Thursday, September 20, 2018

Papalo - What?

Photo of papalo leaves on a bamboo cutting board.

#VeganMoFo18 Day 20 - PapaloWhat?

Photo of stems of papalo in a pint canning jar.
Papalo Stems
Yesterday a neighbor friend messaged me to see if I might be interested in some papalo, an herb she'd grown in her garden. She'd never grown it before and decided to try it as it was an alternative to cilantro. Turns out, while cilantro doesn't taste like soap to her, this papalo does! I'd never heard of this herb before and was intrigued, so I went and picked it up from her. I'm always excited when I discover a new food ingredient (and you know by now how much I love free stuff!).

Photo of close-up view of papalo stems.
Close-up View of Papalo
I did some research on papalo. It is a Mexican herb, known there as pápaloquelite. In Mexico, it's commonly served on tacos, in salsa, and on a particular sandwich (torta) in Puebla called a cemita. Apparently, it is generally added raw at the last minute. Stems of papalo can often be found in jars of water on tables for patrons to tear up and add to their food. It comes in narrow and broadleaf varieties, the narrow leaf being much more pungent in flavor.

To me, this herb tastes like a cross between cilantro, fenugreek, shiso, and Thai basilI don't get a soap taste at all. In fact, I really am intrigued by the flavor! The leaves are tender, not as tender as cilantro, but the stem is tough and fibrous. It's really simple to slide the stem through your fingers to pull the leaves off.

I decided to make two things with the papalo: salsa verde and a vegan cemita.

Papalo Salsa Verde

Photo of ingredients for salsa verde, including green tomatoes, green bell peppers, onions, garlic, lime, and papalo.
Salsa Verde Ingredients
I didn't have any tomatillos, but I had a lot of green tomatoes. It's just starting to rain here in Seattle, so it's great to have things to do with the last tomatoes that haven't turned red yet. It was also time to pull out my pepper plants, so I had a bunch of really small green bell peppers to use. I added onion, soft neck garlic I'd grown, fresh lime juice, and salt with the papalo. Because green tomatoes can be a little hard, I made the salsa in the food processor, so it has a texture between salsa and pesto. I didn't add any hot peppers to this salsa because I didn't have any, but Alan doesn't like spicy food, so I often make milder salsas for him anyway. I can always add some of my hot sauce to kick it up.

Wow! Is it good! It really has such a different flavor, something that makes you ask, "What's in there? That's so different!" It gives it a deeper breadth of flavor, not as bright as cilantro.

Photo of ingredients for salsa verde, including green tomatoes, green bell peppers, onions, garlic, lime and papalo with a bowl of prepared salsa verde.
Finished Salsa Verde with Papalo

I added the papalo when I made the salsa, so it will be interesting to see if it gets stronger as the salsa sits.

Cemita Torta

I'd never heard of a Cemita Torta before. To me, it sounds a lot like a Cubano sandwich. According to Wikipedia, a cemita generally has an eggy bun, like a brioche, with sesame seeds, meat, white cheese, avocado, papalo, and red sauce.  I found a recipe online that had pork and cheese, and decided to use it as a guide and come up with a vegan version.

For my cemita, I used an Ezekiel bun (it's what I had on hand), homemade adobo sauce (directions below), Mexican Jackfruit (directions below), queso (directions below), sliced heirloom tomato, roasted red bell pepper, sliced avocado, and papalo.

Adobo Sauce

Photo of three assorted jars of homemade adobo.
Homemade Adobo
I didn't have any cans of chipotle in adobe sauce on hand, but I found a recipe adapted from Rick Bayless' adobo sauce. This recipe uses:

  • Ancho chile powder
  • Water
  • Garlic
  • Cinnamon
  • Black pepper
  • Ground cumin
  • Mexican oregano
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Salt

It was really quite easy and I had all of the ingredients on hand. I did take the extra step of toasting the garlic cloves for an extra depth of flavor and sweetness. (Note, don't toss the toasted papery skins when you pull the toasted cloves out. Put those in your veggie scrap jar to make into stock laterthey add extra flavor to your stock). I added more water during the blending process and threw in a large tomato because it seemed it needed a little tomato base. With the added tomato, it made a quart of adobo sauce, so I'll freeze some to use in chili this winter.

Mexican Jackfruit

Photo of jackfruit: including can, drained in a sieve, chunks, and shredded on a bamboo cutting board.
Canned Young Jackfruit
If you've not worked with jackfruit before, I recommend you check it out! You want to use young, green jackfruit, generally found canned in brine in the Asian section of the supermarket or in an Asian grocery store. Stores are starting to carry fresh, ripe jackfruit now in response to the jackfruit-craze, but this is not what you want to use as a meat substitute. Ripe jackfruit is sticky, sweet, and tastes like Juicyfruit gum, not what you want here.

Drain, rinse, and dry the jackfruit pieces. Then, either shred the pieces with your fingers or chop with a knife. I added two Tablespoons of taco seasoning, two teaspoons of the adobo sauce I made, and baked on a silicone baking sheet at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until it was getting crispy edges and looked like carnitas. I also roasted a half of a red bell pepper at the same time.

Photo off roasted Mexican Jackfruit and Red Bell Pepper on a silpat-covered baking tray.
Roasted Mexican Jackfruit and Red Bell Pepper


I've made this queso for years! I don't know where this recipe came from, it's something we made at the fire station and has been a staple of mine ever since.

In a high-speed blender, combine:

Photo of vegan Mexican Queso in handled red bowl.
Vegan Mexican Queso
  • 1/2 Cup raw cashews
  • 1 Cup vegetable stock
  • 1/2 Cup water
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 Cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice (I used lime)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon adobo
  • 2 oz tomato paste (or more adobo)
  • 1 clove garlic

Bring the blender to high speed until smooth. Now, you can either pour this into a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer until thick, or just keep the blender running on high until the sauce gets steamy and thick, about 5 minutes.

This sauce works fabulously in mac and cheeze, and can be made without adobo if you don't want a Mexican queso sauce.

Putting it All Together!

Photo of ingredients for Cemita Torta, including (clockwise from top left) adobo, Mexican queso, Mexican jackfruit, Ezekiel bun, roasted red bell pepper, avocado, papalo, and heirloom tomato on a bamboo cutting board.
Ingredients for Cemita Torta
Now you've got all the parts of the cemita ready to assemble into the torta:
  • Ezekiel bun
  •  Adobo sauce
  • Mexican Jackfruit
  • Queso 
  • Sliced tomato
  • Roasted red bell pepper
  • Sliced avocado
  • Papalo

Squish down the inside of the top and bottom bun so there is a hollow to hold the sandwich ingredients. Spoon adobo sauce on both indentations. Add roasted bell pepper to each bun half. Add the jackfruit to the bottom bun, cover with papalo, pour on queso, layer on tomato and avocado. Then put the top bun on your sandwich. Yes, it's a lot! 

Traditionally, a cemita is wrapped in paper and then cut in half. I didn't do that because I didn't want to create unnecessary garbage, but, this sandwich is huge and the paper would help hold it together when cutting it!

But, ooooohhh, this sandwich is soooo good! It is saucy, spicy, the bun is crispy from toasting, creamy from the avocado, savory from the jackfruit, and has that depth of flavor from the papalo! I think it might be my new favorite thing! It is a sloppy mess without the paper, especially with the queso. If you used a sliced or grated cheese, it would probably be less messy, but the queso is a zero-waste option for me, so I opt for that.

Photo of finished Cemita Torta, cut in half, with ingredients for used to make it, including (clockwise from top left) heirloom tomato, adobo, Mexican queso, Mexican jackfruit, and Ezekiel bun, on a bamboo cutting board.
Assembled Halved Cemita Torta

I am so thankful that my friend offered me this papalo! Its so cool to have something as an inspiration for a new cuisine. And I love learning about new foods. I may have to add this to my garden next year!