Monday, May 17, 2010

Memelitas de Oaxaca

The memelita is a little tease. She sings to me as I wander past the fondas of the Parque Llano, releases fragrant smoke though the doorways of comedors I pass, insinuates herself in my thoughts without prompting–sometimes whilst I am with another meal. When not described as a temptress, she might be described as (the use of this allusion is unintentional, I assure you) a crispy corn dough tartlet, filled with anything from chorizo and potato, pulled chicken in tomato sauce, mushrooms or simply cheese and black bean.

We frequently make these at the cooking school, and often find ourselves eating them for the next day or two until we get through the kilo of masa. It's a simple little process that leaves me plenty time–and hands free–to take photos with a certain brand of phone that shall not be named here (but thank you Lucas for the wise words on the apps).

So onto the little darlings, and it's all about the sauce. A fiery and smokey little number that is both delicate and robust, and a five minute preparation to boot. But then, I suppose it's all about the masa, which is still warm when at the moment of purchase from a sweet smelling tortillaria hidden down an alley I found by chance. In fact, it may be the quesillo from Etla that melts lusciously on top binding flavours so elegantly*. Whatever it is, it is as good as it looks. Provecho.

de Frijol | serves 6

200g fresh corn masa (or commercially prepared masa flour)
100g black bean paste
100g quesillo or queso fresco
finely sliced white onion
  1. Divide the masa into 6 even balls, flatten them slightly, then press firmly in a tortilla press.
  2. Turn over and press again, but not too hard as you don't want them too thin.
  3. Cook briefly on a comal before flipping over and pinching the edges to form a slight crust.
  4. Fill with a little black bean paste, top with shredded quesillo and cook a little longer till crispy on the base. Top with a little sliced onion and the salsa of your choice, my favourite is the Arbol sauce below.

Masa manipulation from basic dough to tartlet case.

Salsa de Arbol

1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
10-15 chiles de Arbol
1 small clove garlic
1 tomato
water, as needed
½ teaspoon salt
  1. After wiping the chiles clean, warm them gently in a pan with the vegetable oil. Fry the chiles softly until they are lightly fragrant (30-60 seconds).
  2. In a small saucepan, cover the tomato with water and bring to the boil. Cook for 4-5 minutes, then remove from the heat.
  3. Place the chiles in the blender jar, then add enough of the water from boiling the tomatoes as is needed to cover them. Add the tomato, garlic and salt and let sit for ten minutes, in which time the chiles will soften.
  4. Blend until smooth, then place in a bowl.
*Most principle tenants of the De La Tierra blog is to provide something inspiring and interesting, whilst keeping the content ultimately useful for the average reader. In this regard, this post may ultimately fail as a few of the key ingredients are not as common as I wish they were. Nevertheless we provide you with a little treat from the streets, kitchens and cooking schools of Oaxaca, and assure you that the effort if you make it, is well worth it.


  1. muero de hambre, qué rico, por Dios

  2. Is this a dough similar to the one they use for "arepas" in Venezuela and the Canary Islands?

  3. Well Fressack my friend, not having visited either location I had to look it up to check it out. But, yes,it does seem to be the same thing: dried corn boiled with mineral lime to strip the skin, then ground to a paste or masa before cooking. I have been to Peru however, and I noticed a huge difference in the varieties of corn eaten there to here. I can only assume that the dough would be quite different for that reason ie. starch level, sweetness etc.

  4. How you make the dough?

  5. You can make the dough a couple of ways, I buy mine prepared from fresh corn but outside of central America there is little chance of that.
    A commercial preparation of flour for tortillas is what you need, something like Minsa or Maseca. The instructions let you know the proportions of corn flour to water you need, and then you might add a little salt. Some recommend also adding a tablespoon or so or wheat flour as this helps bind the dough and stop it cracking easily. This is very untraditional but then so is using anything but fresh masa (corn dough) so I don't see a huge problem with it.