Biscochitos

biscochitos

Today we’re getting ready for the annual “galletada” with my mother, sisters and all the kids (my sons, my nephew and my niece.) We always make decorated sugar cookies but sometimes we each bring already prepared cookies of other varieties to share. This morning I decided to make biscochitos.

Biscochitos (often misspelled “bizcochitos”) are a holiday tradition passed generation to generation for many families in New Mexico where my older sister lived for a few years. One of the souvenirs she sent me back while living there were these anise seed cookies with a unique licorice-like flavor I really liked, so I looked up recipes and made them myself many times over the years even though Carlos isn’t that fond of them. (He says that anise is used as a home remedy in El Salvador so they taste medicinal to him.)

Anyway, if you want to give them a try, my recipe is below. Unlike traditional biscochitos, I use butter, even though New Mexicans will insist that to be authentic, you must use lard. My older sister is vegetarian which is why I usually use butter, but please feel free to sub lard for butter in the recipe. It will give it a slightly different texture, (which many much prefer!)

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Biscochitos (New Mexican Anise Seed Cookies

You need:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened (you can use lard)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons anise seed
2 tablespoons vanilla extract (you can use rum)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

For topping:

1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Method:

1. Cream together the butter and 1 cup sugar in a large bowl. Next beat in the egg, anise seed and vanilla extract.

2. In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix the dry mixture into the wet mixture little by little until combined. Do not over mix.

3. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Once chilled, roll out on a floured surface. The thinner you make them, the crunchier they’ll be, so if you’d like them to be a little softer, roll them out thicker. Use a drinking glass dusted with flour or a cookie cutter to cut the dough into circles or desired shape. Carefully move the cookies to a foil-lined greased cookie sheet.

4. In a small bowl, mix the remaining ½ cup sugar with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Set aside.

5. Bake the cookies at 350 F until they’re starting to brown at the edges. Sprinkle the cookies with the cinnamon sugar mixture while still hot. Allow to cool and serve.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

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Salvadoran Tamales de Gallina

tamales salvadoreños de gallina / Salvadoran chicken tamales - Latinaish.com

My first attempt at tamales salvadoreños de gallina (pollo) was a delicious success! (For that I am very thankful, because it would have been a huge disappointment after all that work to have them not turn out.) I kept detailed notes during the entire process and documented everything I did so that I could share it here with you. I hope this recipe and the instructions below help you make perfect tamales this holiday season. You’ll need an entire day to make these from start to finish, so plan accordingly. Buena suerte!

Salvadoran Tamales de Gallina

The filling

5 lbs. chicken pieces (I used 12 chicken thighs)
2 small tomatoes, quartered
1 small onion, quartered
1/2 small green pepper
1 large carrot, peeled
1 stalk celery
1 handful cilantro
4 cloves garlic, slightly crushed
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon salt, plus salt to taste
1 tablespoon achiote (ground annatto)
1 tablespoon dry oregano
1/4 teaspoon turmeric

3 large Russet potatoes, cut into sticks, raw
2 cups garbanzo beans, already cooked

1. Simmer the chicken with all ingredients listed (besides the potatoes and garbanzo beans) with enough water to cover well. All of these vegetables and herbs are to flavor the broth which you’ll later use in the recaudo and the masa. This broth/chicken stock needs to be really flavorful. Some people use chicken bouillon to achieve this, and you can feel free to add some, but I avoid using bouillon.

2. Simmer the chicken until it is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a large dish to cool.

3. Remove the vegetables from the chicken stock and discard them. When cool enough, taste the chicken stock and determine whether you’d like to add a little additional salt. (I added a little more at this point.) Set this aside. You will be using it soon for the racaudo and masa!

4. When the chicken is cool, discard the skin and bone. Shred the meat into large pieces by hand and season with a little more salt if needed. (I added a little salt at this point.) Set aside.

5. If you haven’t already, wash and peel 3 large potatoes. Cut each potato into french fry-sized “sticks.”

6. If cooking your own garbanzo beans, you should have done this a day before. If using canned, just have them ready to open and drain when you assemble the tamales. I like the tamales with minimal filling ingredients but other people may put any of the following in their tamales: slices of hard-boiled egg, capers, green olives, green beans, sliced green and red bell pepper. Use any of these if you wish!

7. Set all these ingredients aside. These will be used, along with the recaudo, as the filling for your tamales. Next, we make the racaudo.

The recaudo (sauce)

8 small tomatoes
1 small green pepper
1/2 medium white onion
3 cloves garlic
1 dried guajillo chile, stem removed

1/8 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted
4 bay leaves
1/4 cup sesame seeds, roasted
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon dry oregano
1 teaspoon achiote (ground annatto)

2 pieces French bread, each about the size of a small fist
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt

1. Roast the tomatoes, green pepper, onion, garlic and guajillo chile on a comal/griddle (or large frying pan) over medium heat. (Be careful not to burn the guajillo chile – it doesn’t need much time on there.) Once slightly roasted on each side, put everything into a blender. You can use a large wooden spoon to smash the tomatoes inside the blender to make room if it gets too full. Don’t run the blender just yet.

2. Some use a pre-made “relajo” spice packet for the recaudo, but I wanted to create my own homemade “relajo” spice mixture with measurements of each spice for those who don’t have these packets locally available. (This also gives you greater control over the flavor and gives the recipe better accuracy since relajo spice mixtures vary by brand.) The spices you need to make your own relajo are: pumpkin seeds, bay leaves, sesame seeds, whole cloves, whole cumin seeds, black peppercorns, dry oregano and achoite (ground annatto.) If your pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds aren’t already roasted, slightly dry roast them (no oil) in a small pan or on the comal, stirring and being careful not to burn them.

relajo salvadoreño - Latinaish.com

3. Add all the “relajo” spices on top of the vegetables in the blender. Add the chicken stock, french bread and salt. If your blender is a standard size, it’s a very tight fit! Be careful and make sure your lid is secure! Blend until smooth. (Your blender might not blend all the spices perfectly smooth – that’s okay!)

4. Pour the recaudo into a medium pot and heat to simmering, stirring occasionally for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

recaudo - Latinaish.com

The masa

8 cups instant corn masa flour (I used MASECA. There’s no need to buy the one that is especially for tamales.)
9 cups chicken stock
8 cups warm water
1 lb. lard
1 cup recaudo

1. In a very large bowl or large stock pot, mix the chicken stock little by little into the corn masa flour by hand. (If you run out of the homemade chicken stock, you can use store bought in its place, but I had enough.) Make sure there isn’t any dry flour in the bowl and that it’s all been worked in.

2. Add the lard and work into the masa by hand. Make sure it’s completely distributed throughout – this will take a few minutes and you will notice the masa get fluffier.

3. Add the recaudo and work in by hand.

4. If you’re working with the masa in a bowl, transfer it now to the stock pot. Add the water, little by little, and work it in by hand. Make sure there are no lumps.

5. This is the most difficult part of this process. Make sure you have at least one other person with you in the kitchen who is willing to switch off with you. You’re going to cook the masa in the pot over medium heat, but YOU MUST STIR CONTINUOUSLY! Do not stop stirring for more than a second or two or the masa will stick/cook to the bottom of the pot and it will be ruined. Before you start, make sure you’re using a very strong, sturdy wooden spoon. Make sure you have oven mitts (especially if the handles of your pot are metal and get hot.) Make sure you have a timer you can set to keep track of the time. You will need to cook and stir the masa for at least 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, remove from heat and stir for another minute before allowing to cool.

One thing to note: I prefer my tamales on the firmer side so I’m really happy with how they turned out, but Salvadoran tamales are famously gelatinous. I think that if you wanted to achieve that “squishier” texture, you could add more chicken stock before cooking the masa, and possibly sub cooking oil for lard.

The wrapping

2 packs plantain/banana leaves
Aluminum foil (1 roll of 75 feet is plenty)

1. Plantain/banana leaves come frozen in the United States. About 1 hour before you’re ready to assemble tamales, disinfect your kitchen sink then fill it with warm water. Submerge the packets of plantain/banana leaves in the water, (placing a pot on top if they float too much.) This will defrost them and make them more pliable. Some people later warm the plantain/banana leaves over heat but I didn’t find it necessary at all.

2. After 1 hour, remove the packets from the water, cut open and drain. Rinse the leaves in warm, clean running water and shake dry before transferring to a large clean counter surface.

3. Cut the plantain leaves to about 12 inches x 7 inches, (rectangles.) They won’t be exactly the same measurements – that’s okay. Set aside any pieces that are too small or ripped or oddly shaped, (don’t discard them – you will use them later.)

4. Cut pieces of aluminum foil to about 18 inches x 12 inches.

5. Put down a piece of foil, and on top, a plantain/banana leaf, (lighter side of the leaf facing up.) Repeat the process so you have an alternating stack of foil and plantain/banana leaves. (This makes the tamal-making process easier later.)

6. Assemble all your ingredients. You’re ready to start making the tamales!

7. Place a large spoonful of the masa as shown in the video, in the middle of the plantain/banana leaf. In the middle of the massa place a spoonful of the racuado. Add chicken, a few pieces of potato, a few garbanzos and/or whichever other fillings you prefer.

8. Fold closed as shown in the video, rolling and folding tightly to seal. Repeat process for each tamal.

9. Put the tamales in a steamer pot with slightly salted water in the bottom. (Some people cover the tamales with water but I always make sure the water doesn’t touch the tamales so they can properly steam.)

10. Cover the tamales with the leftover plantain/banana leaf scraps and then the lid. Simmer on low heat, adding salted water if necessary to the bottom of the pot until cooked through, making sure you don’t allow the pot to cook dry/burn.

11. It can be difficult to tell when the tamal is ready because while hot, the masa will be very soft. You must remove a tamal and allow it to cool a little while the other tamales continue to cook. Once it’s cooled, you can open it and check for doneness. It’s a good sign if the potato inside is cooked. Mine took about 2 hours.

12. Allow tamales to cool before refrigerating. They will taste better re-heated the next day. Whatever isn’t eaten within a few days should be frozen.

Makes 30 to 40 large tamales.

tamal salvadoreño de gallina - Latinaish.com

Quesadilla Salvadoreña

Salvadoran Quesadilla / Latinaish.com

Ask an American what a “quesadilla” is and most likely they’ll tell you it’s thin flour tortillas with cheese melted in between – but that’s a Mexican quesadilla, and not the one I’m talking about today. Salvadoran quesadilla is a rich cheese-flavored pound-cake-like sweet bread which is perfect with a cup of coffee. You can buy them at some bakeries and Latino markets in the United States but often times, you’ll find they aren’t fresh and have gotten a bit dry. The good news is, you can make your own “quesadilla salvadoreña” at home, and believe me, it’s even more amazing than the store bought ones.

I’ve actually been meaning to share a quesadilla recipe here for years, but the first one I tried was given to me by a friend who generously emailed me her family’s recipe, and thus it wasn’t mine to give away. Over the years I tried other quesadilla recipes, and eventually, tweaking here and there as I do, I ended up with a recipe all my own, but it still wasn’t perfect. I continued baking and changing things, and the quesadillas were usually good, but I definitely had some complete failures along the way, too. Last week I decided to make another attempt and, (bendito sea!) success! Finally! Delicious success!

We ate every last crumb of the one in the photos, and days later, I made another just to double check my recipe, (and because we wanted more quesadilla!)

So here it is, just in time for making as a holiday gift for family, friends and neighbors, (if you can stand the idea of parting with it.)

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Salvadoran Quesadilla

Ingredients:

1 stick (8 tbs.) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
3 eggs, separated
1 (slightly rounded) cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup 1% milk, room temperature
1 tsp. baking powder
sesame seeds

Directions:

1. Combine sugar, flour and baking powder in a medium bowl. Set aside. Note: The cup of sugar should be rounded, so it’s slightly more than 1 cup.

2. In a medium bowl mix the cheese and butter and then add the milk. Set aside. Note: The cheese can be cheap non-brand name Parmesan. Grated “queso duro blando” or “queso duro viejo” can probably be substituted for Parmesan but I haven’t tried it yet. You could also use 2% or whole milk in place of the 1% milk, but I do not advise skim milk.

3. In a large bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Beat in the yolks, then add the cheese mixture. Beat at medium speed, slowly adding in the bowl of dry ingredients, mixing just until combined.

4. Pour into a greased 9 inch springform pan or round pie pan. You can also use a 7×11 rectangular pan, which is what I used the second time. Sprinkle lightly with sesame seeds. Note: Springform pans tend to leak a little until the batter has set up, so put a baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven to catch any drips.

5. Bake on the middle rack of your oven at 300 to 325 F for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. (Actual cooking time will vary slightly depending on the size and type of pan. My oven runs a little hot, so I baked mine at 300 F.) Keep an eye on it starting at 30 minutes as it continues to bake to make sure you remove it before it begins to burn. It goes from yellow/unbaked to golden brown to burnt pretty quickly.

6. Allow to cool slightly before removing from pan. (It tastes better the next day, actually.) Cut into slices and serve with coffee.

Pasteles Salvadoreños

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“Pasteles” or “pastelitos” in El Salvador, may be different than what you’re expecting.

In middle school Spanish class I learned that “pasteles” are “pastries”, as in dessert – So years ago when my suegra told me she was making pasteles and then served meat-filled turnovers, I was perplexed.

As many of you know, (and as I found out), in El Salvador, pasteles can refer to savory empanada-like main dishes like the turnovers my suegra served, but it differs from country to country.

Served with curtido, Salvadoran pasteles easily became one of my favorite meals. Here’s my recipe so you can make them, too!

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Pasteles Salvadoreños

The filling:

1 lb. ground beef
2 cups potatoes, cooked and diced
1 cup green beans, cooked and chopped (optional)
1/4 cup onion, chopped fine
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, chopped
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. achiote molido (ground annatto)
reduced sodium Worcestershire sauce, to taste

1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, onion and raw carrot, stirring for about 2 minutes.

2. Season ground beef with oregano, salt, pepper and achiote and then add it to the pot, stirring occasionally until brown.

3. Drain the grease once the beef is cooked, and then return to heat. Add in potatoes (and green beans if using.) Stir to combine and remove from heat. Season with a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce and additional salt to taste. Set aside and allow to cool.

The Masa/Dough:

3 cups MASECA masa harina
1 tsp. salt
1 tablespoon achiote molido/ground annatto
3 cups water

1. Mix the dry ingredients and then add the water a cup at a time, mixing by hand until combined. Set aside. Keep a bowl of fresh water nearby for wetting your hands as you form the pasteles.

Forming the Pasteles:

1. With moist hands, take a handful of masa, slightly larger than a golf ball, and shape it into a tortilla.

2. Put a large spoonful of filling in the middle and then bring the sides of the tortilla together like a taco and seal by closing your hand gently to form the pastel into a half-moon shape as shown below.

pastel-salvadoreno-masa

3. Fry pasteles in a large, deep pan with plenty of canola oil over medium-high heat, flipping to slightly brown on each side. Remove to paper towel-lined pyrex or plate.

4. Serve pasteles with curtido and salsa. Makes approximately 18 with leftover filling (which is great the next day over rice as picadillo!)

salsacurtido

Notes on Curtido and Salsa:

While I already have two curtido recipes (here and here) – as well as salsa recipes (here and here) – I’m always experimenting and I’d like to share new versions I have for each since both turned out great. The salsa recipe, while using canned tomatoes (which I know some are opposed to) actually tastes more authentically Salvadoran in flavor than previous salsas I’ve made – much closer to what you typically get with pupusas and other dishes at Salvadoran restaurants. The new curtido recipe is great because it minimizes chopping vegetables by hand if you’re in a hurry, comes together quickly, and has a nice texture similar to coleslaw thanks to a little help from the food processor.

Salsa Roja Salvadoreña

14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (and the liquid)
1/8 cup diced onion
1/8 cup diced green pepper
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
salt, pepper and oregano to taste

1. In a food processor set to mince, add tomatoes and liquid, onion and green pepper. Process until completely combined.

2. Pour tomato sauce into a pot on medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then simmer one minute. Remove from heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar. Add salt, pepper and oregano to taste. Cool and serve or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Quick Curtido Salvadoreño

1/2 a small cabbage, washed and chopped in large pieces
2 large carrots, washed, peeled and chopped in large pieces
1/2 small onion, chopped
apple cider vinegar
warm water
oregano, salt and pepper

1. In a food processor set to chop, add cabbage, carrots and onion all at once. Process just until chopped. (The texture will resemble coleslaw for this curtido.)

2. Put cabbage mixture into a large bowl, add apple cider vinegar and a little warm water to taste. Season with oregano, salt and pepper. Serve or keep covered in the refrigerator.

Easy Picadillo

picadillo

The first time I made picadillo, I had no idea I was making picadillo. I remember that I threw some ground beef into a pan and started cooking it up without knowing what I was making for dinner. I looked around the kitchen to see what else I had on hand. Diced potatoes and green beans went into the pan, along with some salt and pepper but it was missing something to tie it together and add some more flavor. I found a jar of salsa and dumped some in.

As I mixed everything around in the sizzling pan, Carlos came up behind me. Now, when Carlos is hungry, he isn’t fond of what he calls my “inventions” – so I was ready for him to complain, but to my surprise he said, “Oh! You’re making picadillo. I love picadillo. Are you going to make rice, too?”

“Yes, of course,” I said, grabbing the rice from the cabinet.

And that’s how I found out the dish that I “invented” that night, had already been invented, (and that thankfully, Carlos likes it.) So, here’s my recipe which I have changed here and there over the years for an easy and affordable mid-week picadillo that will fill you up and satisfy even picky eaters.

Picadillo, (Carne Molida con Verduras Picadas)

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef
Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 cups potatoes, cooked and diced
1 cup green beans, cooked
1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 small onion, diced
1/4 green bell pepper, diced
1 tbs. minced garlic
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tsp. oregano
2 bay leaves
1 cup hot water
salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1. In a large pan, brown the ground beef. If using very lean ground beef, you may need to add a little oil to the pan. Add garlic and onion when the meat is almost finished browning. Season with a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.

2. Add potatoes, green beans, carrot, and green pepper to the pan. Stir to combine. (Remove temporarily from heat if you haven’t already prepared the tomato sauce.)

Note: We like the carrot to be a little crunchy, but if you prefer it tender, you may want to pre-cook the carrot before adding in.

3. In a bowl, combine tomato paste with hot water, oregano, and bay leaves. Taste and correct with salt as needed (I used about 1/4 tsp. of salt) then add to the pan with meat and vegetables over medium-high heat.

4. Simmer on high for 1 to 2 minutes, allowing some of the liquid to cook away, then cover and remove from heat. Allow to sit a minute or two then taste and correct with salt and pepper if needed. Serve with white rice.

Maní con Chile y Limón

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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!

Carlos y yo somos opuestos en muchas maneras. Yo prefiero los bocadillos dulces, pero Carlos le gusta bocadillos salados. Muchas veces Carlos hace cosas a sus bocadillos por hacerlos más sabrosos que los niños y yo encontramos un poco extraño. Por ejemplo, Carlos le gusta comer su maní con una cuchara después de poner jugo de limón y chile Tajín.

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(Me sorprendí al descubrir que en realidad sabe bien así.)

¿Cuál es tu bocadillo favorito?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

Carlos and I are opposites in a lot of ways. Me, I prefer sweet snacks, but Carlos likes salty and savory snacks. A lot of times Carlos does things to his snacks to make them tastier that the boys and I find a little strange. For example, Carlos likes to eat his peanuts with a spoon after he squeezes lime juice on them and seasons them with Tajín chili seasoning.

(I was surprised to discover it’s actually good like that.)

What is your favorite snack?

Mayan Hot Chocolate

hotchocolate

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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relajo2

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

pumpkinpaleta_latinaish

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.