Cooking Like a Mexican

Tlacoyos
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

In Spanish, the word antojito literally translates to “little craving.” Antojito is a special type of Mexican food, the kind that is sold out on the street. Some of these dishes are sold in the morning, some at night, and others all day long. These dishes are often a little greasy or deep fried, and can feel quite heavy for unexperienced eaters (although not all of them are this way). Antojitos is what Mexicans eat when we want to fill our stomachs with love.

2226tlacoyos.JPGThere is a special kind of “diet” here in Mexico called the Vitamin T diet that includes all types of delicious anotjitos starting with T: tacos, tortas, tlacoyos, tamales, tostadas, tortillas. Ok, so it’s not really a plan you’d follow to lose weight, but it sure is tasty.

The main ingredient to these dishes is often maize (what you Gringos call corn). In Mexican cooking, the whole corn cob is used, from the “hair” (the corn silk) to the husk, but today I will talk about the main component: the grains.

Mexicans are the people of the maize. It is said that neither could exist without the other. As it is very hard to imagine Mexican food without maize, maize could have never survived if it wasn’t for Mexican people harvesting, cross breeding, and planting it. Yup, maize was cross bred expertly by indigenous Mexican farmers before it was cool – as in, before 7,700 B.C.

Maize’s exact origin is unknown, but there are many great legends of how it came to be. Some say it was given to the Mexican people by different animals, other stories say it came directly from the hands of the gods. Which animals and Gods depend on which region of Mexico the story comes from.

Did you know that maize is packed with vitamins and minerals? But for the human digestive system to properly process it, maize must go under a special procedure called “nixtamalización.” During this process, the maize is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, washed, hulled (to remove the outer shell of the grain) and then ground. Nixtamalized maize has several benefits over unprocessed grain: it is more easily ground; its nutritional value is increased; flavor and aroma are improved; and mycotoxins (toxins produced by fungi) are reduced.

Out of the 250 species of maize, 41 are found in Mexico. Its colors vary from black to white; with blue, purple, yellow, red and orange hues in between. I honestly have no idea how many Mexican dishes come from maize, but I bet the number is in the thousands. However, for this issue, I’m going to write about tlacoyos, which are originally made from blue maize.

The indigenous name for tlacoyos (pronounced tla-coh-yohs) comes from the Náhuatl language. Náhuatl is the language the ancient people from southern Mexico and Central America, including the Aztecs, spoke.

Spaniards first tasted this dish in the great Tlatelolco market. Picture a perfectly organized farmer’s market in an open space, southeast of the Templo Mayor, where Mexico City is now located. A market where the main currency was cacao beans. There were special officers making sure the market was organized correctly into different sections. Serpents were sold, as well as deer meat, which was often used in aristocracic banquets. Medicinal herbs and powders had their section too, where shamans performed rituals and curations. Ceramics, textiles, pigments, minerals, clothing, precious stones and metals, down to a section where women had their own little restaurants, where they sold Tlacoyos. Damn, my culture is amazing. Just thinking about this makes my heart race.

Tlacoyos were originally prepared the same way as it is today, with blue dough, but without some ingredients like cheese. Remember, back in those days the cows were not known in this continent.

Now, on with the recipe. One note before we start: This recipe calls for maize flour, which is sold in supermarkets. Look for maseca. The original recipe calls for blue maize, and blue maize flour can also be found in supermarkets, but I am not sure if we can find it here in Cabo. Regular maseca is fine. Follow the recipe on the package for the dough, but use a ratio of 2 cups of flour for 1 ½ cups of water.

Ingredients:

2 lbs. of maize dough

2 lbs. of cooked black beans.

5 serrano chiles (Use less for less heat)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 boiled nopales (edible cacti leaves, you can find them in supermarkets), cut in strips

½ regular sized onion, julienned

5 sprigs chopped cilantro

¾ cup queso fresco

Salt

Red salsa to taste

Preparation:

1. Grind the beans with the chiles and pour them in a pan with hot oil. Let it fry, and then dry a little bit until it turns into a paste.

2. Make 2-inch balls with the maize dough and spoon the paste into the middle. Fold the sides in to cover the paste, making an oval shape. Then, flatten it so to make a 1/3-inch oval patty.

3. Cook the patties in a pan until they are crisp on the outside.

4. In a bowl, mix the cactus strips, onion and cilantro and place on top of the patty.

5. Sprinkle some cheese and salsa on top, and serve.

That’s it, you now have a pre-Hispanic dish to share with your friends. Buen provecho!