In addition to the emblematic Huitlacoche (Ustilago maydis, technically a smut) featured in my previous posts, many kinds of mushrooms have been consumed in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times; the generic word for them in Nahuatl is nanacatl, and after the arrival of the Spaniards, they were called by their Spanish name – hongos.
Cultivated or wild, hongos in Mexico account for a yearly yield of close to four thousand tons, or 60% of the total edible mushroom production in Latin America, placing Mexico as the top producer in this region. There is a wide variety of wild mushrooms collected in Mexican forests and fields during the rainy season. Amongst the cultivated varieties, the white button mushroom is the most common, called champiñón, from the French champignon. It is frequently used fresh in salads or side dishes; some people may find preserved mushrooms somewhat obnoxious, but when really small, the white little gems are delicious pickled en escabeche, along jalapeño peppers and other vegetables, and even those right out of a can become an awesome treat in spicy snacks and creamy soups. More recently, the brown Cremini (pictured above, left) and large Portobello, have become widely available (all three are mushrooms of the same species, Agaricus bisporus, only at different stages of maturity).
Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), pictured above, right, are known in Mexico as setas; they have been consumed by Mexicans for centuries, and cultivated commercially in the country since the 1940s. Setas are the preferred choice for very traditional dishes in which a firm texture and “meaty” flavour are required, and Mexican cuisine is bristled with recipes calling for them, such as sopa de setas (oyster mushroom soup), or nopalitos con hongos (tender cactus with mushrooms). When I hear the word setas, though, the first picture in my mind is definitely one of a lady making quesadillas de hongos at a stand by the side of a road, for example, in the old Mexico City borough of Tlalpan, or at Tres Marías, a popular breakfast stop for tourists and locals alike, on the way to the quaint town of Cuernavaca, from Mexico City:
Hungry customers, warming up with a mug of coffee from the pot or atole, watch how portions of corn dough (masa) are skilfully shaped into thick and slightly oval tortillas, then cooked on the grill before being folded and stuffed with one of the many fillings being offered, including hongos con epazote.
Mushrooms with Epazote – Hongos con epazote
2 cups mushrooms; wiped clean, tough stem ends removed, chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup onions; peeled and chopped
¼ cup fresh epazote leaves; washed
Salt, to taste
Oyster mushrooms are pricey in my area, so I used about equal parts of them and cremini mushrooms (pictured at the top of this post); I like the cremini for their deep brown colour and earthy flavour, and the oyster, for their chewy texture and well defined gills:
Start by warming up the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Sauté onions in the pan until slightly translucent, then add the chopped mushrooms (photo below, left). Stir to incorporate onions and mushrooms, and continue cooking for about five more minutes, until mushrooms are heated through and tender, but not mushy. Finish by seasoning with salt, to taste, and adding epazote leaves (photo below, right):
Turn off heat, and stir, just to wilt epazote leaves:
NOTE: Since epazote is part of this filling’s name, I did not offer substitutions in the recipe, but if not available, a mix of fresh thyme and flat parsley leaves may be an acceptable option.
If you do not have access to corn dough (masa), or to satisfy a craving fast, corn tortillas may be used to fix a quick quesadilla:
Quick Mushroom Quesadilla – Quesadilla de hongos rápida
Mushroom filling (as above)
Warm corn tortillas
Any Mexican salsa; click here to check out my recipes
Melting cheese slices, such as Chihuahua, or friulano; optional
Place tortillas on a dry skillet or grill (no oil). Top half of each tortilla with mushroom filling, and cheese slices (if using, photo below, left). Fold tortillas in half over the filling, to form semi-circles, and continue cooking, flipping as needed, until slightly golden brown and crispy on both sides (photo below, right):
In the photo below, a mushroom and cheese quesadilla with red spicy sauce:
Wait, did I say that cheese was optional???! The Spanish word quesadilla may be deconstructed into queso – cheese and illa , the diminutive of the suffix in female form ada – meaning “containing”; a quesada is then something containing cheese, and quesadilla is a small version of it. Does this mean that a quesadilla should always contain cheese? This is actually the subject of a legendary argument – often times involving less than pious words – between people from Mexico City’s metropolitan area and the rest of the country. Stay tuned for my next post, with more on this, and the delectable world of quesadillas.
I am sharing my recipe at Thursday Favourite Things #457, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.