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When you think of Mexican food, the first thing that comes to mind might be burritos or nachos, but that’s not really Mexican.
At least that’s what the Mexican Gastronomic Conservatory told UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Margarita de Orellana is with the group of Mexican Academics who put together the first cookbook to be included on Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
“We said ‘No, that’s not Mexican, that comes from the south of the United States. It’s great, but it has nothing to do with the ways and traditions of our cooking,’” says Orellana.
The conservatory organized experts and artists to create an authoritative guide to Mexican food. It focuses on the food of the Michoacan region, which Unesco specifically highlighted as being culturally significant.
The book examines traditional kitchen utensils like the Metate — a type of stone mortar and pestle, and indigenous ingredients like cacao (cocoa), avocado, corn and an aztec delicacy called huitlacoche.
Joe Quintana is the head chef of Rosa Mexicano, a downtown New York City restaurant specializing in Mexican cuisine. He loves cooking with huitlacoche, which he calls “the caviar of corn.”
Margarita de Orellana understands why. “That’s one of the most exquisite dishes that we have, because you know huitlacoche is a mushroom that is like a sickness of the corn that grows all over the world, but nobody really knew what a specialty and how wonderful this part of the corn is. “
His favorite dish to make is huitlacoche crêpes, which he says demonstrates the influence French cuisine had on traditional Mexican ingredients.
Chef Quintana’s huitlacoche crêpes recipe:
For the crepes:
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/3 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 cup flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
For the filling:
- 1 pound fresh huitlacoche or oyster mushrooms
- 2 ½ tablespoons corn oil
- ½ medium white onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1-2 serrano chiles, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 sprig epazote (leaves only) chopped
- salt to taste
For the sauce:
- 4 poblano chiles, seeded (not necessary to peel them for this recipe)
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup Mexican crema or heavy cream
- salt to taste
- grated mild melting cheese (Mexican manchego, jack, gruyere or fontina) for topping
Make the crepe batter: Place all ingredients in a blender and liquefy until smooth. Let batter rest at least 30 minutes while the filling and sauce are being made.
Make the filling: Coarsely chop the huitlacoche or setas and set aside. Heat the oil in a skillet, add the onions and sauté until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and chile and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Add the huitlacoche or setas and cook until they have rendered their juice and it has nearly evaporated. Stir in the epazote.
Make the sauce: Roughly chop the poblanos, place them in a blender with the milk, and liquefy to make a puree. In a saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour to make a light roux. Add the chile puree and stir with a whisk until it has thickened to the consistency of heavy cream. Remove from heat, add the crema and salt to taste.
Make the crepes: Heat a bit of oil in an 8″ crepe pan, wiping with a paper towel to coat the surface. Pour ¼ cup crepe batter into the pan and roll the pan around to coat the bottom with batter. When the edges of the crepe start to dry and turn up, turn the crepe over and continue to cook for 1 minute.
Place the crepe on a plate and repeat with remaining batter, stacking the crepes as they are finished.
Assemble: Divide the filling evenly among the crepes, roll them up and place them in a lightly greased oblong baking dish. Pour the sauce over the crepes and bake them at 350º F for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake another 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted. Serve immediately.
Makes 4-5 first course servings of 2 crepes each.