Taquitos dorados (left) and sopes (center) are typical antojitos mexicanos. Antojo, a word that means whim, becomes antojito (little whim) when it refers to these corn-based fried treats that are eaten as street food everywhere in Mexico.
From Baja California and Nuevo León on the northern border to Oaxaca and Chiapas in the south, from Veracruz on the east coast to Nayarit on the west, Mexico loves to eat. Here in Mexico, there's nothing more common on any menu than antojitos mexicanos: literally, "little Mexican whims."
Mexicans get hungry at all hours, and it's not entirely about physical need. Seductive aromas, exciting presentations on the plate and the crunchy sounds of chewing entice them to the 'little whims'. From the hand-lettered banner at the smallest street stand to the menu of the most elegant of restaurants, antojitos mexicanos are a staple on almost any Mexican bill of fare.
Most Mexican restaurants in the United States specialize in only one aspect of Mexican cooking—antojitos mexicanos. These are the corn and tortilla-based specialties that include the enchiladas, taquitos dorados, tamales, quesadillas, and tostadas that all evolved directly from original indigenous cooking. In Mexico today, these corn-based antojitos mexicanos are popular with rich and poor alike.
Antojitos can include almost any traditional Mexican foods, but the term always refers to the corn kitchen. The gamut runs from budín azteca (a cream, cheese, chile and tortilla pie) to the numerous kinds of pozole (a hearty soup made with pork or chicken and fresh hominy) right through the alphabet to xolostle (a soup of chicken, corn and various spices).
Some of the most popular antojitos at restaurants and street stands are tacos, tostadas, sopes, gorditas, empanadas, enchiladas, and quesadillas. If you're North of the Border, most of those antojitos are not only easy to find in restaurants, but they're easy to prepare at home. Each is based on the same corn masa (dough).
The blue-gray oval antojitos are tlacoyos, a Mexico City specialty. They are ordinarly stuffed with either frijolitos refritos or requesón (a cheese similar to ricotta), toasted on a comal (griddle), and topped with red or green salsa, lettuce, cheese, and crema (Mexican table cream). The beige ovals to the left on the comal are for making quesadillas.
In some cities North of the Border, you can buy prepared masa at a tortillería (tortilla making shop). Even if you don't live next door to a tortillería (tortilla-making shop), masa harina (corn flour for dough) is available at supermarkets and Latin specialty shops all over the USA and Canada. You're sure to find common brands such as Quaker or Maseca. A word to the wise: don't try to use standard cornmeal to make masa. Masa harina and cornmeal are very different products. An antojito made from masa harina will not have the same texture and flavor as one prepared from a tortillería's fresh masa, but it will do in a pinch.
Once you've prepared a batch of masa, you're well on the way to a Mexican feast. Today, let's make gorditas. You'll need basic utensils:
- Large, deep frying pan or wok
- Flat strainer with long handle
- A comal or heavy griddle
These basic ingredients will be used for the two antojitos:
- Prepared corn masa
- Large quantity of oil or lard for frying
- You'll also need frijoles refritos (well-fried beans) for both the sopes and the gorditas. You can buy them in cans if you'd rather take a shortcut to preparation, but traditionally you would prepare dried beans at home.
To prepare serving plates of the gorditas de frijoles, you'll need the following ingredients:
- Thinly shredded cabbage or lettuce
- Salsa verde or roja
- Crumbled queso Cotija or queso fresco
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Small-diced, fresh white onion
Make a ball of masa a little larger than a tennis ball. Flatten it to about a five-inch round. On half of the round, heap a large spoonful of frijoles refritos and a small spoonful of cheese. Fold the filled masa in half and shape into a thick, flat disk approximately three inches in diameter. Fill and shape as many as you will need.
Heat enough lard or oil in the wok or large, deep frying pan to fry two or three gorditas at a time. Slide the gorditas into the fat and allow them to fry until deep golden brown. Remove the gorditas from the fat with the strainer and then keep them hot on the comal or griddle. Drain on paper towels if needed.
To serve, split each gordita in half approximately one-third of the way from one edge of the disk. Open a flap of the gordita and place on a plate. Top with either salsa verde or salsa roja, shredded cabbage or lettuce, the cilantro, the diced onion, and crumbled cheese.
These delicious antojitos mexicanos will give you a real sense of being right here in the heart of Mexico. Put a mariachi CD in the player and get the whole family to help you with the preparations for your meal. All of you will enjoy the fun of preparing these typical and simple dishes from South of the Border.
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