Peeps often ask me where I lived in New York. Brooklyn? Queens? “No,” I answer definitively, “Manhattan.” “Oooooh,” they say knowingly, with visions of doormen, elevators, and skyline views filling their heads. Sometimes I let them think it was that glamorous. And I guess it was, if you consider Mexican grocery stores, dead bodies stuffed into suitcases, and creepy dudes demanding money from you glamorous.
Ok, so I’m being dramatic (although it’s all true), but East Harlem is still a little rough around the edges. The shining beacon of a bright spot in my neighborhood was Taco Mix, a hole-in-the-wall taqueria open 24/7. The guys who work there turn out authentic tacos, quesadillas, and tortas at all hours of the night. They are absolute pros– I don’t know what the hell they do to make the food taste so good.
Besides tacos al Pastor, one of my favorite menu items was their quesadillas. But this wasn’t just some flour tortilla and Colby Jack abomination. The Taco Mix guys enclosed Oaxaca and Cotija cheeses in a pillow of fresh masa, cooked it on the griddle, and finished it off with crema. The resulting tortilla was somewhat thicker than usual, crispy around the edges and soft in the middle. Thankfully, chicken was not a filling choice as squash blossoms, mushrooms and huitlacoche were the only options.
Huitlacoche, the ink-black corn fungus, was my favorite. It’s essentially a mushroom that grows on corn. Hutilacoche’s savory earthiness and viscous consistency really beefs up a quesadilla, and that’s why it’s such a great combination.
I don’t know if habanero peppers are traditionally served on the side, but that’s how I liked it. The beautiful collage of green orange and purple looks so inviting until you put them in your mouth. Sometimes at 4 in the morning, beyond my better judgement, I would put heaps of these pickled habaneros on my quesadilla and light my mouth on FIRE. Only follow my example if you want a bad case of the hiccups.
Huitlacoche Quesadillas with Pickled Habaneros
- 1 tablespoons lard
- 1 cup maseca mixed with 3/4 cup to 1 cup water
- 4 ounces queso de Oaxaca
- 4 ounces cotija cheese
- 1/2 cup huitlacoche
Place the maseca in a medium bowl and add the water. Using your hands, mix them together until a ball of dough pulls together. It should be moist but not too sticky to handle. Divide the dough into 4 balls and set aside.
Heat a cast iron skillet or comal over medium high heat. Rip off a piece of wax paper and place it on the kitchen counter. place one of the dough balls on it, and then place another piece of waxed paper over the dough so that it is sandwiched between the wax paper. Using a cast iron skillet or something heavy, press the dough as flat as you can.
Carefully peel the flattened dough from the wax paper and place it on the heated skillet. Working quickly, layer queso de Oaxaca, cotija cheese, and huitlacoche on one side of the tortilla. Using a spatula, carefully fold the other side of the tortilla over the filling, and cook the other side. The quesadilla is ready when the outside is speckled with dark spots and the cheese on the inside is melted. Repeat with the other three.
Carefully unfold the quesadillas a bit and drizzle some crema on the filling. Serve with pickled habaneros and red onions if desired.