Tetelas are a prehispanic snack from Oaxaca and Puebla, a corn triangular empanada stuffed with black beans and cheese, and served with salsa. Get to know more about this delicious and authentic Mexican food.
What are Tetelas?
Tetelas are a Mexican snack from Puebla and Oaxaca consisting of a corn triangular empanada stuffed with various ingredients, usually refried black beans and sometimes cheese.
Those particular empanadas are unique in the country, being the first recorded to have a triangular shape which is a wonderful way for keeping the filling hot, making them a great to-go snack.
Unlike a quesadilla that are made with cooked tortillas, tetelas are first made with a raw tortilla, stuffed, folded, then cooked on a comal which makes them not only delicious but also healthy and nutritious.
The origin of this particular snack dates back to the Mixtec people. It is a typical dish representative of the region with three main ingredients:
The first is the local corn harvested and nixtamalized in a traditional way. The corn can be found in different variants of colors such as yellow, white, blue, or purple.
The second element is the black beans, which are cooked with hierba de conejo, an herbaceous plant that grows wild in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca. It has a flavor very similar to anise and that of the avocado leaf.
And finally, the third element, a good local cheese such as Quesillo (known also as queso Oaxaca).
They are widely consumed in the Pueblan and Oaxacan Mixtec region, where it is a very important food; sometimes it is part of the main meal of the day or dinner and is simply eaten with a spicy sauce.
Tetelas are easy to find during town festivals in Tecomaxtlahuaca and Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca, where they are considered a special treat.
Even though tetelas are from Prehispanic origin and the traditional stuffing was only mashed black beans back then, in modern days there are many variations on the filling, such as adding cheese or guisados like:
The Recipe Ingredients
Masa Harina. The one used to make tortillas, you can use the yellow or blue type and you can find it on Amazon or at any Mexican store; some supermarkets also have it available at the international aisle.
Beans. I am using black beans as the traditional recipe calls, but sometimes I just use any type of beans I have on hand, such as pinto or bayo beans. Even traditional refried beans work fine for this recipe.
Cheese. Quesillo (Oaxacan cheese) is the best option, but in case you can’t find it just use any string cheese you like and that melts nicely.
Others. Onions, chili peppers, and lard to make the beans filling. You can swap lard with your favorite oil. Also, Mexican cream or sour cream to serve and your favorite hot Mexican salsa, I’ll leave you below some options with links to the recipes.
Step by step recipe
Place the beans in a food processor and process until pureed. You can also use a blender if you want.
Heat the lard in a pan over medium-low heat. Add chopped onions and chili peppers, then stir for a couple of minutes until vegetables are soft and slightly translucent.
Add pureed beans to the pan, mix, and cook while stirring constantly until beans are dry but still creamy and spreadable. Adjust salt to taste and set aside.
Combine masa harina, salt, and water in a bowl until you will have a soft dough that is similar in texture to play-dough.
Heat a cast-iron pan or comal over medium-high heat until smoky hot.
Pinch a bit of the masa dough and form a ball about the size of a golf ball.
Place the masa ball between 2 sheets of plastic and then press with a heavy dish or use a tortilla press to make a thick tortilla about 5.5-inch /14cm in diameter (read notes).
Remove the top plastic sheet and then spread some beans puree in the middle of the tortilla. Add a little bit of cheese too.
Using the plastic sheet fold over one side of the tortilla towards the middle.
Then, fold the other side to make some sort of triangle, making sure the narrow ends overlap a little bit.
Last, fold up the bottom to close the triangle and gently press the tetela to flatten it a little bit and help the masa dough to stick.
Remove the corn cake from the plastic and gently place it on the hot pan. Cook for 2 minutes on one side, flip and keep cooking for 3-4 more minutes, and last, flip it again and cook until dark spots form on each side.
While the first piece is cooking you can keep making as many they fit on your pan. As they finish cooking, keep them warm in a basket or bowl wrapped with a kitchen cloth napkin.
How To Serve
Tetelas are served simply, just with hot salsa on the side and sometimes with Mexican crema and cheese. Check out our favorite salsas to serve this antojito:
- Salsa verde. Made with tomatillos, cilantro, and green chilies.
- Chile de árbol salsa. Made with tomatoes and chile de árbol.
- Tomatillo red chili salsa. With tomatillos, chile de árbol, guajillo, and garlic.
How To Store & Reheat
Even though those Mexican treats are better to eat freshly cooked, if you got some leftovers just allow them to cool down to room temperature, then wrap them in paper towels and place them in an airtight container. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
To reheat, heat a non-stick pan with a little bit of oil or lard, add the corn cakes, and heat them up for a couple of minutes flipping them from time to time.
Watch How To Make It
For the dough
- 1 ½ cup masa harina
- 1 ⅛ cup lukewarm water (or more, read notes)
- 1 tsp salt
For the filling
- 1 cup black beans
- ¼ cup onion (chopped)
- 1 jalapeño pepper (chopped)
- 1 Tbsp lard (or olive oil)
- ⅔ cup Oaxaca cheese or mozzarella (shredded)
- salt (as needed)
- Mexican crema (or sour cream)
- Tomatillo red chili salsa (or your favorite salsa)
Make the filling
- Puree the beans in a food processor or blender until smooth.
- Heat lard in a pan, add onions and jalapeño peppers and cook over medium heat until soft and slightly translucent.
- Add pureed beans to the pan and cook while stirring constantly until beans are dry but still creamy and spreadable. Adjust salt to taste and set aside.
Make the dough
- In a bowl, combine masa harina, salt, and water until you will have a soft dough that is similar in texture to play-dough.
- Divide the dough into 8 equal-sized balls and keep them covered with a damp kitchen towel.
Make the tetelas
- Heat a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until smoky hot.
- Place one masa ball between 2 sheets of plastic and then press with a heavy dish or use a tortilla press to make a tortilla about 6-inch (15cm) in diameter.
- Remove the top plastic sheet and spread some beans puree in the middle of the tortilla.
- Add a little bit of cheese on top of beans.
- Using the plastic sheet fold over one side of the tortilla, then fold the other side patting it a little to seal it.
- Fold up the bottom to form a sort of triangle and gently press the tetela to flatten it a little bit.
- Remove the tetela from the plastic and gently place it on the hot pan.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes, flip and keep cooking until they’re a little browned.
- Repeat with all dough balls. As they finish cooking, keep them warm wrapped with a kitchen napkin.
- Serve with your favorite Mexican hot salsa and cream.