Archive for June, 2009

Kitchen Swap:Talking Tamales with Chef Hugo Ortega of Hugo's in Houston

Chef Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s Restaurant in Houston, TX

When did you first become interested in cooking and becoming a chef?

I’ve been cooking all of my life so becoming a chef seemed natural. In my hometown of Puebla in Mexico, I learned the principles of Mexican cuisine by cooking with my mother every day. I’m the oldest of four brothers and four sisters, so I was always helping my mom in the kitchen feeding our family of 10!

Do you have an all-time favorite mushroom dish?

My favorite and most memorable mushroom dish is a quesadilla made with huitlacoche and quesillo in a blue corn tortilla. Another favorite is a soup mushroom_tamales_-_hugo'swith corn fungus or huitlacoche. Huitlacoche is white when it’s young but then eventually turns black as it gets older.

You have tried to keep Hugo’s as authentic as possible. How have your guests received some of the more unusual dishes?

We have grasshoppers from Oaxaca on the menu, which are actually very popular. The grasshoppers grow up in sesame seed fields so have a delicious nutty flavor. We sauté with olive oil, parsley, garlic, and served them with a wedge of lime and corn tortillas. Guests are excited to try it! We also make our own chocolate. We get cocoa beans from Oaxaca and we toast and grind them ourselves.

What role do mushrooms play in Mexican cuisine?

Mushrooms play a very important role in traditional Mexican cuisine, especially in Vera Cruz, parts of Oaxaca, Puebla and Tlaxcala. The people in these regions have been cooking with mushrooms forever, so there are lots of very old and traditional delicious mushroom dishes, like mushroom soup, mushroom quesadillas and mushroom tamales.

Can you tell us a little about the mushroom tamales you serve at Hugo’s?

The Mushroom Tamales are a very popular item at the restaurant. We sometimes serve mushroom tamales with lamb. We also make a different kind of mushroom tamal from Vera Cruz called a Zacahuitl. We layer banana leaves in a clay pot then bake the mushroom tamal inside.

Mushroom Tamales

Recipe courtesy of Chef Hugo Ortega, Hugo’s, Houston

Yield: 24 servings


  • 2          pounds fresh masa for tamales
  • 1/2        cup lard, softened
  • 1/2        cup chicken stock
  • Salt


  • Oil
  • 2          cloves garlic, minced
  • 2          ounces white onion, diced
  • 6          ounces button mushrooms, sliced
  • 6          ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2        ounce fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, as needed
  • 24         corn leaves, soaked in hot water


To make Masa: Combine fresh masa with lard and stock in mixer using paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed for about 20 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

To make Filling: Heat oil in large sauté pan. Sauté garlic, onion, and mushrooms until just tender. Mix in parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Drain corn leaves. Working one at a time, lay out a leaf with pointed end facing you. Scoop 1 1/2 ounces Masa onto leaf and spread, forming a rectangle lengthwise 3/4 inch from top and 1 inch from each side. Masa should only extend halfway down leaf. Spoon 1 tablespoon Filling on top. Roll one side of leaf over Filling, roll over the other side to enclose it. Fold up bottom and tie tamale closed with a strip torn from another corn leaf.

To cook: Place tamales vertically in steamer, with open ends facing up. Steam, covered, for 30 minutes, until they fluff up and become somewhat firm. Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate. Resteam briefly to reheat.

Weekly Links: Mushroom News from Around the Web

Mushrooms tasty, nutritious Extra! Extra! Read all about it! In case you didn’t already know, sizzling mushrooms are delicious, affordable and packed with antioxidants and nutrients. The Free Lance-Star reports that in China and Japan, mushrooms are used both as food and as medicine to stimulate the immune system and reduce infections and cancer.

Portabella skins For a spin on the traditional Potato Skins, the Lexington-Herald shares a recipe for these tasty-looking Portabella Skins.

Mushrooms: The next best thing Karen Solomon of Yoga Journal is beginning to think mushrooms are some kind of wonder food. Rich in B vitamins, antioxidants and an excellent source of ergothioneine, who wouldn’t think so!

Eating mushrooms slashes risk of breast cancer by two-thirds Natural News reports on a new study from University of Western Australia in Perth that suggests regular mushroom consumption can decrease a woman’s risk of breast cancer by two thirds.

Tofu and shiitake bit salad Love vegetarian food? The Seattle Post Intelligencer has the perfect dinner recipe for you! With less than 10 ingredients this salad is simple and satisfying.

Vitamin D – Could D stand for diet? Stay slim this summer. According to the Examiner, a new study suggests vitamin D could be a key factor in weight loss. Find about more about the study in the full article above.

ROW: Oyster Mushroom Stir Fry from One Scoop At A Time

Photo Credit: Linda for One Scoop At A TimeI make an effort to include a wide range of opinions and lifestyles in my circle of friends.  Nowhere is that more apparent than in their food choices.  Seriously, I have a friend I love dearly who has a hard time ordering something other than chicken fingers  when we go out to dinner.  I once dated a guy who had never eaten fruit- and had no interest in doing so.  While neither of these eating personalities reflect my own (the produce aisle being, predictably, my natural habitat), I love them for who they are and covertly broaden their horizons (barring allergies) every time they’re over.

Ok, point one made.

Point two is that no matter how much I love my picky palated friends, I save a special place in my heart for kindred eaters.  They love vegetables and new flavors and fresh ingredients as much as I do.  Maybe a fried green tomato here and there, but generally?  We love to taste the food.

No doubt I’ve found one such kindred eater in Linda from One Scoop At A Time.  A mushroom maven to her very core, Linda has never met a maitake she didn’t like.  Her entire blog is full of wonderfully spiced but thoroughly approachable dishes, reported with joy from a northern California kitchen.  This week’s recipe of the week is oyster mushrooms in a spicy sauce with Chinese garlic chives but I assure you, ma amie de mushroom will not disappoint you should you explore her blog further.

Grilling with Gretchen: Asparagus, Portobello Mushrooms and Onion Burgers

Gretchen knows her way around a grill and with some orange zest and fresh herbs?  She makes these veggies sing! Definitely something we want to try over the weekend- the first day of summer is officially Sunday!

ROW: Once Upon A Plate Presents 5 Star Portobello "Pepper Steak"

Photo Credit: Once Upon a PlateTell me what you know about cravings.  Specifically (nay, obviously) food cravings. Do you get them often?  Do you see any patterns?  Are you getting a hankering right now that I mention it?

Given the level of food-centricity I allow my life, you could probably guess that I fall victim to them often and they do not let go until I find a way to satiate it.  Sometimes I’m craving healthy things like cucumber soup or avocado with lemon and salt.  Sometimes not so much (lobster rolls, creme brulee, french fries).

This week I was ready to walk the seven miles to Chinatown on my 1/2 hour lunch just to get past my green pepper beef craving. Salty and saucy and sweet, for a long time it’s been my go-to takeout.  But then I remember that it’s summer and if anything is more crave-worthy than the ubiquitous white and red take-out boxes, it’s lean legs in sundresses and shorts. In the midst of this internal battle, I fell Once Upon a Plate.  Who happened to be featuring a perfect portobello take on the object of my appetite affections.

With gorgeous photos, an approachable recipe and a slimmed down version of my longtime favorite, Once Upon a Plate saved the day and my cravings are, for once, coexisting peacefully.   Now Mari, what are your thoughts on mushroom fries?