For every successful ethnic food escapade in Brooklyn, there must be at least one stupendous failure. False leads and false fronts have consumed many of my weekend afternoons; before finding the spicy and addictive fish head soup at Belachan at Sunset Park, there were several sweaty and ultimately disappointing bike journeys to restaurants that turned out to be absurdly inauthentic, or lengthy subway expeditions to intriguingly-named Eastern European groceries that offered nothing more exotic than bologna.
In the last month I’ve also been lulled into a stupor by the perfectly manicured rows of blueberries and raspberries at the larger farmers markets, the lush piles of kale, the small-batch cheeses, the free range eggs. At the height of the season, not much new is coming in, the most obscure produce a Japanese cucumber, the most tempting purchase a pound of goat meat. I’m sick of caponata and tomato salads, sautéed chard and peaches (check back in two months and I’ll be mourning their disappearance). So last Saturday I unloaded my skepticism and headed to the Sunset Park Greenmarket, in the vague hope of finding more exotic fare. Were there nothing but tomatoes and plums, at least I could drown my disappointment in tripe tacos afterward.
Consider this a relieved endorsement: Despite its tiny size, the Sunset Park Greenmarket has a sizeable proportion of produce geared towards the Latin market, with crates of fresh peppers (poblanos, jalapeños, cherry peppers), tomatillos, squash, epazote, and other herbs both foreign and flavorful. I grabbed some peppers, purple kale, and a large bunch of papalo (Porophyllum ruderale), a Mexican herb whose pungent smell is a dreamy cross between cilantro and fresh tomatoes, with floral overtones that stop just short of cloying. Its sweetness made me considering throwing it in a panna cotta, but in the end I paired it with avocados, as is traditional. Throughout the Southwest, Mexico, and Central and South America where papalo grows wild, it is eaten raw on tacos, in cemitas, in soups, with meat, and in salsas. Papalo also goes by the names killi (in Bolivia), quillquiña, tepegua, and Bolivian coriander, although it is not related to the herb. Left in a vase on the table, it lasted for a few days, perfuming the room with its heady scent. Like cilantro, papalo is a polarizing herb, and some find the taste overpowering—use it sparingly.
You can find papalo and other herbs at several stalls in Sunset Park on Saturdays, including the Mimomex Farm stall. Mimomex also serves Windsor Terrace on Wednesdays and Borough Park on Thursdays. Look for long stems of grass-green, flat, rounded leaves.
Sunset Park Greenmarket: Saturdays 8am-3pm; 4th Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets, Brooklyn. Subway: N/R to 59th St.
Guacamole with Papalo
* 2 avocados
* One quarter of a red onion, diced
* One half of a jalapeño, diced (optional)
* 4 leaves papalo, cut finely
* Juice of ½ lime
* 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
* 1 tsp salt
* ½ tsp pepper
Scoop out the avocado flesh and place it into a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and crush gently with a fork until the mixture is combined but the avocado retains some structure. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve the guacamole with tortilla chips or add it to tacos. Watch the slideshow below.