Poc chuc with mushrooms

Taste a hearty slice of meat-free Mexican vegetarian cuisine via this charcoal-grilled classic

This roasted mushroom dish from Yucatán is the perfect reformed carnivore’s choice from The Mexican Vegetarian Cookbook

Think of Mexican cuisine, and you may picture a plate of meaty tacos al pastor, or a beef-rich mole. Yet, as chef, Mexican food advocate and author Margarita Carrillo Arronte puts it in The Mexican Vegetarian Cookbook, the country’s earliest inhabitants probably wouldn’t recognise these dishes.

As Arronte explains, food in this part of North America was shaped by three key facts. “The domestication of corn by the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica (today’s Mexico) began more than eight thousand years ago;” she writes, “there was no type of livestock available - they had domesticated certain farmyard animals in small quantities, such as rabbits, hairless dogs and turkeys; and, finally, we should recognise that the great natural biodiversity of the vast Mesoamerican lands is manifested in the large quantity of its endemic ingredients: fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, edible flowers, etc.”

A good, basic cereal, a lack of beef or lamb, and lots of plants to choose from, led cooks to create a huge variety of delicious meat-free dishes, many of which feature in our new book. And even after the arrival of pigs, cows and sheep, Mexicans have found ways to rework meaty dishes, removing the butcher's cuts without losing that meaty flavour. The Mexican Vegetarian Cookbook features a version of poc chuc, a Yucatán classic usually made with pork, over an open flame. Arronte switches out this porcine element for oyster or portobello mushrooms, without losing any of the dish's hearty taste.

To make this version of poc chuc (the name, by the way, comes from the Mayan words “poc”, to toast, and “chuc”, charcoal), you’ll need the following ingredients. 1⅓ cups (9 oz/250 g) of dried black beans, soaked overnight, drained, and rinsed; a garlic clove, crushed; a tablespoon of vegetable oil; a small onion, chopped; a xcatic or habanero chilli, seeded and finely chopped; 1 oz/30g of epazote leaves, finely chopped; 6–12 portobello or oyster mushrooms; the juice of 5 sour oranges (2 for the mushrooms, 3 for the marinated onions); 1–2 garlic cloves, minced; black pepper; 14 oz/400 g of red onions; a bunch of cilantro (coriander), chopped; 1 lb 2 oz/500 g of ripe tomatoes; a small onion, minced; a bunch of cilantro (coriander), finely chopped; sea salt; and to serve, a habanero chilli, dry-roasted.

First put the beans into a large flameproof casserole. Add 6¼ cups (2½ pints/1.5 litres) of water and the garlic. Cover and boil over medium heat for 2–3 hours (or 30 minutes in a pressure cooker). When tender, add salt and boil for a few minutes.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms. Wipe any dirt from the caps with a damp cloth. Using a spoon, scrape around the underside of the caps to remove the gills (leave them on if preferred) and cut each in half. Mix the sour orange juice with the garlic, and salt and pepper to taste, and pour over the mushrooms. Leave to marinate for an hour.

Roast the whole red onions, unpeeled, on a grill (barbecue), turning frequently, until browned on all sides. Let cool, then peel, and slice into rings or half-moons. Mix with the sour orange juice, chopped cilantro (coriander) and salt to taste. Leave to rest for an hour in the refrigerator before serving.

Roast the tomatoes on a grill (barbecue), turning frequently. Place in a bowl and mash using a potato masher. Let cool then add the minced onion, chopped cilantro and salt to taste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (clingfilm) and let it rest in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Drain the beans, add to a food processor or blender, and blend.

Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onion with the chilli until golden. Add the blended beans and epazote leaves, then boil over low heat for 5 minutes. Pass the beans through a strainer (sieve) and reserve.

The Mexican Vegetarian Cookbook

To serve, grill the mushrooms over charcoal or roast them for 3–4 minutes in a hot oven until slightly golden. Serve with the hot beans, marinated onion, and roast tomatoes, and garnish with a roasted habanero. For a more detailed version of this recipe, as well as much more besides, order a copy of The Mexican Vegetarian Cookbook here.