Cooking Like A Mexican

Fried Huitlacoche Quesadillas
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Native Mexicans, besides being resourceful, were wise people. Once they mastered the genetic engineering behind growing different types of corn, they faced heavy rain (between May and November) that spoiled their crops. A fungus, called huitlacoche, took over some cobs of corn. Not every cob had huitlacoche in it, only the biggest, most plump ones did. Rather than considering the crops a loss, the natives figured out a way to turn this fungus into a delicious food.

huitlacoche.JPGNowadays, not all corn grows huitlacoche; it’s only found on organic, plants that haven’t been chemically treated. Pronounced wheel-tla-KO-cheh, this fungus is also referred to as the “Mexican truffle” or “Aztec caviar,” nicknames that give us a hint of how appreciated this fungus is in traditional Mexican cuisine (more so than another common nickname: corn smut).

Huitlacoche is considered a delicacy in Mexico, but a dangerous plague in the rest of the world; it spreads fast and can “ruin” the whole plantation. In Mexico, its market price can be up to 12 times greater than regular corn. The cobs that have been “touched by the gods” turn a purplish gray color, the kernels can grow about ten times their normal size and deform a little bit. If you see a cob with huitlacoche compared to a regular cob, you could say it has been zombiefied. Nonetheless, it has become a sophisticated, valuable ingredient in both traditional and international fusion cuisine.

When cooked, huitlacoche turns a shiny black color, tastes like corn and dirt and smoke and magic. Its powerful flavor is an acquired taste, one that has evolved with time. It’s been served at the tables of Aztec princes and emperors, from street food stands, in home cooked meals and award-winning restaurants.

Because of its distinct taste, huitlacoche must be the star of the dish. It can’t be paired with just anything, but chefs have been incorporating it in a wide range of dishes such as crepes, sushi and risottos.

Huitlacoche contains high doses of lysine which builds muscle, strengthens bones, fights infections and keeps skin looking young. It also contains more cholesterol-reducing beta-glucens than oatmeal, and more protein than most of the mushroom family! I think it’s safe to call it a superfood. It’s also a great ingredient for vegans and vegetarians, too.

Now that I’ve convinced you how great “corn smut” is, here is the recipe for some amazing fried huitlacoche quesadillas.

Ingredients

1 pound tortilla dough (you can buy this at a tortillería or follow the steps on a package of Maseca corn flour)

4 cups fresh or canned huitlacoche (you will find baskets of fresh huitlacoche in the farmers markets or cans at almost any supermarket)

10 ounces Oaxaca cheese

10 ounces cotija cheese, also called queso fresco

10 ounces sour cream

2 cloves garlic

½ medium sized onion, chopped

2 spoonfuls vegetable oil

1 cup vegetable oil for deep frying

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Heat the spoonfuls of oil in a pan, add the onion, garlic and huitlacoche and cook for 5 minutes on medium-low heat. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. With a tortilla press, or two flat plates covered plastic bags to avoid sticking, flatten golf ball sized balls of masa, making 1/8-inch thick disks.

3. Place some cheese in the middle of the tortilla, about 1 ounce of cheese per tortilla, and a spoonful of huitlacoche. Don’t stuff them too much or they will open up while cooking and make a mess.

4. Pinch the sides of the tortilla together to close them, making a half moon. Be sure not to leave any openings.

5. Heat up the cup of oil in a pan big enough so the quesadillas can lay flat while frying. If you don’t want to deep fry them, you can skip to Step #7.

6. Once the oil is very hot, drop the quesadillas in and fry on both sides for about 3 minutes or until golden. They may puff up a little.

7. If you don’t want to deep fry them, cook the quesadillas in pan without oil, until just before the dough starts to turn black.

8. Top off with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle some fresh cheese and enjoy!