When trying to describe tlacoyos to my kids, I said they were a cross between a tamale and an empanada. They have the thick, corn-masa breading on the outside, like a tamale. But unlike a tamale, they aren’t steamed in corn husks, they are cooked on a hot griddle (with our without oil) or, sometimes, deep fried.
Their shape is also unique, like a football that has been flattened by an oncoming car. They are said to be an ancient snack, harkening back to the time of the Aztecs.
The filling can vary. Here I use habas (fava beans), but you can use different types of beans, or chicharron (pork cracklings). You can also stuff the with the Mexican version of ricotta, called requesón. In some regions you will find the stuffed with chiles or potatoes.
The corn masa too can vary, sometimes the traditional yellow, but often made with blue corn masa.
By themselves, to be frank, they are not the most interesting of snacks, but they are traditionally topped with wonderful toppings like nopales salad, cotija cheese or queso fresco, crema, cilantro, and red or green salsa. Combine the warm, hearty tlacoyos with the spicy, fresh toppings, and you have sheer perfection.
You can find them throughout Mexico City and central Mexico, and are sure to taste them on our Magical Mexico City Culinary Vacation during your street food tour.
A note on the beans: I make them from dry in my pressure cooker. It’s quick and easy! But you could also use canned, or you could reconstitute them the old fashioned way by soaking and simmering. This recipe makes double the amount of fava beans you need, so you’ll have some for next time!
I also am lucky, because I can easily buy prepared nopales and nopales salad at the local produce store, since Chicago has a plethora of amazing Mexican markets. But you could use jarred nopales to make your own.
Recipe for Mexican Tlacoyos
Serves: 6 (2 each)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 8 minutes
Cook method: Griddle
- 2 1/2 cups masa harina
- 2 cups water (more or less)
- 2 cups Mexican dried fava beans (habas)
- 1 small onion, chopped finely
- 2 cloves garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 jalapeño (or less), minced (optional)
- 1-2 Tbsp lard or oil
- Garnish: grilled or pickled nopales, onion, cilantro, tomato, crema, queso fresco or cojito, red or green salsa
1. First, make the beans. Rinse the habas and place in the pressure cooker with enough water to cover by a good inch, and a teaspoon of salt.
2. Cook on high pressure for 22 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes before releasing the pressure. Drain the beans and set aside.
3. Saute the onion in lard (or oil) on medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and jalapeño and cook for a couple minutes more.
4. Add half the fava beans (the others you can freeze for the next time). Cook them, mashing them with a wooden spoon or potato masher, and adding a bit of water if the mixture get too thick. Turn off the heat and set aside for assembly.
5. Combine the masa harina and salt to taste (about 1/2 to 1 tsp) in a large bowl. Add 2 cups warm water and mix it until combined. If you need to, add more water a tablespoon at a time to get the right consistency. (You can tell if it’s right by flattening a bit of it on the countertop. If the edges crack, it needs a bit more water.) Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, just like you would with a yeasted wheat dough.
6. Divide the dough into 12 portions a bit larger than a golf ball, and cover them with a damp cloth.
7. Place one ball on half of a rectangular piece of plastic wrap (this helps keep the dough from sticking). Fold the plastic wrap over, and flatten the dough with your hands or a rolling pin until it is a circle about 5-6″ in diameter.
8. Remove the plastic on the top and spread 1-2 tablespoons of bean puree down the center (be careful not to overfill them). Fold the dough over to enclose the filling and pinch closed. Turn it seam side up, then flatten it lightly with your hands to form a flat football shape, being careful not to expose the filling.
9. Repeat this process, keeping the complete tlacoyos covered with plastic wrap, until you have 12.
10. Heat a large, heavy skillet or grilled over medium high heat. Cook the tlacoyos about 4 minutes per side until the cooked side is speckled and slightly dry. Flip and cook the other side about 4 minutes more. If they start to get too brown, lower the heat.
11. Place in a dish and cover to keep warm, then repeat with all the tlacoyos.
12. Serve 2 per person as a meal, or 1 as a snack, seam side up, and garnished with your choice of nopales, cojito cheese, queso fresco, onion, tomato, cilantro, and salsa.
Did you know of tlacoyos? What are your favorite Mexican snacks and street food?
By Peg Kern
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