Huauzontle, pronounced wa-ZONE-tlay, is a plant native to Mexico and has made up part of Mexican cuisine since pre-Hispanic times. The plants have long thick stems covered with small green buds and leaves and if they were to be likened to a more widely known vegetable could be compared with broccoli, although the taste is quite different. This is one tough plant -not only can it survive in harsh climates but it has maintained itself as a classic Mexican dish despite being banned by the Spanish upon their arrival to Mexico.
Today the plant is served in restaurants, lunch spots and homes and is used primarily in the centrally located states of Tlaxcala, the State of México, Morelos, Puebla as well as Mexico City. They are prepared as fried cakes or patties known as tortitas, served in salsas with beef or dipped in an egg batter, fried and served with either a chile pasilla sauce or tomato salsa. In addition to being a cheap and tasty dish, huauzontles are full of protein, iron, fiber and vitamins.
Finding Huauzontles in the States:
Luckily, I come from the beautiful city of Chicago and generally have no problem finding a variety of Mexican ingredients. Before knowing what huauzontles were I’m sure I had been seeing them for years in Mexican grocery stores and supermarkets, but just never realized it. I know for a fact that they can be found in Chicago and would imagine that in many other parts of the states they are also readily available, however you may have to search a bit depending on where you live. In supermarkets they are generally found near other green leafy vegetables and herbs like cilantro and epazote. If you live in an area where there is not a Mexican population it is probably very unlikely that you will find huauzontles.
How to Pick Them:
The ideal width of the huauzontles used for the preparation of this dish is between 2 to 3 inches wide. If they are much thicker than this they are more difficult to prepare so when picking out your huauzontles it’s important to be aware of this. There will be stems that are much thinner and I usually combine these thinner pieces to form a wider bunch.
How to Eat Them:
Many people don’t know how to eat huauzontles or find the process of removing the buds to be tedious and annoying (my mother being one them). I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoy eating this delicious pre-Hispanic plant fried and smothered in tomato sauce and prefer to think of the process of eating them as being much more interactive as opposed to tedious.
Here´s how I eat huauzontles: I use a knife to hold the huauzontle in place and with a fork, pull off the buds and leaves. I eat them as such or roll them up in a hot tortilla making sure to add extra tomato sauce and beans if I have them. I inevitably end up sucking on the stems at the end of the meal to make sure I get all of the buds off. They are actually not all that difficult to eat, but generally are a bit messy.
- 3 lbs of tomatoes
- ½ onion
- 2 stems of epazote
- 2 cloves of garlic
- salt and pepper
- 2 cups of chicken broth
- 1 lb of huauzontles
- ½ lb of queso panela (**Queso panela may be difficult to find. I’ve found it in Chicago, but not in all Mexican grocery stores. You want a fresh cheese that does not melt when heated. A possible substitute is queso fresco or fresh mozzarella) If there are no fresh cheeses available Monterrey Jack is an option.)
- 1 cup of flour
- 5 eggs
- Salt and pepper
- Queso panela to sprinkle on top
- Hot tortillas
Bring water to a boil in a large pot, add the tomatoes and cook until the skin starts to peel off. Roast the garlic on a comal or in a small pan on the stove, with the skins on until blackened. Blend the tomato, garlic and onion, adding a little bit of chicken broth to help the mixture blend if necessary. Heat oil in a large pot, when hot add the tomato sauce, passing in through a strainer. Let the sauce come to a boil and add the chicken broth, let cook for about 25 minutes, add salt and pepper and let sit.
Wash the huauzontles well and cut the stems leaving about 1 ½ inches of the bare stems which will serve later on as makeshift handles. In a large pot bring water to a boil. Submerge the huauzontles using the stems to push them down, cooking for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the buds have become tender. When they are cooked drain the water, run the huauzontles under cold water and then squeeze out the water from the buds. Set aside.
Separate the egg whites from the yolks in two separate bowls. Using a whisk or fork whip the egg whites into soft peaks. Beat the yolks with a little bit of salt and pepper and fold into to the egg whites. Have the egg mixture ready along with a plate with the flour mixed with salt and pepper.
Separate the huauzontles into about 5 portions. Place a piece of cheese, approximately 3 inches long and ½ inch wide in each portion. Roll each huauzontle bunch in flour and then in the egg mixture. Fry immediately in a wide pan and serve smothered in tomato sauce, sprinkled with cheese and with hot tortillas and beans.