This past Columbus Day (also known as Día de la Raza in Latin America and Indigeneous People’s Day in the United States) weekend I was back in San Miguel de Allende visiting friends and taking advantage of the long weekend. The weather was delicious with nightly rains quenching the hillsides and leaving the cobblestones glistening in the morning sun. The rains are also responsible for the abundance of huitlacoche, a corn fungus that Mexicans consider a delicacy. In Mexico, huitlacoche enjoys the same culinary standing as truffles do in Europe, though it doesn’t grow underground and isn’t as costly. The high regard for huitlacohe is an ancient sentiment. The Aztecs revered all forms of maize, especially huitlacoche, a Nahuatl word some linguists decipher as meaning “ravens’ excrement.” It is true that huitlacoche is not exactly pretty; the deformed, irridescent, and spongy kernels are powdered with black spores and look a little like, well, bird droppings.
Fresh huitlacoche is not hard to find in Mexico. I saw a young woman selling it right on the cobb but often I buy it from Josefina, my elderly friend from the sierra, who removes it from the cobb and sells it packaged in baggies.
Huitlacoche’s taste is difficult to describe; the flavor is not quite like porcini or truffles, but there is some similarity. Fresh is better though difficult to find in the United States. Canned huitlacoche is more readily available, which requires a longer cook time to dry out the liquid.
This recipe belongs to Doña Beatriz, a legendary cook from Casa Carmen in San Miguel de Allende. She doesn’t put cheese in her tacos but to add cheese, cut thin slices of a soft cheese like queso de Oaxaca or Monterrey Jack and warm it on a corn tortilla, topping the quesadilla with cooked huitlacoche.
- 2½ cups of huitlacoche
- 2 roma tomatoes
- 1 small onion
- 1 clove chopped garlic
- ½ cup canola oil (approximately)
- Fresh cilantro
- Salt to taste
- Corn tortillas
- Clean the huitlacoche by removing the tiny stems or feet (la patita) from where it is attached to the cobb (these have a slightly bitter taste).
- Cook the onion first until it is soft, then add the roma tomato; cook until it dissolves, then add the huitlacoche.
- Cook this mixture for about 10 minutes, until it is all softened, add salt to taste.
- Warm your corn tortillas on both sides on a comal.
- Place a spoonful of the mixture, garnish with a slice of fresh tomato or a slice of avocado and chopped cilantro and serve with your favorite salsa.