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.

Té de Canela

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Cinnamon is believed to have a lot of health benefits – from boosting the immune system, aiding digestion, and lowering blood sugar to relieving arthritis, fighting bacterial infections and promoting brain function. I’m not a doctor and can’t say for sure if any of this is true, but it’s an easy and refreshing drink when chilled and served over ice.

Té de Canela

Ingredients:

2 cinnamon sticks
2 cups of water
3 tablespoons white table sugar

Directions:

Bring ingredients to a boil then lower to a simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour through a sieve and serve over ice. Makes two to three glasses.

Note: Cinnamon has been shown to cause medical problems for some people. Talk to your doctor before self-medicating or consuming cinnamon in large quantities or for an extended period of time.

Salvadoran Bento Box Lunch!

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With Back-to-school only weeks away and Día Nacional de la Herencia Salvadoreña Americana (National Salvadoran American Heritage Day) coming up on August 6th – I decided to make a Salvadoran themed bento box which would be ideal for packing for your child’s lunch.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a fan of packing traditional Salvadoran foods for my children when I get a chance. I feel that it roots the boys in their heritage and also gives them a chance to share their culture with classmates.

Although changes have been made to school lunch in the United States, I think they still have a long way to go. Making your child’s lunch gives you control over how much sodium, sugar, fat and calories they’re getting and it allows you to provide healthy foods you know your child likes. This particular bento box contains a balanced alternative to school bought lunches: Bean and cheese mini-pupusas provide plenty of fiber and protein and when cooked without oil, are lower in fat. In place of the traditional cabbage curtido and salsa we have a salad of finely chopped fresh spinach and grape tomatoes which are packed with vitamins. Potato chips are replaced with homemade baked plantain chips cooked without any oil and sprinkled lightly with salt. To drink, horchata stands in for chocolate milk – When made with skim or 1% milk, your child gets calcium for growing bones without extra calories, sugar and fat.

Ready to give this Salvadoran bento box lunch a try? Recipes are below!

Horchata

You need:

Salvadoran horchata mix (find it at your local Latino Market)
Skim or 1% milk
A thermos or bottle that seals tightly
Optional: Sweetener of your choice

Directions:

1. Put a couple tablespoons of the horchata mix into the thermos or bottle. (A funnel may make this easier.) Add a cup of milk – make sure you leave some space at the top so the drink can be shaken at lunch time.

2. Optional: Add sweetener of your choice, but depending on the mix you use, you may find it tastes great without these unneeded calories.

3. Another optional step is to pour the horchata through a sieve to remove any clumps of mix that didn’t dissolve. Otherwise, seal the bottle tightly so it doesn’t leak. At lunch time your child can give it a few shakes to make sure it’s well mixed before opening.

Mini-Pupusas de Queso y Frijol

You need:

A quarter cup softened mozzarella cheese
1/8 cup frijoles molidos or frijoles medio molidos
MASECA Instant Corn Masa Flour prepared as instructions on package indicate. (Use the proportions that yield 4 tortillas: 1/2 cup Maseca, 1/3 cup water, pinch of salt.)

Directions:

1. Mix the cheese and beans by hand until well blended. The beans you use can be molidos (completely pureed) or you can use frijoles medio molidos, (which leaves some of the beans mostly intact or slightly smashed.) I used Salvadoran frijol rojo de seda, which I prepared medio molidos.

(Need help making beans? Click here, here and here.)

2. Now just assemble the pupusas as usual, but using a smaller amount of masa and filling so that the pupusas come out mini-sized. Cook on a hot comal (griddle), flipping once. No need to use any oil on the comal. This will make about 6 mini-pupusas.

(Need pupusa-making tips? Click here.)

Homemade Sweet and Salty Plantain Chips

You need:
1 ripe plantain (yellow with black markings)
Optional: salt

Directions:

1. Cut the peel off the plantain. Slice the plantain into thin coins. Put the plantain rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (No need to add any oil!)

2. Bake at 350 F, turning once to brown on both sides for about 10 to 15 minutes. Optional: Lightly sprinkle with salt. This makes enough for two servings.

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Conserva de Coco

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Conserva de coco is a sweet coconut candy. In my experience, the texture of conserva de coco varies depending on how long ago it was made. My recipe yields a conserva that is at first soft, sticky and pleasantly chewy, but by the next day it hardens a little. On the third day the conserva starts to get crunchy. When I started experimenting with making this it had been years since I had eaten an authentic freshly made conserva de coco so I wanted to be sure it was right – I brought half a batch to a local Salvadoran friend and she was super impressed. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Conserva de Coco

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups fresh shredded coconut, packed
2 cups sugar
11 ounces coconut water (right between 1 1/4 cups and 1 1/2 cups)
5 ounces water (right between a 1/2 cup and 3/4 cup)
3 big pinches of salt

Notes before we get started: Make sure you use coconut water, not coconut milk. Also, be certain that you use fresh shredded coconut, not the flaked coconut you find in the baking aisle. You may be able to find fresh shredded coconut in the freezer section of your grocery store if you don’t want to buy an actual coconut. When you measure the 1 and 3/4 cups of coconut, it should be packed down to ensure you’re getting the correct measurement. It’s highly recommended that you measure the coconut water and water in ounces to get the most accurate measurement.

Directions:

1. Boil everything in a medium-sized pot, uncovered, over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Knowing when the conserva is ready was the tricky part for me the first time I made it. You will see the liquid begin to boil away and the mixture will thicken. Don’t be too eager to get it off the stove when you see it happen. The process can take a good 30 minutes or more. When the conserva really comes together the best indicator is if you see the coconut starting to brown a little – Time to remove it from heat!

2. Spread the conserva out on a flat heat-resistant surface. I found it easiest and less messy to put the conserva into a rectangular glass Pyrex baking dish. (I grease the dish with a little cooking spray to ensure it won’t stick, even though I suspect the natural oil of the coconut would prevent that from happening.)

3. Allow the conserva to cool several hours before cutting into pieces, (cubes, bars or squares.) Once cut in pieces, store in an airtight container. I found that it’s best eaten within 3 days, (I like it best the first and second day.)

Rellenos de Ejotes

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Combine the words “melted” and “cheese” and you’ve got my attention – mozzarella sticks, Chicken Parmesan, pupusas, pizza, macaroni and cheese, chiles rellenos – They’re all firmly in my favorite foods category. So it should come as no surprise that when I found out about Salvadoran Rellenos de Ejotes, you didn’t have to tell me twice to grab a fork.

Fresh green beans are pressed by hand into softened mozzarella cheese, dipped in batter and fried until golden brown, then topped with homemade salsa. Carlos likes this served with rice, but I’m happy to eat them all on their own.

Rellenos de Ejotes

Ingredients:

1 to 2 lbs. fresh green beans
1 lb. mozzarella cheese
6 eggs
3 tablespoons of all purpose flour
oil for frying (I use Canola)
salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Pull the stems off green beans and separate out any that are shriveled or too small. Discard the stems and shriveled green beans. Small green beans can be used in another recipe but for this one, you want big, strong green beans that are all around the same size.

2. Boil the green beans in slightly salted water for about 10 minutes or until when tasted they are tender and cooked but not soft. Drain and then set aside to cool to the point that they’re safe to handle by hand.

3. To soften mozzarella cheese, immerse the cheese (still in its packaging), in a bowl of warm water. After 5 to 10 minutes, remove the package of cheese from the water, remove the cheese from the packaging, and then knead it by hand in a medium-sized bowl until it’s soft and easy to mold with your hands. Set aside.

4. To make the batter, separate the eggs – placing the whites in a medium-sized bowl and the yolks in a small bowl. (I find the easiest way to do this is to carefully crack the egg and then pass the yolk back and forth between the two shells. The whites will fall into the bowl below and then when you’re left with only the yolk, you can put it in the other bowl.)

5. Beat the whites (an electric mixer comes in handy here), until stiff, then carefully mix in the yolks and then the flour.

6. To form the Rellenos de Ejotes, lay about 5 green beans in your palm, side by side. On top of this, add a small handful of cheese, and on top of that, repeat a layer of green beans like you have on the bottom. Cup your hands together and apply gentle pressure so that the green beans stick to the cheese.

7. Repeat this process until all the beans and cheese have been used. Season each Relleno de Ejotes with a little salt and pepper, then dip each one in the batter.

8. Fry the Rellenos de Ejotes in a few tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan, flipping once until golden brown on each side.

9. Remove to paper towels or place directly into salsa. (I prefer to keep the Rellenos out of the salsa until ready to eat to avoid any sogginess or falling apart.)

10. Serve topped with salsa. (My fresh salsa recipe is below.)

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Señora López’s Fresh Salsa

3 to 4 fresh Roma tomatoes or a 32 ounce can of whole tomatoes
1 handful fresh cilantro
1/2 of a medium-sized onion
1/4 of a medium Poblano or green bell pepper
1 tablespoon raw, minced garlic
a few rings of pickled jalapeño (Optional. Add more or less to taste.)
salt to taste
a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce (also known as “Salsa Perrins.”)

Combine in a blender. Serve immediately or put in a jar and keep refrigerated for a few days. Use in almost any recipe calling for salsa, or as a side with Latin American dishes.

Chocobananos

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After Carlos’s accident I was really shaken up and dealing with some post traumatic stress. As is my habit, I researched to see how I could “fix” things and get back to normal, (or as normal as I get, anyway.) One piece of advice I read: If the event keeps replaying in the mind, do something to distract yourself — My something to distract myself all last week became cooking Salvadoran food and practicing my food photography skills. It served the dual purpose of showing my love for Carlos while taking care of him, as well as keeping my mind busy. I’m happy to say that this week Carlos is back to work, and I’m feeling better, too.

The reason I mention any of this is to prepare you for the onslaught of recipes I’ll be sharing. First up we have chocobananos, which are basically frozen bananas on a stick dipped in chocolate.

The first chocobanano I had was in El Salvador. It was my first day there on my first trip, and our one year old son had cried on and off the entire flight. (Apologies to our fellow passengers.) Carlos and I took a walk around Soyapango, leaving our colicky baby with suegra. As we walked around the neighborhood we passed all the little stores people had on their enclosed porches. Carlos bought a chocobanano for me from a neighbor and I fell instantly in love, (with the chocobanano, not with Carlos, because Carlos and I were already well-acquainted.)

Back in the United States it isn’t always as easy to find fresh chocobananos. Some Latino markets have them in the ice cream case but there’s no guarantee they were made the same day, or even the same week. Making your own chocobananos is easy, ensures freshness and also allows you to add whatever toppings you so desire.

Chocobananos

What you need:

• 6 ripe bananas (I prefer them yellow with no spots)
• melting chocolate (I use the Chocomelher brand which you can find at Latino markets)
• popsicle sticks (I prefer the bag of “Palillo Para Chocobanano” made by Melher because they have a square shape that works well for this, but any type will do)

Optional topping ideas:
• crushed nuts (I used a mix of peanuts, pistachios & other nuts)
• shredded coconut
• sprinkles

Chocomelher brand melting chocolate for making chocobananos on the shelf at a mercado latino 2013

Chocomelher brand melting chocolate for making chocobananos on the shelf at a mercado latino 2013

Sticks or "palillos" for making chocobananos on the shelf (lower right) at a mercado latino 2013

Sticks or “palillos” for making chocobananos on the shelf (lower right) at a mercado latino 2013

Directions:

1. Peel bananas and cut in half width-wise. Insert sticks into banana halves, about halfway through.

2. Place bananas in the freezer for about 1 hour. I put mine in a metal baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper so they don’t stick.

3. Melt chocolate as directions indicate for whichever brand you’re using. For the Chocomleher, I cut open the package and break the chocolate into large pieces. Put the chocolate into a medium-sized pot over medium heat and stir until melted. (This will provide more than enough for a dozen chocobananos.) Remove from heat.

4. Dip the frozen bananas into chocolate, trying to cover them as much as possible. You can use a spoon to spoon the chocolate onto spots you missed.

5. If adding a topping, immediately roll the chocobanano in the topping or spoon the topping over the chocobanano. You must move quickly because the chocolate hardens within seconds.

6. Your chocobananos are now ready to eat, or you can place them back in the freezer. If everyone doesn’t eat them within the first day or two (not likely!) you can put each chocobanano into an individual plastic sandwich bag twisted closed around the stick to keep them fresh.

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Arroz con Pollo Estilo Suegra

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This is one of those recipes for which I don’t have exact measurements. I learned it by watching my suegra and she made this almost once a week so I got plenty of watching practice over the years. The chicken is first boiled until cooked and then browned in the pan with plenty of seasonings. Sliced onions and chunks of potato soak up some of the delicious flavor and are served alongside the chicken with colorful mixed veggie rice and thick handmade tortillas. When I think of Salvadoran home cooking, this is usually the meal that comes to mind.

Arroz con Pollo Estilo Suegra

Ingredients for the chicken:

1 chicken, washed and cut in pieces (I use 8 chicken thighs)
1 medium onion, sliced
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh minced garlic
2 cups cooked potato, cut into chunks or wedges
yellow mustard
Worcestershire sauce
salt
pepper
achiote powder
oregano
canola oil
water

Directions:

1. In a large pot, boil the chicken pieces until cooked through. Remove the chicken pieces to a plate to cool slightly, reserving the chicken stock to use on the rice.

2. You can leave the skin on or remove it – whatever your preference, but this is when we’re going to season the chicken before browning and this is when the measurements aren’t going to be exact. On each piece of chicken, give a good squeeze of mustard, a few good shakes of salt, pepper, achiote powder and oregano. Use your hand to make sure the chicken is coated. You can repeat the spices on the flip side as well.

3. In a large deep frying pan over medium-high heat, add a few tablespoons of canola oil so that the bottom of the pan is coated. Add the chicken pieces and try not to turn them over until you’re sure they’re browned, (or they get stuck to the pan.) Flip the chicken pieces over and add a few good shakes of Worcestershire sauce over each piece. Add the garlic, onion and potatoes. Once the chicken is browned on the bottom, move them aside within the pan so the onions can caramelize and the potatoes can soak up some of the flavor.

4. Remove from heat and set aside. Time to make the rice.

Ingredients for the rice:

1 cup white rice (although I use Jasmine, personal preference)
about 2 tablespoons canola oil
salt
oregano
chicken stock
1 small onion, diced
1 small Roma tomato, diced
a large handful frozen “mixed vegetables” (peas, corn, green beans, carrot)

Directions:

1. Put the canola oil in a medium pot over high heat. Add the rice and onion. Stir for a minute or two.
2. Add the tomato and frozen mixed vegetables. Add chicken stock until the rice is covered about 1/2 inch, (or about 1 1/2 cups chicken stock.)
3. Add a large pinch of salt and a few shakes of oregano. Bring to a boil. Cover and lower heat so that the chicken stock is at a steady simmer. Do not open the pot. Allow the liquid to simmer away, (about 10 to 15 minutes.)
4. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork.

Serve chicken, rice, potatoes and grilled onion together with fresh handmade tortillas.

Cóctel de Camarones en Salsa Rosada

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Warm weather reminds me of the beach, and when I think of the beach, I think of La Libertad and the last time I was there, and of course, of seafood. One of my favorite Salvadoran seafood dishes is Cóctel de Camarones en Salsa Rosada, (Shrimp Cocktail in Pink Sauce), and so I’ve learned how to make it for myself at home since I can’t take a trip to El Salvador’s coast whenever the mood strikes. While Carlos prefers Cóctel de Conchas, somehow I have to end up sharing my Cóctel de Camarones every time I make it.

Cóctel de Camarones en Salsa Rosada

Ingredients:

12 ounces shrimp – cooked, peeled and de-veined, tail-off
1/3 cup mayonnaise (you can use light mayonnaise!)
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 a small red onion minced
handful of cilantro chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Optional: diced Roma tomatoes and/or diced avocado

Directions:

Combine all the ingredients and serve chilled in cocktail/martini glasses, (or any wine or margarita glasses you might have on hand), along with wedges of lime to squeeze onto the cóctel and Saltine crackers to eat the cóctel on. This recipe serves two people as a main dish or four as an appetizer.

Chirmol

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The more I look through the index of Salvadoran recipes I’ve shared here on Latinaish, the more I’m overwhelmed by the dishes I still have yet to share, make, or even try! I’m especially surprised to see that I haven’t shared a recipe for chirmol since this is something we make fairly often during summer months. Similar to the more famous Mexican “pico de gallo” – versions of chirmol are made in various Latin American countries. Recipes vary by family but all are based on diced tomato and onion. Chirmol can be used as a fresh, colorful and flavorful accompaniment to many dishes such as steak or grilled chicken. (Last night I made a batch which we used to top hot dogs!)

Salvadoran Chirmol

4 large Roma tomatoes, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1 small handful cilantro, chopped
a good squeeze of lime or lemon
a few shakes Worcestershire sauce
salt to taste

Optional: A few radishes diced fine, and/or 1/2 a green pepper diced. Like it spicy? Add diced or minced jalapeño.

Note: If you want to keep it really traditional, you should use only tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lemon and salt.

Directions:

Combine all of the above in a bowl and serve!