ALSO KNOWN, RATHER INDELICATELY, as corn smut, huitlacoche is a fungus that infects corn. Think of it as the Mexican answer to Italian truffles and you’re close to grasping the funk of the flavor. In Iliana de la Vega’s recipe that funk is tempered by the sharp and resinous herb known as epazote.
MAKES ABOUT 30 EMPANADAS
FOR THE EMPANADA DOUGH 2 pounds fresh white corn masa (see Notes) 2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
FOR THE HUITLACOCHE FILLING 2 tablespoons vegetable oil ½ white onion, diced 2 serrano peppers, finely diced (do not remove the seeds) 2 large cloves garlic, minced 3 ripe plum tomatoes, finely diced 2 cans (7 ounces each) huitlacoche (see Notes), coarsely chopped 10 fresh epazote leaves (see Notes), chopped
Sea salt 2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying the empanadas Salsa of your choice, for serving
Make the empanada dough: Place the masa in a large bowl and knead it, adding small amounts of warm water to moisten it if necessary, until the dough is soft and elastic. Knead in the lard or oil and salt to taste. The masa should feel like Play-Doh, soft but not sticky. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Pull off small pieces of empanada dough and form them into balls by rolling them between your hands. You should have about 30 balls. Keep the balls covered with plastic wrap while making the filling and forming the empanadas.
Make the huitlacoche filling: Heat the 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and serrano peppers and cook until the peppers are soft and the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic is softened, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, reduce the heat, and let cook until the tomatoes are softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the huitlacoche, mix well, and continue cooking until the huitlacoche is heated through and the mixture is well blended, about 10 minutes. Add the epazote and season the huitlacoche filling with sea salt to taste. Set the filling aside to cool.
Place plastic storage bags over the top and the bottom plates of a tortilla press. Place a ball of dough in the center of the bottom of the tortilla press. Lower the top of the press to form a little tortilla. (If you don’t own a press, roll out the tortillas with a rolling pin.) Transfer the tortilla to the palm of your hand and fill it with about 1½ teaspoons of the huitlacoche filling. Fold the empanada in half, as when making a turnover, pressing the edges together to seal them. Transfer the empanada to a baking sheet and cover it with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining balls of empanada dough and huitlacoche filling. Refrigerate the empanadas for 10 to 15 minutes.
Heat the 2 quarts oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until a deep fry thermometer attached to the side of the pot registers 325°F. Working in batches and being careful not to overcrowd the pot, carefully add the empanadas to the hot oil and cook them until golden and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked empanadas to paper towels to drain. Serve the empanadas with salsa.
NOTES: If fresh masa is unavailable, substitute 3 cups of masa harina. To reconstitute it, follow the package directions.
Many of the ingredients and tools in this book—including, huitlacoche, epazote, and tortilla presses—are available at Mexican grocery stores. So are lots of other good things to eat and drink.