In my previous post, I talked about Mexican markets before and after the arrival of Spanish explorers and conquerors. In his second letter to emperor Charles V (Carlos I of Spain), conqueror Hernán Cortés describes the Mexica (Aztec) empire, mentioning that the central market of Tlatelolco was a vast area where all kinds of merchandise could de found, each type organized in their own section or along a specific street. A busy day of trading and shopping would whet the appetite, so of course there was also a section dedicated to prepared food, as described by Cortés, with “ … maize, or Indian corn (in the general sense of “corn” as “grain”), in the grain and in the form of bread, preferred in the grain for its flavour to that of the other islands and terra-firma; pâtés of birds and fish; great quantities of fish, fresh, salt[ed], cooked and uncooked; the eggs of hens, geese, and of all the other birds I have mentioned, in great abundance, and cakes made of eggs.” Some of the maize “bread” preparations have been identified as tortillas (tlaxcalli), tamales (tamalli), and tlacoyos (tlahtlaōyoh).
Tlacoyo means “made from ground maize”; these corn dough (masa) preparations were filled with cooked beans and shaped by hand into elongated patties, then grilled over a brazier. Packed along with chiles (as pictured at the top of this post), tlacoyos constituted both nutritious comfort food with three basic elements of the Mexica diet, and the ultimate item of pre-Hispanic take-out, called itacate (from the Nahuatl itacatl, meaning: provisions packed for the road). Historians often mention how Cortés appreciated tlacoyos for these reasons, and how the humble patties would also be included amongst the many dishes cooked fresh for emperor Moctezuma’s banquets and meals.
After the Spanish conquest was completed, el mestizaje – the amazing fusion of Spanish and native-Mexican cultures – continued with no repose for the three centuries of colonial life in Mexico, transforming every aspect of it into a new one. Produce and other edibles brought from the Old World took the Mexican pantry by storm. For tlacoyos, novelty legumes such as broad beans and peas joined the native beans as fillings; chiles and salsas were supplemented with garlic and cilantro; and dairy products were quickly embraced both as fillings, and toppings (cheese, please!) All sorts of new meats were available, and in particular, pork products included lard, which provided a different taste and enhanced malleability when mixed-in with masa, as well as serving as a medium for frying, a cooking technique that did not exist in Pre-Hispanic Mexico.
Nowadays, tlacoyos are still a staple at the Mexican market, sold out of baskets by the dozen, to take home, and also cooked fresh at stands, offered with a choice of filling and served with many toppings, both native to Mexico (beans, mushrooms, paddle cactus, avocado, onions, chiles, tomatoes, tomatillo) and brought from Spain (lard in the dough, and to fry, broad beans, cheese, cilantro). They are often made from blue corn dough, although yellow and white are also common. For this post, I had Maseca™ white corn flour (masa harina, maize flour, not corn starch!), and I chose to prepare two batches of tlacoyos: the first, with just the basic pre-Hispanic combo of corn dough, beans and chiles (and salt, available from the salty lakes in Central Mexico), and the second, a fusion of pre- and post-Hispanic ingredients, with broad bean filling.
Ingredients (for a dozen)
2 cups corn flour (maize flour, masa harina, not corn starch)
1 ½ cups water, or as needed
½ tsp salt, or to taste
2 tbsp lard (optional)
1 ½ cups cooked legumes (beans, broad beans, peas, etc.)
Toppings, to taste:
Hot peppers (chiles), Mexican sauces, chopped onion, chopped cilantro, chopped lettuce, sliced avocado, cooked paddle cactus (nopales), cheese (unripened, crumbled).
I chose to cook two different kinds of tlacoyos; the images on the left side will illustrate a half-batch of plain tlacoyos with beans, while the right will be from the half prepared with Old World lard, broad beans and toppings.
For the filling, drain cooked legumes and smash to a thick paste, adding a little water or liquid from cooking if too dry:
If using broad beans, remove skins by pressing paste through a mesh. Reserve filling.
In a large bowl, mix flour, water and salt, to form a soft dough; if too crumbly, add extra water, one tablespoon at a time, kneading to incorporate perfectly. I divided the dough in half, and added one tablespoon of lard to the right half-batch:
If using lard, mix-in with the dough, kneading until fully incorporated. Divide dough into twelve balls:
In pre-Hispanic times, as it is still often done at street stands, the patties are formed completely by hand, while cooking others on the grill; at restaurants and modern kitchens, a tortilla press may be used for part of the process. Take one ball of dough and slightly roll into an elongated shape. Press on the palm of the hand, or using a tortilla press, to form a thick oval disk, then place about two tablespoons of filling in the centre:
Fold dough in half towards the centre, closing and flattening the seam; leave the ends partially unsealed, to allow air to escape:
Now press the patty very gently, to flatten, pushing any air bubbles towards the ends; it is fine if some of the filling shows through the dough. Place on a dry skillet (no oil) over medium heat:
Grill for a couple of minutes, then turn, to cook both sides; it is fine to flip several times, until the tlacoyos have developed a crust, with some charring:
Continue with all the dough and filling, cooking in batches, and transferring cooked tlacoyos to a clean kitchen towel, wrapping them to keep warm:
Eat hot, either plain, with some hot peppers and salsa on the side, or with toppings of choice:
Another platter of tlacoyos, with a cornucopia of Old and New World ingredients:
Plain tlacoyos will keep in the fridge, wrapped in a towel inside a plastic bag or closed container, for three to four days. To reheat, sprinkling with water and placing in the microwave oven in HIGH for 30 seconds or so will be enough, or crisp in a skillet with a little oil or lard, over medium heat.
The definite upside of the mestizaje process was the rich new culture and fusion cuisine which have become the heart and true identity of modern Mexico, as it may be aptly exemplified by a simple platter of tlacoyos, the most iconic pre- and post-Hispanic street food.
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I am sharing my recipe at Thursday Favourite Things #481, 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.
I am joining Fiesta Friday #372 with Angie @ Fiesta Friday, this week co-hosting with Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook. I was thrilled to see my Red Pipián (with vegan option) as part of the features at this party.