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Pupusas Gourmet

A new generation of Salvi food…

La Margarita

Salvadorians have definitely made their mark in the gastronomic history of the world. Food is comforting and brings people together, no matter what your background is. Sharing a plate of food made with love transcends international barriers and heals broken hearts.

Pupuserias have been popping up all over the U.S. ever since Salvadorians started migrating here. Pupusas (and curtido) are to Salvadorians what tacos are to Mexicans, or Kimchi to Koreans, and … you get the picture. 

My mom did most of the work for the first draft of this post because my youngest was 3 months old at the time and our four year old was equal to three kids so life was busy at the time. But I did collaborate with my mom to come up with some new flavors. In pupuserias in El Salvador cooks have started to really experiment with some new ingredients in the past few years. Anything goes as long as you mix it with some cheese or beans. Those two components meld everything together so the ingredients will stay in the dough. If you can put it on a pizza then it can also go in a pupusa. We made la Margarita, filled with Asiago cheese, fresh basil, and tomatoes. This, my friends, was even better than pizza. The cheese was perfectly melted and some of it oozed out of the pupusa and toasted on the pan during cooking. Just get out of the box and do something nontraditional and unconventional. I’m sure there’s plenty of other blogs out there with pupusas revueltas. Why not try something different? Unless you do this every now and then, you will never know what you’re missing out on.  

A few years after the first draft…

Ingredients for the masa dough: 

Masa:

  • 2 lb package white corn meal or corn masa flour
  • Cool water, approximately 1 cup of water to 1 cup of cornmeal

Mix the water and flour. Knead until smooth. Add more water as needed. The dough should be soft and not too sticky. If it cracks when you form the pupusas you will need to add a little more water and oil your hands.  

Curtido and Salsa 

Filling Ingredients for Pupusa Margarita: 
  • Asiago cheese, grated and slightly softened (in the microwave)
  • Thinly sliced fresh basil (chiffonade)
  • Finely chopped roma tomatoes, deseeded 

Mix the cheese, basil, and tomatoes. The mixture should be a bit warm and compacted so it’s easier to form a ball that will go in the middle of the pupusa. 

Filling Ingredients for Revueltas: 
  • About 2 cups refried beans, cooked slowly to a thick pasty consistency
  • 1 1/2 cups chicharrón (pork butt that has been cooked in its own fat, can also use Mexican carnitas) 
  • Chopped onion, tomato, and bell pepper
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated and slightly softened (in the microwave)
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Lighty fry the pork meat with onion, tomato and bell pepper. Process together until it is finely minced. Add the beans and cheese and combine. Any filling for pupusas should be processed or ground to a pasty consistency otherwise the filling ingredients will poke through the dough. If the filling is too runny it will leak and become a little sticky. 

  • Other filling ideas: Cheese and loroco (an edible flower), cheese and spinach, cheese and mushrooms, ground chicken and cheese, plain cheese, cheese and grated bell peppers, beans and cheese, shrimp, zucchini flowers and cheese, anchovies, etc. 
To form the pupusas: 

Take a little bit of dough and roll it a little bigger than a golf-sized ball. Pat it and flatten it like a tortilla and make a dent in the middle with your fingertips. It is totally fine to use a tortilla press or place the dough in between two pieces of plactic wrap and flatten with your hands. Making pupusas requires a little bit of practice. Stuff with your filling ingredients (you can use an ice scream scoop), and pinch the dough together to seal. Pat and flatten it again with hands moistened in oil and water. Cook on an oiled griddle or pan on both sides until golden and crispy.

Tip: Keep two little bowls with water and oil on the side to moisten your hands.

EN ESPAÑOL

Los Salvadoreños sin duda hemos dejado nuestra huella en la historia gastronómica del mundo. La comida une a las personas, no importando su pasado. Compartir un plato de comida hecha con amor trasciende las barreras internacionales y cura los corazones rotos. 

Las pupuserías han venido apareciendo en todo los EE.UU. desde que comenzó la migración de los salvadoreños aquí. Pupusas (y curtido) son para los salvadoreños como lo son los tacos para los mexicanos, o Kimchi para los coreanos, y pues… agarras la onda.

Mi mamá hizo la mayor parte del trabajo para el primer boceto de este post porque mi niña mas pequeña tenía 3 meses de edad y nuestra hija de cuatro años era igual a tres niños. Estabamos ocupadísimos en esos primeros años. Pero sí tuve tiempo de inventarme unas nuevas ideas para colaborar con mi mamá. En las pupuserias de El Salvador han comenzado a experimentar con algunas ideas nuevas en los últimos años. La idea es que todo vale, de verdad! Si se puede poner en una pizza, entonces también puede ir en una pupusa. Hicimos la Margarita, rellena con queso Asiago, albahaca fresca, y tomates. Esto, mis amigos, fue incluso mejor que una pizza. El queso se derritió a la perfección y un poquito queda tostadito en el comal. Muy rico. Estoy segura de que hay un montón de otros blogs por ahí con pupusas revueltas. ¿Por qué no probar algo diferente? A menos que hagas esto de vez en cuando, nunca sabrás de lo que te estás perdiendo. 

Ingredientes para la masa: 
  • 1 paquete de 2 libras de harina de maíz blanco o harina de masa de maíz
  • Agua fría, aproximadamente 1 taza de agua por cada taza de harina

Mezclar el agua y la harina. Amasar hasta que quede suave. Añadir más agua si es necesario. La masa debe quedar suave y no demasiado pegajosa. Si se raja cuando se forman las pupusas tendrá que añadir un poco más de agua y aceitar sus manos.  

Curtido y Salsa 

Relleno para la pupusa Margarita: 
  • Queso Asiago, rallado y un poco suavizado (en el microondas) 
  • Albahaca fresca en tiras finas (chiffonade)
  • Tomates roma finamente picados, sin semillas

Mezclar el queso, albahaca y tomates. La mezcla debe estar un poco calientita y compacta por lo que es más fácil para formar la pupusa. 

Relleno para las famosas Revueltas: 
  • Alrededor de 2 tazas de frijoles refritos, cocidos lentamente hasta obtener una consistencia pastosa (lo que conocemos como frijoles colochos) 
  • 1 1/2 tazas de chicharrón (lomo de cerdo que se ha cocido en su propia grasa, también puede utilizar carnitas mexicanas) 
  • Cebolla, tomate y chile verde picados
  • 2 tazas de queso mozzarella rallado y un poco suavizado (en el microondas)
  • Sal y pimienta al gusto 

Sofreír el chicharrón junto con la cebolla, el tomate y chiles. Procesar o moler finamente. Añada los frijoles y queso. Cualquier relleno para pupusas debe ser molido hasta obtener una consistencia pastosa de lo contrario los ingredientes del relleno se salen de la pupusa. Si el relleno está demasiado aguado se pone todo pegajoso y no se puede formar la pupusa. 

Otras ideas para rellenos: queso y loroco, queso y espinacas, queso y champiñones, carne picada de pollo, solo con queso, queso y chile verde, frijoles y queso, camarón, flores de calabacín y queso, anchoas, etc. 

Para formar las pupusas:  

Tomar un poco de masa y hacer una bola, un poco más grande que una pelota de golf. Palmear y aplanar como una tortilla y ahuecar en el centro con los dedos. Está totalmente bien utilizar una prensa para tortillas o colocar la masa entre dos pedazos de plástico y utilizar su mano o un plato para aplanar. Hacer pupusas requiere un poco de práctica.

Rellenar con sus ingredientes de relleno (puede usar una cuchara para servir helado) y unir las orillas de la masa para sellar. Palmear y aplanar de nuevo con las manos humedecidas en aceite y agua. Cocinar las pupusas en una plancha o comal engrasado hasta que estén doradas y crujientes por ambos lados.

Recomendación: Mantener dos recipientes pequeños con agua y aceite a un lado para humedecer las manos.

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Choripanes con escabeche

The humble hot dog gets a new make-over. Evidently, every region and country has its own version of a sausage and a bun. Sometimes I crave a hot dog with just mayo, ketchup and mustard. I respect that kind of simplicity. Other times, I want something with a little more bite and acidity that cuts through the richness of wieners and sausages.

I have a fond memory of a choripan I ate in El Cerro Verde, El Salvador. The word choripan is a combo of the words chorizo, which means sausage, and pan which means bread. The concept is similar to a hot dog, or a German bratwurst with sauerkraut. The relish is made of an escabeche or pickled veggies dressed with a little Dijon mustard and mayonnaise.

Ingredients for Salvadorian Escabeche (for about 4 hot dogs):

  • 1 carrot, julienned (I used 2 small tricolor carrots)
  • 1 can sliced jalapeños, reserve 1 tablespoon of vinegar from the can
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Preparation:

Stir-fry the onions in a little bit of oil until slightly translucent. Add the rest of the veggies, bay leaf, oregano and thyme. Continue to stir-fry and sprinkle in about one tablespoon of the vinegar from the jalapeños and about 1/2 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce. Stir in the mayo and mustard and toss to coat all the veggies. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and use immediately as a topping for hot dogs or sandwiches. The carrots and bell pepper should be crispy al dente.

You will need really good hot dog buns such as brioche, and hot dogs or sausages of your choice. I used a turkey hot dog pictured below. It was yum and with all those veggies.

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Salvadorian Quesadilla

Authentic Salvadorian quesadilla is warm afternoon treat traditionally paired with a good cup of coffee. It should have a subtle cheesy/creamy taste and the texture is sort of like cornbread, slightly grainy from the rice flour and sweetened with sugar, but not like a cake. The cheese used in my recipe is queso fresco which is mild as opposed to hard cheeses. I have tasted quesadillas made with hard cheese and I find that for my taste, parmesan sweet bread is just too strong.

When visiting El Salvador we often drop by a roadside restaurant called La Posada in La Libertad, where quesadillas are made in a wood-fired oven. It’s a very artisanal way of making them. It’s similar to the difference between pizza made in a commercial oven vs pizza made in a wood-fired brick oven. Artisanal quesadillas have a slightly darker color all around from the heat of the terra-cotta ovens. It’s the kind of flavor that you want to capture and replicate.

An authentic Salvadorian quesadilla baked in a wood-fired oven near La Libertad.

The ingredients in El Salvador are natural and fresh and I tried to mimic those flavors the best I could, opting for crème fraîche instead of “Salvadorian” sour cream from the Latino market. Unfortunately, most brands of Salvadorian cream I have found contain additives and it’s just not the real deal. Real Salvadorian cream is the naturally cultured cream top of freshly milked milk. That’s it. So the cream that is the closest thing to Salvadorian cream is actually crème fraîche. I also used high fat 6% A2/A2 whole milk which you can find at specialty stores like Wholefoods.

Ingredients:
  • 1 10 oz queso fresco, crumbled or grated
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup (8 oz tub) crème fraîche (or crema)
  • 1 egg (you may add 2 eggs that can be whipped and gently folded into the mixture for a more cake-y, airy consistency)
  • 1 lb (2 cups) rice flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 12 oz bottle (1 1/2 cups) 6% milk (extra cream top) or whole milk
  • Sesame seeds to garnish
Preparation:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Crumble the cheese using your hands or use your mixed with the paddle attachment.
  3. Add the sugar, cream, and egg. Mix until well combined.
  4. Add the flour and mix on the lowest speed. Slowly add the milk until you end up with batter similar to pancake batter.
  5. Pour the batter in greased baking pans or tins and sprinkle with sesame seeds. I used three 7″ pans plus one 6″ pan because that’s what I had on hand. However, you may use any size pan or baking dish as long as you spread out the batter thinly and evenly. Quesadillas are supposed to be roughly 1 inch thin more or less.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. I baked my quesadillas for roughly 35-40 minutes.
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Egg Crêpes

I was recently contemplating the idea of having some chickens in our small backyard to get some fresh eggs, and after some research, I came to the conclusion that our yard is too small and that it is easier just to buy them. It seemed like a worthwhile endeavor at first because I love eggs so much. I especially like the fresh organic eggs from the farmer’s market because they reminds me of the quality of eggs you get in Europe with almost orageish yolks.

Eggs are versatile and can be cooked in so many different ways for any kind of meal, not just breakfast. In this recipe, the eggs crêpes have a turkey filling, but you could add other ingredients as well. So whatever you have on hand like maybe some ham, cheese, or even left over beef stew would all work here.

Ingredients:

For the crêpes:
  • 6 eggs (for 12 crêpes)
  • 1/3 heavy cream (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • Olive oil cooking spray or butter (your choice)
Preparation:
  1. Whisk the eggs, cream (if using), salt, and pepper in a large measuring cup or bowl. *I like using a measuring cup because it easier to pour the egg.
  2. Heat a small (6 inch) nonstick skillet over medium-low heat and spray with cooking spray or melt a dab of butter.
  3. Pour close to 3 tablespoons of egg mixture into the center of the skillet, swirling to coat the bottom of the skillet evenly just like a regular crêpe. Once the egg is set, carefully flip the crêpe and cook the other side for about 30 seconds. Transfer the cooked crêpe to a plate and repeat the process. You get about 2 crêpes per egg.
For the ground turkey filling:
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • onion, chopped
  • bell pepper, chopped
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 8oz can tomato sauce (regular or spicy)
  • 1 cup water or stock
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • Olive oil cooking spray (or choice of fat to cook with)
  • Any kind of cheese that melts like pepper jack or mozzarella
Preparation:
  1. Heat a medium skillet over medium-low heat and spray with cooking spray (or use a little bit of oil) and brown the ground turkey. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the chopped onion and bell pepper. Stir and continue cooking for about 5 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle Worshcestire sauce, stir.
  4. Add canned tomato sauce and water. Cover and simmer for 10 min.
  5. Add spinach, stir and turn off the heat.
  6. Fill each crêpe with the turkey mixture and some cheese. Roll like a taco and serve.

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Tortellini Soup

I love soups. Right now it’s early spring in California, but it feels a bit wintery with some rainy days here and there and 60 degree weather. I know what you’re thinking if you live in some frigid state somewhere up north. But here, 60s means it’s soup weather.

Here’s a soup that is easy and versatile. You can make different variations of it every time. This time I added some sausage, carrot and spinach because that’s what I happened to have in my fridge. You can make it with just broth or add any veggies you like. It’s really up to you and super easy to make for a quick weeknight meal .

Ingredients:

  • 4 Italian chicken sausage links, sliced
  • 1 diced carrot
  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 1 diced celery stick
  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 carton chicken broth
  • Chopped fresh herbs (ex. parsley, basil, thyme, etc) or Italian seasoning
  • 1 lb cheese tortellini
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh spinach leaves, desired amount

Preparation:

  1. Heat a soup pot and spray with some cooking spray or add a tiny bit of olive oil. Brown the sausage.
  2. Add carrots, onion, and celery stick and cook for a few minutes until the onion is translucent.
  3. Add the tomato sauce and broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. *Sometimes the sausage is bit a salty so you may not need much salt.
  4. Add the chopped fresh herbs. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the carrots are tender.
  5. Add the tortellini and spinach and cook for 4-5 minutes on medium heat.
  6. Serve and enjoy.
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Pork Chops With Fresh Garden Herbs

Growing your own cooking herbs is no easy feat depending on what types of herbs you use. We are not gardening pros and we are still trying to acquire a green thumb. Cilantro is by far the most delicate of all herbs I have ever tried to cultivate so I still rely on store-bought bundles which, fortunately, are pretty cheap. Here at home we enjoy growing the heartier types like mint, rosemary, thyme and lavender. Sometimes we have basil, parsley and even some romaine lettuce which you see pictured here.

Fresh herbs are great for cooking just about anything. I like the extra freshness they bring to chicken dishes, pot roasts, soups and in this case oven-roasted pork chops. A few sprigs of mint are great for making tea and for Salvadorian meatball soup.

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 bone-in loin pork chops
  • 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • fresh herb bundle of your choice, chopped
  • or 2 teaspoons of dried herb mix like herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning
  • salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  2. Prepare a roasting pan by spraying with cooking spray or oil.
  3. Rub the pork chops with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and then sprinkle all over with garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, chopped herbs, salt and pepper.
  4. Arrange all the pork chops in the roasting pan. Transfer the roasting pan with the pork chops into the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the pork chops.
  5. Feel free to add some carrots and/or potatoes to roast right along with the pork chops.
  6. Serve and enjoy with your favorite sides.
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Semita

Out of all types of pan dulce that exist in the Salvadorian repertoire of pastries, this is by far one of my favorites. There are essentially two types of semitas that are popular in El Salvador: semita pacha and semita alta. Flat semita and tall semita. I prefer the flat semita since it’s less bready and dense. It is more like a sandwich of pie crusts with a sweet filling in the middle. When I eat a piece of pie I am all about the crust. I could honestly care much less about the filling. Just give me crust. That is why I love this semita so much. It has a crumbly crusty texture with just the right amount of filling in the middle. It is basically a rustic type of yeast pie crust.

Traditionalists will say you have to mix the ingredients and knead the dough completely by hand. The method involves starting with a well of flour on a clean surface and then incorporating the wet ingredients into the flour until you form a dough. While this method seems to be what you’ll find the most on YouTube videos, I learned that mixing the ingredients using a stand mixer works just fine and the results were better than I expected.

So where does the word semita come from? I am a true history geek at heart. I love to research the meaning and origins of things. So what I discovered is that semita could have its origins in Sephardic Jewish baking with an old Spanish etymology relating to the word bran or coarse flour. It all makes sense to me. Wheat was introduced to the New World by the Spaniards, many of whom were of Jewish descent. So fast forward to today, cafecito and pan dulce in the afternoons has become the Salvadorian tea time. It is the art of slowing down and enjoying the moment.

Ingredients

Crust:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups wheat bran (or wheat germ)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup cold butter, cubed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4-10 tablespoons cold water

Filling:

  • 4 oz fruit jam
  • 5-7 oz piloncillo also known as panela or atado de dulce (unrefined whole cane sugar)

Tips: For this recipe I used our homemade persimmon jam and it turned out really good. I suggest using jams that are kind of pulpy, definitely not jelly like. Pineapple and guava jams are more traditional for semita, but you can experiment with other flavors. I am thinking apple or pumpkin butter for fall.

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven for 3500 F.
  2. Combine flour, bran, baking powder, yeast, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to avoid a flour explosion.
  3. Add the butter a few cubes at a time and mix until the flour looks like coarse, lumpy sand.
  4. Next, add the egg and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Slowly add cold water, starting with about 4 tablespoons (the dough shouldn’t be wet). When the dough starts to come together it is a good sign that it is moist enough. You should be able to roll a ball in your hand. It is okay to see small bits and streaks of butter in the dough.
  5. Squeeze the dough into a ball and allow it to sit in the mixer bowl until ready to use.
  6. Next, grate the piloncillo with a box grater. Butter a quarter size 9x 13 baking sheet or baking dish.
  7. Sprinkle a clean work surface with flour and knead the dough until it is pliable enough to roll out. Sprinkle with flour as much as necessary.
  8. Reserve a little bit of dough to roll out “snakes” to decorate the semita with a lattice. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as a traditional lattice for a pie.
  9. Divide the rest of the dough in 2 equal mounds. Roll out the first mound of dough on parchment paper until it is about 1/8 inch thick.
  10. Carefully lift the parchment paper and flip the dough unto the buttered baking sheet. Slowly peel off the paper and press the dough down with your fingers to line all the corners and sides of the baking sheet. Trim off excess dough from the ends and use it to mend holes or short corners.
  11. Spread the jam evenly over the dough and sprinkle the piloncillo all over the jam.
  12. Roll out the second mound of dough on parchment paper and gently flip it over the jam and piloncillo filling. Stretch the dough to cover all the corners and press all the edges to seal.
  13. Roll out some dough “snakes” to form a lattice on top. This is a great activity for kids. It’s like rolling out play-dough with your fingers.
  14. Bake for 30-35 minutes until it’s deep golden brown. Let the semita cool completely before serving. It’s actually better the next day.

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Blueberry Galette with Frangipane Filling

Blueberry galette is almost a weekly necessity around here. It is one of my husband’s love languages, especially a la mode or paired with some good quality vanilla ice cream. Since I make it so often and being that I am a busy mom, I always keep store-bought pie dough in the freezer. A pint or two of blueberries is always on the weekly grocery list, and thankfully, you can find them in stores year round.

A galette is basically a French crusty pie that is rustic and faster to make than a traditional pie. I like using blueberries or any other fruit that holds its shape a bit after cooking. Check out my persimmon post here. Pears and apples work great as well.

Filling a galette with something besides just the fruit is absolutely not necessary, but I like to layer the bottom with frangipane to give it a little more richness. Frangipane is an almond cream that takes this galette to the next level of yum!

Pro-Tips:

  • The amount of sugar used in this recipe can be modified to suit your taste buds. I personally don’t like desserts that are unbearably sweet, especially when paired with ice cream.
  • Use a pie dish lined with a large piece of parchment paper instead of a baking sheet. This prevents the galette from spreading out too much during baking and it helps to contain the fruit and juices inside the shell.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Frozen store-bought pie crust, thawed

For the frangipane filling:

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar (1/2 cup if you’d like it sweeter)
  • 1/2 cup (113 g) butter, softened
  • 2 eggs (beat one of the eggs in a separate bowl and reserve a little bit to brush the galette at the end)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For the blueberry filling:

  • 1 pint blueberries
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix the frangipane ingredients in a bowl with a whisk or spatula until it becomes a smooth cream.
  2. Tip: Beat one egg in a small separate bowl. Add some to the frangipane and reserve about 1/2 to use as your egg wash later.
  3. Combine the blueberries with lemon zest, sugar and corn starch in a separate bowl. Toss gently with a spoon.
  4. Lay the pie crust gently over the parchment paper inside the pie dish. Spread the frangipane almond cream evenly over the middle of the crust, leaving about a 2 inch border. Next, spread the blueberries on top of the frangipane. Fold the dough up and over the blueberries and pleat the entire border.
  5. Brush the dough with the reserved egg wash. Sprinkle with some sugar and slivered almonds to create a really crispy crust and add texture.
  6. Bake the galette for 35-40 min until the crust is just golden brown. The blueberries and frangipane will be a bit bubbly. Allow to set and cool for at least 2 hrs.

Serving the galette with ice cream or whipped cream is highly suggested!

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Italian Not-Just-For-Sunday Sauce

When I first met my husband I was introduced to a new culture. Originally from the Philadelphia region, his dad’s side of the family grew up surrounded by Italian culture, being second generation children of an Italian father. I grew up eating pasta. My mom always made Salvadorian style spaghetti with a little bit of cream or a simple tomato sauce with tomato paste, water and some chicken bouillon. The next day she would scramble left over spaghetti with eggs and put in a sandwich roll and pack it in my lunch bag. In other words, I always had a connection to pasta because it’s economical and you can make it simple but delicious. I also knew Italian food from Olive Garden, but I had never had pasta before in an Italian home. I didn’t know about anti-pasto bites like asparragus wrapped in prosciutto, salame and homemade pizzelle cookies. I had never tasted the robust meatballs and sausage that always welcomed us at grandma’s house in Philly, not just on Sunday but on any special day. It turns out, after doing some DNA research, that my father-in-law’s ancestors were originally from the Abruzzo region in Italy and their traditions have apparently survived in their cooking that I am now proud to help pass on to the next generation. I also have a tiny of percentage of Sardinian which I fully embrace. And I am not going to go into a long history lesson here, but the moral of the story is that I love the way food reconnects us to who we are deep inside.

Here’ s a family recipe for Sunday Sauce like my mother-in-law taught me with a few of my own modifications.

The first element is the meatballs. Next are the Italian sausages, which should be browned before adding them to the sauce. Last but not least, I added braciole to make this dish extra special.

Meatballs:

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb roll of sage sausage
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese or Pecorino Romano
  • Chopped flat leaf parsley
  • A dab of mustard (optional)
  • Salt & pepper

Braciole:

  • 1 lb top round beef, thinly sliced and pounded
  • 1 cup of Italian or seasoned breadcrumbs
  • Chopped parsley
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 Provolone cheese, cubed or grated
  • Slices of prosciutto di Parma, one for each slice of beef

For the sauce:

  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3 cans of diced tomatoes, blended
  • 1 jar of homemade passata or substitute with 1 can tomato juice or sauce
  • 1 small onion quartered
  • 1 bell pepper, quartered and deseeded
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A large bundle of fresh parsley and basil tied with kitchen twine
  • Red wine
  • 1 package of 5 mild Italian sausages cut in half and browned

Preparation:

First make the meatballs by combining all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with clean hands and form balls about the size of golf balls. Place them on a baking sheet that has been previously sprayed with non-stick cooking oil. Bake the meatballs at 350F for 30 minutes or until browned. You can also fry the meatballs, but I prefer to bake them so I can cook other things while the meatballs are in the oven.

To make braciole, begin by pounding the meat slices on a cutting board by placing the meat in between two sheets of plastic wrap. I prefer using a ziplock back because it will hold up until you finish pounding all the meat. Place all the meat slices in an assembly line on some parchment or wax paper. Next, mix the parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and parsley. To begin the assembly, place a slice of prosciutto, then the breadcrumb mixture on top of each slice and roll. Tie each meat roll-up with two pieces of kitchen twine and continue the assembly. Next, brown the braciole on all sides in a pan o pot with a little olive oil or spray. Save aside for later.

To make the sauce, add a little more oil or cooking spray to the same pot and fry up the onion, garlic and bell pepper along with the tomato paste. This mixture will start to brown. At this point you can add about a cup of red of wine and bring it to a simmer deglazing the pot at the same time. Those bits and pieces will add flavor to your sauce.

Layer the braciole, meatballs and browned sausage in a slow cooker. Next, pour the wine mixture, tomato sauce and blended diced tomatoes over the meat. Place the herb bundle on top, add a little salt and pepper and cover. Cook on high for 5 hrs then switch to low or warm (or cook on low heat for 3hrs if you are making this on the stove top). You can lightly stir it occasionally and push the herbs down so they get immersed into the sauce. Taste and adjust the flavor. If the sauce tastes a bit tart, feel free to add a pinch or more of sugar.

*The sausages and the meatballs add lots of flavor to the sauce so don’t go crazy with the salt, but rather add a pinch here and there gradually until the sauce reaches your desired level of saltiness.

Remove the herb bundle and large pieces of onion/bell pepper before serving with pasta of your choice.

Pastelitos

Pastelito means little pie and it’s the Salvadorian version of empanadas. Empanadas are well known all over Latin America. Greeks, Italians, and other Europeans make meat pies, too. There is something really comforting about a crusty piece of dough filled with meat or veggies. I don‘t know anyone who would turn down the opportunity to eat such a tempting snack. These Salvadorian pastelitos are made with corn masa and fried, whereas most other meat pies are made with some kind of wheat-based pastry and then baked. Pastelitos are actually considered street food in El Salvador. This is what you get at the bus stop on your way back home after a long day. Whenever we serve little empanadas as appetizers at parties, they‘re gone within seconds.

For the masa:
  • 4 cups of Maseca flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons achiote
  • 3-4 cups room temperature chicken stock or water
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Mix all the masa ingredients with your hands in a large bowl. Add more stock or water as needed to make the dough soft and moist but not sticky. You will need to keep a bowl of water and a little bowl of oil on the side to moisten your hands when working with the dough. Make approximately 24 golf sized balls with the dough and cover with a damp kitchen towel until ready to use.

For the picadillo filling:
  • 2 lbs. ground beef or turkey
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, diced
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • ½ carrot, diced
  • 5 small golden potatoes or ½ large potato, cubed
  • 1 chayote or güisquil, peeled and diced (optional, if available)
  • Grape seed or canola oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Drizzle a little oil in a skillet and brown the ground turkey, making sure to season it with salt and pepper. Add all the chopped veggies and mix together. Cover and cook on low-medium heat, mixing occasionally, until the onions are translucent and the carrots and potatoes are soft. Set aside and allow it to cool before making the pastelitos.

Curtido:
  • 1 head of cabbage, finely sliced
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 bell pepper, thinly sliced or julienned
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced
  • ¾ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups of boiling water or enough to cover the cabbage mix
  • 1 small can pickled jalapeños (optional)
  • A drizzle of olive oil

Curtido can be made a few hours or days in advanced. It will last up to 2-3 weeks in your fridge in an airtight container, or longer if canned properly. Begin by thinly slicing and grating all the veggies with a sharp knife, mandolin, or food processor. Put all the veggies in a large glass bowl and pour boiling water over the entire mix. Season with salt. Let the cabbage mix sit for 10-15 minutes to blanche or to partially cook the ingredients. Drain most of the water, reserving about a ¼ cup. Add vinegar, oregano, drizzle of olive oil, and pickled jalapeños. Mix and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a pinch of sugar to cut the tartness of the vinegar if necessary.

Traditional Tomato Salsa:

6 plum or Roma tomatoes

1 small onion

1 bell pepper

1 jalapeño pepper (optional)

½ teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: Achiote and chicken bouillon

Boil or roast the tomatoes, onion, and bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Blend all the ingredients together until smooth. You can add water or chicken stock to thin out the sauce. Salvadorian salsa should be a bit runny. A pinch of sugar will cut the tartness of the tomatoes if needed.

To make pastelitos:

Flatten each ball of dough with moist hands or using a tortilla press. I always dip my hands in water and a little oil when making tortillas. Fill each tortilla with meat picadillo using an ice cream scooper or spoon. Fold the tortillas over, pinching the edges with your fingers to carefully seal the empanada. Fry the pastelitos in plenty of oil until crisp and golden. Drain the excess oil by placing them on paper towels.

*Tip: cook on medium heat and always use caution when deep-frying.

EN ESPAÑOL

Los pastelitos son la versión salvadoreña de las empanadas que son bien conocidas en toda Latinoamérica. Los griegos, italianos y otros europeos hacen pasteles de carne también. Un pastelito crujiente relleno de carne o verduras es muy reconfortante. Yo no conozco a nadie que rechazaría la oportunidad de comerse un bocadillo tan tentador. Estos pastelitos salvadoreños están hechos con masa de maíz y fritos, mientras que la mayoría de los otros pasteles de carne se hacen con algún tipo de masa a base de trigo y son horneados. Los pastelitos realmente son bocadillos de la calle en El Salvador. Se venden en la parada del bus y se comen en el camino de vuelta a casa después de un largo día en el trabajo. Nosotros a veces servimos pastelitos como aperitivos en las fiestas y desaparecen en cuestión de segundos. Cada vez que hacemos curtido y algo hecho con masa y carne es una ocasión especial en nuestra cocina salvadoreña.

Para la masa: 
  • 4 tazas de harina Maseca 
  • 1 cucharadita de sal
  • 2 cucharaditas de achiote en polvo
  • 3-4 tazas de caldo de pollo o agua
  • 1 cucharadita de polvo de hornear

Mezclar todos los ingredientes de la masa con las manos en un tazón grande. Añadir más caldo o agua, según sea necesario para hacer la masa suave y húmeda, pero no pegajosa. Mantener un recipiente con agua y un poco de aceite a un lado para humedecerse las manos cuando se trabaja con la masa. Hacer aproximadamente 24 bolitas del tamaño de pelotas de golf con la masa y cubrir con una manta húmeda hasta que esté listo para su uso.

Para el picadillo:
  • 2 libras de carne molida de res o pavo
  • 1 chile verde picado
  • ½ cebolla, finamente picada
  • ½ zanahoria, cortada en cubitos
  • 5 papas pequeñas o ½ papa grande, en cubitos
  • 1 chayote o güisquil, pelado y cortado en cubitos (opcional, si lo puede obtener)
  • Aceite de semilla de uva o canola
  • Sal y pimienta al gusto

Rociar un poco de aceite en una sartén y dorar la carne de pavo molida, asegurándose de sazonar con sal y pimienta. Añadir todas las verduras picadas y mezclar todo junto. Tape y cocine a fuego mediano, mezclando ocasionalmente, hasta que la cebolla esté cocida y las zanahorias y las papas estén blanditas. Deje que el picadillo se enfríe antes de hacer los pastelitos.

Curtido:
  • 1 repollo, finamente rallado o rebanado
  • 1 zanahoria grande, rallada
  • 1 chile verde campana, en rodajas finas o en juliana
  • ½ cebolla, cortada en rodajas finas
  • ¾ de taza de vinagre de sidra de manzana
  • 2 cucharaditas de orégano seco
  • 4 hojas de laurel
  • Sal y pimienta al gusto
  • 4 tazas de agua hirviendo o lo suficiente para cubrir la mezcla de repollo
  • 1 lata pequeña de jalapeños en escabeche (opcional)
  • Un chorrito de aceite de oliva

El curtido se puede preparar unas pocas horas antes o con días de anticipación. Durará hasta 2-3 semanas en el refrigerador en un recipiente hermético, o más si lo conservas correctamente. Comience por cortar finamente y rallar todas las verduras con un cuchillo afilado, mandolina, o procesador de alimentos. Poner todas las verduras en un recipiente grande de vidrio y verter agua hirviendo sobre la mezcla completa. Sazonar con sal. Deje que la mezcla repose durante 10-15 minutos para medio cocer los ingredientes. Escurrir la mayor parte del agua, reservando un ¼ de taza. Añadir el vinagre, el orégano, hojitas de laurel, el chorrito de aceite de oliva, y jalapeños en escabeche. Mezclar y sazonar con sal y pimienta al gusto. Añadir una pizca de azúcar para reducir la acidez del vinagre si es necesario.

Salsa de tomate tradicional:
  • 6 tomates
  • 1 cebolla pequeña
  • 1 chile verde campana
  • 1 chile jalapeño (opcional)
  • ½ cucharadita de orégano seco
  • Sal y pimienta
  • Opcional: achiote y consomé de pollo

Hervir o asar los tomates, la cebolla y el chile. Sazonar con sal y pimienta y licuar todos los ingredientes. Si quiere puede añadir agua o caldo de pollo para diluir la salsa. La salsa salvadoreña es supuesto que quede un poco liquida. Una pizca de azúcar reducirá la acidez de los tomates, si es necesario.

Para hacer los pastelitos:

Aplanar cada bola de masa con las manos húmedas para formar tortillas. Siempre mojo mis manos en agua y un poco de aceite para trabajar con la masa. Rellenar cada tortilla con picadillo de carne usando una cuchara de helado o una cuchara normal. Doble las tortillas y pegue bien los bordes con los dedos. Freír los pastelitos en abundante aceite hasta que estén crujientes y dorados. Escurrir el exceso de aceite poniéndolos sobre papel toalla.

*Consejo: cocinar a fuego mediano y siempre tenga cuidado al freír.