Out of all the wonderful Mexican street foods, tlacoyos are probably my favorite. The thick oval-shaped masa patties griddled on a comal are a must-have every time I return home, no matter what. They are a bit crispy on the outside with a soft interior that can be stuffed with many fillings, but the three most common are black beans (my favorite), fava beans (my second favorite), and requesón, a fresh ricotta-like cheese (my other second favorite!). In Mexico, tlacoyos are cooked to order and then topped with a fresh salad of cactus paddle, cilantro, serrano chiles, and onion. To finish it off, vendors crumble a bit of fresh cheese and end with a flourish of salsa.
Stacked high with nopales, tlacoyos can be tricky to eat, but I just love them, and I’m always thrilled to introduce this dish to anyone who hasn’t tried it. When my husband and I got married in Mexico City, where we both grew up, we surprised friends and family by ending a day of touring at an amazing tlacoyo stand near my brother’s house. We turned several people into tlacoyo lovers that night—and if you learn how to make tlacoyos, I’m certain you’ll become a dedicated fan.
In addition to the made-to-order tlacoyos you get at a street stall, many vendors also sell precooked ones in bundled bags. I’ve filled my tiny New York City freezer with these, and when I want one, I simply reheat it in my toaster oven. If you want to freeze your homemade tlacoyos, you can do so after they’ve been cooked and cooled. Stack them and wrap firmly with food wrap, then place inside a resealable bag. Even without the cactus salad and salsa, tlacoyos are a great snack.
Your homemade tlacoyos can start with masa harina or the kind of fresh masa that you’d use to make tortillas. (Check here for a local masa source near you.) You’ll add a bit of water, then roll the dough into a ball just larger than a golf ball. Use the palm of your hand to flatten it about a quarter-inch thick. Like with any hand pie or empanada, it’s important not to add too much filling to your tlacoyo. One or two tablespoons is plenty; leave the edges of the masa patty clear of filling so that you can press the sides together well for a firm seal. In the end, your tlacoyo should be an oval shape, sort of like a flat football.
Tlacoyos are griddled dry without oil. Flip them regularly during cooking and reduce the heat if you get any charred spots. When both sides have developed freckles and the edges have puffed a bit, they’re ready.
Tlacoyos have been around for a very long time. My friend Edmundo Escamilla Solis, a food historian who sadly passed away a couple years ago, used to do these special dinners at the Chapultepec castle with his partner, Yuri de Gortari, called los sabores de la historia (the flavors of history). At each event, Edmundo would talk about a specific era and Yuri would prepare dishes from that time. At one of these dinners, Yuri remarked that griddled masa snacks stuffed with beans and other fillings were referenced in writing from the 16th century when the Spaniards conquered Mexico. Edmundo said that the tlacoyos or a variation of them were the first real fast food, though back in those days they didn’t have any cheese, as that was brought by the Spaniards.
A while back I read an interview with Edmundo where he said something that translates to, “a migrant can forget and modify their social customs, learn a new language, or even change religion, but will never ever forget the flavors they grew up with.” It’s certainly true for me, and the tlacoyo is a particularly vivid flavor I can’t forget.
Tlacoyos de Frijol y Requesón (Bean and Cheese Tlacoyos)Lesley Téllez
Originally Appeared on Epicurious
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