Tamales de Rajas con Queso

tamales de rajas con queso

Most of you usually look forward to the Salvadoran recipes I post here, but today I have a Mexican recipe that both Carlos and I love, (and it’s rare that I can get away with serving Carlos a vegetarian meal!) Mexican tamales de rajas con queso are my favorite, (well, they’re tied with Salvadoran tamales de elote fritos.)

I make these tamales with Monterey Jack cheese, roasted Poblano peppers, and then top with chipotle sauce. It’s the perfect combination and the flavor reminds me a bit of Mexican chiles rellenos, (another favorite dish of mine. Can you tell I love cheese?) Since the filling is vegetarian and I have a few vegetarians in the family, I also make the masa with vegetable broth and Canola oil instead of chicken broth and lard. A little salsa added to the masa gives it a pretty color and plenty of flavor – ¡No te preocupes!

As for Salvadoran recipes, I only recently learned that Salvadoran tamales de chipilín have queso in them too, so I may have to give those a try next. If they turn out well, I’ll be sure to share it here. For now, I hope you enjoy this recipe. Buen provecho!

Tamales de Rajas con Queso / Roasted Pepper and Cheese Tamales

For the masa you need:

4 cups instant corn masa mix for tamales (I use MASECA brand)
2 2/3 cups vegetable broth
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/3 cup Canola oil
1/4 cup La Costeña chipotle sauce (keep the rest of the can for later)


1. In a large bowl, combine MASECA, baking powder, and salt.

2. With your hands, mix in vegetable broth, canola oil, and chipotle sauce.

3. Work the masa for several minutes until fluffy. If it doesn’t seem moist enough, you can add a little more vegetable broth and work it in. Set aside.

For the filling you need:

3 large Poblano peppers
1 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, sliced in long pieces about 1/2 inch in width

Other supplies:

corn husks for tamales, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes
a steamer pot
2 pennies
aluminum foil, ripped into about twenty 12×8 inch pieces


4. Wash and dry the peppers. Rub a little Canola oil on them and then roast them over medium high heat on a comal/griddle, turning occasionally until blackened.

5. Once roasted, put the peppers into a plastic bag to “sweat.” Seal the bag well. Wait 15 minutes. Remove peppers from the bag, and use a metal spoon to scrape as much of the skin off as you can. Slice peppers open, remove stem and seeds. Slice peppers into long pieces about 1/2 inch in width.

6. To assemble the tamales, take a corn husk, shake dry. Place on a flat surface, spread masa on the corn husk, leaving an inch or two at the tapered bottom without masa.

7. Place 1 piece of cheese and 2 pieces of Poblano pepper in the middle. Fold the sides in, then fold the bottom up. Do not fold the top. Wrap the tamal in foil, leaving the top completely open.

8. Set the tamal into the steamer pot vertically, top up, (with water and pennies in the bottom part of the pot.)

9. Repeat until you have about 20 tamales. Put steamer pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Cover.

10. Cook about 1 hour. You may need to add more water during cook time. If the pennies start clanking around instead of gently jingling, you need more water. When you pour more water into the pot, avoid getting it on the tamales.

11. To test for doneness, remove 1 tamal from the pot. Set it on the counter or a plate and let it sit for 5 minutes. If after 5 minutes, you are able to cleanly pull the corn husk off without masa sticking, they’re done.

12. Serve with chipotle sauce to pour on top.

Bistec Salvadoreño a la Parilla

Summertime is almost here, and that means afternoons which turn into late nights on the patio enjoying good food and good company.

When Carlos and I were dating and early in our marriage, we were often invited to parties at the house of a family friend from El Salvador. Don Andres is from San Miguel, and he always made the best grilled steak. Paired with generous helpings of rice, salad, chirmol, beans, and tortillas piled onto a Styrofoam plate, and eaten with a cold drink on a hot day, it’s one of my favorite meals. When I asked Don Andres for his recipe years ago, he rattled off some ingredients, but wasn’t precise about measurements. I scribbled them down and over the years figured out the right amounts and made my own little changes based on what I usually have on hand. So, here’s the recipe we use now when we want tender, flavorful Salvadoran-style steaks on the grill!

Bistec Salvadoreño a la Parilla

(Salvadoran Grilled Steak)


1 cup Canola oil
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tbs. white vinegar
almost 1/3 cup red cooking wine
juice of 1 medium-sized lime
3 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs. black pepper
2 tbs. yellow mustard
2 tbs. minced garlic
1 large white onion sliced

2 to 3 lbs. top sirloin steak sliced about 1/4 inch thin (“butterflied”)
(at a Latino market this cut may be labelled “Palomilla”)


1. Put 1 tablespoon white vinegar into a 1/3 cup. Fill the rest of the way with red cooking wine.

2. In a medium bowl add the white vinegar and red cooking wine with Canola oil, soy sauce, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, yellow mustard, and garlic. Mix until combined.

3. Pour the marinade into a large glass Pyrex or large plastic zipper bag. Add the steaks and sliced onions. Cover and refrigerate for 5 hours. [Tip: Now is a good time to prepare your side dishes.]

4. While getting the grill ready (we prefer charcoal), remove the steaks from the marinade and let them sit at room temperature. Remove the onions from the marinade. (I cook the onions in a frying pan on the stove top, then serve atop the steaks.) Discard the marinade.

5. Grill the steaks on both sides to your desired doneness. Serve with onions, rice, tortillas, beans, chirmol, and fresh salad. Enjoy!

Huevos Duros en Escabeche de Remolacha (Recipe in English and Spanish)

pickled eggs

Over the years I’ve shared mostly Salvadoran recipes here, but today I want to share something from my side of the family because it’s something Carlos loves — Maybe you’ll give it a try and love it too.

Pickled eggs are a traditional dish we have each year with Easter dinner, but they can’t be just any regular pickled eggs. In Pennsylvania beets are used; in addition to adding to the flavor, beets give them a pretty purple color. (Kind of like Salvadoran Ensalada Rusa!)

Pickled Eggs

What you need:

1 dozen large eggs, hard boiled and peeled

2 (14.5 oz.) cans sliced beets in beet juice
(Beets can be “small whole” or sliced, but it’s important that you DON’T get the kind that are already pickled.)

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups white vinegar


1. In a large pot, combine the entire contents of the cans, including the liquid, the sugar, and the vinegar. Heat to boiling, then lower to a simmer.

2. Simmer for 5 minutes and stir to dissolve sugar. When the liquid is tasted hot, it should make you cough a little bit. If not, you may want to add a little more vinegar.

3. Remove from heat and cool. Once cool, pour the liquid into a tall jar or pitcher with a lid that seals. Add the peeled hard boiled eggs and make sure they’re all covered by the liquid and beets. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

4. Wait at least 24 hours before serving. Some wait 2 or 3 days so the flavor and color will penetrate deeper into the eggs. Eat within about a week.

Variations: Traditionally some families add pickling spice. Yet another variation you could try is to add fresh garlic, slices of onion, and slices of fresh jalapeño if you’d like a spicy kick.


Huevos duros en escabeche de remolacha, (o Huevos duros encurtidos)


1 docena de huevos grandes, hervidos y pelados

2 (14.5 oz.) latas de remolacha en rodajas en jugo de remolacha
(Las remolachas pueden ser “pequeñas enteras/small whole” o cortadas en rodajas, pero es importante que NO obtengas el tipo que ya están en escabeche.)

3/4 taza de azúcar

1 1/2 tazas de vinagre blanco


1. En una olla grande, combine todo el contenido de las latas, incluyendo el líquido, el azúcar y el vinagre. Calentar a hervir, luego bajar a fuego lento.

2. Cocine a fuego lento durante 5 minutos y revuelva para disolver el azúcar. Cuando pruebes el líquido caliente, debe hacerte toser un poco. Si no, puedes agregar un poco más de vinagre.

3. Retire del fuego y enfríe. Una vez que se enfríe, vierta el líquido en una jarra alta o recipiente alta con una tapa que sella. Agregar los huevos duros pelados y asegúrete de que están cubiertos por el líquido y remolachas. Cubrir y guardar en el refrigerador.

4. Esperar por lo menos 24 horas antes de servir. Algunos esperan 2 o 3 días por lo que el sabor y el color penetrarán más profundamente en los huevos. Comer dentro de una semana.

Variaciones: Tradicionalmente, algunas familias añaden especias de decapado/pickling spice. Otra variante que puedes probar es agregar ajo fresco, rebanadas de cebolla y rebanadas de jalapeño fresco si quieres un sabor más picante.

Author Interview: Christy Esmahan

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background. What made you want to write this story that mostly takes place in El Salvador?

My father was from El Salvador and my mother is American, so that part of the story was pretty easy to write, although the characters are not my parents. I was born in the US, but we did live in El Salvador when I was a little girl and I have many fond memories of the people and the food. Plus, many of my cousins on my father’s side still live in El Salvador. I grew up in Ohio and majored in Microbiology in college, then moved to Spain where I completed my doctorate degree. After that, I worked as an educator and also lived in Germany. Eventually I moved back to the US and taught here as well, before retiring to write novels. A CRICKET OF A GIRL is my 6th novel.

Having lived in El Salvador as a little girl, I always carried that part around inside me and I found that when people looked at me and saw my dark skin, they didn’t understand the depth of culture and love that I also carried around for my father’s country. Also, (spoiler alert) we did flee the country right before the military stormed the university with tanks, in the middle of the day, and shot students and professors. My father would surely have been killed that day if we had still been there, and I really wanted to write about that and how someone could embrace the lovely country that El Salvador is while still dealing with the pain and injury that was caused by the war. Finally, I wanted to illustrate (my opinion) that the civil war really started years before its official start date, due to the changes that were made by the rich.

For those who haven’t read your book yet, what is A CRICKET OF A GIRL about?

One of my reviewers, Lauren Sapala, a writer and blogger in San Francisco, described her experience with the novel really well, so let me give it to you in her words. “A CRICKET OF A GIRL is the story of two women: one born and raised in El Salvador, and one from the Midwestern United States who relocates to El Salvador in the late 1960s. These two women form an unlikely but beautiful friendship against the backdrop of the political turmoil, violence, and relentless fear that was [and continues to be] the climate of El Salvador. Considering the fears we are dealing with about the future of our society today, I think this should be required reading for anyone who wants to further their education on race, gender, class, and politics. It is guaranteed to make you think twice about what people are capable of, both for good or ill.”

Another reviewer, a young man from Mexico named Arturo Almazan said, “[The novel] tackles difficult topics such as social class inequality, gender roles, cultural identity, and modern slavery.”

I think those two opinions of the novel summarize it well.

I think one thing you captured well in this book is that many Salvadorans are great story-tellers. The character Sesi, who’s a niñera in your book, tells the little girl she cares for the story of The Monkey Princess. I had never heard this folktale before, but you say your Salvadoran niñera used to tell this story to you?

Yes, as true as I could, I tried to capture the real Sesi’s voice. I’ve given her a different name, of course, and her real life is somewhat different than in the novel. For one thing, her life was even harder and she didn’t have a “Figo” but was assaulted. Still, she remained positive and optimistic and did, in the end, learn to bake and make a better life for herself and her daughter. But back to your question, yes, she would walk me to school and tell me stories, and this one of The Monkey Princess is the one I remember best.

One thing I’m always drawn to in the books I read is food, and your book mentions plenty of Salvadoran cuisine. At one point in the story, Sesi learns to make “green rice” (or “arroz verde”)… Any chance you have a recipe you want to share?

Sure! I have it all written down on my blog site.

On your most recent trip to El Salvador, what was the most interesting thing you experienced?

I was struck by how much and how little the country had changed. I could not recognize my house or my school because of the tall walls and gates that had been erected around all of the buildings, to protect from crime. That was sad. But the airport was basically unchanged, and the chattering of the wild green parakeets which fly in thick flocks over the sky were familiar. The view of the majestic volcanoes was breathtaking. And of course, I loved the food!

What’s next for you?

I’m in a busy promotional phase now. My fourth novel, THE LAPTEV VIRUS, (hard sci-fi medical thriller and winner of the Indie Excellence Award) just got made into an audio version by Tantor Media and I’m asking everyone to ask their local libraries to acquire it (shameless plug: you can request it at your library by giving them the ISBN 978-1515969044.)

I’m also promoting my 5th novel, THE COBRA EFFECT, which is another medical thriller, but this time about the plastic pollution in the ocean.

If you’d rather read more contemporary fiction, check out any of my first three novels, BUENO, SINCO and BRUJAS which are a love story set in Spain. They are a series, but I recap enough that you can start with the second or third one if it catches your fancy. (And by the way, SINCO was a finalist for the 2016 International Latino Book Awards.)

Your books are very different genres — is there anything that connects them?

Writing is my way of engaging in social activism, which I think is critical for us at this juncture in time. A CRICKET OF A GIRL is particularly timely because of the immigration issue and the need for all of us to understand and empathize with people from other cultures. I think that the more book clubs and groups of people read and discuss books like this one, the more tolerant we can all become.

My first three novels, BUENO, SINCO and BRUJAS are also about being immersed in a different culture (Spain) where not only are the customs, language and food different, but also the way of thinking about the world. Again, it goes back to helping us to understand and empathize with the foreign.

My fourth novel, THE LAPTEV VIRUS, is about climate change and the dangers of things emerging from the melting Arctic, but it’s also about corporate greed and mistakes that good people can make. THE COBRA EFFECT is about the huge problem of plastic pollution in the ocean, but it also touches on corporate greed and GMOs. And again, part of the narrative is set in other countries (India and China).

I recently heard author and professor George Saunders speaking and he said (I’m paraphrasing) that right now, more than ever, all of us artists (no matter how we make art) need to work on our craft to help our country [and our world] deal with the turmoil in our society and move toward a better future, with more understanding and tolerance. I love that thought!

Find out more about author Christy Esmahan on her website, ChristyEsmahan.com.

Salpores de Arroz

salpores de arroz salvadoreños

Two days ago I received a request in comments for any type of Salvadoran “pan duro” to go with coffee. The first one that came to mind was salpores de arroz, which are a crunchy cookie-like pan dulce made with rice flour. Traditionally salpores come in a few different shapes and are sprinkled with pink or red-colored sugar.

Although these aren’t a Valentine’s Day cookie, they’d make a pretty sweet surprise for your valentine, especially if he or she happens to be Salvadoran.

Salpores de Arroz


3 cups rice flour
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 extra large eggs, slightly beaten

For topping: pink or red sugar


1. In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, 1 cup sugar, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder.

2. Add butter and knead by hand until combined.

3. Add eggs and knead by hand an additional 10 minutes. The dough will be very dry and crumbly. You must work the dough until it all comes together.

4. Preheat oven to 350 F.

5. Take a golf ball-sized amount of dough in your hands and shape it into a flat oval, then press three flat fingers into it to make indentations. Place the cookie on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat for each cookie.

6. Sprinkle cookies with pink or red-colored sugar. Bake on middle rack of oven for 18 minutes until cookies are nicely browned on the bottoms.

7. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet. Serve with coffee. Makes about 18 salpores de arroz.

Hojuelas Salvadoreñas

hojuelas salvadoreñas

Hojuelas (pronounced oh-hway-las) are a sweet, fried treat eaten in El Salvador on November 2nd for Día de los Difuntos. You can often see women cooking them and selling them on the street.

Salvadoran hojuelas are the same thing as Mexican buñuelos, but what some Latin American countries call buñuelos, El Salvador also calls nuégados. Sufficiently mixed up? Me too.

Anyway, while I was researching and trying to sort all that out, I found a couple relevant dichos to share.

“Miel sobre hojuelas” is a dicho which is similar in meaning to the English saying “icing on the cake” and “No todo es miel sobre hojuelas” is similar in meaning to the English saying “It’s not all fun and games.” I searched online newspapers and found the dichos were both used in Mexican newspapers, but I don’t think the dichos are used in El Salvador, or at least Carlos said he isn’t familiar with them.

Anyway, if you’re an hermano lejano*, or just otherwise not anywhere you can buy hojuelas, below is a recipe to make your own!

[*”Hermano lejano” is an endearing term meaning “faraway brother” which is used by Salvadorans in El Salvador to refer to Salvadorans who live abroad.]

Hojuelas Salvadoreñas

2 1/2 cups pre-sifted all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup 1% milk

oil for cooking
miel de panela (recipe here), or sugar for sprinkling
extra flour for rolling out the dough

1. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, and salt.

2. Add the flour little by little, alternating with the milk, until the dough forms. The dough should not be sticky – if it is, add a little more flour.

3. Turn the dough onto a flat, floured surface, and divide into 16 balls.

Tip: I originally separated the dough into 8 balls, but soon realized that once rolled out these hojuelas (while traditionally sold on the street this large), would be too big to properly fry in my frying pan. So please, in the next step when you roll them out, make sure you’re not making them too big to fit in the frying pan you plan to use.

4. With a floured rolling pin, roll out each ball until very thin. (Ideally the dough should be rolled out thinner than a flour tortilla. It’s okay if it’s not perfectly circular, and it’s okay if the dough tears a little. They don’t have to be perfect!)

Tip: Keep your rolled out hojuelas from sticking to each other by separating them with parchment paper.

5. Over medium-high heat in a large frying pan, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. The oil should be at least a 1/4 inch deep. (Deeper is better, but I personally hate wasting so much cooking oil.)

6. Carefully fry the hojuelas one-by-one until nicely browned on each side, flipping with tongs as necessary.

7. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain off excess oil. If sprinkling with sugar instead of serving with miel, sprinkle them while still hot.

8. Serve drizzled with miel de panela, or sprinkled with sugar.

Celebrating Día de Muertos Without Appropriating

Image source: David Seibold

Image source: David Seibold

First, to make sure we’re on the same page, let’s clearly define what is Día de muertos and what is cultural appropriation?

What is Día de muertos?

Día de muertos, also known as Día de los muertos or Day of the Dead, is a sacred celebration of Pre-Hispanic origin, to honor loved ones who have passed. The celebration, which used to start around the beginning of August and last an entire month, now takes place from midnight on October 31st to November 2nd; most often associated with Mexico, it is celebrated in many Latin American countries such as Guatemala, and Bolivia, and by people around the world with ancestry traced to those countries. Each country has unique ways of celebrating; in El Salvador where the celebration is known as Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased), families go to the cemetery to pray, sing, lay flowers, and pay to have gravestones of departed family members repainted; at the cemetery you can buy foods such as tamales and hojuelas con miel. Ecuador also refers to the celebration as Día de los Difuntos.

But it is the traditions of Mexico which are most well-known in the United States, and which have gained popularity among Latinxs of all backgrounds, and non-Latinxs as well. Sugar skulls, and catrinas can be found on everything from party napkins to pajamas this time of year, and setting up ofrendas (altars) or baking pan de muerto are fast becoming beloved traditions among people who maybe 10 years ago, hadn’t even heard of Día de muertos. And, why not? Día de muertos is so pretty, so colorful, and the idea of celebrating our deceased loved ones rather than forever mourning them in a more Puritanically traditional way is appealing, (and psychologically, much healthier.)

However, this is where we run into the problem of cultural appropriation.

What is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is the “borrowing” of one culture by another culture, particularly when elements of a minority culture are used by a majority culture. Often times it is done unintentionally and/or without intended malice, but even when done with appreciation or admiration, it can be exploitative, offensive and/or feel oppressive to the minority culture who feel something is being stolen from them. Cultural appropriation is especially offensive when something sacred is taken out of context and redefined by a majority culture. (An example of this relevant to this post: When a non-Latinx person dresses as La Catrina for Halloween.)

While many Latinxs may not find it offensive when non-Latinxs folks embrace these traditions, there are some Latinxs who do. So, what steps can you take to ensure you’re respecting Día de muertos as the sacred celebration that it is?

5 Steps to Celebrating Día de Muertos Respectfully

#1. You may choose not to celebrate it, but instead observe the celebration. There are festivals, museum exhibits, documentaries, and other ways you can enjoy the holiday without actually adopting it.

#2. You can educate yourself. If you choose to celebrate by setting up an altar, for example, do the proper research into the history and significance of the ofrenda and the traditional items that are placed on it.

#3. Question your intentions. Are you painting your face as a sugar skull because it’ll look super cool and get you plenty of likes on Instagram? Then strongly reconsider your actions. These traditions are not “just for fun” or to bring yourself attention on social media — they are sacred. Respect that. If you’re the Donald Trump type who would eat a taco and declare you “love Mexicans” while supporting the deportation of the people who made it for you – don’t even think about it. It should go without saying, cherry picking a culture while not respecting the people it originated from is completely unacceptable.

#4. Shop responsibly. Avoid purchasing Día de muertos themed merchandise which is not made by Latinxs or Latin American artisans. These beliefs and traditions originated with indigenous people, and indigenous communities in Latin America are disproportionately affected by poverty. In Guatemala 86.6% of indigenous people are poor, and in Mexico 80.6% are poor. [source] The least you can do is not buy those cute Day of the Dead paper plates at Target which were Made in China. Instead, seek out fair trade products which give back to the people who deserve it.

#5. Understand that even if you have thoroughly educated yourself on the celebration and feel a special connection to it, you may still come under scrutiny. Should someone confront you on why they think you have no right to celebrate Día de muertos, consider their words and feelings. There’s a fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, and not everyone agrees where that line is. Try to do better.

Learn more:

GoMexico.About.com – Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead – Wikipedia

The Book of Life

5 Día De Los Muertos Questions You Were Too Afraid To Ask – Huffington Post

What is Cultural Appropriation and Why Is It Wrong? – RaceRelations.About.com

Cultural Appropriation – Wikipedia

The Do’s and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation – The Atlantic