Guias (Gee-uhs) are the vines and leaves of the squash plants that wend and weave their way around the bases of the corn in the ‘milpa’. To make these fibrous vines more palate-friendly, they are chopped first into small pieces before being boiled, to make them more tender. These greens, boiled in water along with herbs, corn husks and onion, are the base of Sopa de Guias.
This humble soup is a perfect example of how little is wasted in Mexico’s culinary landscape. That said, a soup like this has the potential to taste like little more than watery broth with boiled greens – perfectly welcome when prepared and offered with love and humility. As a restaurant patron, however, most of my own taste-tests in Oaxaca left me wanting a bit more for my 80 or so pesos – until I tried the offering at Casa Oaxaca, El Restaurante in Oaxaca City.
In keeping with the style and reputation of the restaurant, the presentation of this soup is more “haute” than the “humble” version Chef Alejandro Ruiz was raised on. There’s no trozo de elote (slice of corn on the cob) to gnaw on, instead the corn kernels have been scraped into the bowl. Delicate golden-orange petals of the squash flower adorn the bowl before the broth is ceremoniously poured over at the table Nevertheless, he stays true to tradition; in his extensive knowledge of the range of herbs of Oaxaca; these along with a small amount of chile pasilla paste, bring warmth and complexity to the simple broth.
Aside from the chocoyotes – dimpled little masa dumplings which generally contain some lard to lighten them up– this soup is traditionally a vegetarian dish. Should a bit of lard be a deal-breaker, ask for them to be left out and enjoy this soup with a tortilla instead.
Craving Kale? Give Some of Mexico’s Local Greens a Try.
Kale has been, for a few too many years now, considered the superfood you must eat for good health. How that trend started, I have no idea, but be assured, there are other greens to rival it. Sure, now, you can find it in Mexico, in part because big Agro grows it here in Mexico to meet the demand in US and Canada, and also because the Norte American buzz has created a demand among the food-conscious and affluent (ask an average Mexican about kale (kel) and it won’t register). But who needs it in this country where there were already plenty of fantastic, hearty, and just as “super” healthful greens to be had already?
So let’s leave (my gripes about) kale aside, for a moment, shall we? “Hojas de nabo” (turnip leaves) are a cruciferous green that has been naturalized in Central and Southern Mexico and has become integrated over time into milpa plantings. When you buy this from a regional vendor there’s a very good chance it is grown organically (versus kale from the supermercado) as the milpa is a healthy, biodynamic and sustainable system.
“Nabo” means turnip, of no specific variety, and along with collards and broccoli rabe (rapini) are all of the same family.
When you refer to ‘Hojas’ de nabo’, you emphasize the desire for the leaves… likely a vendor will understand that to mean the type in the main photo with wide leaves more akin to collards. But by putting the word “Flor” in front of “nabo” (as in, flor de nabo) you can expect the flowering type like broccoli rabe with small yellow flowers, inflorescence like broccoli, and juicy stems.
As “naming” is largely a concept that is agreed upon, it can always happen that in any particular region, farmers have come to know their plants by certain names that may not follow conventions. Just be sure to ask ¿es para comer o para pájaros? (Is it for eating, or is it for birds?) If it’s for eating… just take it home and cook it as you would any other green. It’s all good!
Find out more about this and more than 50 other regional fresh ingredients of Mexico….
Frutas y Verduras – The Fresh Food Lover’s Guide to Mexico, is your handy digital “field guide” . Now available on iTunes and Kobo stores (Android, Windows and iOS using Kobo reading app)