Every trip to Mexico City is a fantastic experience for one reason or another. This last time was especially memorable for me beacuse I learned a new way to prepare filled masa and was introduced to quelites- leafy greens, usually amaranth, but can be a number of dark colored tender greens that are slightly bitter. Our trip to Mercado 100 and learning about tlacoyos can be seen here. Tlacoyos are oval shaped filled masa treats that are toasted or can even be fried.
Over the years and through our travels, I learned the hard way that if I want to have any chance of accurately replicating a dish we had abroad, I need to get on it as soon as we return home. Otherwise, all is lost. Luckily, I took notes while on vacation and got to work in the kitchen soon after while the memory was still fresh and I’m so glad I did because this is a wonderful vegetarian dish that is delicious and everything but the filled masa can be made ahead. Let’s get to work.
Quelites and tomatillos.
Prepared, fresh Masa
Quelites, one large bunch
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
½ onion, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Nopales- 2 cactus lobes
Refried black beans
In a medium size saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and garlic, lower heat to very low, stir and cover. Let cook on low heat until the onions become translucent, about 8- 10 minutes. Remove the lid, increase heat to medium high and add the quelites, stirring occasionally just until wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.
Prepare the nopales:
Wash and dry the cactus lobes. With a pairing knife, cut off the prickly needles in one swift motion against the growth. After cleaning the cactus, slice into 2” long x ½” wide strips. Place into a colander and rinse with cold water. Let drain. Place a grill pan on the grill and cook cactus until they soften, making sure to turn and move them around. This process not only cooks the cactus but also dries them out enough to significantly decrease the amount of viscosity. This can also be done indoors on a comal or in a dry skillet. When they are a bit charred and soften, remove from heat and let cool down.
Make the Tlacoyos:
Size does not matter here. These can be large or smaller, whatever you desire.
Pinch off a ball of masa and roll between palms to form a thick tube shape. Place onto a piece of plastic (a produce bag from the grocery store is ideal), or wax paper works in a pinch) and cover with a second piece of plastic. Using a rolling pin, roll the masa lengthwise, into an oval shape with tapered ends. Place on a parchment lined sheetpan. Repeat the process 3 more times for a total of 4. Try to make them roughly the same size so that they fit together easily when sandwiched. These will be the bottoms. For the tops, repeat the rolling process 4 more times and set aside. Do not stack.
By now, you should have 4 bottoms on the sheetpan. Spread the refried beans in a thin layer over each bottom piece leaving a ½” border around the edges. Top with another piece of rolled masa and gently place directly over, pressing very lightly over the surface to get rid of excess air pockets. Pinch the border together to seal. Repeat until you have completed all 4.
On a heated grill, comal, or dry saute pan, place the filled tlacoyos and cook until the masa turns opaque, making sure to flip them over half way through. Depending on how thick your masa is, the cooking process could take between 5-8 minutes. Generally, when the masa begins to puff up, it is ready to be flipped over and cooked on the other side.
Layer a scoop of quelites over the tlacoyo, and spread out in a thin layer. Top with slices of nopales, tomatillo salsa, and a sprinkle of cotija cheese.