The vendor had noticed us ogling her herbs. “It’s papalo! Here, take some with you,” she chirped. “I’ll write the word down for you. It’s from Mexico. Use it like cilantro.”
At the next stand over, we scored some gray sole and returned home with arms full of tomatoes, onions, lettuces, cucumbers and this unfamiliar herb.
A quick web search revealed that papalo is indeed native to Mexico, and it grows like a weed across the Southwest US as well as Central and South America. Generally eaten raw, is often added to things like guacamole, salsas and sandwiches.
This site claims the flavor is “somewhere between arugula, cilantro and rue,” but having not eaten rue, I thought I tasted something slightly citrusy and minty, like something between cilantro and the sushi bar staple, shiso .
Homesick Texan makes a very pretty salsa verde with it, but on this particularly hot, humid day, we had our minds set on a cool ceviche salad for lunch.
This is just a variation on my basic ceviche recipe. I think the only thing that could have made it more delightful would be a sliced avocado on the side.
Summer Ceviche Salad (Serves two)
2 sole fillets (or another white fish) sliced in 1/2” wide strips
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp honey (or a pinch of sugar)
1 tsp chopped fresh papalo (or cilantro)
1 tsp chopped fresh epazote (optional)
1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
2-3 radishes, sliced very thin
1/4-1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and sliced very thin
1 green onion (white section) sliced very thin
4 cups mesclun or chopped leaf lettuce
- Combine the lime juice and salt in a glass/pyrex dish or another non-reactive container.
- Add the fish slices, tossing well to coat the fish with juice, and chill (for up to, but not more than an hour), stirring once or twice during that time to make sure all the fish surface area comes in contact with the juice.
- After 20-30 minutes (or less time, if you like it more tender), the fish should look white and opaque. Drain off most of the lime juice and incorporate the olive oil. Coat the fish well.
- Mix in the honey (or a pinch of sugar) and taste the lime juice-olive oil blend. Adjust the flavor, to taste, with salt/sugar.
- Toss in the herbs, tomatoes, radishes, jalapeño slices and onion.
- Divide the lettuce greens and make a bed on each plate. Spoon the ceviche on top of the lettuce and drizzle the greens with the lime juice.
Because it’s often used as a substitute for cilantro or culantro, you won’t be surprised to learn that the papalo was delicious in our ceviche.
I think it’d also make a delightful addition to fish tacos, a topping for enchiladas… maybe even an accompaniment for Thai-style curries. I bet that citrusy aspect of the herb could make papalo welcome anywhere you might normally use a pinch of cilantro and a squeeze of lime.
If you happen to be in NYC, you can get your very own papalo (and epazote and other good-lookin’ herbs and veggies) at the Angel Family Farm stand at Tompkins Square on Sundays. Looks like they’re based in Goshen, NY, and they run a local CSA, as well.