An abundance of freshly picked sweet corn always reminds me of several opportunities I have had to indulge in savoring one on Mexico’s most unusual delicacies, huitlacoche.
Huitlacoche is the Aztec name for a fungus that grows on maturing corn during the wet season in central Mexico and parts of north America.
Anyone who has wandered into a corn filed in mid summer would more than likely encounter a spongy foamy fungus in various shades of gray on some ears of corn. This is called corn smut in the US and huitlachoche in Mexico. Corn smut is not a particularly enticing descriptive, but putting that aside, think of huitlacoche as Mexico’s truffle with a unique delicate earthy mushroom like flavor with an umami note. Huitlacoche has been prized in indigenous cultures in the American southwest and Latin America from ce pre-columbian times.
Fresh huitlacoche may be available when in season in some select Latin American markets. It is also available in jars and cans from various sources online, though the flavor is altered in processing and really not worth purchasing.
With that in mind I came up with a huilacoche alternative years ago that has satisfied my own cravings for those sublime flavors savored while in Mexico. Rest assured, all the ingredients required for my recipe are readily available in your local supermarket.
Drawing from recollections, my favorite huitlacoche dish would have to be a grilled corn omlette filled with huitlacoche set atop a mild fresh milk cheese and garnished with a few fresh cilantro sprigs and a picante salsa verde. It was perfection!
My huitlaoche alternative
Makes enough for 3 servings
A little multi tasking before you get started requires grilling or broiling the mushrooms and corn before you proceeding with the recipe.
- 2 tablespoon sunflower oil, divided
- 4 ears fresh sweet corn, husk and silk removed
- 2 largish portobello mushrooms / 6 oz/ 70 g
- 1 plump garlic clove, peeled and finely grated
- 6 oz/ 70 g baby spinach leaves, well rinsed
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon tamari soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon fish sauce
- ¼ teaspoon epazote or oregano
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream (optional)
Fire up grill grill or preheat your oven broiler. Brush the portobello mushrooms and corn lightly with oil. Place on the grill or on a baking tray and grill or broil all, turning both the mushrooms and the corn until nicely browned. The mushrooms will require less cooking time so keep an eye on them. Remove them when they have softened and are giving up their moisture and set aside to cool.
Continue grilling or broiling the corn until the kernels are well browned on all sides. Remove and set them aside to cool. Save any pan juices if you have used the broiler to use later.
When the mushrooms are cool slice and dice them and place then in a non-reactive bowl. Add any reserved pan juices and cover.
When th corn is cool slice the kernels off the cobs, place them in a mixing bowl and set aside until you ready to make the omelettes.
To finish the huitlache mixture add the remaining oil to a skillet set over medium low heat and add the garlic. Saute 30 seconds and add the spinach and saute until wilted. Add the mushrooms and continue sauteing until the spinach is very soft. Add the salt, tamari, fish sauce, epazote or oregano, and the cream if using. Lower the heat and continue to saute until all the ingredients are very soft, and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and keep the mixture warm while you make the omlettes.
Grilled Corn omlettes
For each omlette:
- 3 organic eggs
- pinch of salt
- a splash of water
- 1 teaspoon salted butter
- 1/3 cup grilled corn kernels
- 4 thinly sliced fresh mozzarella
- salsa verde (see recipe here)
- sprigs of fresh cilantro
- Crack the eggs in a bow and add salt and a splash of water and whisk vigorously until foamy.
Place a large non stick skillet, or my preference, a 10 inch nonstick crepe pan, over medium low heat. Add the butter to the pan and swirl to distribute evenly. Add the corn and saute for a minute or two and the spread the corn evenly over the surface. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the surface and tilt the pan so the egg mixture covers the entire surface of the pan. As the eggs begin to cook and firm up tilt the pan so any remaining liquid mixture fills in any gaps.
Place slices of fresh mozzarella over the surface and then spread warm huitlacoche mixture across the center of the omlette. Once the omlette is firm, using a silicone spatula, gently nudge the omlette away from the sides of the pan and fold it away from you over the huitlacoche filling. You can then nudge the omlette over the remaining exposed omlettete and slide the omlette onto a plate for serving.
Garnish with sprigs of cilantro and salsa verde to one side and serve.
from Nigella Lawson’s new book Cook, Eat, Repeat
Nigella’s recipe for Fish Stick Bhorta, inspired by controversial British journalist and political activist Ash Sarkar’s Fish Finger Bhorta, is sure to dust up some controversy of its own in the media, but no matter. Nigella has this uncanny way with words that turn her books and recipes into a page turners! Her inquisitive enthusiasm for food and cookery is nothing short of compelling for anyone who loves to cook and eat.
I am sure you are asking yourself, as did I, what is a Bhorta anyway? The short answer is a Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or Indian highly seasoned mashed up of vegetables stir-fried together in mustard oil. That description is most likely not going to convince you to give this recipe a try, but I was won over on the first go around.
Cook, Eat, Repeat was written during the pandemic and focuses on inventive home coked meals for one or two people, with ample leftovers, made with what is on hand. Cooking your way through a year of relative isolation has had its challenges as well as its rewards for all of us. But having had the time to experiment, savor, and reflect on how and what we eat and how we prepare our food enriched our daily lives during a year of uncertainty.
Fish Stick Bhorta
Serves 2 with some leftovers
For the pickled onions, make in advance
- ½ red onion
- red wine vinegar or lime juice
Make your pink-pickled onions as far in advance as you can: at least 2 hours and up to 24. Cut your red onion in half- or use a whole onion if you prefer, as you will easily find yourself adding them to much else- into fine half moons. Put these in a jar with a lid, or simply into a bowl that you can cover. Pour over red wine vinegar (or lime juice) pressing down the onions until they are all just immured. Put the lid on the jar or cover the bowl and leave the onions to steep.
For the Bhorta
- 2 regular onions (approx. 10 ounces)
- 2 small red (birds eye) chiles
- 2 fat cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 12 fish sticks
- 3 tablespoons cold pressed vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons English mustard ( Colman’s) from a jar
- 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt or kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon fine sea salt)
- 4 oz young spinach
- 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons roughly chipped cilantro, plus more to serve
preheat the oven to 425 f
Peel and slice your 2 regular onions into fine half moons, seed the chiles (or not if you prefer) and slice them thinly, and peel the garlic. Peel the ginger and grate it finely to give 1 tablespoonful.
When the oven is hot, and your ingredients are assembled and ready, put the fish sticks on a baking sheet and cook for approx. 20 to 25 minutes, which may be slightly longer than the package directs, but will ensure the bread crumb coating is really crisp.
Meanwhile warm the oil in a large skillet or wok, and cook the onions over medium low for 20 minutes stirring regularly, by witch time they will be pale gold and soft.
Add the sliced chiles and cook, string all the while, for 3 minutes, then stir in the grated ginger, minced or grated garlic, and cook, still stirring, for another 2 minutes. Spoon in the mustard and salt, stirring to combine, then add the spinach leaves and let them wilt in the pan for 2- 3 minutes, stirring regularly, then squeeze in the juice of the lime.
Take the pan off the heat while you get the fish sticks. Break them up a bit with a spatula then add them to the frying pan or wok. Toss everything together, breaking up them up further and mashing them into the frying pan, then sprinkle in the cilantro.
Serve topped with the pink-pickled onions, adding extra chopped cilantro if wished.
With winter’s weather bearing down in earnest hearty meals are de reguer and I can’t think of a better meal to make than a cassoulet. It is my very favorite winter meal bar none!
Cassoulet is a classic French white bean stew with an assortment of herbs, meats, and poultry all baked together in an earthenware pot. It is undeniably delicious and the perfect antidote for winter’s bitter chill.
That said, making a classic Langeuuedoc white bean cassoulet requires copious amounts of assorted meats, sausage, duck confite and fat along with a considerable investment of time and expense.
Deconstructing the concept however, as radical as that may seem, can produce an as hearty and flavorsome cassoulet with all the allure of the original sans excess fats and expense.
In the recipe that follows I have included a modest amounts of pancetta and sausage, but they may be omitted without sacrificing flavor. It really is all about the quality of the beans, vegetables, and seasonings that brings this cassoulet to life with or without including meats.
Be sure to source your dried beans for freshness and quality. My favorite supplier is Rancho Gordo in California at ranchogordo.com (click here). All of their dried beans are top quality. Supplies do vary so it’s a good idea to subscribe to receive harvest updates and availability.
A simplified Winter Cassoulet
For the beans:
- 1 pound dried white tabais, canellini, or great northern white beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 thin slices pancetta, finely diced (or substitute 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, added later)
- 3/4 cup diced onions
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- ¾ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon sea salt plus more as needed after the beans are cooked
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 3 quarts stock or water, plus more as needed
Pick through the beans and rinse well. Place them in bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside to soak for several hours or overnight. Then drain the beans and set side.
Add the olive oil to a stock pot set over medium low heat. When the oil is hot add the pancetta and saute until fragrant and just beginning to color. If you are omitting the pancetta, add the smoked paprika along with onions and saute until wilted. Then add the garlic and saute until softened. Add the thyme, rosemary, sage, and bay leaf and saute until well combined and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Stir in the drained soaked beans and promptly add the hot stock or water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook the beans until they are softened but still holding their shape. Cooking times will vary depending on the age of the beans, but generally about 1 ½ or 2 hours should do it. Taste the beans and add salt to taste and set aside.
While the beans are cooking you can go ahead and prepare the sausage if using as well as the radish leaves or kale.
For the sausage:
- 1 pound Polish or Kielbasa sausage
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup dry white wine
Heat the oil in a skillet and when hot add the whole sausage and seer on all sides until nicely browned. Then add the wine and cook until the wine has mostly evaporated. Remove the sausages and slice on the diagonal into 1 ½ inch pieces and set aside.
Add a little stock to the skillet and swirl to gather up the juices and scrape them into the pot of cooked beans and stir well.
For the Greens:
- 2 large bunches of radish leaves or kale, well rinsed and chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- sea salt to taste
Note: If you are not using sausage you may want to use both radish and kale leaves seasoned with 1 teaspoon of crushed marjoram leaves and ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. when hot add the chopped greens and saute just until wilted. Season with salt and set aside.
For the topping:
- 1 cup bread crumbs, or panko
- 2 tablespoons finely sliced flat leafed parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 sea salt
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
Toss the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, and salt together. Drizzle with olive oil, toss, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 300 F /150 c with the oven rack set in the middle position. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any overflow while the cassoulet is baking.
Assembling the cassoulet:
Select a large earthenware casserole dish. Using a ladle add a layer of drained cooked beans in the bottom of the casserole dish. Layer some sausage pieces ( If using) over the beans, and add a layer of the sauteed greens. Continue to layer the ingredients in the same order, ending with a layer beans with a few pieces of sausage (if using) for the top layer.
Spread the crumb topping evenly over the casassoulet. This will form a nice crusty topping to the finished cassoulet.
Run a spatula round the casserole to create a crevasse. Then spoon some bean cooking liquid into the crevasse all the way around the casserole dish. Giggle the dish several times while continuing to add more liquid until the liquid has nearly reached the rim of the dish. This will ensure an evenly moist cassoulet when fully baked.
Bake for 2 hours, turning the casserole dish from front to back after the first hour to ensure even baking.
Should the crumb topping brown to quickly during baking cover the casserole loosely with foil.
Remove the cassoulet from the oven and set aside for 15 minutes before serving,
Placing the hot cassoulet in the center of the table is sight to behold as the aroma beckons! Let everyone serve themselves family style.
Serving a simple wintery greens salad including some mustard greens, Belgian endive, and a baby arugula leaves completes this meal beautifully.
You might also like to try A Summer Casssoulet (click here for recipe)
I am a big fan of the high heat roasted chicken that’s been all the rage of late, but a Dutch oven roasted chicken is still a favorite method for a homey one pot meal! It is so easy and never fails to deliver a beautifully bronzed succulent moist chicken along with colorful array of aromatic roasted seasonal vegetables that lays out a comforting meal time after time.
No recipe required as the ingredients will vary with the changing of the seasons.
As it is now approaching late fall the vegetables I have used are season appropriate including onions, garlic, turnips, carrots, celery, potatoes, and bell peppers. Herbs used include locally dried rosemary, sage, and thyme, and a bay leaf. All the vegetables are tossed together with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and roasted along with the chicken.
The whole chicken I’ve used is free range. Rinse the chicken well and pat dry with a paper towels. Generously salt the interior of the cavity and tuck in a couple of garlic cloves, a sprig of rosemary, and some died sage and thyme, and a bay leaf. Loosen the skin covering the breasts and legs and slip in some butter and rosemary under the skin. Season the exterior of the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Set the chicken aside to come to room temperature.
By all means if you have a Dutch oven this is the time to use it. A cast Iron Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid retains heat beautifully and is ideal for slow roasting. Otherwise use a large casserole dish with lid or a roasting pan with the contents covered tightly with foil.
Set the oven temperature at 350 f /180 c
Lay a single layer of prepared vegetable vegetables in the bottom of the pan and center the chicken on top of them, breast side up.
Tuck the remaining vegetables in around the chicken, leaving the top of the chicken exposed. Rub with olive oil and season the exposed top of the chicken with salt and pepper again if needed.
Add a half cup of water and cover tightly with the lid. Place in the oven, and roast for 45 minutes.
Open the oven and turn the pan from front to back and roast another 25 minutes, covered.
Then open the oven and remove the lid to expose the top of the chicken.. Increase the temperature to 375 f/ 190 c. Push the pan to the back of the oven and roast another 15 or 20 minutes or until he the top of the chicken is nicely browned.
Remove the pan from the oven and set aside with the lid just ajar to rest for 10 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a carving board, carve, and serve promptly with roasting liquid spooned over the chicken and vegetables.
Having some warm thick slices of crusty levain loaf is the perfect for accompaniment for sopping up some of that irresistibly flavorsome roasting liquid left in the pan!
Leftovers?: My go to favorite re purposing solution is enchiladas! They are easy to assemble and are always sure to please.
Reheat some of the roasted chicken that has been pulled along with vegetables that have been cut up along with roasting liquid to cover in a saucepan over medium low heat. Cover and bring to a summer.
warm corn tortillas on a griddle or in a cast iron skillet. Top with some grated mild cheese. When the cheese begins to melt transfer the now pliable tortilla to a serving plate. Top with hot chicken and vegetables and roll up the enchilada with the seam tucked underneath to hold it together.
Bring the pan liquid to a simmer. Stir together 1 tablespoon of corn starch with 1 tablespoon of cold water, or more depending on the amount of liquid, and add to the simmering pan liquid while stirring for two minutes until thickened. Add salt to taste. Ladle the sauce over the enchiladas garnished with sour cream or Greek yogurt.