When friends saw these they seemed surprised that gorditas were a real Mexican thing and not just a Taco Bell thing. But these are clearly not what you’re going to get at your local Taco Bell. In this version freshly made masa cakes create a crispy corn pillow that gets stuffed with roasted poblano peppers and queso fresco in a light tomato sauce. Yes, there’s some deep-frying involved, but the vegetarian filling keeps them from being too heavy.
Making the masa cakes is a multi-step process, but it’s not overly complicated. First they’re dry toasted on the stove before getting deep-fried. Although I first rolled them out to 1/8 of an inch, per Rick Bayless’s instructions, I found that thicker cakes had more success puffing open. So aim for cakes about 1/4- to 1/3 of an inch.
Mexican Gorditas Stuffed with Poblano Peppers and Queso Fresco
* 1-3/4 cups instant corn masa (I've always used the Maseca brand)
* 1-1/4 cup water, plus extra if needed
* 2 Tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/3 cup rice flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* Oil to a depth of 3/4 inch, for frying
* 1 can diced tomatoes in their juice
* 4 large Poblano peppers (also called Pasilla in some parts), roasted*, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
* 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
* 2 cups crumbled queso fresco
* salt and pepper
Combine the corn masa with the 1-1/4 cups of water in a large bowl, mix, and let sit aside for for about 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting, prepare the filling. In a blender or food processor, blend the tomatoes until smooth. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve into a medium saucepan. Add the peppers and broth and cook over medium heat until the tomato and broth liquid has reduced to a light coating on the peppers. Remove from heat, stir in the cheese and then add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Add the lard, salt, rice flour and baking powder to the masa harina mix. Mix until the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Add just enough water so that when you take a ball of the dough in your hands and press it down firmly, it doesn't crack around the edges. Roll the dough into 12 balls of the same size.
Preheat a large skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Take one of the portions of masa dough and put between two pieces of waxed paper. Press the dough into a circle about 3-4-inches in diameter and about 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch thick. Remove from the waxed paper and place in the preheated pan. Repeat with as many as can fit in your pan. Cook on one side until browned and crispy, about two to three minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side. Remove to a cooling rack and repeat with the rest of the dough.
Heat the oil to 375 and drop a couple gorditas into the oil. Fry until golden and the two sides of the cakes have separated and puffed open. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.
When ready to serve cut a small opening along the perimeter of the masa cake and spoon in some of the pepper and queso fresco filling, Serve immediately.
Note: if you're new to roasting peppers, here's an excellent tutorial.