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What Are Chochoyotes?
If you’ve never heard of chochoyotes (pronounced like cho-cho-YOH-tehs), you are not alone—these wonderful dumpling-like goodies seem to be little known outside their native land. That’s a shame, though, because chochoyotes (also called chocholos, chochoyos, textlales, and other names, depending on region) are straight up Mexican comfort food. These little balls of masa cooked in broth are surprisingly tasty, filling, and easy to make, and they will warm your body and spirit on a cold day better than almost anything else will.
Chochoyotes are often present in the soups and brothy stews of central and southern Mexico and are somewhat analogous to the dumplings used in northern climes. Made of corn masa, they are pre-Hispanic in origin and are, in a way, basically tiny tamales floating in a sea of liquid goodness. They appear in some of Oaxaca´s traditional moles, the central zone´s chicken soups, and Veracruz’s black bean broth, among other traditional dishes.
In their basic form, chochoyotes contain corn masa (the same kind used to make tortillas and tamales), pork lard, and salt. Often, however, other ingredients are added. Herbs such as epazote, hoja santa, avocado leaf, or cilantro—or other elements like garlic, cheese, or the crispy morsels left in the oil when frying chicharrón—are among the most common add-ins. In some places, the chochoyotes themselves are stuffed with cheese or some other ingredient.
Chochoyotes start out as small balls of masa, each about an inch in diameter. A deep indentation is made into each sphere, though, to ensure that the dough ball gets cooked through.
The raw chochoyotes are dropped into the hot broth and simmered. During the cooking process, a small portion of the masa from the balls dissolves into the liquid, thickening the broth slightly and making it richer. Aside from adding flavor and nutrition, chochoyotes are filling and thus help to “stretch” a soup or stew in an economical way. They are also a great add-in for people who need or want to avoid gluten in their diets, as the corn dough is naturally gluten-free.
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This recipe will yield approximately 30 chochoyotes.
Making the Dough
With fresh masa: If you are lucky enough to live where freshly-made corn masa is obtainable (or if you make your own), simply add two tablespoons of good quality pork lard and a pinch of salt to a cup of masa and mix well.
With masa harina: Follow the instructions on the package to prepare one cup of masa dough (this usually involves something like stirring one cup of masa harina with 3/4 of a cup of warm water, but be sure to verify these quantities for your particular brand). Once you have this simple dough made, add 2 tablespoons of good quality pork lard and a pinch of salt and mix well.
Knead the dough briefly with your hands until you have a smooth, homogenous mixture. (This would be where you would add any optional additional ingredients such as herbs or cheese, were you to use them.)
Form the Dough Balls
Pinch off a bit of dough with your fingertips. Use the palms of your hands to form a sphere of approximately 1 inch in diameter. Hold the dough ball in the palm of one hand while you press down in the middle of it with the index finger of your other hand, thus forming a somewhat basket-like shape of dough. Place your newly-formed chochoyote on a plate and repeat this step until you have used up all the dough.
Cook and Serve
Once the pot of soup or brothy stew that you are using has come to a boil, gently add the balls of dough. Do this slowly, one or two at a time, so that they don´t fall apart. The chochoyotes will sink to the bottom of the pot, but little by little during their cooking time they will begin to float. Simmer them for 15 minutes or so, stirring very carefully (so that they don´t break) every once in a while.
Test a chochoyote to make sure that they are cooked through, then serve your delicious creation in bowls.
If you have any leftovers, refrigerate the chochoyotes together with the broth and rest of ingredients in the dish, then eat them within a few days. This is one of those Mexican dishes that are as good or even better eaten reheated than they are the first time around.
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While there do exist some specific dishes that usually or always contain these delectable balls of dough, chochoyotes are good with most any soupy Mexican stew made with chicken, beef, or pork. Whether it´s a simple broth or one of the many delicious Mexican cooking sauces, if there is enough liquid in the pot, chochoyotes can be added to the dish.
Add chochoyotes to a basic chicken or beef vegetable soup, or to a classic Mexican chicken soup such as Caldo Tlalpeño. Throw a few masa balls into Meatball Soup or the traditional stew known as Mole de Olla.
A pot of beans also cries out for some chochoyotes. Throw some into your brothy beans and, since you will be consuming corn and beans at the same meal, you will be eating a complete protein, no meat needed.
Stews that consist of meat and/or vegetables prepared in a generous amount of Mexican cooking sauce (such as salsa verde or guajillo chile sauce) are also great candidates for chochoyotes. You will probably need to add a little additional water to the sauce to permit the dough balls to cook, but this works out well since the sauce will thicken anyway as the chochoyotes simmer.
Mole sauces are also very yummy places for chochoyotes to hang out. Since they tend to be thick sauces, to begin with, the best option for using dough balls in this type of dish is to simmer the chochoyotes ahead of time in water or broth, then add the drained, cooked masa balls to the sauce before serving.