Pupusas

Refried bean and cheese Pupusas.

Refried bean and cheese pupusas.

This afternoon we made pupusas, a traditional Salvadorian stuffed, soft tortilla.

As it happens, the east coast is currently awaiting a nor’easter blizzard that is expected to deliver 1-3 feet of snow and up to 60 mile per hour winds. Boston has a unique alert system for such winter storms: The French Toast Alert System, so called due to the propensity of area residents to stock up on bread, eggs, and milk with the likely prospect of being stuck at home during the storm. Instead, we prepared by making pupusas of masa de maiz, refried beans, and cheese… enough so there are some leftovers (even thought they’re likely best eaten fresh.)

I was introduced to pupusas a few years ago by an Indian friend, i.e., from India, while I was couch-surfing near Baltimore, Maryland, of all places. He took me to his favorite Salvadorian restaurant, a modest place called Bananitos, where friendly Salvadorian ladies were continually preparing pupusas by hand and other Salvadorian dishes for a stream of customers, many to take away.

To make your own pupusas, start by making a simple dough of masa and water, so that the dough is a bit sticky, but can be rolled into a ball yet still flattened without cracking at the edges. (We used Maseca brand instant corn masa flour.)

Roll dough pieces into an approximately golf ball-sized balls (or slightly larger), push each flat, then add a spoonful of filling in the middle, e.g., refried beans mixed with shredded cheese. (We used smoked mozzarella.) Next, wrap the dough around the filling back into a ball and then re-flatten it into a tortilla perhaps 1/4 inch thick. Try to keep the filling contained when pressing, but it’s OK if leaks a bit.

Preparing refried bean and cheese pupusas.

Preparing refried bean and cheese pupusas.

Next, simply cook the tortillas a few minutes per side at medium or medium-low heat on an oiled surface, e.g., a cast iron pan, until a bit browned and cooked through.

Cooking pupusas in an oiled pan.

Cooking pupusas in an oiled pan.

Pupusas are typically served accompanied by a mildly pickled cabbage slaw called curtido and a tomato sauce. We served our pupusas with a green cabbage slaw of the sort one might serve with fish tacos and a mole sauce, left over from last night’s mole chicken.

Pupusas with cabbage slaw and sauce.

Pupusas served with cabbage slaw and sauce.

Pupusas are a wonderful treat from central America that, whenever I see them, I’m reminded of visits with my exuberant Indian friend, a great citizen of the world, with whom I first shared them.

Here are some recipes I consulted that you might find helpful:

I found pupusas fairly forgiving to prepare, being able to add additional water to the dough (that I had originally prepared for dumplings cooked in the mole sauce) until it was possible to work (or rework) them easily into thick tortillas.

I hope you give them a try and enjoy them too!

I bet pupusas would be nice accompanied by scrambled eggs for breakfast.  Maybe we’ll be snowed-in soon and I’ll have a chance to find out, while the rest of Boston presumably enjoys french toast. :)

Steamed Dumplings and Potstickers

Steamed Dumplings with soy and chili garlic sauces.

Steamed Dumplings with soy and chili garlic sauces.

Here is a popular treat from Chinese restaurants that’s fun to prepare at home, especially if you’re interested in an exotic dinner and aren’t short on time; we spent a couple hours making about 30 dumplings. They can be prepared ahead of time and frozen, but I wouldn’t want to miss the pleasure of eating a few right to reward myself right after the prep work!

The vegetarian dumplings were filled with a mix of napa cabbage (finely chopped), carrot (grated), ginger (finely grated), spring onion (minced), shiitake mushroom (rehydrated from dry, then chopped), tofu (firm, crumbled), garlic (finely grated), and five spice powder. We also tossed the filling with some soy sauce and sesame oil; this is optional, but gave the vegetable filling more flavor and perhaps helped it to clump when wrapping.

The meat dumplings contained the same filling with ground pork sausage flavored with five spice powder.  We used the meat from two store-bought sausages (fresh, raw); any mildly-spiced, coarse sausage would likely work well, but ours were Italian sausage, often spiced with fennel or anise seed, which is commonly used to flavor Chinese foods too.

We wrapped the filling using a simple dough of all-purpose flour and water, about 3 cups flour to about 1 1/4 cups water, rolled into balls and flattened by hand into circular wrappers. Fill each wrapper right after you flatten it to avoid the dough becoming too dry to work with.

Place whole cabbage leaves in the bottom of a steamer tray to keep the dumplings from sticking. After steaming the dumplings for about 20 minutes total (15 minutes is probably sufficient for the vegetarian ones), we served them for dinner along with a miso soup and froze about half of them to steam another time.

Our leftover steamed dumplings were prepared as potstickers the next day; from the refrigerator, they were rewarmed by microwave and then pan-fried in oil until browned on the bottom. I don’t think it’s traditional, but turn to brown the sides if you like – I did. :)

Potstickers.

Potstickers.

Here is the recipe that was basis for these dumplings and a recipe for the somewhat similar Polish dumplings, pierogi:

These dumplings were a fun project for two on a weekend evening and tasted every bit as good as many I’ve had at restaurants, even though this was a first time making them at home. Give them a try!

Mirza Ghasemi and Barbari Bread

Mirza ghasemi with Barbari bread.

Mirza ghasemi with Barbari bread.

This is a special recipe for me and one that I’ve been meaning to make for 10 years or more.

I was introduced to Iranian or Persian foods in the ’90s in Madison, Wisconsin at a wonderful restaurant called Caspian Cafe.  The restaurant has been closed for some years, but its colorful co-owner and chef, Mohila Nateghi, has a web site here.  She typically had a smile for guests and did a great job of pointing the neophyte to her best options on the menu that day, such as the crispy part of her lubia polow or her dill rice.

One of my favorites was, and is, mirza ghasemi, the wonderful dish of scrambled egg, eggplant, tomatoes, and garlic.  Mohila’s version was absolutely loaded with garlic; whenever it was on the day’s lunch menu, I knew I would smell of garlic the rest of the workday, but that did not dissuade… it was so good.

For preparation details, see detailed recipes linked below (at bottom of post). I used them roughly as is, except used a combination of canned and fresh tomato and added smoked paprika to the mirza ghasemi. Unusually, I also chopped the roasted eggplant length-wise and and width-wise with a chef’s knife to cut their skin into pieces; while atypical to include the eggplant skin in the dish (rather than peeling it after roasting) I didn’t find the skin in any way objectionable since I roasted the eggplant in the oven rather than over open flame (which would then add an undesirable burnt flavor if the skin were included).

Mirza ghasemi ingredients.

Mirza ghasemi ingredients.

The restaurant served all its entrees with a number of sides, one of which was a tasty flatbread that was likely a version of Tandoori or Barbari bread.
(Here’s an interesting video show how such bread is made in a Tandoori oven.)

Barbari bread ingredients.

Barbari bread ingredients.

For this meal, paired with Barbari bread, one must start preparing the bread first… perhaps 4 hours in advance.  I made the bread dough and had it initially rise in the refrigerator for a couple hours.
(Here’s a short video showing a similar preparation of the bread, but with different volumes, times, and temperature.)

Barbari bread dough after rising.

Barbari bread dough after initial rising.

Barbari bread dough.

Barbari bread dough final rising for about an hour.

Having previously attempted to roast eggplant over the open flame of a gas stovetop and having it be undercooked, this time I decided to bake them in the oven (40 minutes at 425° F) and then finished under the broiler to just begin to blister, but not burn, the skin.

Roasted eggplant.

Roasted eggplant.

Near the end of the cooking on the stovetop, I poured beaten egg (3 large) into 6 holes in the eggplant, tomato mixture, and continued cooking until the egg solidified, then stirred and allowed to cool about 20 minutes before serving.

Adding the beaten eggs.

Adding the beaten eggs.

The Barbari bread was topped with sesame seed and baked on a pre-heated pizza pan (500° F) for about 15 minutes, until it browned nicely.

Mirza ghasemi and Barbari bread.

Mirza ghasemi and Barbari bread with sesame seed.

I served the mirza ghasemi garnished with walnut pieces and accompanied by a piece of bread.

Mirza ghasemi with Barbari bread.

Mirza ghasemi with Barbari bread.

Here are the recipes I consulted to prepare this dish:

I really enjoyed this meal that reminds me both of my introduction to wonderful foods of the world and friends from far-off lands; I hope you enjoy it too!

Turkey Chipotle Chili

Turkey Chipotle Chili with a dollop sour cream

Turkey Chipotle Chili

It’s a few days past Thanksgiving Day and, as usual, I’m already pretty sick of turkey.

Because I’m an idiot, I made a 14lb. bird for just two. Last year I did an even larger one for, essentially, just one. I’m sure I’ll do it again; I just like making the whole turkey including the neck (my personal favorite, when it’s cooked tender) and the giblets for the stuffing.  Still, for Thanksgiving dinner, we ate only the drumsticks, so there are a lot of leftovers, including nearly the whole turkey breast.

The goal with this chili was to have it taste as little like turkey as possible; it’s a twist on chicken chilis that I’ve had, significantly spiced with chipotle peppers and cumin. Ingredients include:

  • diced turkey breast
  • one medium yellow onion (small dice)
  • one green pepper (similarly diced)
  • olive oil, (generously, for sautéing)
  • soup stock (turkey)
  • crushed tomato (1 20 oz. can for two breasts)
  • black beans (I used rehydrated dried beans that had been frozen)
  • Mexican oregano (dried, crushed)
  • cumin (powdered, used generously)
  • chili en adobo (~1/2 can, minced; use sparingly to taste as these can be quite spicy)
  • chili powder
  • salt (to taste)

I found the tomato paste and fresh serrano pepper, shown in the photo below, to be unnecessary so didn’t use it this time.

Turkey Chipotle Chili ingregients

Turkey Chipotle Chili ingredients

Chili is an easy flexible recipe so I won’t bother with all the details, except a couple tips that I find useful. First, I like to sautée the fresh vegetables until tender and then stir them with the dry spices before adding liquid. Second, it’s best not to simmer pre-cooked meat (leftover, here) or beans too long as it can cause them to disintegrate due to overcooking and/or stirring.

Whole turkey breast

Whole turkey breast

I cut turkey breast into approximately 1/2 inch cubes.

Preparing Turkey Chipotle Chili

Preparing Turkey Chipotle Chili

Add the beans toward the end of the simmer and stir carefully thereafter to avoid mashing them.

Turkey chipotle chili

Turkey chipotle chili

That’s it: in about an hour, a simple delicious chili to dispatch with the leftover turkey white meat.

Turkey Chipotle Chili

Turkey Chipotle Chili served with a dollop of sour cream

I’m interested to know your Thanksgiving turkey leftover suggestions; I did the typical pot pie last year. one friend made enchiladas; I may try that with the dark meat.

Another friend posted this recipe for fritters made with stuffing: Latke-Crusted Turkey Stuffing Fritters With Liquid Cranberry Fritters with Liquid Cranberry Core and Schmaltz Gravy.

Happy belated Thanksgiving and peace to you and yours!

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with Ginger and Sesame

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger, served with rice.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger, served with rice.

When I was young, I was not  a fan of celery.  As a child, it was somewhat palatable when topped with peanut butter, but even then I preferred peanut butter on carrots.  Basically, I used to think celery was a great way to ruin things, especially soup or chili. (“What were they thinking?!”)

Today, however, I quite enjoy celery, especially in Chinese dishes. So, finding ourselves in the predicament of having two big bunches of celery in the fridge, we decided to make a dinner of it, a stir-fry of celery and mushrooms.  While any mélange of mushrooms, asian or otherwise, might work, we chose shiitake, for their rich, smoky flavor to compliment the mild celery.  Some fresh baby bellas add a nice texture contrast.

For the sauce, I prepared perhaps 2/3 cup total by mixing the following to taste:

  • soy sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • fish sauce
  • rice vinegar
  • honey
  • water (sparingly)
  • ground black pepper
  • bird peppers to taste (whole, dried)
  • sriracha or similar hot sauce to taste (optional)
  • corn starch (prepared as a slurry for thickening, added on heat at end)

Since the celery will release some water, the sauce need not be diluted much with water.

For the main ingredients:

  • celery, 1 bunch of stalks, leaves intact, coarsely cut, diagonally
  • shiitake, stems removed, caps cut in strips (from whole dried, reconstituted in warm water for a couple hours)
  • baby bella mushooms, fresh, cut into qarters or sixths
  • fresh ginger, finely chopped (a generous amount, e.g., 2 thumbs)
  • onion, cut in short strips, 2 small
  • sesame seeds
Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger.

While preparing rice in a rice cooker, we stir-fried the ingredients in a large cast iron skillet with a few tablespoons of canola oil, beginning with the onion, ginger and shiitake, and a fraction of the sauce; I also put all the bird peppers in the pan at this time to soften them while cooking.  Once those are somewhat tender, add the celery and more sauce progressively, stirring and cooking for desired tenderness of the celery.  I like it cooked, but somewhat firm.  Lastly, add the fresh mushrooms (so as they are only lightly cooked) and thicken the sauce with corn starch slurry if you like a sauce that clings to the ingredients.

When finished, add some dashes of sesame oil, and then sprinkle with sesame seeds; alternatively, you might do this on the serving plate instead.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger.

We plated the stir-fry with white sticky rice.  This time I used Nishiki rice and found it nearly identical, prepared in a rice cooker, to the Calrose rice I usually use; both are grown in California, but Nishiki suggests it’s a Japanese sushi rice.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger, served with rice.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger, served with rice.

This turned out to be a delicious dish, with the shiitake and ginger being a nice complement to simple, some might say, otherwise “shitty” celery.

For taking this celery from shit to shiitake, I’ll dedicate this post to FoodIsTheBestShitEver. Check ‘em out if you haven’t already. :)

Here are some related recipes that might be useful, although I’ve not tried them:

Chipotle Pork with Peach Habanero Salsa

Chipotle Pork Tenderloin with Peach Salsa and Sautéed Kale.

Chipotle Pork Tenderloin with Peach Salsa and sautéed kale greens.

While planning dinner for two, my partner and I realized we had a few too many ripe fresh peaches, so decided to make a spicy fruit salsa for meat, resulting in this nice summertime meal: chipotle pork tenderloin with peach salsa.

Preparing the salsa: fresh habanero, red onion, and cilantro.

Preparing the salsa: fresh habanero, red onion, and cilantro.

She prepared the salsa to generously serve two; the salsa consisted of three ripe peaches, pitted, and diced (medium, with skin intact), diced red onion, and finely chopped fresh cilantro, about 1/2 finely chopped fresh habanero pepper (seeds and veins removed), a touch of sugar and apple cider vinegar, and finally salt and a touch of powdered cumin and chipotle pepper, to taste.

Fresh Peach Salsa with Habanero.

Fresh Peach Salsa with Habanero.

I slathered a fairly small pork tenderloin with olive oil and finely chopped chipotle chile en adobo (from a can), browned it in a hot skillet, seasoned it with salt pepper and a bit of adobo seasoning, then placed the loin (whole) in a lightly-oiled glass baking dish and cooked in a 350° F oven for 30 minutes.  This typically yields a spectrum of doneness: from medium on the narrow end to medium rare on the thicker end, so plan accordingly with a few more minutes baking time, if you prefer it more well done.  We let the pork rest for about five minutes, then sliced it into medallions.

Our kale greens were simply sautéed in olive oil in a skillet (first covered, stirring occasionally, then uncovered for the final minutes to desired doneness) over medium low heat, and seasoned with salt and pepper.

We plated each serving with five or six pork medallions, a generous amount of the salsa, and garnished with a cilantro sprig.

Chipotle Pork Tenderloin with Fresh Peach Salsa and sautéed kale greens.

Chipotle Pork Tenderloin with Fresh Peach Salsa and sautéed kale greens.

There are a lot of variations on this pork tenderloin dinner for two that you might like to experiment with as well, such this nice Mustard and Black Pepper Pork Tenderloin.

Fried Smelts

Friend smelts, tossed with garlic and cilantro leaf.

Fried smelts, tossed with garlic and cilantro leaf and served with fresh lime and sriracha mayo.

I remember my dad picking up fried smelts from a takeout place when I was a child in Indiana.  They were interesting to me since you eat the whole fish: bones and all.
(We also ate a lot of northern Wisconsin panfish, so I was used to eating the tails.)

Smelts are something I really enjoy occasionally now: a simple, inexpensive fish – that is available coast-to-coast and you don’t have to be concerned from an environmental perspective (my understanding is that there are plenty of smelt in the wild) and they’re so small, you generally eat them bones and fins intact, like anchovies (unless they’re large… say, more than 4 inches long… then you may want to remove the spine with attached bones as you eat them.)

Most recently I was reminded of smelts when they were served last fall at my favorite brew pub, Cambridge Brewing Company, where the chef does lots of great specials.

Anyway, here is how I prepared them.  A pound of smelts (perhaps 35 here?) is likely enough for two as a main course and for four as an appetizer.

1 pound of smelts, thawed from frozen.

1 pound of smelts, thawed from frozen.

Peppers, salt, and mexican oregano to season the flour; mayonnaise and pepper sauce for dipping; and olive oil, cilantro, and garlic to be sautéed and tossed with the fried smelts.

Peppers, salt, and mexican oregano to season the flour; mayonnaise and pepper sauce for dipping; and olive oil, cilantro, and garlic to be sautéed and tossed with the fried smelts.

Coat the moist smelts with flour seasoned with smoked paprika, cayenne, crushed mexican oregano, salt, and pepper.

Coat the moist smelts with flour seasoned with smoked paprika, cayenne, crushed mexican oregano, salt, and pepper.

Fry the coated smelts in oil (at ~320° F).

Fry the coated smelts perhaps 4 minutes in oil (at ~320° F).

While frying the fish, prepare some ligltly sautéed fresh herbs with which to toss them.

Chopped cilantro leaf and sliced garlic.

Chopped cilantro leaf and sliced garlic.

After removing some of the oil by resting them on on paper towels or a rack, toss the fried smelts with herbs as desired:

Toss the fried smelts with cilantro and garlic, sautéed in olive oil.

Toss the fried smelts with cilantro and garlic, sautéed in olive oil.

I squeezed some fresh lime over the fish and served them with a dipping sauce of mayonnaise and sriracha sauce, on a beautiful first-day-of-summer in the backyard!

Fried smelts.

Fried smelts.

Here are the online recipes I consulted for preparation tips:

Pretzels

Fresh German-Style soft pretzels

Fresh German-style soft pretzels.

Given how much I love beer, including German beers, I was surprised I hadn’t thought to make fresh pretzels before; they’re a perfect companion for beer and bready palate-cleanser when sampling beer styles.

These pretzels were prepared for a party where, thankfully, they were a popular addition.

For this recipe I had help from my companion, more experienced in bread-making than me. She prepared the dough based on this recipe.
For a double batch (about 16 medium-sized pretzels), we used the following ingredients:

  • doubled the ingredient quantities
  • substituted 1/2 whole wheat flour
  • used a biga-style preferment, i.e., soaked flour + water + small amount of yeast for about 4 hours
  • placed half the pretzels (on one baking sheet) into the freezer to firm before boiling

There are a lot of good video recipes online showing the technique to roll-out the dough, form the pretzels, boil, and bake, so I won’t describe the process here, but rather refer you to the recipes and videos linked below. (I especially liked this video.)

Some observations:

  • When forming the pretzels, be sure to stick the feet down (perhaps by moistening with a dab of water) so they don’t come loose while boiling and baking.
  • The more baking soda in the boiling water, the darker the pretzels will be.  We used about 2 heaping tablespoons in a large skillet to boil the pretzels three or four at a time.
  • It didn’t seem to make much difference whether or not the pretzels were cooled in the freezer for a short time before boiling.
  • Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with kosher salt (or other coarse salt) before baking.
  • We baked them on parchment paper for 25-30 minutes in a preheated 410° F oven.
Pretzels baked on parchment paper.

Pretzels baked on parchment paper.

We served the pretzels with a coarse mustard (as god intended), e.g., Grey Poupon Country Dijon, and also a spicy sauce made of mayonnaise and Sriracha hot pepper sauce.

All in all these turned out quite nice and were safely boiled in baking soda water rather than the traditional, but caustic, lye solution.  I knew lye was used for pretzels and lye bread, but never knew exactly how until researching these pretzel recipes.

While we didn’t follow one specific recipe to the letter, here is the primary one we consulted (first), plus a number of videos demonstrating the preparation techniques:

This was a fun baking project; I suggest you try freshly homemade pretzels as well!

Leftover Curry Frittata

Leftover Curry Frittata

Leftover Curry Frittata (chickpea, cabbage, and coconut) served with cumin rice.

I make a lot of curries; they’re flexible and amenable to creativity with whatever vegetables you have on hand.
I’m not a big breakfast person, but I do occasionally make a frittata; it’s easier than most might think (and you don’t bother with a crust like quiche), as long as you have a skillet you can move from the stovetop to the oven.

This Leftover Curry Frittata is simply a frittata made with your leftover curry from the night or nights before.
Here, I used a leftover curry made with cabbage, chickpeas, and coconut cream.
I bet you could even add a bit of leftover rice to the frittata, but rice also makes a nice side for breakfast.

Below are some related posts with preparation details for frittatas and vegetable curries.
Another tip is that I find that frittatas turn out fine with just egg and water (instead of milk), if you prefer to keep it dairy-free (or are out of milk, like me).

Asian-inspired frittatas are nice too, with chinese vegetables and a touch of hoisin and chili garlic sauce. Also, these are a bit less work than Egg Foo Young, that makes a great breakfast and reheats well.

Tomato Coconut Curry

Tomato Coconut Curry

Tomato Coconut Curry

Holy crap, apparently it’s been 2 years since I started this blog, and I haven’t even posted anything yet this year. I certainly have been cooking, and I did make a half-assed attempt at writing posts the last couple months but never published them.  I guess my enthusiasm was low – about blogging, not about life, the universe, and everything. That’s been good.  Anyway, here’s a new curry that I enjoyed and I’ll follow it up with a related breakfast idea.

This is a creamy, spicy curry spiced with the following: oil, tumeric root, black mustard seed, cumin seed, garam masala, cinnamon, minced fresh ginger, garlic, salt (to taste, later in cooking); to prepare: mix spice ingredients in the oil and cook over medium heat until seeds start to pop. Ingredients include: red bell pepper (2, medium diced), serrano pepper (1, finely diced, seeds included if you like it hot; I also added 6 dried red bird peppers), red onion (1/2 large, cut into thin strips), cherry tomato (1/2 pound, whole), water (adding small amounts as necessary to keep ingredients from sticking/burning, perhaps 1- 1/2 cups), green peas (1 cup, e.g., from frozen), fresh baby spinach leaves (1 6 ounce bag), coconut cream (~1/3 can or 4-5 ounces, to desired thickness/taste).

Cherry tomatoes cooking down for Tomato Coconut Curry.

Cherry tomatoes cooking down for Tomato Coconut Curry.

Cook until tender and the tomatoes can be easily mashed.
Add the peas when the curry is nearly done, so as not to overcook them, and add salt to taste.

Adding peas (frozen) to Tomato Coconut Curry.

Adding peas (frozen) to Tomato Coconut Curry.

Stir in the coconut cream and fresh spinach leaves last.

Tomato Coconut Curry finished with coconut cream and fresh spinach leaves.

Tomato Coconut Curry finished with coconut cream and fresh spinach leaves.

While this was being prepared, I cooked brown basmati rice in a rice cooker (cheating… soaked first in water, since this doesn’t cook as quickly as, say, chinese sticky rice), and served the two together for a delicious dinner.

Tomato Coconut Curry served with brown basmati rice.

Tomato Coconut Curry served with brown basmati rice.

I didn’t base this on any specific recipe – it was born of what I had on hand, but if you’d like a more precise recipe, here are two that are somewhat similar:

This is a great curry that is both and gluten-free and vegan. I hope you enjoy it!