Nestled in the valley of Toluca, surrounded by mountains and tall pine trees, is the colorful town of Santiago Tianguistengo. It is the home of a weekly market--the largest of its kind near Mexico City--that takes place every Tuesday without fail.
Prepared dishes are cooked early in the morning or the night before. Barbacoa, a mutton dish wrapped with maguey leaves and baked the pre-Hispanic way in an underground pit, is sold as a main course or taco stuffing. Accented with garlic, guajillo chiles and the distinctive flavor of maguey, this succulent meat is a must for vendors and buyers alike. The juices from the mutton are converted into a steaming-hot, deliciously hearty broth, welcomed to stave off the chilly morning air.
The stands are quickly set up to the music of hands patting out freshly shaped tlacoyos or oval tortillas (prepared with fresh blue corn masa), to be filled with a bean or lima bean paste. The tlacoyos are topped with a green molcajete (volcanic stone mortar) sauce prepared from hand-ground tomatillos, onions and finely chopped cilantro.
Alongside the marchante (vendor) selling tlacoyos is another stand stacked with fish tamales that are stuffed with tiny white fish known as charales , and yet another selling acotxiles (tiny fresh-water shrimp).
The vendors promote their wares by shouting directly at the housewives, trying to catch their attention. "Take them home for a snack to fill a taco, to prepare with onion and chile. They're delicious. Come on and buy them while they last."
Fresh ducks from Lerma are prepared in a green pipian mole sauce made from pumpkin seeds and from the more familiar red mole sauce. Stacks of homemade bread laced with anise and piloncillo (raw brown sugar) give off an enticing aroma.
Next to them are piles of golden egg-yolk bread, wheat-flour powder cookies, and pambazo sandwiches (fried in oil until crisp and stuffed with diced potato, shredded lettuce, chile and other spices). Long rows of women are sitting on the ground, selling fresh white tortillas, kept warm in tenates (tortilla baskets).
The Santiago Tianguistengo marketplace is also known for such delicacies as oval-shaped quesadillas--tortillas filled either with mashed potatoes and cheese, with cheese and poblano chile strips or with fresh mushrooms stewed with epazote or cilantro. The quesadillas are accompanied in this market by chile strips that have been pickled in fresh-fruit vinegar seasoned with oregano.
For beverages, there are warm mugs of atole prepared either from ground cacahuatzintle corn (which resembles hominy) flavored with cinnamon bark, or made from a base of rice flour and sweetened with sugar and chocolate.
A brief walk along the aisles of the market introduces you to the fresh cheeses and cream sold in earthenware mugs covered with corn husks and the freshly churned butter wrapped in green corn husks to keep it fresh.
The gigantic market tacos, referred to as taco placero in Spanish--a six-in-one taco--are piled high with guacamole, tomato, onion, cabbage, fresh cheese, pork hocks, cactus paddles that have been cooked with chile de arbol and carrots, cooked pork chopped for a taco stuffing and topped with indispensable fresh herbs.
Long strings of green and red chorizo sausages are hanging from wooden frames. The chorizo from the area of Toluca is famous, and the herbs used (such as epazote and cilantro) give the product its unique colors. And there is cecina , a dried cut of pork that is aired and sold uncovered.
We cannot miss the long rows of dried beans and corns used for making tortillas. Shown in piles or woven sacks, these wares are still sold by the cuartillo --an obsolete measurement that is approximated by a makeshift scoop from an old sardine can.
Piles and piles of dried chiles line stalls--the yellow chile manzano that is typical of the region, giving local cuisine its distinctive flavor, plus the red, brown and smoky varieties from around the country.
Baskets woven here are different in design from those in other areas of the country. Pulque --a fermented maguey sap beverage--is doled out of drums by the cupful. People still barter here, exchanging animals such as horses, hens, sheep, donkeys, roosters, pigs, cows and calves for other necessary wares.
Cazuelas (earthenware cooking pots), metates (volcanic grinding boards), molcajetes , cazuelitas and other utensils dating back to pre-Hispanic times add to the authentic atmosphere of an Indian marketplace. Each region uses a different technique and glaze, making the pottery distinguishable from village to village.
Three different fillings and ways to prepare the masa are included in this quesadilla recipe, along with two sauces. Use fresh masa, masa harina or corn flour masa for making fresh tortillas.
Fresh masa is fresh dough made from dried hominy corn kernels soaked in water with powdered limestone, then hulled and ground, available in some Hispanic areas. Masa harina (such as Quaker's) is the most widely available ingredient for making tortillas in the United States. Maseca brand dried masa, made from dried, ground limed corn, is now widely sold in flour sections of U.S. supermarkets and specialty grocery stores. The blue corn flour used in corn flour masa is sold especially for making tortillas and is available in Hispanic and specialty markets.
Squash-Blossom Filling, Mushroom and Cilantro Filling or Mashed Potato Filling
Red Sauce and/or Green Sauce
Stuff each tortilla with filling of choice. Fold in half and heat on griddle. Serve with sauce or sauces. Makes about 6 servings.
2 cups masa harina
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups warm water
Combine masa harina, flour and salt in large bowl and add warm water. Mix until blended. Turn dough out onto flat surface and knead with hands dampened in warm water 5 to 10 minutes until smooth, silky mass is formed that is not sticky. (Texture should be soft and moist, so that pinch of dough presses flat easily between 2 fingers.)
Allow dough to rest as you heat comal or griddle. After resting, it may need addition of small amount of warm water. Heat large, ungreased griddle or comal until very hot.
Line tortilla press with 2 squares plastic wrap. Pinch off enough dough to make 1 to 1 1/2-inch ball. Place dough ball between plastic squares in tortilla press and apply pressure to lever to flatten dough. Remove carefully, peeling away plastic squares (return squares to press for next tortilla).
Toss tortilla back and forth few times between hands to aerate slightly. (If dough is moist enough, it will spread evenly in press and edges will be smooth and silky. If edges crack when dough is pressed, dough may be too dry.)
Slide tortilla onto hot skillet, comal or griddle and bake about 30 seconds. Turn with fork or fingers and cook 1 minute. Turn again and finish cooking 15 to 30 seconds. Tortillas will puff up slightly, then deflate little. (If tortilla colors vary unevenly in hot spots, griddle may be too hot. Freshly cooked tortilla will have richly colored, slightly glossy patina. If tortillas stick, wipe griddle with touch of oil applied to paper towel. Griddles used for tortillas will cure over time and should be reserved for tortilla-making if possible.)
Repeat with remaining dough. Keep tortillas warm, wrapped in cloth so that they don't cool and become brittle. Tortillas may be used immediately or cooled, wrapped tightly and refrigerated up to 1 week. Reheat on griddle or comal before using. Makes about 12 tortillas.
Corn Flour Masa: Use combination of 2 cups white or blue corn flour (not cornmeal), 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups warm water for dry ingredients.
Fresh Masa: Use 1 pound fresh masa dough and proceed with kneading and cooking instructions for making tortillas.
4 poblano chiles, roasted and peeled
2 1/4 pounds squash blossoms
3 ears corn
1/3 cup olive oil
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 large tomatoes (1 3/4 pounds), peeled and chopped
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Remove seeds from chiles and devein. Soak in vinegar-water solution. Drain chiles and slice into strips. Wash squash blossoms and remove thick outer leaves. Chop blossoms. Cut kernels from corn ears. Cook kernels in salted water 8 minutes and drain.
Heat olive oil and butter in saucepan. Add onion and garlic and saute until tender. Add corn, chile strips, tomatoes and squash blossoms. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer about 40 minutes or until mixture thickens. Makes enough to fill 12 quesadillas.
Mushroom and Cilantro
1/2 cup olive oil
5 1/3 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, grated
4 serrano or de arbol chiles, fried in little oil, drained and finely chopped
2 1/4 pounds mushrooms, finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Heat olive oil and butter in saucepan. Add garlic and onion and saute until transparent. Stir in chiles, mushrooms and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cook over low heat 45 minutes or until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and cool. Makes enough to fill 12 quesadillas.
Mashed Potato Filling
2 1/2 quarts water
8 medium red potatoes, unpeeled
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Bring water to boil in large saucepan. Add potatoes and salt to taste. Boil over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes, depending on size. Drain, peel potatoes and mash well. Mix together with cheese while potatoes are still warm. Makes enough filling for 12 quesadillas.
1 1/2 quarts water
3 large tomatoes (1 3/4 pounds)
1 medium onion, sliced
6 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 chipotle chiles, 4 serrano chiles or 2 jalapeno chiles
Bring water to boil in saucepan. Add tomatoes, half of onion slices, 4 whole cloves garlic and chiles and boil 25 minutes. Drain and reserve cooking water.
Process cooked ingredients with reserved onion slices and remaining 2 cloves garlic in blender or food processor. Season to taste with salt and add little cooking water to make slightly thick sauce.
1 quart water
12 tomatillos, husked
7 whole cloves garlic, peeled
4 to 8 serrano chiles (depending on desired piquancy)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped onion
3/4 cup cilantro leaves, with bits of stems
Bring water to boil in saucepan. Add tomatillos, 4 garlic cloves, chiles and onion. Cook over medium heat 20 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and cool. Reserve little cooking water.
Puree remaining 3 cloves garlic in molcajete or food processor, adding salt to taste. Add cilantro and blend. Add tomatillo mixture and little cooking water and blend. Sauce should have slightly thick consistency. Adjust seasonings to taste.