Project: Huertas

Understanding the Food Security of Migrant Farmworkers in Vermont

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Oaxacan Recipes

By: Sam Rothberg

The volunteers and others involved with Huertas often gather with migrant farmworkers in Vermont to not only help plant kitchen gardens, but to cook and enjoy food together. Below are three recipes from Zarela Martínez’s cookbook, “The Food and Life of Oaxaca” that would add unique flavor and variety to the gatherings. All of the recipes contain ingredients unique to Mexico that could be grown in the workers’ kitchen gardens.  The ingredient lists and explanations are taken directly from Martínez’s cookbook. Cook and enjoy!

Arroz con Chepil=Rice with Chepil


“This is one of the most popular Oaxacan rice dishes. There is no substitute for the chepil”(Martínez, 238).

Because there is no substitute for the chepil, this dish is a great recommendation for community gatherings and meals among migrant workers and Huertas volunteers.  It is an easy dish to make and provides great Mexican flavors to the palate.

1 cup long-grain rice

3 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cups chicken or pork stock

3 tablespoons chepil leaves stripped from stems

1/3 teaspoon salt, or to taste

“In a deep bowl, carefully rinse the rice in several changes of cold water until no starchy residue is visible. Drain thoroughly in a large sieve, shaking to remove as much water as possible.

In a heavy medium-size saucepan, heat the lard over medium-high heat until rippling.  Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until it colors slightly and sounds like sand as you stir it. Carefully pour off and discard any excess fat. Add the garlic and onion; cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Stir in the stock, chepil, and salt. Cover tightly, reduce the heat to very low, and cook for 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for about 5 minutes, tightly covered, before serving”(Martínez, 238).

Salsa de Chile Pasilla=Oaxacan Pasilla Chile Salsa

“This is one of the most common table sauces in the state. It gets its haunting flavor from the Oaxacan pasilla chile, a smoked and dried type not to be confused with the regular Mexican pasillas that come form a different chile and are dried without smoking”(Martínez, 254).

A salsa is easy to make and represents Mexican and latin cuisine well. This salsa is very unique and would be a great addition to a Huertas gathering.

3 medium-small ripe tomatoes

1 Oaxacan pasilla chile or 1 dried chipotle or morita chile

½ small onion, coarsely chopped

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon dried Oaxacan oregano or ½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled

½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

“Place the tomatoes and chile in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Drain and let sit until cool enough to handle. Peel the tomatoes and remove the stem from the chile.

Place the tomatoes and chile in a blender with the onion, garlic, and oregano. Process until smooth. Season with salt to taste. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 2 days”(Martínez, 254).

Enfrijoladas=Tortillas with Bean Purée



“This is one of the standard snacks found at Oaxacan City food stands and restaurants”(Martínez, 131).

1 Oaxacan pasilla chile

1 small onion, halved

1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped

2 dried avocado leaves, toasted

1 cup cooked black beans

3 cups bean cooking liquid

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

2 tablespoons lard

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled

½ cup vegetable oil

12 corn tortillas, homemade

8 ounces queso fresco or young ricotta salata, crumbled

“Place the dried chile in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for about 20 minutes. Drain well. Coarsley chop half the onion and place in a blender with the drained chile, garlic, avocado leaves, beans, and a little of the bean liquid to facilitate blending; reserve the rest. Stir in ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste.

In a small saucepan, heat the lard to rippling over medium heat. Add the puréed bean mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Gradually stir in enough of the reserved bean cooking liquid to thin the mixture to the consistency of heavy cream. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting, and keep warm, stirring occasionally, while you make the relish.

Mince the remaining half onion. In a small bowl, combine with the vinegar, oregano, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste. Set aside.

In a small skillet just large enough to hold a tortilla, heat the oil until rippling over high heat. Fry the tortillas, one at a time, about 30 seconds. Lift out onto paper towels to drain. Fold each into quarters while it is still hot enough to be pliable; dip into the hot bean purée and place on a platter. When all are done, sprinkle with the onion mixture and the crumbled cheese. Serve immediately”(Martínez, 131).

Additionally, below is a link to a great recipe for tortilla soup.  This is a traditional mexican dish and with the apprpriate herbs and vegetables, can be made authentically.  Input from farmers and collaboration within the group could help make the stewing of this tortilla soup a fun and delicious gathering.

Torilla Soup:


Martínez, Zarela. The Food and Life of Oaxaca, Mexico. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1997. Print.

Food Network. Tortilla Soup Recipe.


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By: Sam Rothberg

In addition to almost all of the vegetables and fruits we are used to here in Vermont, there are some estranged plants that seem important to Mexican cuisine. It is important to note that not all of these plants may be able to grow in Vermont given the climate, but further study will reveal better detail on that matter. Below is a better understanding of the many ingredients that make up the diversified and differing cuisines of Mexico.


Coyole (palm fruit): cooked

Chilicayote (Malabar gourd)

Dulce de calabaza (squash)

Calabacita (summer squash)

Zapote negro (sapote, black)

Jicotilla (cactus fruit)

Chicosapote (sapote)

Sapote Amarillo (yellow sapote)


Papa estranjera (oxalis)

Quelite/epazote (pigweed)

Nopal (cactus paddles)

Pochote (kapok)




  • Chile Amarillo/chilcosle*
  • Chile ancho
  • Chile de árbol
  • Chile chipotle
  • Chile costeño*
  • Chilhuacle*
  • Chile guajillo
  • Chile morita
  • Chile mulato
  • Chile pasilla de Oaxaca*
  • Chile pequín


Achiote (Annatto):

  • red seed helped to make paste with other ingredients for meats, poultry and fish as well as to color rice dishes and season pork or chicken

Hierba Santa:

  • fragrant wrappers for fish either steamed or grilled. Also used as for flavor in Mole Verde. Used as a tamale wrapping as well as with chicken and shrimp dishes. It is also used medicinally to cure inflammations, stomach cramps, and skin irritations.

Amaranto (amaranth):

  • used to make candy, drinks, and a special mole.


  • leaves of herb used in tamales and pumpkin seed sauces


  • oaxacan herb very commonly used

Corteza de maguey (century plant):

  • out leaf of the maguey plant is used as a cooking bag for meat and poultry

Epazote (wormseed):

  • leaves used to add flavor to black beans, in quesadillas. Used as an herbal medicine to cure insect bites.

Guajes (cuajes):

  • lentil like legumes that are used to flavor stews. Important to cuisines of Puebla and Oaxaca.

Hierba de conejo (Indian paintbrush):

  • herb commonly added to beans and rice.

Hoja de aguacate (avocado leaf):

  • have licorice-like aroma which help to add flavor to soups, chicken and fish dishes, as well as beans.

Hoja de maíz y de platano (corn and banana leaf):

  • used to wrap tamales to be steamed.


  • herb used in cemitas (type of Mexican sandwich) as well as guacamole and salads

Toronjil (balm-gentle):

  •  herb used in teas and used as a digestive

Verdolaga (purslane):

  • used in salads, or in mole verde as well as stews

**What we have here and are used to, but what is also commonly used in Mexico:


  • Onions
  • Scallions
  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Beans
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes



  • Albahaca (Sweet basil)
  • Ajonjolí (Sesame seed)
  • Anís (Anise): indispensible ingredient in many moles.
  • Berros (Watercress)
  • Cilantro (and coriander)
  • Cominos (cumin): Used in Mexican soups and stews
  • Hierba Buena (spearmint)
  • Laurel (bay leaf)
  • Manzanilla (chamomile)
  • Mejorana (marjoram)
  • Menta (peppermint)
  • Orégano (oregano)
  • Perejil (parsley)
  • Quelitas (lamb’s quarter): sautéed with other vegetables
  • Romero (rosemary)
  • Te límon (lemon grass): used in novelle Mexican cuisine and a popular tea.
  • Tomillo (thyme)
  • Clavo de olor (Cloves)
  • Comino (Cumin)
  • Pimienta (Allspice)
  • Canela (true cinnamon)


Other ingredients that seem essential to the cuisine:

  • Lard
  • Capers
  • Olives
  • Raisins
  • Cacao/chocolate



Martínez, Zarela. The Food and Life of Oaxaca, Mexico. New York: Macmillan

Publishing, 1997. Print.

Graber, Karen. “A culinary guide to Mexican herbs: Las hierbas de cocina.” Mexconnect.

Mexconnect, 01 Apr 1999. Web. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.

Whitaker, Thomas, and Hugh Cutler. “Food Plants in a Mexican Market.” New York

Botanical Garden Press. 20.1 (1966): 6-16. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.


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Understanding the Cuisine of Mexican Migrant Farmworkers

By: Sam Rothberg

We all get where we’re going because of history.  It precedes us and tends to shape our world.  More specifically, we eat because of how the people before us ate, what they craved, what they paid large amounts of money, or gold, for. We eat the way we do because of slave labor, because of newly opened shipping routes thanks to world discoverers, because of greedy royalty in Europe, because of how the people before us ate and what they would do to accomplish that not-so-simple task of survival.

I’m searching for a better idea of what migrant workers in Vermont originally ate before they traveled to the U.S. in hopes of a better life for their families. Of course, not all the migrant workers in Vermont come from the same country, and although most of them are from Mexico, the culture and foodways of the different states and regions of Mexico range greatly. Through this blog, I hope to better understand the original cuisine and foodways of the migrant workers in Vermont.  Although they do come from various places, the Huertas program director, Naomi, mentioned that more than 90% are from Mexico while others are from places geographically close to Mexico like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.   Naomi also mentioned that a majority of the Mexican migrant workers are from the southern state of Chiapas.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand the foodways of this population because they are key players in our economy yet they face real threats of food insecurity and hunger as well as obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.  In order to better understand their current foodways, I look to first understand how their original food system, more specifically that of Mexico, became what it is today.

There are two diets that largely affect the Mexican diet today: that of the Spaniards and that of the indigenous before the Spaniards arrived. Both of those diets have fused and transformed to make a rich diet today.  Among disease and war, the Spaniards brought important food crops like wheat, rice, animal protein such as pig, sugarcane and important vegetable crops like onions, garlic, carrots, lentils, lemons, limes and much more.

Of course, the two independent diets began to emerge into comida novohispana, which created a cuisine based on the blending of Old World and New World foods. One example being the mole poblano—a dish containing onions, ga

rlic, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, chicken or turkey served with tortillas.  What was most important, though, was that the Europeans provided fats to the indigenous diet, which completely transformed the cuisine. The technique of frying food, and including cheese in dishes became a mainstay in the food culture, which is why wonderfully engorging dishes like gorditas, quesadillas, tortas and tacos are still so popular today.  Beverages evolved as well. Pulque, emerged as one of the most common alcoholic beverage produced from the fermented juice of a maguey plant. And, as rice was introduced as a compliment to maize, the popular drink of rice, flour, sugar, cinnamon and ice called horchata emerged.

Despite all of the culinary introductions the Europeans made to Mexico, what was and still remains the core of Mexican diet is the holy grail of corn, beans, and chiles complimented by the mother of all Mexican foods: the tortilla.  The chile is the “most culturally meaningful of the three” according to Joy Adapon in her book, “Culinary Art and Anthropology”(Adapon, 7).  Of course, the traditional planting of the Milpa—corn, beans and squash together has highly influenced the Mexican diet producing popular dishes such as sopa de flor de calabaza which is made from all components of the Milpa including a fungus called huitelachoche that grows on the Maize, or corn, plant. The soup also contains ingredients important to Mexican cuisine such as squash blossoms, epazote (a popular herb), poblano chiles and nopales, or cactus.

By understanding how the cuisine has been ever-evolving into a very distinct flavor, we can better understand the foods which migrant workers in Vermont require for a healthy diet.  This is extremely important not only for maintaining a happy and sustainable life in such a wobbly and transitional world, but for supporting the food security of our migrant farm workers that provide so much to all of us here in Vermont.


Super, J. Vargas, L. The Cambridge World History of Food. Retrieved from

Adapon, J. (2008). Culinary Art and Anthropology. New York, NY: Berg Publishers.