Quesadillas de Huitlacoche a.k.a. Mexican Truffle

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JACKPOT! I found fresh Huitlacoche (or Cuitlacoche) at the grocery store a couple of days ago. I’m sure most of you have no clue what I’m talking about, and why should you? Huitlacoche is known as Corn Smut in the United States, and it is a type of fungus that infects maize (corn) crops. So, most farmers around the world despise this edible fungus, because smut-infested crops aren’t worth a penny and are destroyed. In Mexico, however, huitlacoche is a traditional pre-Hispanic food which was cultivated by the Aztecs. As far as I know, you can’t get this stuff fresh in San Diego. The canned version can be found at Hispanic markets, but it is usually very expensive. A quick check on Amazon proves my point: $7.66 for a 7 ounce can.

Huitlacoche, The Mexican Truffle

Huitlacoche, The Mexican Truffle

I LOVE huitlacoche, so anytime I’m in Mexico, I eat it every chance I get. There is a little… ummm… shack?…”restuarant” in Playa del Carmen, that I visited on a weekly basis, just to get my huitlacoche fix. They made absolutely delicious huitlacoche filled quesadillas, using corn-potato tortillas. Yes, corn AND potato…together…as one tortilla, filled with cheese and huitlacoche and drizzled with green tomatillo sauce (my mouth is watering as I type). Unfortunately, the last time I was in Playa del Carmen was before I moved to Cozumel, about a month and a half ago. So, you can imagine my level of excitement when I saw the fresh huitlacoche, but there were only 2 packages left and I (naïvely) grabbed only one. (I have now learned -the hard way, of course- that when you see something you like on this island you should buy at the very least 2, because you never know when or if they’ll supply more.) The 500 gram package of fresh huitlacoche cost less than $2 USD… I honestly felt like I had either stolen something or won the lottery. I purchased all the ingredients needed to make quesadillas de huitlacoche: freshly made corn tortillas, queso oaxaca, fresh epazote… and ran home.

Oaxaca Cheese

Ingredients 101:

Queso Oaxaca (Oaxaca cheese) is a traditional Mexican cheese from the second southernmost state of Oaxaca. It looks like the love child of fresh mozzarella and string cheese and comes wrapped in a ball. You can buy commercial queso oaxaca at Hispanic markets in the US, but it really does not taste like the more authentic version sold in central and southern Mexico.

Epazote is a pungent herb, native to southern Mexico. You can use it dried or fresh. It is commonly added to black beans and huitlacoche.

Quesadillas de Huitlacoche Recipe

For the filling:

  • 500 grams of fresh huitlacoche, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh epazote, chopped (substitute with dried epazote or oregano)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the quesadillas:

  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 250 grams oaxaca cheese (substitute with monterrey jack)

Heat up olive oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, then add huitlacoche and epazote. Stir continuously for 7 minutes, until the huitlacoche has turned an even black color. Remove from heat and set aside.

Spread out several tortillas evenly over a comal or large saucepan. Flip over to heat both sides until soft. Place strings of oaxaca cheese on half of each tortilla, spoon huitlacoche filling on top, and fold in half. Flip as necessary, until both sides become lightly toasted. Serve with green tomatillo sauce and avocado.

Quesadillas de Huitlacoche

Quesadillas de Huitlacoche

I served my quesadillas de huitlacoche with a side of ensalada de nopal (cactus salad)…don’t worry, I’ll post that recipe soon. I also added some fresh epazote leaves, because I really like the taste. The finished outcome was absolutely delicious and my boyfriend couldn’t believe it was my first time preparing huitlacoche. The taste is very difficult to describe, so I really hope that you decide try huitlacoche and please let me know what you think it tastes like!

- The Vegetarian Mexican

Strange Tropical Fruit #1

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First off, I must tell you that I rent from a lady that has a mini-jungle in our shared yard. I love it. It kind of reminds me of Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise (does that even exist anymore?). Anyway, the mini-jungle also comes with exotic birds, iguanas, turtles, countless lizards and geckos, and at least one toad. There are tons of trees and vines and greenery. When I first moved in, I noticed that one of these trees, had perfectly round, green balls, about the size of grapefruits, hanging from it and I had no clue what they were. My kind landlord told me that they are fruits and that I could have some once they were ripe. Joy!

Fast-forward one month: the fruits are falling off the tree and ready to sample.

Caimito or Star Apple

Caimito or Star Apple

 

My boyfriend came in one day with about 4 of these green balls in his arms, saying that the lady had given them to him and that they are called something like “guaymito” (at least, that’s what I understood). He grabbed a knife and started eating one immediately, without a clue about how exactly one is supposed to eat it. 5 minutes later, he walked into the room where I was, with a white, sticky, gum-like substance all over his lips. EW! “A piece of advice: don’t eat the rind, skin, or seeds”, he said. Mmm…okay, thanks…I decided I needed to consult Google before trying this out. After about 30 minutes of looking at too many pictures of tropical fruits, I finally figured out what this is: Chrysophyllum cainito. Non-scientists refer to it as Star Apple, but here they call it, Caimito (guaymito…caimito, I was close). This thing is a green ball. Why on earth is it called a Star Apple??!! I sliced it down the middle and saw that the black seeds probably form a little star…if you don’t cut right through them…like I did (see picture). My BFF, Google, also informed me that the skin and rind are rich in latex and are NOT edible. LOL. I took out a spoon and (carefully avoiding the edges) had my first taste: guava-ish and delicious. It has the texture of a guava, with slightly thicker sections that hold the seeds in place. Think of it as a honey-infused guava with a touch of strawberry. Point being: it’s really good.

Strange Tropical Fruit Rating:

Caimito ✭✭✭✭✭ (5 out of 5 stars)

 

 

-The Vegetarian Mexican

Introducing The Vegetarian Mexican…

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It sounds outright bizarre to most people, but it’s true: I was born BOTH Vegetarian and Mexican. A cultural oxymoron of sorts. I’ve never really had any issues with that, because, up until recently, I lived in San Diego, California. In SoCal, vegetarians are old news. Restaurant menus display leaf icons next to the veggie options and grocery stores have designated vegetarian areas in the refrigerated section. I guess you could say I lived in a bubble of veggie-friendly bliss. Except, that wasn’t enough for me. After having lived there for so long, I was just…over it. I wanted less traffic, less stress, and more paradise, so I packed my bags and moved to Mexico. I now live 2,223 miles away, in a town with 70,000 people, on a 249.936 sq. mi. island in the Caribbean.

Cozumel is my kind of paradise: white sand, turquoise water, coconuts and sun.

cozumel

Just one problem…the food.

There are 2 restaurant genres here: 1.) Crappy-tourist-food (which is happily consumed by the never-ending stream of cruise ship passengers). 2.) Traditional Yucatec Maya fare (in which the few would-be vegetarian options are fried in pig fat a.k.a. lard). This leaves me with minimal opportunities for eating-out and many, many “opportunities” to eat at home. Like I always say, “There are benefits and there are drawbacks.” My stream-of-thought process went something like: “That’s okay, because I live in paradise now and I love to cook. There isn’t much for me to eat at restaurants, so I’ll just cook delicious, nutritious meals at home all the time, and be super healthy and happy! I’ll simply go to the store and pick up some of my essentials, like organic apples, almond butter, dates, kalamata olives, chia, gluten-free quinoa pasta, etc.” WRONG. I failed to realize that I’m on an island…an island where people are busy either downing lobsters drenched in butter, or frying quesadillas stuffed with pork in lard…an ISLAND, where I can’t drive 15 minutes to the nearest Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to buy my 100% USDA organic, sugar-free apple sauce and dairy-free coconut milk kefir. Soooo…now what? Well, now I starve…

NO, of course not! Now, I’ll have to do without all of my “fancy” ingredients and figure out how to make delicious, nutritious vegetarian meals using only what is available at the local markets. What is available at the local markets? About 90% highly processed foods (which I try my best to avoid), with all kinds of lovely additives that are no longer used (or allowed?) in the United States, and 10% whole foods.

I started this blog to chronicle my adventures in preparing healthy, vegetarian meals using the local ingredients.

Wish me luck!

-The Vegetarian Mexican