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.

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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!)

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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

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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

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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.