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Recipe Tuesday: Corn Truffle Tacos

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For this article, we are celebrating a very special day with a special dish, as September 16th is Mexican Independence Day. One of the first things that come to mind this time of year is Tacos de Huitlacoche (“Corn Truffle Tacos”). I’ve been in Mexico for a total of 17 Independence Day celebrations; each with their own brand of pyrotechnics, festive atmosphere among family and friends, and of course, food.

Back in 1997, my first year in the land “south of the border”, a friend and professor of mine invited me along with some of her colleagues to celebrate the national holiday. The celebration begins on the night of September 15th, when the President is ceremoniously escorted to the main balcony of the National Palace to perform the Midnight Yell or El Grito as Mexicans call it. This ceremony takes place in every municipality at precisely 11:00pm on September 15th regardless of location within the country with the Governor or City Mayor performing the yell as handfuls to thousands of enthusiastic citizens lay aside their disputes to join in on the chorus of Viva Mexico (Long Live Mexico). Outdoor street vendors happily peddle tamales, snow cones, whole ears of steamed corn slathered with mayonnaise and cheap booze to keep the festivities lively. After the Midnight Yell has been performed, the fireworks begin and parties often last into the wee hours of the following morning.

My very first Mexico Independence Day experience was filled with laughter, good times and amazement. Never before had I seen so much green, red and white (Mexico’s national colors) in one location. I inquired as to why the Midnight Yell actually takes place one hour before midnight. It was explained to me that this was the exact time of the original Yell in 1810, when Father Miguel Hidalgo, climbed up onto the rooftop of his local church and began ringing its bells to notify the locals that the revolution against Spain had formally begun.

After much celebration, we became hungry and I was in the mood to try some of the local cuisine. There were tacos with everything from maguey (the plant most commonly used for tequila production) worms to the common poultry and beef varieties; yet the thing that caught my eye were the huitlacoche. This is referred to as corn fungus, black mushrooms, or corn smut. In many regions throughout the world, the fungal growth is treated with pesticides and routinely disposed of, but in Mexico it is considered a delicacy and is often referred to in the United States as “Mexican truffles”. Huitlacoche is one of the most expensive items in local restaurants whenever it is in season (typically between the rainy months of July through October in Central Mexico).

My first taste of corn fungus tacos was love at first bite. The earthly flavor with a strong hint of corn, mixed with sautéed diced onions, chiles and a hint of chopped epazote leaves all wrapped together in a small corn tortilla is one of my most memorable food experiences to date – similar to the way a kid bites into a freshly baked chocolate-chip cookie for the first time. I was more than happy to please my Mexican friends by consuming a half dozen prepared tacos on the spot. Approximately sixteen years after my first corn truffle experience, it is still one of my main specialty dishes (usually as a side dish to tamales) and I’m always the first person to approach our local market vendor as soon as the rainy season begins in order to secure a pound or two of this Mexican delicacy.

Corn Truffle Tacos Recipe

Finding corn truffles or huitlacoche in the United States can be a challenge even if you reside in an area with a heavy Latin American influence. Your best bet is to visit a local Mexican market and ask whether they sell both corn fungus and the epazote plant. Fresh is always the best option, but in your specific case a canned version may be the only option.

Ingredients (Serves 4 portions or 12 medium sized tacos)

½ lb. or 8-ounce can corn fungus (thoroughly rinsed if purchased fresh)

½ cup chopped epazote stems and leaves

1 small onion (diced)

2 small Serrano chiles (coarsely chopped) *optional

1 dozen medium sized corn tortillas

1 teaspoon salt (to taste)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup water

Preparation

Step 1: Pour the olive oil into a small to medium sized sauce pan on medium heat and sauté onions along with optional chiles until translucent.

Step 2: When the onions have become translucent (the chiles – if you used them – will still be somewhat crunchy at this stage), introduce the corn fungus, chopped epazote and water). If you’re making a larger overall portion, simply adjust all the ingredient amounts accordingly. Place heat on medium low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the water has nearly evaporated. Add salt to taste. Turn off heat and cover if necessary to keep the prepared corn fungus warm.

Step 3: Place a skillet on high heat and warm up the corn tortillas – flipping them over as needed until slightly crisp (but not to the point where they break in half). Wrap the warm tortillas up in a cloth and serve in taco form – either as a side dish or stand alone snack.

Results

Corn fungus or corn smut, especially when mixed with the epazote plant, can be an acquired taste. Personally, my two kids and I gobbled up the 12 tacos in no time and then went directly to soccer practice.

In most cases, I would recommend this dish as a side to a simple poultry platter that includes grilled chicken breast or even grilled salmon. The earthy flavor profile of corn fungus is a bit of an overkill as a side for most beef dishes, but feel free to experiment on your own and let me know how it worked out!

If you’re good about refrigerating leftovers, the prepared corn smut will keep a day or two without a problem as long as it’s cooled properly. Simply reheat in a sauce pan and add a splash or water if necessary. Enjoy!

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