About a year ago, my cousin Cari and I met some of her friends at El Aguila, a new Mexican restaurant that had opened in an unassuming strip mall in Pleasant Hill, CA. While the interior looked more like a Subway with sparse Latin art on the wall, the food was out of this world! The owner of El Aguila had worked in several high-end restaurants and has created a menu that is unique in its
authenticity and artistry. In any case, our group sampled an ample portion of the menu, and all of us were very impressed, to say the least. I was intrigued by the tlacoyos; mostly, because I had never heard of them. Excuse the platitude. but it was “love at first bite.” We followed up with another visit to El Aguila, 6 months later. This time, it was standing room only. The San Francisco Chronicle, among other periodicals, had discovered El Aguila, and apparently, so did the rest of the Bay Area. This time, I asked if I could learn the secret to making these “gems.” I received a reply with a laugh: “Make corn tortilla dough, flatten it out thicker than a tortilla, fill it and fry it on the griddle – easy!” They were right! It is easy, and what you fill your tlacoyos with, and how you garnish them, makes your meal unique. In any case, they make a quick and easy dinner or lunch, and so far, I’ve had no complaints, only complements and empty plates.
Tlacoyos (makes 8, for 4 main dish servings, or 8 appetizer servings)
1 3/4 Cups tepid water (maybe a bit more)
2 Cups Maseca (instant corn masa flour)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup organic corn kernels (optional, and I did it on a whim last night)
Put the Maseca into a medium-sized bowl, add the salt, stir, and add the tepid water. Mix with a wooden spoon, or by hand, quickly, until you have a fairly soft dough but not sticky. The Maseca will quickly absorb the water, you might want to add up to a 1/4 cup more. Cover with plastic wrap and briefly set aside while you make your filling.
QUICK REFRIED BEAN FILLING
1 can organic black refried beans
1 red or green bell pepper, diced small
1 medium white or yellow onion, diced small
1 4oz. can Hatch green chilies (mild or hot, depending on your taste)
1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (or avocado oil, or coconut oil)
Heat fry pan to medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring, until onion is translucent. Add the green chilies and then the beans, and stir to combine. When heated through, take the pan off the heat. Uncover the dough and measure out in 1/4 cup portions. Tear a piece of wax paper and gently pat out the dough to about 1/4″ thick, repeat with each piece of dough.
Place 1/4-cup filling on one half of the tlacoyo. And then gently fold over, using the waxed paper as a guide. Sometimes the dough cracks a bit, but just pinch it back together.
Add another 1 1/2 – 2 tbsp. of olive oil (coconut oil, or avocado oil) to the pan over medium heat. When warm, add the tlacoyos and pan fry, until lightly brown on each side. The dough should be a bit crisp on the outside, and lightly chewy on the inside, like polenta. In the US, we certainly add excessive amounts of cheese to all of our Mexican menus, which is certainly not authentic, not to mention, not healthy. I like to serve fresh guacamole, salsa, greens (sunflower greens are a personal favorite) and cashew cheese (see recipe following ) on the side. You can certainly top them with sour cream or Mexican crema, and they would be great also. I personally like a colorful platter. El Aguila topped their tlacoyos with a bit of cheese and Mexican crema, and served them with a vinegar slaw on the side, and a few fresh salsas.
CASHEW CHEESE (easily doubles)
Soak 3/4 cup of raw cashews in water to cover overnight, or at least 6 hours
Drain, rinse, and put in a small food processor with:
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4/ tsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
a few grinds of black pepper
1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
Finely chop, scraping down the bowl a few times. Then add 3-4 tbsp. cool water. Blend until cashews are no longer crunchy, and the mixture is a bit thick. Finally, excuse my photography, but here is the result of last night’s dinner. Total time, not including the cashew soaking: less than 45 minutes from start to finish. ENJOY!