Mexico Life
Spinach squares made with Mexican requesón. Spinach squares made with Mexican requesón.

What was Little Miss Muffet eating? The Indian version of requesón

Traditional Mexican cooking includes requesón in many dishes, both sweet and savory

Lately I’ve been thinking about Little Miss Muffet, there on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey. (At least until that spider came along.)

I’ve long wondered what exactly she was eating and found the answer many years ago while I was exploring East Indian food. Curd is used extensively to make many Indian sweets and also added to vegetable dishes after it’s been kneaded, rolled into balls and deep-fried in ghee (clarified butter).

Whey — the liquid left once the milk has been curdled — can be sweetened and drunk hot like a tea, or used in soups and stews.

Requesón is the Mexican version of that same curd. As a simple cheese, requesón (ray-kay-SOHN) is almost the same as ricotta. If the curd is pressed longer and aged a bit, you have queso fresco, the slightly tart, crumbly white cheese that’s sprinkled on, well, almost everything in Mexico.

Traditional Mexican cooking includes requesón in many dishes, both sweet and savory: empanadas, tamales, enchiladas and taco fillings; to stuff squash blossoms; in flan; and pay de queso.

You can use requesón almost anywhere you would use ricotta.
You can use requesón almost anywhere you would use ricotta.

You can use requesón almost anywhere you would use ricotta: in lasagna, baked ziti, or in almost any pasta dish; in crepes or, of course, Italian cannoli; in cheesecake; with fruit and granola; blended or whipped as part of a dip, spread or salad dressing. One of my favorite breakfasts is a bowl of fresh requesón mixed with cut-up fruit (mangos, pineapple and banana are my go-tos) drizzled with a little honey and maybe a sprinkle of sliced toasted almonds.

It’s actually quite easy to make your own requesón (recipes below), but if you’re going to buy it, look for fresh-made. Most small tiendas will be sourcing their queso fresco and requesón from a local farmer and you can ask when they’re delivered to be sure you get them fresh. (There’s a taste difference, after even three to four days.)

The next best thing is to go to the deli counter at Mega or La Comer or whatever big grocery store you shop at and get it fresh-cut off a big wheel. Your last choice should be packaged requesón, which will not be at all like the fresh.

Fresh Requesón (Stovetop)

It’s easy to make this simple cheese. I like it without the added salt — see what you prefer. A fine-mesh strainer eliminates the need for cheesecloth.

  • 2 qts. / 2 liters whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp. white vinegar (plus more if needed) OR 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • Optional: 1 tsp. salt

In a heavy-bottomed pot (if possible), heat milk and salt, if using, over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning. When milk just begins to boil or reaches 165 F, remove immediately from heat and gently stir in vinegar or lemon juice. As soon as curds form and the whey becomes mostly clear and yellow, gently pour or spoon into a cheesecloth- or paper towel-lined strainer.

Allow to drain for only a few minutes until you have a spreadable consistency. (If you want a more solid cheese, let drain for up to an hour.) Upend the cheesecloth into a bowl and stir with a fork, breaking up curds until smooth. Store in refrigerator in sealed glass container or wrapped tightly in plastic, for three to four days.

Fresh Requesón (Microwave)

Use same ingredients as above.

Microwave on high for 3-5 minutes. (If you have a kitchen thermometer, the milk should reach 185-200 F.) Remove. Add vinegar or lemon juice to milk and stir gently. Let sit undisturbed for 1-2 minutes. The milk should separate into curds and whey. Strain as above.

Gnocchi de Requesón

Serve these gnocchi with any sauce you like: pesto, browned sage butter, tomato, Alfredo.  They’re also great added to soups before they’ve been cooked, like tiny delicious dumplings.

  • 15 oz. requesón
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1¼ cups Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3-4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Bring well-salted water to a boil in a large pot. In a large bowl, combine requesón, eggs, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Add flour gradually, stirring until you get a sticky dough. (Depending on how wet your requesón is, you’ll need more or less flour.)  Using a tablespoon, scoop mixture into a ball and test-cook: dropping carefully into boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes, removing with a slotted spoon.

Gnocchi should rise and hold its shape. If it doesn’t hold its shape, add a little more flour to remaining batter and test again. Alternately, roll dough into a long rope, cut into ½-inch long pieces, and cook. Serves 6-8. – Chef Mark Bittman

Option: For crispier gnocchi, boil and drain them as usual. Then pan-fry in a little olive oil or butter for just a few minutes until edges are browned and crispy.

Spinach Squares

  • 1 (10 oz.) package frozen spinach, thawed (or equivalent fresh)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup shredded Manchego or Chihuahua cheese
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup requesón
  • ½ cup milk
  • Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan. Squeeze thawed spinach to remove as much of the water as you can; set aside. (If using fresh spinach, wash and chop fine.) Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté chopped onion for 2-3 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook 5-7 minutes more; add ½ tsp. salt. Remove from heat and when cooled slightly, mix with spinach and cheese in baking dish.

In blender or food processor, purée eggs, requesón, milk, ½ tsp. salt and pepper. Pour over spinach mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until center is set. Remove and cut in squares to serve.

Baked Requesón

When baked, this creamy, crowd-pleasing cheese dip puffs up like a souffle.

  • 15 oz. fresh requesón
  • 2 eggs
  • 3½ oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Crackers, crostini, crudité for dipping
  • Optional: Honey, dried fruit or minced fresh cilantro or parsley to sprinkle/drizzle on top
Baked requesón is a crowd-pleasing cheese dip.
Baked requesón is a crowd-pleasing cheese dip.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Generously butter a 2-cup baking dish or oven-safe bowl. Beat all the ingredients in a bowl with a fork or a standing mixer until well combined. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and bake until golden and puffed, 25-30 minutes. For best flavor, let cool slightly before serving straight from the baking dish.

Janet Blaser has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to be able to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.

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