Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Day 53! El Salvador(San Salvador)(NA) - Pupusas and Salsa Roja - Up Next, Equatorial Guinea(AF)

What better way to celebrate the last day of summer before school starts, than with lunch from El Salvador?

I decided to make Pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador, which holds such a position of culinary honor that there's actually a day named for it. Pupusas, which are very much like corn tortillas, except that they're stuffed with cheese, meat or beans are typically served with Curtido, a cabbage coleslaw or Salsa Roja, which is what I decided to make to use up some of the bushels of tomatoes I suddenly have.

Several weeks ago I bought some frozen Pupusas at a tropical market, but they were bland and boring, so I wanted to try to improve on this traditional El Salvadorian staple, which I think I did.

 Pictured to the left is South America as seen on my wall map. El Salvador is located along the Pacific Coast up in the left hand corner next to Honduras and Costa Rica. It's cuisine has Spanish and indigenous Mayan influences. Foods most relied upon include corn, bean, squash and tomatoes.
My local Market Basket Basket offers a huge selection of Latin American food and produce

Mix up the Masa Harina with water and kneed gently, roll into a log and cut into 8 pieces

Shape into balls

Roll out into circles with a rolling pin or tortilla press (I don't have one yet, but I WILL!)

I used a combination of Quesso Fresco and Swiss cheese along with minced scallions to add zip

Salsa Roja - fresh tomatoes, garlic, onion, cilantro and a little hot pepper

Seasoned with finishing salt crystal - crunchy and beautiful

Pupusas and Salsa Roja for lunch

Pineapple - indigenous to El Salvador - for dessert
Recipes (from: www.whats4eats.com)

Makes 4-5 pupusas

  • 2 Cups Masa harina
  • 1 Cup warm water
  • 1 Cup filling

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the masa harina and water and knead well. Knead in more water, one tablespoon at a time if needed to make make a moist, yet firm dough - It should not crack at the edges when you press down on it. Cover and set aside for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Roll the dough into a log and cut into 8 equal portions. Roll each potion into a ball.
  3. Press an indentation in each ball with your thumb. Put about 1 tablespoon of filling into each indentation and fold the dough over to completely enclose it. Press the ball out with your palms to form a disc, taking care that the filling doesn't spill out.
  4. Line a tortilla press with plastic and press out each ball to about 5-6 inches wide and about 1/4-inch thick. If you don't have a tortilla press, place the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or waz paper and roll it out with a rolling pin.
  5. Heat an un-greased skillet over medium-high heat. Cook each pupusas for about 1-2 minutes on each side, until lightly browned and blistered. 
  6. Remove to plate and keep warm until all are done.

Salsa Roja

  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 Serrano or jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 Cups tomatoes - seeded, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 cilantro or parsley

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium flame. Add the onion, garlic and chili and sauté for 2-3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes and oregano and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool a bit.
  3. Puree the tomato sauce in a blender until smooth, adding a little water if needed. 
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste, stir in cilantro or parsley.

Final Assessment: This is wonderful comfort food - The corn meal has a very distinctive flavor, and the combination of Queso Fresco, Swiss cheese and scallions was savory and tasty. I deviated from the Salsa Roja recipe and did NOT cook the salsa. My tomatoes and herbs are so fresh right now, that I couldn't bring myself to cook them...either way, the salsa add zip and color to the pupsas. A

Friday, August 27, 2010

Day 52! Egypt(Cairo)(AS)-Kofta (Spicy Meatballs) and Tzatziki Sauce (Yogurt Sauce), Hummus with Tahini - - Up Next, El Salvador (San Salvador)(NA)

مرحبا بكم في مطبخي

I will never, ever, ever again buy Hummus. The batch I made tonight was easy, cheap (probably cost me $2 - if that) and tasted unbelievably good. I love preparing Middle Eastern food as the exotic blend of cumin, cinnamon, allspice, garlic and lemons not only scents the house as it's cooking but tastes so uniquely different from any other foods I've cooked thus far. Tonight I decided to make Kofta (spicy lamb meatballs), Tzatsiki sauce (cucumber, yogurt sauce) and Hummus with Tahini.

So here's a little background on Egypt - ancient land of camels, pyramids, innovative brilliance, culture, art, and...food. Evidence of the Egyptian culture, food and lavish feasts dates back thousands of years and can be found in the form of wall paintings and carvings in tombs and temples. Egyptian food draws it's influence from neighboring countries such as Iraq (Persia), Greece, Italy (Romans), Arab countries and Turkey (Ottomans) as well as numerous other Middle Eastern countries.

Staple foods include rice and bread (Aish baladi). National dishes include: Kofta (spicy lamb), lambkebabs, ful midamess (spicy bean paste and onions), tahini (sesame paste) and koushari (lentil dish);  pmolokhiyya (a spinach like vegetable) and ful mudammas (cooked, creamy fava beans). Lastly, there's Hummus, the oldest of foods, dating back somewhere around 7,000 years.
I used a combination of beef and lamb - prepare as you would meat loaf

Blend well - your hands are your best tools - chill for a good hour to let the flavors blend

Make meatballs - about the size of a small egg

Unless you have access to a Middle Eastern Market, Joseph's is very good and available in most grocery stores

Brown meatballs in a little good quality olive oil

Tongs - hands down, the tool I most use in the kitchen

Cucumbers from my garden - scoop seeds out with a spoon

Greek yogurt - all others pale by comparison http://www.fageusa.com/

Combine yogurt, grated cucumber, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil - is there anything better??


The basics of good hummus!

(makes about 20 meatballs)
  • 2 Pounds ground lamb, beef or a mixture of both
  • 1 Onion, minced
  • 1/2 bunch fresh parsley or mint, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil for frying
  1. Place meat, onion, herbs, spices and salt and pepper in a large bowl and knead together well. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1-2 hours to allow the flavors to mingle and make the meat easier to handle.
  2. form meat mixture into balls, patties or ovals about the size of a small egg.
  3. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, and working in batches, saute the meatballs until browned on all sides and cooked through. Browned meatballs can also be finished in 350 F oven.
  4. Serve as is or in pita bread with tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce
(Makes about 2 1/2 Cups)
  • 1 Cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 Cups thick, Greek-style yogurt
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  1. In a large bowl, toss the cucumber with the salt and set aside for 5-10 minutes. Squeeze the cucumber to get rid of the excess moisture.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl with the cucumber and stir together until well blended.
  3. Adjust seasoning and serve well chilled.
Hummus with Tahini
  • 1 16 oz can of chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup liquid from can of chickpeas
  • 3-5 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. tahini
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  1. Drain chickpeas and set aside liquid from can. Combine remaining ingredients in blender or food processor. Add 1/4 cup of liquid from chickpeas. Blend for 3-5 minutes on low until thoroughly mixed and smooth.
  2. Place in serving bowl, and create a shallow well in the center of the humus.
  3. Add a small amount (1-2 Tbsp.) of olive oil in well. Garnish with parsley.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 51! Ecuador(Quito)(SA): Humitas Ecuatorianas and Creole Hot Pepper Salsa - Up Next, Egypt(Cairo)(AS)

What a day! First, I got to spend the whole day with my wonderful friend, Lucy. Lucy is a brown belt in Karate and one of the few women in this area who is trained and training in the art of Brazilian Jujitsu. In my eyes, she is a certified badass. First she took me to the gym and taught me some crazy moves that will likely result in severe pain tomorrow morning. Next, I took her to get a tattoo she's been wanting, the Wu-Wei symbol, a Taoist symbol for "non-doing" - not to be confused with not doing anything - the complete opposite, in fact. Then, she came back to my house to help me prepare this traditional Ecuadorian meal. YAY!

Ecuador(Quito)(SA) - This beautiful country sits directly on the Equator, southern and western hemisphere. It is located on the northwestern edge of South America and bordered by Columbia, Peru and the Pacific Ocean.The Galapagos Islands, which are a territory of Ecuador, are about 600 miles to it's west.

Although Ecuador has been marked by 25 years of civilian governance since 2004, the country has been besieged by political instability, as 7 presidents have governed Ecuador since 1996.

The indigenous populations mixed with those of European descent give Ecuador a unique cultural texture, including, of course, it's food.

Assembling the Humitas




Humitas Ecuatorianas
Makes about 12 humitas, depending on the size of the cornhusks
A well-prepared humita is a gourmand's delight. These humitas are generally made plain, but some cooks prefer to fill them with a piece of cheese or chicken or some other tidbit.
·         6 to 8 ears corn (4 cups kernels)
·         1/4 cup chopped scallions (white part only)
·         1/4 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
·         3 large eggs, separated
·         1/2 cup commeal, or more if needed
·         1 teaspoon baking powder
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         1 teaspoon sugar
·         6 ounces Chihuahua, mozzarella, or Muenster cheese, shredded
·         1 tablespoon brandy
·         Kitchen twine, cut into twelve 15-inch lengths
·         2 cups water
·         Aji Criollo
1. Have a large pot of water boiling. To remove the husks from the corn, use a sharp, heavy knife to cut through the corncob at the stem end, where the kernels start. Carefully remove the husks. Select the largest for wrapping and blanch in the boiling water for a couple of minutes to make them more pliable. Remove from the water with tongs and set on paper towels to drain. Save the rest to cut into strips for tying or to cover the humitas before steaming.
2. With a brush, remove the silk from the corn and rinse. Use the knife to cut the kernels from the cobs (you need 4 cups). Place in a food processor or blender along with the scallions and process until finely ground. Add the butter, egg yolks, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, sugar, cheese, and brandy. Pulse until everything is well incorporated and smooth. Transfer to a large bowl; the mixture should be thick, not runny. Add more cornmeal if the batter is runny.
3. Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Carefully fold just enough into the corn mixture until it mounds.
4. To assemble the humitas, dry the cornhusks and place 2 on the worktable, overlapping them a little. Place a heaping 1/2 cup corn batter on the lower half of the husks, fold the left side over the center, fold the pointed end over, and finally fold the right side over toward the center. Tie around the middle with twine or cornhusk strips.
5. Place a quarter in the bottom of a steamer, add the water, and line the steamer basket with small cornhusks. Place a few humitas standing open end up in the steamer. Cover with leftover husks and a clean kitchen towel. Place the cover on the pot, bring to a boil, and steam until the humitas feel firm to the touch, about 30 minutes if small, 45 minutes if large. Add more boiling water if needed (the quarter will stop making noise when all the water has evaporated).
6. To serve, remove the twine and place on a plate with the husks opened to expose the humita. Serve with a dish of aji on the side.
NOTE If using dried cornhusks, soak them in hot water for a few minutes, dry, and use as instructed.
Creole Hot Pepper SalsaAji Criollo
Makes about 3/4 cup
Hot pepper salsas similar to this Ecuadorian version are never missing from the South American table.
·         4 hot red or green finger peppers, 3 to 4 inches long, seeded and chopped
·              (or leave seeds in for an even hotter salsa)
·         6 tablespoons water
·         1/2 teaspoon salt
·         1/4 cup minced scallions (white part only)
·         2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
1. Place the hot peppers, 2 tablespoons of the water, and the salt in a blender and process until smooth.
2. Transfer to a small bowl. Add the scallions, cilantro, and remaining 4 tablespoons water and mix well. It is best to use this salsa the same day it is made.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day 50! East Timor(Dilli)(AS) -Shrimp Satay (Japit Udang), Sauteed Eggplant (Tumis terong)Pudim do Coco - Up Next, Ecuador(Quito)(SA)

Forever my baby

Jimmy King - NYC Actor
When I first started  this blog, my  friend Jimmy - a very cool and wise soul, actor, and fellow Cantabridgian from back in the day, told me to use it like a journal. At first I couldn't imagine how that could work, but since this venture has begun taking up more and more time in my life and in my head, I get it. How did he know that before I did???

But, as excited as I am to make this meal From East Timor tonight, my heart is only 1/2 in it. The other 1/2 is with my first born son, Ian,  who will be leaving for college in 6 1/4 days. 

Case in Point: Today, I made myself go the gym to reset my compass on a steady course...something about re-aligning all those neurons and endorphins.  After pushing myself harder than usual,  I headed to the shower (THE best part of going to the gym besides the steam and sauna), and found myself sobbing uncontrollably, which, by the way,  makes shaving one's legs extremely hazardous. So much for self-help.

East Timor is located in the eastern part of Timor, an island in the Indonesian archipelago that lies between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. East Timor includes the enclave of Oecussi, which is located within West Timor (Indonesia).  Slightly larger than Connecticut, it's tropical climate is unpredictable and variable, ranging from heavy rainy to dry, drought conditions. 

Most families also raise their own chickens, pigs and goats as East Timor's climate is changeable and makes growing crops so difficult, there is a season called "Hungry Season" which starts in November and lasts through February.

Food in East Timor is heavily influenced by Indonesian cusine as it was once ruled by this country. It also has significant Portugues flavors as Portugal once owned East Timor as a colony. The people in East Timor typically experience extreme shortages of food and malnutirian due to drought and irregular rain and climate conditions which tends to drive the price to food to prohibitive costs. To learn more: East Timor: History, Geography, Government, and Culture — Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0902237.html#ixzz0xGcwpRgJ
A great place to get a HUGE array of Asian produce, dried and frozen food

Caramelized sugar on bottom, egg, coconut milk custard on top

Bake custard in pan with water (bain Marie)
THE best ramekins I've ever owned: http://www.crateandbarrel.com/

Mere words cannot describe this ethereal flan - topped with toasted unsweetened coconut-sublime!

Gone in seconds flat
Basic ingredients for meal - macadamia nuts, coconut, galangal, red peppers

Hot peppers, shallots, garlic, galanga root and brown sugar - NOTHING better

Wild blue shrimp from Trader Joe'shttp://www.traderjoes.com/

Skewers my Mom gave me years ago - I swear they make everything taste...imperial

Eggplant, garlic and onions

Add the shrimp paste and you've got it goin' on!

Garnish with lime

Shrimp Satay (Japit Udang)

20 Large Shrimp/peeled leaving the tail on
1 Cup Thick coconut milk
Ground Spices
8-20 red chilies
1 tsp. chopped galangal
5 Candlenuts, roasted (Brazil or Macadamia nuts are a good substitute)
6 Shallots
3 Cloves garlic
Salt and brown sugar

Method :

  • Combine shrimps with ground spices and thick coconut milk and allow to stand for 15 minutes.
  • Skewer the shrimp
  • Grill over hot charcoal and brush with remaining ground spices until golden brown.
  • Serve hot
Sauteed Eggplant (Tumis terong)
3 servings
  • 2 medium egg plants
  • 2 tbs. vegetable oil
  • 3 tbs. sweet soy sauce (optional)
  • 1/2 medium onion sliced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp. shrimp paste
  • salt and pepper to taste
Wash egg plant and cut in 1 1/2 inch cubes or slice in strips 2 inch wide. Heat oil and fry onion garlic and shrimp paste 2 minutes. Add eggplant stir and cover pan. Simmer 10 minutes. If there is not sufficient juice, ad 1/4 cup water. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pudim de Coco - Dessert
(Coconut Pudding - East Timor)
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup freshly grated coconut for decoration (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat 1 cup of sugar, slowly, in a heavy skillet, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until sugar melts and is free of lumps. When the sugar turns a caramel colour, remove it from the heat and pour it into a 6-cup mold. Set aside.
Beat the eggs with 2 cups sugar, until fluffy. Place flour in a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons coconut milk, one at a time until mixture is smooth. Add the flour mixture to the coconut milk, mix well and then add to the egg mixture. Pour mixture over into mold over caramelised sugar. Place the mold in a large baking pan filled with 1 inch of hot water to create a bain-marie. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from water bath immediately. Cool for 20 minutes then invert onto a serving dish and chill for 6 to 8 hours. To serve, sprinkle with freshly grated coconut if desired.
Instead of grating a fresh coconut I have used frozen fresh coconut found the freezer department of most supermarkets. It works just as well.

FINAL ASSESSMENT: Wonderful, delicious, spicy, sweet - make these recipes and enjoy every damn bite-and don't shave your legs while crying in the shower.