Monday, July 13, 2020

Pupusas de Queso (Cheese Pupusas)

One of the last places we ate in "normal times" was a local pupuseria - a place that sells pupusas (and more). A pupusa is a corn griddle cake filled with a variety of ingredients. Since COVID-19 shut down the ability to go out to eat, we've been using our local delivery apps to try some of the random local restaurants. My husband loves all Latin American foods and would happily eat inside that cuisine every day, so we've tried everything from Dominican to Colombian to Salvadoran. (I seem to prefer Colombian the most, with the arepas and empandas.)



Both El Salvador and Honduras claim the pupusa, which is his absolute favorite, so much so that we declared Sunday to be Pupusa Sunday. Most of the time, we get them from a place that makes Salvadoran and Honduran food. I like the chicharron & frijol, Nathaniel usually gets hongos (mushroom) and espinaca (spinach.)


I hate long food blog intros but I promise this is all relevant. Two months ago, I noticed one of my Instagram friends posting food she'd made that was part of the "Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Club." I looked into it and it was started by Deborah Balint. She picks a cookbook each month and specific recipes and posting dates for the dishes. I loved this idea and invited myself along (it seems to work that way anyway) and meant to do the June cookbook but time got away from me. For July, though, I couldn't pass up a chance to make pupusas after everything I've explained previously.

The cookbook for July is We Are La Cocina. La Cocina is an "incubator kitchen" in San Francisco, a nonprofit working to provide commercial kitchen space for women, immigrants, and people of color. The cookbook is beautiful and contains profiles of women who have started business there, found a passion, etc. Most have at least one recipe; several have multiple, and the variety of backgrounds is reflective of that community. This is a cookbook to keep on my shelf for when I'm curious about a specific cuisine (there are a few recipes from the elusive filipino cuisine that I read about but haven't tasted, for instance.)

The pupusa recipe comes from Maria Del Carmen, who owns a business called Estrellita's Snacks.  She walked to California from El Salvador and ended up starting this successful business. I would love to try her pupusas someday, but for now I was happy to try her recipe. There are pictures in the cookbook showing the process but I found even more detailed steps on her Instagram account.

I won't include the recipe here because really, you should buy the cookbook of course, but so much of a pupusa recipe is about feel. I feel I may have not hydrated the corn flour enough, and totally meant to use beans in these but discovered we didn't have any after everything else was already ready. I clearly need to try the recipe again. I did make Maria's recipe for curtido, that's what looks a bit like coleslaw but is more of a quick pickled cabbage with a little bit of a kick from a pepper you can't see. Instead of the traditional (somewhat thin) salsa we always get from the restaurant, we prefer our pupusas with Cholula chipotle hot sauce (not a paid advertisement, we just like it.)

Before I tried the recipe for the first time, I also watched a bunch of YouTube videos since I usually learn a lot from real home cooks. One video is Curly and his Abuelita making pupusas together, another is all in Spanish but uses an unknown (to me) ingredient called loroco (which seems pretty popular on the internet for pupusas) and she makes them very differently from most Salvadorans I've watched, and then one that was really fun where three Salvadoran Moms try each other's pupusas and vote for the best. They have opinions!


Monday, July 06, 2020

Oatmeal Cranberry Walnut Cookies

If you have heard of the Levain Bakery, you will know of their giant, soft, thick cookies. I came across a recipe claiming to taste just like them and was intrigued - Melissa Stadler at Modern Honey has a made a number of varieties. I was looking for recipes to use up some dried cranberries and walnuts I had sitting around and decided the oatmeal raisin cookies would be the perfect chance. Please visit her site for all the tips and tricks - the method is really quite different from a regular cookie recipe so you will want to make sure you know what's up. I made a half recipe, only five cookies, since I was the only person who would end up eating them.



Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (Oatmeal Cranberry Walnut Cookies explained below)

Ingredients
  • 1 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour*
  • 1 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp cornstarch*
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon*
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins*
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped (OPTIONAL)
Instructions*
  1. Preheat oven to 410 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together cold butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Add cake flour, all-purpose flour, oats, cornstarch, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and stir until combined. Stir in raisins and walnuts (optional).
  4. Chill dough for 15 minutes.
  5. Separate dough into large balls and place on lightly colored cookie sheet. Lightly press on top of dough to smooth out. If you have a scale, you can make them anywhere from 4.5 ounces - 6 ounces. You will fit 4-6 cookies on one large cookie sheet. The dough makes 8-12 extra large cookies.
  6. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown on the top. Let them rest for at least 10-15 minutes to set.







*Notes from JennyBakes:

-I just used 1/4 cup more ap flour because I was out of cake flour
-I couldn't find any cornstarch in my cupboard and the Instacart person couldn't find any at the store (eyeroll) so I subbed tapioca flour and this seemed fine
-I doubled the cinnamon, always.
-I used dried cranberries instead
-These instructions seem crazy. 410?! Use cold butter?! Bake only 9-11 minutes? Just follow what she says and go against your instinct of when they are done. It pays off.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Emirati Balaleet

When I posted about Emirati pancakes, I mentioned that everyone has a different version of that recipe, well that is also going to be true about Balaleet. I have seen so many YouTube videos of a variety of techniques that I will be sharing more of a method, even though I used the recipe from Feast like last time. Wikipedia says balaleet "traditionally consists of vermicelli sweetened with sugar, cardamom, rose water and saffron, and served with an overlying egg omelette." Vermicelli is a kind of pasta, it's true, but in this case, it is served partially sweet. I believe this is influenced by Indian cuisine that traveled to this region because you can find vermicelli in sweet rice puddings and even sweet drinks like falooda


Just to get my initial impressions out of the way, I find it impossible to think of a sweet pasta without immediately thinking of Buddy the Elf as immortalized by Will Farrell. He adds candy and maple syrup to his spaghetti. I fully expected this dish to be sweet like that, but it really isn't.




Some recipes toast the vermicelli to a golden brown. Some toast half and keep half untoasted. Some don't toast the vermicelli and darken it with saffron or fake saffron coloring. I think the toasting would add more flavor, and I ended up wishing I'd done more of that. I've seen some recipes that also include toasted nuts. I had soaked my saffron in rosewater and added all the required spices but it had less flavor than I thought it would. I felt I could kind of take it or leave it, and it was a lot of work to have that impression.

To me what was really tasty and I'd love to make again is the eggs! I've never added spices to scrambled eggs, and I liked both the coriander from the recipe and the cardamom that came over from the noodles in with the eggs. It reminded me of how my Mom would cook up the last of the french toast milky eggs after making french toast, so maybe it's more the nostalgia element than anything else.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Grain-Free Peach Cobbler

I had a bag of peaches going toward overripe that I needed to use stat! So I went looking for a paleo, lower sugar, some such variety of recipes. I came across this "Guilt Free Paleo Peach Cobbler" from Fearless Dining and adapted it only slightly for what I had on hand.


I suspect this is because of my own substitutions (coconut sugar for honey, tapioca flour for arrowroot powder) but the cobbler top was almost like bran muffins in texture and not necessarily in a bad way. We topped it with a keto vanilla "ice cream" that to me has the texture of cold compressed sand more than it tastes like ice cream. HA. The second time we ate some my husband asked for more cinnamon, so you can add more than what is in the recipe. I already had doubled the amount in the fruit.

Grain-Free Peach Cobbler
(adapted from Fearless Dining)

Ingredients

8 fresh peaches, sliced
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
1 tablespoon arrowroot starch

For the Crust:

2 1/2 cups almond flour
 3/4 cup arrowroot starch
1/4 cup cold butter or ghee
3 tablespoons honey
 2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

Add the biscuit ingredients into a food processor and mix well until the dough forms.

Slice the peaches and add to a bowl. Add the coconut sugar, arrowroot, and coconut oil. Mix well.

Use a slotted spoon to move the peaches mixture (but not all of its moisture) into an 8x8 baking pan. Spread the biscuit mixture on top and bake for 30 minutes or until biscuit mixture seems cooked through. Serve hot or cold with ice cream or whipped cream.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Orange Poppyseed Yogurt Cake

Loaf cake is the cake of the pandemic. I know some of you out there are feeding your sourdough beasts but I found myself with more work to do, not less, and needed quick bakes. After having to make multiple tries for the lemon drizzle cake, I had read a lot of loaf cake recipes online. I was intrigued by the Grapefruit Greek Yogurt Cake recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction, but my order for grapefruits was thwarted and showed up as oranges instead. I had seen so many lemon poppyseed cakes that I had them in my head as well, and a bunch of Icelandic yogurt in the fridge, so I adapted Sally's recipe to make an orange poppyseed yogurt cake. And it was good. Scroll to the bottom for a bonus dog creeper picture.



Orange Poppyseed Yogurt Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp poppy seeds 
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 tbsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract

Orange glaze

1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tbsp orange juice
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
  2. Whisk the flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. Once combined, whisk in the yogurt, brown sugar, oil, orange juice, zest, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix with a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula until combined. Avoid overmixing.
  3. Spread batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  4. Remove the cake from the oven and set on a wire rack. Allow to cool before drizzling with glaze.
  5. For the glaze, simply whisk the ingredients together and drizzle over cake. Slice and serve. Cover and store leftover cake at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Do you see Doyle?


Monday, June 08, 2020

Arabian Pancakes or Khobz Al-Jbab

My reading focus is on the Middle East this year so when I read Temporary People*, set in the UAE, I went looking for a recipe from there. Feast: Food from the Islamic World has been very useful in placing regional dishes, but the Romanization she gives is never how I find it elsewhere online. I can find references to khobz that seems to be bread, in Morocco. Jiibab is a garment. Pancakes in UAE are often written as chibab or chebab or even chabab but of course I know this doesn't really matter because in UAE it would be in Arabic. They are basically just... pancakes, although there is a little yeast, a little saffron, and it does seem to be typical most of the time that they are served with date syrup. Sometimes they are tiny, sometimes they are the size of the plate, but they do all seem to have the saffron-yeast-date syrup ingredients in common. Quite often, the syrup is served on the side for dipping the pancake in, rather than drizzling or pouring it over as I have done. I've seen other videos around the same area where pancakes are spread with cheese and folded in half, or filled with a sweet nut mixture and deep fried, then topped with a sugar syrup, but that last iteration seems to be specific to holiday celebrations like Eid. This recipe is more of an everyday pancake.


Arabian Pancakes
(recipe from Feast)

1 2/3 cups (200 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tbsp whole milk powder**
1/4 tsp instant (fast-acting) yeast
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 egg
1/4 cup raw cane sugar
pinch of saffron threads
unsalted butter, melted, for the skillet
1/2 cup (65 g) sesame seeds
Date syrup for serving

  1. Mix the flour, milk powder, yeast, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and make a well in the center.
  2. Whisk together the egg, sugar, saffron, and 1 1/4 cups warm water (310 ml) in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Add the sweet egg mixture to the flour mixture and gradually whisk it in until you have a batter that is thicker than crepe batter but thinner than pancake batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about 45 minutes to let the batter ferment.
  4. Brush a large nonstick skillet with a little melted butter and place over medium heat. When the pan is hot, scoop out a ladleful of the batter and pour into the pan, tilting the pan to spread the batter evenly. Sprinkle with some sesame seeds and cook for 2 minutes, or until the bottom is golden. Flip the jbab and cook the other side for 2 minutes, or until it is the same color. You may want to slip a knob of butter underneath the jbab after you flip it. Sprinkle the top with some more sesame seeds.
  5. Cook the remaining jbab the same way, and serve hot or warm drizzled with date or maple syrup.   
* You may read my review of this book in Goodreads.
** In the United States, if you want milk powder you have to buy a big bulky box of it, and I always only need a few spoonfuls. Most of what I read online said you can just use the same amount of milk and add it with the liquid, so I did.

Speaking of pancakes...

Like pancakes? I seem to make them from around the world! Check out the Finnish pannukakku, Icelandic pönnukökur, Papua New Guinean banana pancakes, the Danish ebleskiver, the Hungarian palacsintas, the Kaiserschmarrn or "Emperor's Mess" from Austria, the Swedish pancakes from Alaska, and what we call the German oven apple pancake. I also made ratio pancakes from Michael Ruhlman's book, which we can call American. I've made several more American pancakes, like the recipe from Rosa Parks held by the National Archives, another variation on lemon ricotta pancakes, and kauk moto from Myanmar. Pancakes can also be savory, like scallion pancakes from China (also called cong you bing.)

Monday, June 01, 2020

Uzbek Sambusa and My Cooking Class with the League of Kitchens

A few weeks ago, I got to participate in an online cooking class from League of Kitchens. LoK is an organization in New York that works with women from many different countries to teach how to cook their food. The class my husband bought for me was with Damira, from Uzbekistan. For a long time, these classes were taught in person, but our current situation forced them to move the classes online, which also opened them up for a wider audience. Lucky for me, who lives far from New York. I had been following them in Instagram already, just because I was hoping they would come out with a cookbook, since many of the women are from places I have been reading about and trying to learn how to cook from.


Last year, I read a novel from Uzbekistan in my year of the Stans (The Devil's Dance by Hamid Ismailov), and at Thanksgiving I tried to make a dumpling that was similar to the ingredients of the recipe we made together in this class, but not the final result.

For courtesy sake, I will not be posting the recipe here, but I encourage you to check out their website (not a paid advertisement) and take a class yourself. They are super organized - they sent the recipe, background information, and an ingredient list ahead of time, telling you what to prep and what to leave alone. There is a person who isn't the teacher running all the technology so the cook can focus on those instructions. She checked in with us and continually made sure we were ready to move on to the next phase, and weighed in on whether or not our sambusas were cooked enough. The class was long enough for us to prep and cook the meal, and there is even time at the end to eat together. In the class I took, some family members were sharing the experience from different states.


Uzbekistan was part of the very well known silk road, an important avenue for travel and trade. It should not be too surprising that the sambusa is related to the samosa and many other dishes of similar names.

The dough was interesting because it was possibly more similar to cong you bing, the Chinese scallion pancake I had previously attempted. It is made in a way that makes a quick lamination which results in flaky, crispy dough in under an hour. I was impressed with myself! The filling was butternut squash, onion, and cumin seed. I did not know if it would cook but it was perfect, not crunchy at all (again, unlike my Thanksgiving dumplings from Turkmenistan that failed.)


We made a radish and yogurt salad with a lot of herbs in it to go on the side. I ended up scooping some up on my sambusas because they went well together. I think the filling options are endless for these, and I hope to make them again soon.