Thanks to the awfully named “Hispanic Heritage Month” celebration (Sep 15-Oct 15), Fiesta is loaded with unusual products that are not always available. During a recent visit I spied a couple of items in the produce section that filled my heart with patriotic pride. One of them was huauzontles (say “wah-zont-lays”), an herb of the goosefoot species, known and consumed since pre-Columbian times in Central Mexico. So, beginning today, a new category for Chile y Limón: Mima’s Recipes.
Huauzontle leaves are edible like a wild green, but what we mexicanos really love are the immature seed heads, which resemble bottle brushes (yeah, sure stoners, they kinda look like weed). They are inexpensive and incredibly nutritious, with a sort of earthy, herbal taste that to me tastes very “green.” Although they were cooked and consumed during Aztec times, today the main way to prepare them comes from the Spanish tradition of egg battering and frying, like is the case of chiles rellenos. Traditionally they can be served in a chile pasilla sauce or in a basic tomato broth. Mima usually makes them in the tomato broth, so that’s what I did this week.
Tortitas de huauzontle Makes 6
1 large bunch of huauzontle
4 eggs, separated
1 cup flour
6 slices of cheese, Monterey Jack, quesadilla, or Chihuahua
Salt & pepper to taste
For the tomato broth:
2 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh is best but canned will do)
1/4 medium white onion, roughly chopped
2-3 garlic cloves
1 chile serrano (optional)
Salt to taste
2 cups water or vegetable broth
Wash the huauzontles well. With kitchen shears, cut the small clusters of seeds off from the main woody stem, trying to keep only the most tender stems.
Blanch quickly in boiling salted water for about five minutes. Drain and cool.
Meanwhile, make the tomato broth: blend the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and chile in the blender. Add salt to taste. Fry with a tablespoon of oil in a heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally, until it reduces a bit and is well seasoned. Add the water, lower the heat and simmer on low. Beat egg whites to medium peaks, add yolks and mix until combined. Place flour in a shallow dish. Get your assembly line ready.
Heat about an inch of oil in a heavy skillet. Take a handful of huauzontles and squeeze out the liquid. Place a slice of cheese on top, then take another handful and squeeze them together to smoosh the cheese in the middle. Carefully place the tortita in the flour and dust on both sides. Dip in the egg, letting excess drip.
Place in oil and fry until golden, turn over and brown the other side. Repeat to form 6 tortitas. Drain on paper towels.
Place the tortitas in the hot tomato broth and simmer for a few minutes so they absorb some broth and remain heated through. Serve hot with a simple white rice. See? Slow food is really nothing new…