Calixtlahuaca style stuffed avocados with Mexican rice and tostadas.
by A. Isabel Mercado
American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1884-1907) once said, "What garlic is to salad, insanity is to art." Perhaps he never tasted Mexico's diverse culinary delights, which are as tangy as the country's humor, as colorful as the landscape, and as plentiful as the nation's natural resources.
Mexican cuisine embodies the soul of a people whose skill as sauciers is based on nearly 2000 years of excellence. In comparison, modern French-style cooking has a tradition of only about 500 years. Although the Spanish did introduce several new recipes in the early 1500s, indigenous dishes actually changed European eating habits more than Spain altered Mexican cuisine. Among some of the staples unfamiliar to the conquerors were tomatoes, beans, corn, vanilla, 92 different varieties of chilies, avocados, eggplant, potatoes, cashews, peanuts and chocolate.
In 1519, Bernal Diaz del Castillo wrote in awe of the the lavish banquets served in Mexico City for Moctezuma: "He had upwards of thirty different ways of dressing meats and had earthenware vessels so contrived as to keep them always hot. For the table of Moctezuma, himself, over three hundred dishes were dressed; and for his guards, more than a thousand." The emperor was rumored to be handy in the kitchen to boot, often checking that the various platters were properly seasoned before being served. (The Art of Mexican Cooking, Jan Aaron & Georgine Sachs Salom, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1965.)
In this new column, we will be exploring some of the gastronomical delights passed down from our prehispanic and Colonial era ancestors. The mix of ingredients and flavors are as tantalizing as the history behind them. So pull out those traditional earthenware vessels and the hand-hammered copper cookware; the following dish is fit for a king.
Los Prietitos del Maíz (Black Corn)
t is impossible to speak of the prehispanic kitchen without mentioning corn. The staple was so influential in early Mexican culture that it was considered sacred. In fact, the Mayans believed mankind was derived from its lanky green stalks. Every part of this versatile plant is a useful ingredient in food preparation, from the roots, stalks, leaves, husk, corn silk, cob and kernels, to the fungus which can sprout on the ears after a heavy rainfall.
Known as cuitlacoche, this black mold, which swells and deforms the ear, is considered a delicacy in Mexico and has been enjoyed since Pre-columbian times. Sold fresh by the cob in open air markets during the rainy season, it can also be purchased canned from specialty gourmet shops or Mexican supermarkets (we recommend Herdez for its most consistant good flavor). To prepare it, the fungus is chopped off the cob, cleaned with a damp cloth and sautéed with diced onions, garlic, fresh green chilies and a pinch of salt. It is used as a filling for tacos, quesadillas, in omelettes, soups, or our favorite stuffed avocados, Calixtlahuaca style.
Calixtlahuaca Style Stuffed Avocados
4 ripe Haas avocados
3 limes (1 Tablespoon of juice)
Salt and pepper to taste
Halve the avocados, peel skin and remove pits. Place the avocado sections in a bowl, squeeze three limes (one tablespoon of juice) over the fruit. Add salt and pepper to taste, refrigerate for one hour.
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 diced white onion
2 teeth finely chopped garlic
1 can of cuitlacoche (270 grams) or 425 grams of fresh, chopped cuitlacoche
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 chilies serranos, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil over a low flame. Add onion, garlic, cuitlacoche and serranos. Simmer fresh cuitlacoche for 35 to 40 minutes, canned cuitlacoche for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cilantro, salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
4 leaves of fresh lettuce, washed, dried and refrigerated
8 slices of panela cheese (or substitue with any fresh goat cheese)
8 slices of fresh tomato
Place a leaf of lettuce on each of four plates. Set two avocado halves, face up, on the lettuce. Fill avocado centers with cooled cuitlacoche stuffing. Garnish with tomato and cheese slices. Serve with tostadas and rice.
(Recipe adapted from: "El Sabor de México," by Patricia Quintana.)