Mayan Hot Chocolate

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Mornings are getting chilly here and yesterday in place of a cafecito, I decided to try making hot chocolate from scratch after remembering the delicious batch my first Spanish teacher once cooked up right in the middle of class so many years ago. In the United States we’re so accustomed to ripping open a packet of powder and adding heated water for a cup of hot cocoa, but once you sip this hot chocolate, made from real cocoa and milk, you’ll never want to go back.

Mayan Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups 1% milk
1 teaspoon baking cocoa
a pinch of salt
3 tablespoons of sugar
1/4 teaspoon Mexican vanilla extract
dash of ground cinnamon, (more to taste)
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Method:

1. Heat milk for 2 minutes on regular heat in microwave or warm on stove until hot but not simmering.

2. Add sugar, salt and cocoa. Stir until dissolved.

3. Remove from heat. Add vanilla extract, ground cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Makes 2 servings.

Note: In place of ground cinnamon or for added cinnamon flavor, you can add one or two cinnamon sticks to the milk while heating.

Savory Tamales de Calabaza y Pollo (o Pavo!)

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I asked all of you if you wanted me to make sweet pumpkin tamales or savory pumpkin tamales. The results were pretty evenly split, so after I made the sweet tamales, I began to figure out what I wanted in my savory tamales.

I began to brainstorm – Pumpkin reminds me of autumn and autumn reminds me of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving reminds me of turkey and turkey reminds me of Salvadoran panes con pavo – and that is when I knew exactly what I wanted to make.

I didn’t have any turkey on hand, but I had chicken, (and honestly that’s what we often use because it’s more affordable.) So I prepared the chicken for filling the tamales the way I do Salvadoran Pavo, complete with the savory Salvadoran salsa spiced with relajo (see the notes about relajo in the recipe below.)

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What this means is that these tamales are perfect for your Salvadoran pavo leftovers this holiday season! Even if you have only regular roast turkey leftover from Thanksgiving you could just add a little mustard, Worcestershire sauce, the salsa with relajo, and you’ll be ready to start assembling these tamales.

As for the pumpkin, I incorporated that into the masa and the flavor ends up not being very noticeable as the delicious chicken and salsa steal the show. I do think that the pumpkin lends a very pretty color and moisture to the masa though, plus it’s full of vitamins – so I will absolutely include it again next time I make these tamales.

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Warning: These are pretty amazing and the recipe below only makes about 10 regular-sized tamales. You may want to double or even triple the ingredients!

Savory Pumpkin Tamales de Calabaza y Pollo (o Pavo!)

For masa:

1 cup Maseca
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup pumpkin puree

1. In a medium-sized bowl combine the Maseca, salt and oregano, then add the pumpkin and butter. Mix to combine. Add the chicken stock and mix until completely combined. Set aside.

For filling:

3 large chicken thighs (or the equivalent dark meat turkey)
1/2 tsp. yellow mustard
a few shakes Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
1/2 small onion
1 tbs. minced garlic
1 – 2 cups water

1. In a medium pot, coat the chicken or turkey pieces in mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Add water, garlic and onion. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, cover and lower to a simmer. Cook until the meat is cooked through and juices run clear. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, remove meat from bones and shred. Discard skin, bone, onion and any liquid left in the pot – you just want the meat which you will be mixing into the salsa later.

For salsa:

1 cup diced tomato
½ tsp. fresh minced garlic
1/4 small onion, diced
1/4 small green pepper, diced
1/3 cup chicken stock
1-2 large tablespoons Salvadoran relajo spice mixture (see note below)
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon achiote
salt and pepper to taste

Note – If you can’t find Salvadoran relajo spice mixture, the following can be substituted: 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, a few shakes dry oregano, 4 dry roasted peanuts, 6 dry roasted pumpkin seeds, 2 large bay leaves – crushed, 6 whole cloves and/or allspice.

1. In a blender combine all ingredients except salt and pepper. Blend until mostly smooth, about one minute. (The sesame seeds and other spices will give this salsa texture – that’s how it’s supposed to be.)

2. Pour the salsa into a small pot and simmer over medium-high heat for a few minutes, stirring. Add salt and pepper to taste. (You can remove the allspice and/or whole cloves if you like at this point.) Mix the shredded chicken into the salsa. Set aside to cool.

Assemble the tamales:

Take 10 to 12 dried corn husks and soak them in a large bowl of hot water to soften. Once softened, remove one by one and gently shake dry before using.

In the middle of each corn husk, spoon a few tablespoons of the masa and spread out with the back of a spoon, but stay towards the middle of the husk – don’t go to the edges.

In the middle of the masa, put a large spoonful of the chicken and salsa mixture.

Fold corn husk closed as described in this post. Optional: Wrap the tamales inside aluminum foil.

Stack tamales in a tamalera and steam about 2 to 3 hours. Makes about 10 regular-sized tamales.

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(Carlos eating his fourth tamal for breakfast this morning!)

Sweet Tamales de Calabaza y Horchata

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Ever since I heard that pumpkin tamales actually exist, I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind. I read over twenty recipes but none of them were quite right so I decided I wanted to develop my own. As much as I like to get creative and experiment in the kitchen, (something I’ve done since I was little, now that I think back), I usually do a lot of research and calculations before attempting anything because wasting food when things don’t come out well makes me unhappy.

That being said, when I set out to make my pumpkin tamales, I went to the cabinet to pull down the piloncillo and dark brown sugar so that I could decide which I wanted to use – except that when I opened the cabinet I got a whiff of the Salvadoran horchata mix I keep in there and a new possibility entered my mind.

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Salvadoran horchata is made of wonderful things like morro seed, cocoa, sesame seeds, cinnamon, and vanilla – all which compliment pumpkin very nicely, so I decided to take a big chance and try something really different.

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Sometimes these things work out and sometimes they don’t, but thankfully this time the result far exceeded my expectations. The tamales are perfectly balanced and mildly sweet. You can taste the horchata but it doesn’t overpower the pumpkin, and you can taste the pumpkin but it doesn’t overpower the horchata – they compliment each other even better than I imagined. Even Carlos who isn’t usually a big fan of pumpkin and was very skeptical, ate one, and then asked for another! Here’s the recipe if you want to give them a try.

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Sweet Tamales de Calabaza y Horchata

You need:

1 cup Maseca
1/4 cup horchata drink mix (see note below)
6 tbs. white sugar
1/8 tsp. salt

1 cup pumpkin puree
4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cups warm 1% milk

10 to 12 dry corn husks

1. Soak corn husks in a large bowl of hot water to soften.

2. Mix dry ingredients (Maseca, horchata, sugar and salt) in a medium bowl. Note: I used Mama Noya brand horchata but all horchata drink mixes vary slightly. If you use a different brand, I can’t guarantee that your tamales will come out like mine. Also note that this is Salvadoran horchata drink mix, which is different from Mexican horchata.)

3. Mix pumpkin puree and butter in a separate medium bowl.

4. Add the dry ingredients, little by little, to the pumpkin mixture, stirring to combine.

5. Add milk and stir to combine completely.

6. Spread on corn husks that have been gently shaken dry, a few tablespoons in the middle of each husk. Fold closed. There are different ways to fold a tamal – I typically bring the long sides together around the masa, fold the tapered end up, fold the length sides around the tamal over the tapered end and then fold down the top. I don’t leave the top open like a lot of people and I also wrap each tamal in aluminum foil to help keep it closed.

7. Stack tamales in a tamalera/tamal steamer, with water in the bottom. If you don’t have a tamalera you can use a large stock pot with a metal pie pan inverted on the bottom. The important thing is to keep the tamales out of the water and to have a lid for the pot to keep steam in. Steam for about 90 minutes. To see if they’re done, remove one, allow to cool for a few minutes and then attempt to peel the husk off the tamal – if it comes off cleanly, they’re finished. Makes about 10 small tamales.

Pumpkin Pie Paletas

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Autumn is my favorite season and whenever it rolls around I crave pumpkin-flavored everything! So far this season I have gotten my hands on pumpkin donuts, a pumpkin latte, oatmeal raisin pumpkin cookies and I stocked my cabinets with cans of pumpkin as soon as the store put up the display. (Not to mention I’ve been lighting a pumpkin-scented candle to make the house smell like pumpkin.)

I’m loving the chilly mornings and evenings, but during the day it’s still feeling like summer out there. With today’s temperatures predicted to reach a sunny 94 F, I decided we needed something to cool off, and yet that pumpkin craving remains. What to do? Pumpkin pie paletas seemed like a perfect compromise!

Creamy vanilla ice cream is mixed with pumpkin and dark brown sugar, spiced with cinnamon and given a dash of salt to bring out the other flavors. To give the feel of pie, we can’t forget about the crust, so crushed cinnamon graham crackers mixed with melted butter give this popsicle the perfect texture and added richness. This recipe is based off a pumpkin pie recipe we make every year for Thanksgiving and it is so beloved that Carlos and the boys licked the bowl clean while waiting for the paletas!

Pumpkin Pie Paletas

What you need:

4 cups vanilla ice cream, softened
1 cup cinnamon graham crackers, crushed
1 cup canned pumpkin
4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Method:

1. In a small bowl, combine melted butter and cinnamon graham cracker crumbs. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine ice cream, pumpkin, dark brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Stir until completely combined.

3. Mix graham cracker crumb mixture into ice cream mixture. Stir just until combined.

4. Pour into popsicle molds. (Optional: You can top with more crushed graham cracker.) Insert the popsicle stick and freeze for 2 to 3 hours until solid. To remove popsicles from molds, run the popsicle mold under warm water, (taking care not to get water on the paletas), until you can gently pull them out.

Pupusas Revueltas with Salsa and Curtido

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I realized the other day that while I made a video on how to make pupusas de queso and recently shared a recipe for making mini pupusas de queso y frijol, I hadn’t posted a recipe or video for Carlos’s favorite – pupusas revueltas!

It was a little difficult for me to quantify everything and give clear directions because I make them a little differently each time, adjusting this and that to make them better – but here is how I made them this time. As you can see, I used ground pork instead of making authentic chicharrones with chunks of pork, but it works well like this and saves you from getting greasy meat all over your food processor when you grind it up.

Now, whenever I make a pupusa video, inevitably I get comments on YouTube asking for curtido and salsa recipes, so I decided to make a video of those too, even though I have variations of both posted here.

So, without further introduction, here are the videos and recipes for pupusas revueltas, salsa and curtido. (And as a special treat, in one of the videos you can see Carlos attempt to make a pupusa by himself!)

Pupusas Revueltas

What you need:

1 lb. fresh ground pork (you can even use turkey or chicken if you don’t eat pork)
1 tbs. minced garlic
1-2 tbs. canola oil
1 medium tomato, washed and quartered
1 medium Poblano or the equivalent green pepper, washed, stem & seeds removed, and quartered
1/2 a medium onion, cut in half
1/2 cup refried beans
1 lb. whole milk mozzarella cheese, softened (directions below)
salt to taste

For the masa/dough:

3 cups MASECA
3 1/4 cups water
a little less than 1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:

1. Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add oil and garlic. Stir for a few seconds before adding ground pork and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until browned. Remove from heat, set aside. (Note: Many people use chunks of pork in place of ground pork and after cooking, run it through the food processor. This is totally up to you. I’ve used both methods and both work.)

2. In the food processor set to “mince” – Process: the tomato, the Poblano or green pepper, and the onion. Add to the pork and mix to combine. Taste and correct with salt if needed.

3. Add the refried beans. Stir to combine.

4. To soften the cheese, place it in a warm water bath while it is still in the plastic packaging. After about 10 minutes, drain the water and open the package. Knead the cheese by hand until soft. Add to the pork mixture and stir to combine. This will be your pupusa filling. Set the mixture aside.

5. In a large bowl sprinkle salt over MASECA and then pour in water. Mix by hand until combined.

6. To form pupusas, take a large handful of dough, (slightly bigger than a golf ball but not as big as a baseball), and pat it into a tortilla. Cup your hand so the tortilla forms a bowl-like shape. In the hollow, place a large pinch of the pupusa filling. Close your hand gently to fold the sides up around the filling and form the ball again. Pat out into a thick tortilla shape and then place on a hot griddle, comal or non-stick frying pan. (No oil is needed!) Flip to cook on each side. Serve with salsa and curtido.

Salsa

What you need:

3 to 4 fresh large tomatoes (Roma are best), chopped
1 handful fresh cilantro
1/2 of a medium-sized onion, chopped
1/4 of a medium Poblano pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon raw, minced garlic
Salt to taste
A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce (also known as “Salsa Perrins.”)

Directions:

Combine in a blender. Blend until smooth, about one minute. Serve immediately or put in a jar or container with a tight-fitting lid and keep refrigerated. You can also pour the salsa into a pot and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes which will brighten the natural red color of the tomatoes and deepen the flavor a little. Use in almost any recipe calling for salsa, or as a side with Latin American dishes. Use within a few days or can it to keep longer.

Possible substitutions: A 32 ounce can of undrained whole tomatoes can be substituted for fresh tomatoes. Green bell pepper can be substituted for the Poblano pepper.

Curtido

What you need:

1 small cabbage, washed and cut into large chunks
1 cup carrots, washed and peeled
1/2 a small onion
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup warm water
salt to taste
oregano to taste

Directions:

1. With the food processor set to “shred” – Process the cabbage and carrots. Switch the food processor to “julienne” for the onion. Combine in a large bowl with remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Gazpacho

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I don’t remember the first time I heard of gazpacho and I can’t remember if I’d ever even eaten it before yesterday, but yesterday, after a couple days of eating too many processed foods, my body began to crave something fresh – something alive. Usually this is when I would seek out a salad, but it’s been so hot that my thirst caused gazpacho to pop into my head.

“I’m going to make gazpacho for dinner,” I said to Carlos.
“Empacho?” he said.
“No, gazpacho,” I responded, “It’s a cold vegetable soup… from Spain, I think.”

If The National Board of Gazpacho is hiring someone in marketing, I probably wouldn’t be a very good candidate. Carlos wasn’t thrilled with my dinner idea but for reasons unknown, didn’t protest despite the unflattering description. I researched a half dozen recipes and several articles about gazpacho to get a general idea of how to make it and was undeterred by the controversy over whether to use bread crumbs or not to use bread crumbs; whether it should be smooth or chunky; whether it’s sacrilege to use tomato juice or V8 to thin the gazpacho; whether a blender or a food processor works best… You get the idea. The last time I saw such passionate debate was when I looked up guacamole recipes.

I made mental notes of what I found useful and discarded what I did not, (a good way to live life in general) and went out to buy my fresh, ripe vegetables. In the kitchen I set to work washing, chopping, measuring, and jotting down notes to myself in case my gazpacho turned out well, which I must say, it really did. The gazpacho is so beautiful and so refreshing with the perfect balance of flavors. Carlos and my boys loved it and I’m eating it again for breakfast today because those vitamin-rich vegetables woke me up better than a cup of Bustelo.

I can’t tell you whether Spaniards would turn their noses up at my gazpacho, deeming it inauthentic, but I can tell you that this is one of the best things I’ve ever made and as much as I look forward to autumn each year, this gazpacho will be one of the only things that makes me long for a hot summer day.

Señora Lopez’s Gazpacho

Ingredients:

1 large cucumber, washed, seeded, chopped (but don’t peel)
4 large Roma tomatoes, washed, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, washed, seeded, chopped
1/4 medium red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
1 3/4 cups tomato juice
1/8 cup white wine vinegar
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

1. In a food processor set to chop, process the cucumber but not until smooth. Remove to a large bowl.
2. Repeat step one with the tomato, red bell pepper and onion, one by one, removing each after processing to the large bowl.
3. Mix in all remaining ingredients.
4. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for one hour or more.
5. Serve cold. (This can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days.)

Optional: Serve with a dollop of sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro, with slices of avocado or French bread. Some heathens even dip grilled cheese sandwiches into their gazpacho, (which sounds really good.)

Note: Gazpacho is great for making use of an over abundance of whatever is doing well in your garden, If you’ve got zucchini or other vegetables, try substituting them or adding them in!

(Credit where credit is due: This original recipe was most inspired by The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook’s Gazpacho recipe.)

Señora López’s Fresh Salsa

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This is my fresh salsa recipe, adapted over the years from a recipe given to me by my sister-in-law. Originally she gave it to me so that I could simmer chicken in it, (which is delicious, by the way), but we love it so much that we use this as an accompaniment or ingredient in many dishes at our house. I’ve included variations of this recipe here before, but always as an afterthought tacked on to other recipes. I decided this salsa deserves its own moment to shine.

We use it over curtido to eat with pupusas, we eat it on top of scrambled eggs, we dip tortilla chips in it, we mix it into rice and beans, we pour it over rellenos de ejotes, we serve Salvadoran meatballs in it, and it’s always on the table with our yuca con chicharrón — After you taste it, you’ll be searching for ways to use it at every meal, too.

Señora López’s Fresh Salsa

3 to 4 fresh large tomatoes (Roma are best), chopped
1 handful fresh cilantro
1/2 of a medium-sized onion, chopped
1/4 of a medium Poblano pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon raw, minced garlic
Salt to taste
A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce (also known as “Salsa Perrins.”)
Optional (if you like it spicy) – A few rings of pickled jalapeño

Fresh ingredients ready to blend!

Fresh ingredients ready to blend!

Combine in a blender. Blend until smooth, about one minute. Serve immediately or put in a jar or container with a tight-fitting lid and keep refrigerated. You can also pour the salsa into a pot and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes which will brighten the natural red color of the tomatoes and deepen the flavor a little. Use in almost any recipe calling for salsa, or as a side with Latin American dishes. Use within a few days or can it to keep longer.

Possible substitutions: A 32 ounce can of undrained whole tomatoes can be substituted for fresh tomatoes. Green bell pepper can be substituted for the Poblano pepper.