Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pupusa Magic

El Salvador literally means "the savior". The name came from the Spanish conquistadors who first named the country  La Provincia De Nuestro Señor Jesus Cristo, El Salvador Del Mundo. That's quite a mouthful meaning "The Province of Our Lord Jesús Christ, the Savior of the World." Yeah, El Salvador flows a bit better. :) The capital of El Salvador is San Salvador, and the second and thrid largest cities (after San Salvador) are Santa Ana and San Miguel. With all of these saintly and holy names, you can guess that the two major religious groups are Catholics and Protestants. El Salvador is the smallest Central American country. It's also the most densly populated and the only one without an Atlantic coastline.

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El Salvadoran cuisine is a mixture of indigenous Pipil Native Americans and the Spaniards who conquered El Salvador in the 16th century. Only 2% of the population of El Salvador today are fully Pipil, but over 80% are mestizos. This mix of Spanish and Pipil blood is reflected in their delicious cuisine. For my meal tonight, I decided to go with the staple and ppopular pupusa. Pupusas are almost always accompanied by curtido and salsa roja. Along with a nice side of beans, you have a nice, traditional El Salvadoran meal.


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Refried beans are common in all of central America. In El Salvador they are commonly served with just about every meal, and are made out of red kidney beans. You can make them from scratch with dry beans by soaking and then cooking the beans first, or go the easy route with canned beans. Either way, your refried beans will turn out so delicious that you'll want to grab a bowl of chips and dig in!
 

Frijoles Fritos
1 ½ cups cooked kidney beans
½ small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup bean liquid
salt, to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat in a small pan. Add the onions and garlic, and cook for about 8 minutes until the onion is tender. Stir the mixture occasionally to prevent it from burning. Meanwhile, blend the bean liquid and beans together until they form a thick puree. Add the beans and remaining oil to the pan of onions. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the oil has been absorbed and the beans have reddened, about 8 minutes. Season to taste.



 

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Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador, and a national favorite.  There is even a whole holiday commemorating them. It's a weeklong festival called La Festival Nacional De La Pupusa that lasts from November 7-13. Masa harina is used to make a thick tortilla shell that is stuffed with goodies and cooked in a frying pan until golden. They have gained popularity in the United States for obvious reasons. (Cheese= yummy!) There are many traditional fillings such as chicharron (pork), loroco (a vine flower bud), or just cheese.
 
Pupusas Mixtas
1 ¾ cups masa harina
1- 1 ¼ cups warm water

For the filling:
½ cup frijoles fritos (recipe above)
8 ounces queso fresco, cut into cubes
½ bell pepper, chopped
1 loroco or chili pepper, chopped

To make the filling, process the cheese, chili, and bell pepper together in a food processor until fully combined. Set it aside along with the beans until your pupusas are ready to be stuffed.

To make the pupusa dough, mix together the water and masa into a soft dough. Form it into a ball, cover with a moist towel, and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into balls and make large indents into them with your thumb. Stuff a spoonful each of the beans and cheese mixture into the indent, close up the top of the dough, and press the pupusa into a disk about ½” thick. Repeat with the remaining dough. Heat a pan over medium heat and spray it with oil. Cook the pupusas for about 3 minutes per side, or until golden brown.



 

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Salsa roja is a slightly watery and slightly spicy accompaniment to pupusas and curtido. It is a must for any pupusa night, and I guarantee you that you will love it.

Salsa Roja
1 hot chili pepper
2 cups chopped tomatoes
½ onion, chopped
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano

Heat a little oil in a pan over medium heat. Cook the onions and garlic for about five minutes and then stir in the remaining ingredients. Combine everything into a food processor and process until you get a thick paste. Serve with pupusas and curtido.
 
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Fermented cabbage dishes are common all over the world. It's another one of those dishes like leafy greens in coconut milk or fried bread that just seems to be eaten everywhere. The Salvadoran version of kimchi and sauerkraut is called curtido. Thankfully curtido is not quite as fermented as the previous two dishes. Maybe it will help to ease me into the whole fermented veggie trend that the whole world seems to have adapted to.
 
Curtido
1-16 ounce package shredded cabbage and carrot mix
½ cup white vinegar
½ cup water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
¼ a large onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
boiling water

Pour the boiling water over the cabbage mixture. Let it sit for 10 minutes and then drain well. Mix together all the ingredients and let them sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.

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I was super excited to make my pupusas because I has such success with them when I  made cheese pupusas for El Salvador during Breakfasts Around the World. For some reason I just couldn't get into my pupusa making mojo while I was cooking this week, so my pupusas turned out too thick, gummy, and unflavorful. Plus, they were super ugly and practically falling apart. It was a bummer. Luckily, I had some extra filling leftover, and I really enjoyed eating that. The queso fresco that I bought from the store (for 75% off!) was salty and delicious, the refried beans were super yummy, and the salsa was the perfect amount of spicy. I even liked the curtido. Overall, I enjoyed El Salvador even though the main component of my meal was a fail. Dipping the bland pupusas in the salsa cured any problems I had with the taste. You could dip just about anything into that stuff to make it taste good. Enjoy El Salvador!

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