Monday, June 1, 2009

Got my red and green Mojo working

Mojo (pronounced "mo-ho", not the folk magic "mo-jo") is a popular sauce originating from Canary Islands, thus becoming fond memories for tourists returning from Tenerife, Gran Canaria or Lanzarote. It starts off with garlic, cumin and extra virgin olive oil. Then it's decision time: red peppers for Mojo Rojo (fiery versions also known as Mojo Picon), or cilantro for Mojo Verde. One says red goes for everything, green pairs with fish, but you'll secretly still enjoy it if you got them mixed up. Mojo is versatile.

Mojo Rojo (left) or Mojo Verde (right) for papas arrugadas? Recipes here and here.

The simplest and most famous Canarian dish is the papas arrugadas (literally wrinkled potatoes) with mojo. The potatoes are boiled in obscenely salted water (traditionally seawater) that as a rule, if the potatoes do not float, it doesn't have enough salt. The salt then crystallizes into a thin layer and should wrinkle the potato (but not so much on mine, maybe I was still shy on salt?). My question was then which mojo works best with the potatoes.

Half a cup of salt - still not enough?

Mojo is supposed to be extremely heavy on garlic. I love garlic but this was very overpowering, but general recipe consensus confirms that you do use an entire bulb of garlic to make a cup of mojo. I had to spend a better part Googling for ways to reduce the sharpness of garlic - most answers go around adding bread, lemon, water, sugar, or just mixing with a new ungarlicked batch - or some others dismissing the idea of too much garlic entirely (e.g. Is there such a thing as too much garlic?).


Green cilantro, green bell peppers - green mojo for the Poached Salmon Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette (recipe)

The two mojos present very different directions of flavors with the garlic, cumin, red wine vinegar and olive oil base. Mojo rojo, with paprika and cayenne, is spicy and gives a good kick to liven up the rather bland potato, while mojo verde, with cilantro and parsley, gives a fresh, tangy summery taste, and as expected, works great with poached salmon. Although I'm a huge fan of cilantro, for the record, I prefer mojo rojo for the papas arrugadas.

Birds of the island, not island of the birds

It took a sauce to teach me that Canary Islands are not named after the birds - but the other way around. The Romans named the islands Canaria Insula after the large number of wild dog ("canis") inhabitants. The native cute birds were recognized as trade potential by the Spanish, who build a monopoly by only selling male canaries to Europe. That is, until an unfortunate shipwreck set canaries loose in Italy and ruined business forever (read the entire story about the wild Canary bird).

Mainland Spanish cuisine are integrated into Canarian cuisine, with additional ingredients like banana and New World imports like avocado and papaya. There are remnants of the indigenous Guanche population, like their staple of kneaded toasted cereal called gofio (source: Iberian foods, All About Spain). Canarian foods have a stronger influence from North Africa, which results in a hotter palate, like the mojo picon.


Christopher Columbus stopped by Canary Islands before heading to the New World (images from St. Catherine's Primary School.)

For a small group of islands, Canary Islands played a good role on global cuisine. Being an important port to the New World, they were instrumental in bringing spices to the New World: cumin and coriander. Cumin is an ancient spice but lost popularity in Europe during the Middle Ages, except in Spain (source: Wikipedia, Food History). It was introduced to the Americas by Spanish colonists. Coriander was brought in in 1670 and was one of the first spices cultivated by early settlers. Later on, emigration from Canary Islands to Central and South Americas spread the mojo all over the continent.

References:
1. Spanish Regional Cuisines: Canary Islands [1]
2. Mojo (sauce) from Wikipedia [2]
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1 Comments:

Anonymous Aul said...

Thanks for share. Very Informative

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October 24, 2011 at 7:57 PM  

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