Botanas Mexicanas for Super Bowl Sunday

We’ll be in front of the TV Sunday watching the Super Bowl, like many of our expat friends. And just like them, we’ll be munching on botanas, Mexican snacks. I don’t think I’ll get it together to make pizza, but I have a few things in mind fellow bloggers have made recently that I want to try.

Lesley Téllez made an interesting, creamy Mexican pumpkin seed dip, called Sikil Pak on her blog, The Mija Chronicles. With just six ingredients, counting the salt, it looks pretty easy to make in a food processor if you don’t have your metate handy. Sikil Pak, you say? Sikil is Mayan for tomato; pak means pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas in Spanish. The Mayans have been eating this for centuries, maybe while watching their ball game, pok-a-tok, which took a more serious turn than football ever does. The loser was sacrificed to the gods.

Muy Bueno Cookbook just wrote up an easy mix for Michalada. With only four ingredients, counting ice, beer, lime juice and salt (I just gave away the recipe, didn’t I),  I can’t think of anything more refreshing drink to wash down the tostadas.

Lyndsey at The Tiny Skillet is making Mexican Fried Cheese with queso de freier. This was to me. How have I lived in Mexico so long and never heard queso de freir? I’m off to find some, and try frying cheese. She suggests serving it with a salsa. My recipe for salsa de chile guajillo or chile ancho would go well with this.

The tostadas are for my favorite guacamole. It has ten ingredients, and that counts the tostadas –corn tortilla chips — on the side. You can make it in fifteen minutes, easy. It differs a little from most guacamoles. Some of the avocado is cubed to give a creamy bite to the mixture. If you want to see another version of guacamole, check out this hilarious guacamole song on YouTube, complete with a recipe, by two dubious looking mexicanos with strange mustaches.

I might come up with a few other dishes, but this is a start. We won’t be sending out for pizza.

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Eating flowers — squash blossom quesadillas

Another Sunday Market in La Cruz and another bunch of squash blossoms too beautiful to eat. I could have looked at their vase on the kitchen counter all week, but eat them we did when I made squash blossom quesadillas for lunch, using fresh corn tortillas, queso fresco from the Sunday market, poblano chile strips and epazote leaves.

Squash — calabaza — were cultivated in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, and then spread throughout the world with the arrival of the Spanish. Classic Mesoamerican clay pots mimic large squash in design, and are still seen in contemporary Mexican art work. We have a beautiful copper pot from Santa Clara del Cobre, hammered into a calabaza form.

Before chopping up the flowers, I inhaled their aroma. They smelled of squash, pumpkin and earth, like a garden. The colorful flowers add a delicate flavor that is easily overpowered, so go light on the onion and garlic. Use whatever cheese you have on hand, but the classic cheese for quesadillas is string cheese from Oaxaca. Today I used fresh cheese from the market, but other possibilities include Muenster, Monterey Jack, or even cheddar.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small bunches squash blossoms, all but 1″of stem removed, chopped; enough to measure 2 cups
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt to taste
  • 1 poblano chile, roasted, peeled and cut into strips
  • 6 oz. cheese, thinly sliced
  • 8 epazote leaves (optional)
  • 8 corn tortillas
  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. When hot, add onion and cook for 3 minutes, or until translucent.
  2. Add squash blossoms and garlic, and cook until blossoms are wilted.
  3. Remove from heat and salt to taste.
  4. Heat an oiled griddle over medium heat. Place four tortillas on griddle and evenly divide squash blossom mixture among them. Add strips of poblano chile, thinly sliced cheese, and two epazote leaves to each quesadilla. Cover each one with a second tortilla.
  5. Cook about 3 minutes per side, or until brown, toasty spots appear on the tortillas and the cheese melts.
  6. Cut into halves or quarters and serve hot. (Cold left-overs are delicious.)


North of the border, flour tortillas are often used for quesadillas, but corn tortillas are more common in Mexico.

This may be heresy to a Mexican cook, but building quesadillas in my kitchen is like making a sandwich: anything goes. I have made great quesadillas with left-over brown rice, steamed greens, a bit of steak from last night’s dinner, whatever cheese is on hand, even cottage cheese.

Epazote (Teloxys ambrosioides), also known as Mexican Tea or Wormseed, is a bitter herb used to season black beans, quesadillas and empanadas. A few months ago, I found it in a Mexican market in Minneapolis, and I hear it is becoming more common in U.S. supermarkets that cater to a Hispanic clientele. A native of Mexico, it is not eaten raw, and may be an acquired taste. There is no substitute.

A bit of etymology: calabaza is from the Persian word kharbuz, meaning melon, and the French word calabase, later calabash, is of Spanish origin.

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Qué es La Jícama?

Jícama looks like a cross between a potato and a huge turnip. I love eating cold slices as a snack, and so do most Mexicans. Have you noticed the frequency of street eating in Mexico? For every holiday, every evening on the plaza, at every beach, every bus stop, every market, there is someone with a cart selling sliced watermelon, cucumber, pineapple, or jícama — all sprinkled with chile powder and spritzed with lime juice.

While I can’t advocate street eating for us weak-stomached foreigners who have no way of telling if the vegetables have been disinfected, if the knife, cutting board and hands are super clean, we can prepare jícama at home using our favorite method for cleaning and disinfecting produce. And we can use chile powder or not, lime juice or not.

Jícama in the stores can look unappealing sometimes. They can be a little beat up, muddied and oddly shaped, or smooth and clean as a whistle. Look for smooth, light skinned, small jícama. Don’t worry about a little dirt. Just scrub it off and soak the tubers in a disinfectant solution.

The skin pulls off when you grab the end with a paring knife. If it doesn’t want to pull away, as sometimes happens, use a vegetable peeler. Often you can pull off a piece of skin with your fingers, once you get it started.

Use a paring knife to finish cutting out little rootlets or nicks. Then slice, dice or chop.

For an easy snack or an appetizer that is muy mexicano, squeeze some lime juice over cold, sliced jícama, and sprinkle with coarse salt and chile power. Or sauté chopped jícama in a stir-fry as a substitute for water chestnuts. Or sprinkle with cinnamon and a pinch of brown sugar. Or use as a base for spreading guacamole or ceviche. Or add to a fruit salad or vegetable salad. Or just eat it cold, sliced and unadorned.


  • Etmology — The name jícama is from the Nahuatl word, xicamatl.  Jícama is the name of this native Mexican plant, as well as the name of the edible root. It also goes by the names of yambean and Mexican turnip.
  • The tuber can weigh up to twenty kilograms, but you will never see them in the stores this big. Usually they are between one half to one kilo (1-2 pounds) in weight. A half kilo-sized jicama is young and juicy.
  • Jícama has a water content of 86-90%, and is high in dietary fiber.

More Reading:

Jícama (Wikipedia)

Jícama Factbites

Jícama Mexconnect


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Huitlacoche quesadillas

Huitlacoche, the wonderful corn fungus of Mexico, has made its appearance in the supermercados. At 166 pesos a kilo, it isn’t cheap, but it is worth every peso, and compared to the price of truffles, it has to be a bargain. With a taste all its own, it is hard to describe, but comparing it to a rich mushroom-corn flavor would be the closest. If you like mushrooms, you will love huitlacoche. The only problem is that if you aren’t in Mexico in August and September, you will have to add the price of airfare to the cost. Sometimes Mexican grocery stores in the U.S. carry canned Herdez huitlacoche, which I’ve read is a good substitute for the real thing, but I’ve never tried it.

Fresh huitlacoche is silver-gray, turning inky black when cooked. See those large pieces in the photo? Those are individual corn kernels, enlarged and deformed by the fungi.

Corn farmers in Iowa and Nebraska know this strain of fungus (Ustilago maydis) well and must lose thousands of dollars destroying smut infested corn, while Mexicans are happily eating the same fungus and consider it a delicacy.

Many of the foods we eat in Mexico today that have been eaten since pre-Columbian times still bear their ancient names. Such is huitlacoche (also spelled cuitlacoche). Derived from the Nahuatil language, one explanation is that it is named after their word for “raven’s excrement”, no doubt because of its appearance and color. Would you like a couple of raven’s excrement quesadillas? They are delicious.

Huitlacoche Quesadillas   makes 4

  • 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil, plus oil for griddle
  • 1/2 lb. (227 grams)  fresh huitlacoche, cut off the cobs and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 poblano chile, roasted, peeled and cut into strips
  • 2 sprigs epazote, thinly sliced (sorry, there is no substitute for this unique herb)
  • salt to taste
  • 4 corn or flour tortillas
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced cheese, such as queso Oaxaca or fresco or Monterrey Jack
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
  2. Sautee onion and garlic until tender but not brown.
  3. Add huitlacoche, poblano strips, and epazote and cook about 10 minutes. Salt to taste.
  4. Heat an oiled griddle over medium heat.
  5. Place tortillas on griddle and divide huitlacoche mixture evenly among them, placing on one side of tortilla.
  6. Place cheese on huitlacoche. Fold tortilla in half.
  7. Cook for about 2-3 minutes per side, or until cheese is melted and tortilla is starting to brown.


If you can’t find huitlacoche where you live mushrooms are a good substitute, especially portobello mushrooms with their stronger flavor.

Epazote is a wonderful herb that belies description. With its stinky aroma and bitter taste, it adds a certain flavor to a pot of beans and to quesadillas that is distinctly Mexican. There is no other herb to use in its place, another reason to buy a plane ticket for Mexico.

Cold, left-over quesadillas make great snacks. Make extra.

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Image by CIMMYT via Flickr

More on huitlacoche:

In Mexico, Tar-Like Fungus Considered Delicacy (NPR)

Corn Smut (Wikipedia)

Huitlacoche (Gourmet Sleuth)

Huitlacoche: Cornell Mushroom Blog (Cornell University)

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Chipotle Mozzarella Cheese Spread for a World Cup Game

Chipotle Mozzarella Cheese Spread was just added to my list of different ways to use one of my favorite Mexican chiles, the fiery smoked jalapeño in adobo sauce. Company will be here soon to join us as the U.S. play Ghana in its bid for the World Cup. A two-ingredient dish is the key for getting a quick snack on the coffee table.

Keeping up with my blog and the World Cup soccer games — and everything else in my life — is proving a challenge. More quick meals and snacks are coming out of the kitchen so that few games are missed. Am I crazy to watch so much TV? The World Cup is only once every four years, I keep telling myself. Yes, I probably am crazy.

Chipotle Mozzarella  Cheese Spread

  • 1 lb. ( 438 grams) soft, fresh mozzarella cheese, drained, or any other soft cheese (see Notes below for suggestions)
  • 4 whole, canned chipotle chiles, or to taste

Blend cheese and chiles in a food processor until smooth. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with multi-grain crackers.

Chipotle mozzarella cheese spread on whole grain crackers


Any soft cheese could be used instead of fresh mozzarella. Goat cheese, cream cheese or Mexican queso fresco or fresh panela would be just as good.

This spread would make an attractive topping piped onto cucumber slices or in cherry tomatoes for a fancy canapé, though served with a good, whole-grain crackers is more my style.

Update: Two days later, I saw Russ spreading Chipotle Mozzarella on crackers, and then topping them with a dab if guava jelly. I tried it — what a great taste combination with the hot and the sweet. The next day, I used the remainder in omelets with a filling of sautéed zucchini, onion and potato. Another winner. I’ll have to make Chipotle Cheese Spread again soon, if only to have left-overs to use in quesadillas and in lieu of compound butter on a hot slice of tenderloin of beef.

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