Salvadoran Semita – Recipe!

My first taste of Semita, (a Salvadoran jam or marmalade filled pastry) was many years ago. Suegra had brought it back in her “encargos” from El Salvador and this one, although I didn’t know it at the time, was of great quality and very fresh. Suegra brought many Semitas with her and to keep from eating them I put them in the freezer – I soon found that they taste just as good frozen, (though that’s probably a very gringa thing to do.)

Once my stash of Semita ran out I was forced to buy some at the local Salvadoran-owned Latino market. I then discovered one more thing – Not all Semita are created equal. The Semitas bought locally were low quality – either because they were made to have a longer shelf life or because they weren’t and had gone stale. I vowed that one day I would bake my own Semita but I didn’t get around to it until a few weeks ago. The results were so fantastic that I would say this is one of the best things I’m able to make, (and Carlos fell in love with me all over again.)

Here is my recipe – I read a dozen Semita recipes and created my own. Sometimes straying from already established recipes while baking is asking for disaster, but in this case, it was sweet success. By the way, this recipe can also be used to make Empanadas de Piña, Pasteles de Piña or Pineapple Hand Pies.

Fun fact: There are different kinds of Semita. “Semita Alta” is thicker and other fillings include guayaba [guava] and higo [fig], but Semita de Piña is my favorite and it’s the most common.

If you mention Semita to a Mexican, they might think you’re talking about Cemita – a type of sandwich from Puebla.

Semita (Salvadoran Pineapple Jam-Filled Pastries)

Ingredients:

4 cups of flour
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature and chopped in pieces
2 tablespoons yeast
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 pinches of salt
1 jar pineapple jelly, jam or marmalade (if you can’t find at the regular grocery store, check the Latino market)
1/2 cup water

Directions:

1. In a very large mixing bowl, add the flour. Create a volcano with a hole in the center for the rest of the ingredients.

2. Into the volcano, add butter, yeast, eggs, sugar, salt and water. Mix all the ingredients by hand, kneading them together. (These measurements worked perfectly – I double checked by making the recipe a second time, but if for some reason the dough doesn’t come together after a couple minutes, you can add a little more water – If too sticky after a few minutes, you can add a little flour.)

3. The original recipes call for rising time – I skipped this completely. Don’t be afraid – keep going!

4. Remove a baseball-sized amount of dough and set aside, then break the remaining dough into 4 equal balls.

5. On a lightly-floured surface, roll a ball of dough out until it’s as thick as pie crust, (not too thin or you won’t be able to pick it up.) Use a knife to cut the dough into a rectangle shape. (It doesn’t have to be perfect but you can use a ruler if you want.)

6. Place the rectangle on a greased baking sheet. Top with a nice layer of pineapple jam, (a little thicker than you’d put on a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.)

7. Create another rectangle with the second ball of dough. Place this one on top of the jam.

8. Repeat with the 2 other dough balls. You should now have 2 rectangular Semitas on separate baking sheets, 1 ball of dough and dough scraps from when you cut out the rectangles.

9. Take your dough scraps and create a ball. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and cut into long strips as you see in the photos. Place on top of the 2 Semitas in a criss-cross pattern. Sprinkle each Semita with a tablespoon or two of sugar.

10. Pasteles de Piña: With remaining dough you could make another rectangular Semita or try your hand at Pasteles de Piña. Roll the dough out on a floured surface and then cut out circles using a large drinking glass. Roll out each circle a little more, trying to give it a more oval shape. Put a spoonful of pineapple jam in the middle. With a finger dipped in water, wet the edge of one side before folding over and sealing by pressing the tines of a fork against the edges. (Don’t worry if the dough breaks open a little or doesn’t totally seal. The jam actually tastes really good when it seeps out.)

11. Put the Pasteles on a greased baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar.

12. Baking Time & Temp: Both the Semitas and the Pasteles should be baked on the middle rack of a 350 F oven until golden brown. (You probably won’t be able to bake them all at the same time.) The rectangular Semitas need 30 to 40 minutes in the oven and the Pasteles might be done after 15 to 20 minutes – check them and decide based on color.

Makes: 2 normal-sized Semitas and 12 individual half moon pies/pasteles/empanadas.
Or: 3 normal-sized Semitas, or 36 half moon pies/pasteles/empanadas.
Note: A “normal-sized” Semita serves about 9 people.

Tamales de Elote + Tamales Fritos

Tamales de elote (corn tamales) are often eaten for breakfast, (or any time really), in El Salvador, as well as in other countries in Central America. They are especially good if you re-heat them the next day by frying them, (which turns them into “tamales fritos” or fried tamales.)

Here is the recipe I use, adapted from the one found at Whats4Eats.com. If you want it completely authentic – (i.e. you want to use lard and fresh corn) – go check out their recipe. My recipe is easier and can be made year round because it uses canned corn – but I changed a few other things as well, and they’re delicious like this.

TAMALES DE ELOTE
Makes 1 dozen

What you need:

Corn husks (for wrapping) – 12
Butter, unsalted, softened – 1/2 cup
Baking powder – 2 teaspoons
Masa harina (MASECA) – 2 cups
Salt – 1 and 1/2 teaspoons
Whole milk or cream – 1 cup (warm)
Corn (whole kernel, sweet, no salt added) – 1 and 3/4 cups (drained) = about one 15.25 oz. can
Sugar – 3 tablespoons

Directions:

1. Put corn husks in a large bowl of warm water to soak.

2. Put butter, baking powder, corn and sugar in a blender or food processor and mix until combined. (Add a couple tablespoons of milk if blender blades won’t turn. This can be any kind of milk, including skim.)

3. In a large bowl, mix together (with your hands), the masa harina (MASECA), salt and warm milk. Knead until completely combined.

4. Mix the masa little by little into the blender mixture, using the blender to combine it. If the mixture is now too thick for your blender to handle, mix all into a bowl by hand. Squeeze the mixture through your hands until completely combined.

5. Drain the corn husks and shake dry, (it’s fine if they’re still moist.) You will either need to work fast so the husks don’t dry out again, or you can leave them in water and shake dry one-by-one as you use them.

6. Lay out a husk and add about 1/4 cup dough to the center. Fold in each side to cover the dough. Then fold up the bottom of the husk. Finally fold down the pointed part of the husk and insert it into the bottom. Repeat with the rest of the dough. (I go the extra step of wrapping my tamales in aluminum foil to prevent them from opening, which is easier than tying with string, which some people do.)

7. Steam the tamales in a steamer pot for 30-45 minutes. (If you don’t have a steamer pot, you can places balls of foil on the bottom of the pot and then put a metal pie plate on top of the foil. Make sure water doesn’t come above the plate. Over low heat, stack tamales on top of the plate and cover the pot. You may need to add water halfway through the cooking time if your pot cooks dry.)

8. Remove tamales and let cool. Serve warm, or refrigerate. To re-heat, unwrap tamal from corn husk and place on a comal or in a frying pan with a little oil. Cook on both sides until browned – now you have a tamal frito!

Pitbull (not that one)

Tomorrow we go to the Copa de Oro (Gold Cup) quarterfinal games in D.C. – That’s right, plural – games! … I totally didn’t even realize that it was a doubleheader, which means two games one after the other at the same venue which are attended with the same ticket. So not only will I get to see the U.S. team play against Jamaica, I get to see the game right after it. Do you know whose playing?

EL SALVADOR vs. Panama! … I’m freaking out. The only way this could be more chévere is if Chicharito showed up and bought me a beer, but let’s keep things realistic, shall we?

Our tickets are supposed to be at “will call” which makes me nervous, but I’m told this is a reliable way to do things and I don’t have a choice in the matter, so primero a Dios and fingers crossed. The reason it makes me nervous is because these games are todo sold-out. I have a feeling it’s going to be crazy getting in. A friend who will be at the game advised us to arrive hours early, partly to avoid a really long line and also to enjoy the pre-game atmosphere. You’re going to have a parqueo full of guanacos, panameños, Jamaicans, gringos and a mix of others … I don’t know how hard everyone else parties, but the Salvadorans alone will make plenty of noise and fun – not to mention that they’re clever business people and I’m sure a lot of ventas will be going on. If Suegra were coming, (which she’s not!) I know she’d be out there hustling, selling pupusas, hand-embroidered delantales, joya, and whatever else she could carry.

Like I said, Suegra is staying home to watch the cipotes so it seems we’re ready for the games – except what to wear?

Carlos and I have been looking everywhere for a shirt to wear to the game. You would think we owned a La Selecta shirt but every time we asked Suegra to bring us one, she’d come back with tourist T-shirts. One time she got closer and brought us a team shirt for Chalatenango, but purple stripes are not as cool as “La Azul” – (not to mention, the shirt is too small – the chorizo look is not a good one.)

So we went to various sporting goods stores. One store we went to I asked where their soccer shirts are and the guy said, “Um, we don’t have… soccer…shirts… We have soccer balls?” … The other store had a U.S. MLS shirt, but it was $50… So not happening.

We tried department stores, where I found a really cool shirt for El Tri, which, (while I still want it), would have been an inappropriate choice for the game. (I may wear my “Mexico Numero Uno” shirt here at home and deal with the wrath of Carlos and Suegra, but I’m not tonta enough to wear it in a stadium full of Salvadorans.)

Wally World was also no good. They have a lot of patriotic shirts due to the season, but not anything I would be caught dead wearing. (Glittery kittens with fireworks? Seriously? People like this?)

Finally I had the idea to make a shirt. I bought a nice bright blue T-shirt for $3 and some iron-on letters… but what to write?

That’s when I remembered my new favorite player – Salvadoran, Dennis Alas.

While I was watching El Salvador play Cuba on television, I noticed that the commentator kept referring to one of the players as “Pitbull.” I thought this was just a silly, quirky thing that this particular commentator had come up with, but after searching the internet a little, I found out that Dennis Alas is known as the “Salvadoran Pitbull” – (I’m thinking it’s the shaved head.)

"Salvadoran Pitbull" - Image source: Guillermo Estrada/elsalvadorfc.com

After reading more about the player and looking up video of some of his past goals – I’ve really come to like him.

He actually didn’t score any goals against Cuba. Here’s him missing one though. Oops.

No me importa. His nickname is too chivo for me not to like him and I think he has potential.

So anyhow, Dennis “Pitbull” Alas inspired me to create a camisa for the game. I think I will be the only person in the stadium, (or in the world), with this one-of-a-kind shirt. If you watch the games mañana, look for me.

Disclosure: I will be attending the CONCACAF Copa de Oro/Gold Cup games at the invitation of State Farm. All opinions are my own.

Guanaco actor stars in new mun2 show

Before I visited Miami and spent time with Telemundo, I had heard of the new show on mun2 called RPM Miami. I knew it had something to do with racing cars, and since that didn’t really interest me, I didn’t look into it any further.

During my time with Telemundo I learned that one of the stars of the show, actor Adrian Bellani, is half Salvadoran. Born in Miami and raised in San Salvador, Bellani plays the character Alejandro who is a soldier returning home from a tour in Iraq. He discovers that his father is missing and while trying to find out what happened to him, gets mixed up in the world of Miami street racing.

Two other things that I liked – First, the characters on the show are all bilingual and the show is a mix of both Spanish and English. And second, RPM Miami is shot on location in Miami.

I had the opportunity to meet some of the stars and of course, my question was, “Which one of you is the guanaco?” … Well, they totally misunderstood me. They thought I was saying “El Guajo” – (which is the name of the antagonist on RPM Miami.) Too funny…Chécalo!

RPM Miami premieres Sunday May 1 @ 10p/9C on mun2.

Disclosure: I went to Miami at the invitation of Telemundo. All opinions are my own.

Our first & last ofrenda

Though the culture of Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), is something I’ve always loved and admired, I’ve never actually really participated. My husband is Salvadoran and his family more commonly calls it “Día de los Difuntos”, (Day of the Deceased.)

He says that in El Salvador on November 2nd, you visit your deceased family members in the cemetery. You spend the day there, cleaning the grave, or paying others to repaint the name. The grave can be decorated with flowers, though he says offerings of food are rarely left because people don’t want to waste it. Sometimes priests walk around and a donation can be given for a prayer.

The day sounds less festive in El Salvador than it is in Mexico, and for this reason, the day has usually passed in our family with nothing more than a candle being lit for Carlos’s father, who died when he was younger. (Not to mention my youngest son’s birthday happens to fall on “Día de Los Muertos”, so we’re usually busy celebrating that.)

This year I wanted to make an altar called an “ofrenda”, (“offering”), Mexican-style. Carlos says this really isn’t done in El Salvador, at least not in his family.

The ofrenda is usually three tiers, signifying the three levels of life: The lowest tier represents the earth, the second tier is the in-between, and the third tier at the top is the after-life or Heaven.

There are various traditional objects which are often placed on ofrendas such as papel picado, flowers, candles, calaveras (decorative skulls, sometimes made of sugar), bread, salt, water, personal items such as jewelry, photos, favorite beverages and foods, etc.

I wanted to celebrate the holiday but my father’s side of the family is Jewish and my mother’s side of the family are Anglo-Protestants. I can’t imagine either side of the family would have wished to be remembered in this way, and so out of respect, I don’t make an ofrenda for my loved ones who have passed.

I decided to make an ofrenda to honor Carlos’s father, the man who would have been my Suegro. Along with his father’s photo and his ring, I placed a few religious items as he was Catholic, along with candles, incense and a few decorations. For food offerings, I remember Suegra saying he loved casamiento, so I put a bowl of rice and beans on the ofrenda as well.

Carlos said he appreciated the gesture and that the ofrenda was beautiful but then he gently asked me if I would mind taking it down. The sight of the ofrenda made him sad instead of happy, which was not my intention. Sadness is also not in the spirit of Día de Los Muertos. Day of the Dead is supposed to be about celebration of life, not mourning of death, but Carlos says that he has never liked the holiday, even back in El Salvador.

So, the ofrenda is no more, and what I hoped would be a new family tradition is not possible. I completely understand Carlos’s feelings and though I regret making him sad, I’m thankful our boys had a chance to think about and learn a little about the man who would have been their Abuelo, but never had a chance to be.