Inspired by the beautiful dahlias that are blooming in my backyard garden, and intrigued by the fact that they are edible, including their tubers, I picked one of the strongest plants, and dug around the stem, about 15 cm (1/2 ft) away from it, to avoid damage to the roots, then carefully scooped deep under them to unearth the whole tuber system:
Because this was a plant from a crown that I bought at a gardening centre, there were tubers in different sizes, tones, and textures, with some of the older ones showing darker shades of brown, and rougher skin, and a few already drying out and shrivelling. For cooking, only new tubers, grown without chemicals, will be useful; they look pale and their skin is thin, like fingerling potatoes. I picked a few, as well as one of the old ones, as reference, then replanted the dahlia, and watered it. In the photo below, a comparison of tubers, with the old, dark and tough tuber at the top, and the fresh, pale and plump one at the bottom, about 8 cm (3 in) in length:
For the background of my recipe, continue reading, or click here to go to printable recipe: Quesadilla Packets with Dahlia.
After a quick search for cooking with dahlia, I spotted a dahlia cooking contest in the town of Huamantla, in the state of Tlaxcala, called “Mi identidad con la dalia” – “My identity with the dahlia”, in which local cooks and dahlia enthusiasts are invited to participate with an original recipe around dahlias, either a beverage, or a dish, savoury or sweet:
This contest gave me the idea to look for a recipe from Tlaxcala that I could apply to dahlias; after searching specifically for traditional cooking in Huamantla, I found an article about a genius farmer and entrepreneur named Flavia de Albino, who specializes in growing, cooking and teaching about, native corn and paddle cactus (nopal) products, and local indigenous cuisine. She was featured on the website of the Fundación Tortilla (Tortilla Foundation), in particular for her green cactus and corn tortillas; a picture in the article, of her with some cute green packets caught my attention:
Based on the picture above, I decided to reproduce Flavia’s packets with green cactus-and-corn tortillas that I had bought in Toronto (see photo below):
The article does not mention what her stuffing is (probably beans, squash and/or potherbs), but of course I am using dahlia tubers. She probably does not use cheese (being non-existent in Mexico in pre-Hispanic times), but nowadays, Tlaxcala is also famous for its artisan cheeses, particularly from the town of Tlaxco, so I am using fresh cheese in my packets. Failing to find green cactus-and-corn tortillas should not obstruct the preparation of this dish, as I am sure that equally cute packets may be prepared with regular corn tortillas.
Quesadilla Packets with Dahlia –
Quesadillas de paquete con dalia
Ingredients (for one portion)
2-3 corn tortillas, preferably green (with cactus), or regular
2 fresh dahlia tubers; washed
85 g (3 oz) fresh cheese, such as panela, or light feta; sliced
Mexican sauce, to taste, such as green tomatillo (click here for my recipe, or bottled)
To garnish: raw jalapeño or serrano pepper, and dahlia flower (optional)
Fresh dahlia tubers have a very thin skin, so it is optional to peel them; I used a vegetable peeler, and very carefully removed just a thin layer:
Cut and discard ends of tubers, then slice thinly, and reserve.
Warm up tortillas according to package instructions, in a microwave oven, or on an iron skillet or comal (Mexican griddle). Place one tortilla on working surface; arrange one third to half of the cheese and dahlia tuber slices at the centre of the tortilla (photo below, left). Top with Mexican sauce, to taste (photo below, right, showing green tomatillo sauce):
To form the packet, start by folding the bottom third of the edge of the tortilla towards the centre, then a third from the right side (photo below, left). Finish by closing the left side of the tortilla, forming a triangular shape, and making sure there is no gap at the centre of the packet (photo below, right):
Flip the packet, so the folds are facing down; repeat with the other tortillas and the rest of the filling and sauce (photo below, left). Warm up an iron skillet or a comal over medium heat; place the packets on the hot surface, with the folds facing down (photo below, right):
Press down gently with a spatula, so the folds get sealed with the heat; after a coupe of minutes, flip the packets, and cook for another two minutes, until hot and slightly browned on both sides. Transfer to a serving plate, and offer more sauce on the side. A raw hot pepper may be placed on the plate, as shown below:
I also had a dahlia flower at hand, so I placed it on the plate, too:
An alternative presentation, as shown at the top of this post, and below, is to sprinkle dahlia petals on top of the packets:
Eat right away, while hot.
This was such a beautiful dish for such little work, and the bite was very satisfying, with a perfect harmony of flavours and textures. The dahlia petals have a mild flavour, pretty much like lettuce or other greens; the soft tortilla is the perfect wrap for the fresh salty cheese, tangy sauce, and the surprisingly crunchy dahlia tubers:
Because this recipe features dahlia tubers, I did not offer any substitutes, but if not available at all, I would say the closest ingredient to them would be water chestnuts.
FUN FACTS: As I have mentioned before, in spite of being the smallest state in Mexico, Tlaxcala has many cultural and culinary treasures to offer; amongst them, Huamantla and Tlaxco, its two “Pueblos Mágicos” (“Magic Towns”), a denomination granted by the Mexican Tourism Secretariat to recognize locations around the country with outstanding or unique features regarding their history, natural beauty, architecture, gastronomy or cultural heritage. As of December 2021, there were 132 pueblos mágicos in total, with Tlaxco getting its denomination in 2015, and Huamantla in 2007.
Tlaxco is located amongst mountains and forests, at an altitude of 2,500 m (8,202 ft), so its climate is cool. The otomí pre-Hispanic culture is still alive in this town, in spite of being a flourishing Spanish settlement during colonial times; there is an amalgamation of indigenous and Spanish traditions, such as cave paintings and maguey (agave) cultivation for pulque (a fermented beverage), or pink cantera stone Catholic churches, and bullfights. As a result of mestizaje (inter-mixing of foreign and indigenous people or culture), Tlaxco has a reputation for good barbacoa (goat or other meat cooked in an underground oven) and their artisan cheeses.
Huamantla is located at a similar altitude, with a good section of its territory being part of the Malinche National Park. There are many old haciendas, and the community organizes several annual events, such as religious feasts and festivals. The most important is “La Feria Internacional del Arte Efímero y la Dalia” – “Minor Arts and Dahlia International Fair”, which takes place during the month of August. At the fair, there are many vendors, featuring local products, such as peach confections, edible insects, mole, pulque, baked goods, especially their local muéganos, and products made from corn and paddle cactus (nopal). A caped and crowned queen, a Dahlia Parade, and the dahlia cooking contest mentioned above, are all part of the festivities, which also coincide with the “Fiesta de la Virgen de la Caridad” – “Feast of the Virgin of Charity) on August 14-15, famous for their all-night-long procession “La noche que nadie duerme” – “The night nobody sleeps”, and long sections of carpet, created on the pavement with flower petals, seeds and tinted sawdust:
I am sharing my post at Thursday Favourite Things #556, 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.