Central American Chow Mein

chowmein_latinaish

Some of you reading this are probably very excited and some of you a probably very confused – so let’s make sure we’re on the same page. Chow Mein, (also sometimes spelled Chao Mein, and often pronounced by some native Spanish speakers as “Chow Ming”), is best known as a noodle dish from China. Many people don’t realize that just as we have our Americanized versions of Chow Mein in the United States, there are well-loved versions of the dish all around the world, including in Central America.

Guatemala in particular has a great love of Chow Mein. This do-it-yourself box of “Chao Mein” (pictured below) is a brand commonly found in Latino Markets here in the U.S., and it’s made in Guatemala.

noodlebox_latinaish

Chow Mein is also a favorite in neighboring El Salvador, and ever since I’ve known Carlos, he has loved Chow Mein, and Chinese food in general.

On our first date we spent the entire day together. For lunch we ate at a hamburger place but for dinner, (yes two meals together in one day!) Carlos wanted to go out for Chinese food. As we were waiting to be served at the Chinese restaurant, two waiters were standing nearby having a conversation in Chinese. Carlos jutted his chin in their direction, “Entiendes lo que dicen?” [Do you know what they're saying?] he asked me.

“No, no hablo Chino,” I responded perplexed.
“Yo sí,” he said, smiling, and then he proceeded to invent a translation of the waiters’ conversation.

I wasn’t convinced, but as you know, we soon married anyway. Years later Suegra moved in. When Suegra lived with us and we would go out to eat, we often ended up at Chinese buffets because it was the one cuisine she wouldn’t complain about. I never ate so much Chinese food in my life until I married a Salvadoran!

So, with that being said, here is my version of Salvadoran Chow Mein, which is basically the same as Guatemalan Chow Mein, although families each have their own unique way of making it.

Chow Mein (Central American style!)

Ingredients:

1 package of “Chao Mein” noodles, or any brand Chow Mein Stir Fry Noodles
1 cup raw mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chayote (also known as güisquil), julienned
1 cup carrot, julienned
1 cup celery, julienned
1/2 cup green onion, (sliced lengthwise and then cut in 1 inch pieces)
5 chicken thighs, cooked and shredded (see notes below)
oil for frying (sesame oil and/or canola oil)
1/3 cup soy sauce (low sodium soy sauce can be used)

Notes Before We Get Started:

• It’s not necessary to buy the box of “Chao Mein” noodles pictured above. The box contains the noodles, a little packet of soy sauce (not nearly enough for my recipe), and 2 seasoning packets which I discarded because they contain MSG which I avoid. You can buy any Chow Mein Stir Fry Noodles. You may need to buy 2 packets of Chow Mein noodles depending on the size of the packages. You’ll want about 12 ounces to feed a hungry family of six people.

• This recipe is very flexible, feel free to try different vegetables and to increase the vegetables to make it healthier. You can also replace the dark meat chicken with chicken breast meat, steak or shrimp. I used green onions because that’s what I had on hand, but any type of onion you like can be used.

• If using chicken, you can cook it however you like. I cook it like this: Boil the chicken thighs in water with a little annatto (also known as “achiote”), a little salt, a little pepper, 1/2 an onion and a tablespoon of minced fresh garlic. After the chicken has cooked through, remove to cool. Once cool, discard the skin and bones. Shred the meat by hand and set aside. (The leftover broth can be used in another recipe.)

• For those who aren’t familiar, chayote (“güisquil” to Central Americans), is a type of squash, usually light green in color and about the size of a fist with one puckered side. The flavor is very mild and pleasant. To use chayote in this recipe, wash it and then julienne it, (i.e. cut it approximately into the size and shape of matchsticks or shoestring-style french fries.) You do not need to peel it but there is a small white seed in the middle you should discard.

• You can use sesame oil or canola oil for frying. I like to use equal amounts of both. The sesame oil gives it a nice flavor which helps make up for the fact that I discard the “condiment/flavoring” packets.

Directions:

1. Prepare all vegetables while the chicken cooks. Put the vegetables in a large bowl together and set aside.
2. Prepare chicken (see notes above), and then set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put the noodles into the water and cook about 5 minutes until al dente, being careful not to overcook them.
4. Remove the noodles to a colander to drain. Set aside.
5. In a large skillet over high heat add a few tablespoons of oil. Use either canola oil or sesame oil, or use equal amounts of both, (which is what I do.)
6. When the oil is very hot, add the vegetables, and stir them continuously for one to two minutes.
7. Add the chicken and continue stirring for another minute.
8. Add the noodles and continue stirring for another minute.
9. Add 1/3 cup soy sauce, stir and remove from heat.
10. Serve and enjoy!

Salvadoran Chuletas

chuletas_latinaish

When I say “chuletas” you may think of lamb chops or pork chops and their distinctive shape, but Carlos asked me to make Salvadoran Chuletas which are something entirely different.

At first I thought Carlos was playing a trick on me because the food he described sounded really strange. He said Salvadoran Chuletas look like a meatball wrapped around a strip of tortilla. I questioned him further. “Are you sure this isn’t something your mother invented? Is this really a Salvadoran dish that other people will recognize?” – He assured me this is a real Salvadoran dish. I asked if the meatball part goes on the end of the tortilla strip so that at least it’ll look more like a lamb chop, but he insisted it goes in the middle.

With Carlos’s descriptions and encouragement, I gave it a try, and he says I hit the jackpot – so I present to you Salvadoran Chuletas, (or “Chuletas de Carne Molida.”) I have no idea how this dish came to exist in El Salvador but I imagine a hungry husband telling his wife that he wants chuletas for dinner. The wife goes to the kitchen, knowing full well that they don’t have such an expensive cut of meat, and she creates these fake “chuletas” out of day old tortillas and carne molida in the hopes of tricking her husband.

If you know the real story or anything else about Salvadoran Chuletas de Carne Molida, be sure to leave a comment! For now, here is my recipe.

Salvadoran Chuletas

Ingredients:

2 lbs. ground meat (beef, turkey or chicken)
1 handful fresh cilantro, washed and chopped
1/2 a medium onion, chopped fine
1/2 a medium green pepper, chopped fine
2 eggs
1 cup bread crumbs
1 heaping tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

canola oil (for frying)
5 thick corn tortillas

Directions:

1. Fry the cooked tortillas in a little oil until slightly crunchy. Remove and cool. Cut into thick strips. Set aside. (Leftover handmade tortillas work best for this.)
2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the tortilla strips and oil. Mix by hand.
3. Take a small handful of the meat mixture, (a little larger than a golf ball), and a strip of tortilla. (Choose the longest strips of tortilla. The short strips can be discarded or reserved for a different recipe.)
4. Mold the meat mixture around the strip of tortilla so that you have tortilla poking out at each end with a meatball-like shape in the middle. Make sure you don’t make the meatball too rounded or big or they won’t cook through when frying.
5. Fry in oil over medium heat, turning to brown on each side. Do this in batches, removing to drain on paper towels when finished.
6. Serve with rice and fresh salsa. Makes approx. 15 to 20 chuletas.

Salvadoran-style Birthday Cake

salvadorancake

Being married to Carlos over these past 15 years, one thing I’ve learned is that American birthday cake and Salvadoran birthday cake are very different.

Carlos will eat American birthday cake, but he doesn’t really like it.

Today was Carlos’s birthday and for the past few weeks, all he’s been talking about is Salvadoran birthday cake. I got the hint and asked him plenty of questions about it so I could make him one. Carlos says that growing up in El Salvador he always got a cake from a bakery called Flor de Trigo on his birthday. The cake part was moist but didn’t have a strong flavor, the frosting was only very slightly sweet. The cakes were usually layer cakes with fruit decorating the top.

I did some research, (even found the Flor de Trigo website!) and this is what I came up with.

cakecollage2

The cake is a white cake (from a box mix just to save some time), and the “frosting” is a homemade whipped cream. Sliced almonds decorate the sides, and the fruits I chose were strawberries and apricot. Carlos gave me muchos besos and said it’s just like a Salvadoran birthday cake. Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a try!

Salvadoran-style Birthday Cake

Ingredients:

1 box white cake mix (I used Duncan Hines Classic White)
1 quart heavy whipping cream
1/2 to 3/4 cup white sugar (more if you prefer sweeter)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 cups sliced almonds
1 pint fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
1 can apricot halves, drained and sliced
1 can (12 oz.) “apricot cake & pastry filling” (I used “Solo” brand)

Directions:

1. Make cake according to package directions. If you have two round pans, use those. If not, you can do what I did – Put it all in a well greased 13 x 9 glass baking dish. Once baked and cooled, carefully turn onto a clean surface and slice in half to create 2 square layers. (Since the edges get browned while baking, slice those off so it’s uniform on all sides.)

2. This is how you make homemade whipped cream. (I recommend making this and assembling the cake the same day you plan to eat it.) First, it’s best if you have a large stainless steel bowl, but a plastic mixing bowl will work. Metal is better because you can get it nice and cold. Cold is your friend when making whipped cream! … Whichever bowl you’re using, stick it in the freezer along with the metal beater(s) from your electric mixer. The heavy whipping cream should be kept in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. To make the whipped cream – pour the quart of whipping cream into the bowl. Turn your mixer on high and beat until stiff peaks form. Add a 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and sugar according to your tastes, (1/2 cup to 3/4 cups makes it just barely sweet by American standards.)

3. Put one cake layer on a base – this will be the bottom layer. (Ideally your base would be the bottom of a cake container which you can cover with a dome lid.) Spread the can of “apricot cake & pastry filling” on the top of the bottom cake layer. On top of the “apricot cake & pastry filling”, spread a layer of whipped cream. Top with the top cake layer.

4. Frost the entire outside of the cake with the whipped cream. Carefully toss the sliced almonds onto the sides of the cake.

5. Decorate the top of the cake with the sliced apricots and strawberries. (This recipe will work great if you decide to use different fruits or a different “cake & pastry filling” – so get creative! Other options include fresh or canned pineapple, fresh kiwi, canned fruit cocktail, and other kinds of berries.)

6. Cover cake and refrigerate for a couple hours then serve!

¡Feliz Cumpleaños! (or as I like to say, “Sapo Verde!“)

Mixing Traditions for a Bicultural Christmas

(Free Gift Tag! Go ahead and print this image to attach to gifts for familia y amigos!)

(Free Gift Tag! Go ahead and print this image to attach to gifts for familia y amigos!)

Most of you know that I write for several websites each month. I usually share those links on the Latinaish Facebook Page, but I wanted to link this one up here for those who might not be on Facebook since this particular post is so relevant to my usual content on Latinaish. I also took the opportunity to make a bicultural/bilingual gift tag for your Christmas gifts (see above!) Feel free to print it out and use it!

Now for the post:

Mixing Traditions for a Bicultural Christmas

Fifteen years ago I married Carlos, a Salvadoran immigrant who spoke little English. Because we were young, pregnant, and poor at the time—instead of moving to our own place—I moved Carlos into my parents’ house where I was still living. From the outside it didn’t seem like the most ideal situation, but living with my English-speaking Anglo parents turned out to be a unique opportunity for Carlos to get a crash course in English and American culture.

Of course, living in such a situation made our diverse backgrounds that much more apparent—especially during holidays, and especially during Christmas…[READ MORE HERE]

Carlos y Su Camión Grande

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Hace cuatro meses Carlos cambió su trabajo. Fue una decisión grande y un gran riesgo. ¿Quedarse con lo cierto o tomar un chance? Carlos decidió ir por ello y, gracias a Dios, ha sido tan feliz. Conduce un camión en una cantera, moviendo rocas. Le encanta conducir el camión grande. Es el sueño de todos los niños chiquitos que alguna vez jugaban con un camión de juguete en una caja de arena!

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

Four months ago Carlos changed jobs. It was a big decision and a big risk. Stay with the sure thing, or take a chance? Carlos decided to go for it, and thank God, he’s been really happy. He drives a truck at a quarry, moving rocks. He loves driving the big truck. It’s the dream of every little boy who once played with a toy truck in a sand box!

Conversations at Casa López

There is usually at least one funny conversation in our household each day. I often share these conversations with friends and family on my Facebook page, but I decided to share the fun with all of you. Here are a few from the past few months.

Carlos: Opossum is same as a “tacuazin”, right?
Me: I think so. Check Google Images.
Carlos: How do you spell it?
Me: O-P-
Carlos: O?!

[I was talking to Carlos about something I can't remember and I said, "even though I'm not Latina"]

10 year old [interrupts]: You are too!
Me: No, honey, I’m not.
10 year old: You are Latina! You’re half like me!
Me: No, baby, I’m not Latina.
10 year old: Mommy, you are, cause you married Daddy.
Me: If you marry someone from China, are you going to be half Chinese?
10 year old: Yeah, of course!
Me: Oh. I didn’t know it worked that way.

Me: How do you say “listeners” in Spanish?
Carlos: What kind of listeners?
Me: Like listeners to a radio show… Would it be “escuchantes?”

Me: It’s in Kansas.
Carlos: Which Kansas?
Me: What do you mean which one? Kansas, the state.
Carlos: But is it in Kansas or Ar-Kansas?

Gringo co-worker: Hey you see those two German Shepherds over there?
Carlos: Yeah.
Gringo co-worker: You better watch out. They don’t like Mexicans.
Carlos: Well, good thing I’m not Mexican.

13 year old: I’m supposed to make tabs to divide my notebook for Spanish class.
Me: Okay.
13 year old: The teacher wants us to label one of the tabs “RECURSOS.”
Me: Mmhm.
13 year old: What does it mean?
Me: Can you take a guess?
13 year old: …Um… Repeat diarrhea?

Hey, at least he broke the word down and made a logical guess based on what he knows. (“Curso” is slang for “diarrhea” in El Salvador – not sure if that’s the case for anywhere else.)

[Me reading bedtime story to my 10 year old]

Me: “¿Puedes encontrar la araña?”
10 year old: Mommy, I’m not stupid. The spider is right there.

“You have to give me the credit of the doubt.” – Carlos

(He mixed up “Give me credit” and “benefit of the doubt.”)

“Do you know what time Obama is supposed to start speaking? … I want to watch but I don’t want to miss Chavito.” – Carlos

“You’re just adding more wood to the fire.” – Carlos

(He meant “fuel to the fire.”)

“I want to rent that movie Chale Homes.” – Carlos unsuccessfully trying to say “Sherlock Holmes” but sounding like a Chicano instead.

What is the funniest conversation you’ve had lately?

The Pumpkin Patch – An American Tradition

Click this image to see this post featured on Mamiverse.com

Carlos pulls the boys in a wagon through a pumpkin patch. 2009

One of the first places I brought Carlos when he was my boyfriend was to a pumpkin patch, and one of the first things I showed him was how to to carve a jack-o-lantern. I’ve always been interested in other cultures and traditions, but there was also something exciting about showing Carlos my own.

Fifteen years later, going to the pumpkin patch as a family each October is one of our favorite things.

The pumpkin patch we usually go to has goats and you can buy food pellets for them from a bubble gum style machine for a quarter. Over the years, Carlos has come to be more of an animal lover. He looks so happy petting the goat here.

After feeding the goats we considered giving the corn maze a try but it takes 45 minutes to go through, (maybe an hour given my sense of direction) – so we decided we’ll come back another day to do it.

Into the pumpkin patch.

My boys are getting bigger, (The oldest is taller than Carlos), but they haven’t outgrown the pumpkin patch.

There’s a type of squash in El Salvador called Pipián. We aren’t sure if this squash here is related but when you’re accustomed to their palm-sized Latin American cousins, these are kind of hilarious.

Now that we’ve picked our pumpkins and brought them home, we’ll soon carve them into jack-o-lanterns. When we clean out the inside of the pumpkin we always reserve the seeds for roasting and eating. Roasted pumpkin seeds, funnily enough, remind Carlos of El Salvador.