb's quarters — she uses them interchangeably as both are similar weeds; Coastal Organics grows the latter). And her frijoles de la olla (beans cooked in a clay pot) recipe.
In the kitchen, some call epazote a “controversial herb” in terms of flavor, with a love-hate quality similar to cilantro. In the gardening world, epazote has a reputation as one of those “invasive” weed types. But Leyva calls it her “absolute favorite” ingredient to cook with. “You can do so many things with it, people don't realize that,” she says, talking almost as quickly as she counts out change. “I use it in everything.”
“Everything” to Leyva, who grew up in Mexico City, means sautéed in a little oil with onions, used as a quesadilla filling with zucchini blossoms, or added to simmering pots of beans, scrambled eggs or omelets. “My dad used to send us down the street to get milk — they'd be milking the cows right there,” she says. “We'd come home and he'd tell us to pick some epazote from the yard. We'd cook it with eggs for breakfast, it was so good, so simple. We really need to do more of that for our kids today.”
And so we bring you Leyva's frijoles de la olla recipe, a traditional dish of beans simmered with a little onion in a clay pot or Dutch oven. Classic recipes call for adding a meager few sprigs of fresh epazote with the onions, but Leyva insists on using “much more than a little.” (These days, she often subs the farm's lamb's quarters.) Hey, if we were taking home an extra bunch or two from the farmers market every week, we'd probably do the same.
Jalapeños, she reminds us, are also on her essential ingredient list (in fresh, dried or smoked chipotle form). But like the epazote, you can vary the amount to taste. “You know me, I love jalapeños, so I always add some, too,” says Leyva, grinning and — of course — handing over a bunch of lamb's quarters.
Note: An earlier version of this article mislabeled the lamb's quarters in the photos as epazote.
Frijoles de la Olla
Makes: 5 to 6 cups
Adapted from: Susana Leyva of Coastal Organics
Note: You can make this in a traditional olla (earthenware pot) or use a Dutch oven. Classic recipes call for as little as 1 to 2 sprigs of epazote, but Leyva prefers to make the green the highlight of this dish.
1 16-ounce bag (a generous 2 cups) dry pinto or black beans, sorted, drained and rinsed
1 onion, diced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and diced, or to taste
½ cup epazote or lamb's quarter leaves, or to taste, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lard, bacon drippings or vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Soak the beans in 6 cups of water overnight. Or, quick-soak by boiling the beans for one minute, removing from the heat and allowing them to stand, covered, for 1 hour.
2. Drain the beans and place them in an olla or Dutch oven with 7 cups water, onion, jalapeño, epazote and the lard, bacon drippings or vegetable oil. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are just beginning to soften (begin checking after 1 hour). Add 1 teaspoon salt and continue to cook until the beans are tender, about 30 additional minutes, adding more water if the beans seem dry (stir occasionally to prevent the beans from sticking to the bottom).
3. Season the beans with additional salt and pepper to taste.
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