16 January 2010

Next Stop on the FOODalogue Tour...El Salvador with Pupusas and Curtido

Pupusas con Queso

Joan of FOODalogue has started the year off with another armchair travel adventure with her Culinary Tour 2010 - South of the Border . I really enjoyed travelling with Joan last year and you will too!!!! This year she will feature the cuisines of 10 of our south-of-the-border neighbors. So far we have travelled to Mexico where we sipped on tequila and margaritas and enjoyed each others company virtually.  Each one of these destinations in her culinary tour challenges you to create a dish outside of your comfort zone and experience new taste and food sensations. You can also do a little armchair travelling and daydreaming through your tastebuds. Our next stop in our armchair travel is:

El Salvador

Nestled in Central America between Guatemala, Honduras and the Pacific Ocean is the small country of El Salvador... a country of diverse natural beauty. El Salvador, once known as Cuscatlán (the land of beautiful jewels), is on the west coast of Central America. Since it does not border the Caribbean Sea, there are no cruise ships, no crowds, and no commercialized tourist stops. My kind of place for a vacation and culinary stop to immerse myself in the culture!!!! The country has a troubled history but residents are finally offering the tourist a glimpse into all the beauty the country has to offer. What El Salvador offers are tremendous opportunities to explore and experience a variety of unique adventures. A tropical climate prevails in the coastal lowlands, while the highlands and plateaus of the interior enjoy cooler, drier weather. The landscape is dotted with volcanos, and many rivers cut their way from the highlands to the Pacific shore.What's not to love!!

This tiny country on the Pacific coast has made a rich contribution to Central American cooking. The cuisine of El Salvador is similar to that of its neighbors, with a strong reliance on indigenous foods like corn, beans, squash and tomatoes. El Salvadorian food can be as familiar as chicken soup, or as exotic as fried palm flowers. The influence of Mayan culture is quite strong, mixed in with contributions from the Spanish kitchen. Pupusas and curtido may be the most well known Salvadoran dishes, but other tasty dishes include pavo salvadoreño, atol de elote, quesadilla and semita. El Salvador has many roadside stands that sell fresh local fruit, vegetables, as well as regionally-made cheeses. In every village, town, and city, there are open air markets that sell locally grown herbs, vegetables, fruits, cooked foods and refrescos. There's not a better way to explore this country than to meet the locals.

With Maria of the Tamarindo Touring Company I explored the cobbled-stoned streets lined with galleries, restaurants, historical sites, and specialty shops awaiting me in the quaint colonial town of Suchitoto as well as other quaint little villages with their tour Maria's Artisan Tours. The Tamarindo Touring Company has been created to develop jobs for young adults that have grown up in this community and benefited from the mentoring programs. Suchitoto, which means, 'Place of Birds and Flowers' is a lovely colonial village. Long ago Suchitoto was an indigo producing town. This town was filled with friendly people, architectural beauty and rich cultural heritage... not to mention the great food! What better way to explore the area virtually than to have a local introduce you to the people of the small villages and hamlets.

 Another gem was Shicalli . This is a very special hamlet where a group of individuals with physical disabilities work together to create unique pieces of pottery. The workshop offers artistic training and employment involving the art of ceramics featuring these artists who would otherwise have little access to formal education but have now developed skilled pottery techniques.

There are many other sites to see in the Apaneca region as part of the tour. The area is part of what is referred to as the "Ruta de las Flores" (Route of Flowers). The smell of freshly roasted coffee beans wafted through the air as we made our way to El Salvador's famous Sunday food festival which takes place in the small town of Juayúa. Besides attractive colonial architecture, a pleasant central plaza, and a historic church Juayúa also hosts a wildly successful weekend feria gastronómica (food festival), where local and invited restaurateurs serve fabulous food at dozens of tables set up around the parque central. The whole town gathers in the town square for the event and food is served and eaten at plastic tables and chairs under the shade of multi-colored canopies and trees. I think the entire population of the town was there!!! The event every Sunday draws tons of local and international tourists, and has been copied by towns throughout El Salvador... though none quite equal it. The dining tent is the largest, and live music is as common place as the pupusas! Vendors wander the square selling desserts, toys, CDs… you name it, somebody’s got it! The aroma of all the delicious food and coffee is amazing! We had such a fantastic time. We tried the Riguas de Coco… a cornmeal and coconut mixture cooked in the leaf, then fried on the grill and finally topped with a perfectly sweet coconut sauce. I stayed away from the grilled frogs… but that might just be my personal preference. The elote loco is a little crazy… hence the name… but it was worth a try... boiled corn, smeared with mustard, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and topped off with some other sauces… you might just like it. We appeared to be the only foreigners on the scene, and we did our best to hold our own with the Salvadorans when it came to tasting as many of the local treats around the square as possible.

 Around Juayúa are excellent hiking and other eco-outdoorsy activities, from rappelling down waterfalls to mountain biking in private fincas (coffee plantations). For something less like excercise, you can take a tour of a coffee processing plant. If you come midweek, simply soak in Juayúa's small-town charm. The food festival in itself is worth the trip, but if you have a chance to look around a bit, the town is actually a real find. During the week when the crowds go home, you can enjoy strolling the peaceful, cobbled streets while soaking up the colonial architecture.   If you only have the day, you might think of taking a horse and carriage ride around the city after you have sampled all the foods you can. It is a nice setting to digest and enjoy the scenery in. 

For my foray into El Salvadoran cuisine I opted for the obvious and decided to try pupusas served with curtido and salsa roja...a very traditional meal.

Traditional pupusas originated here in Central America's smallest country, El Salvador, but have made a big impact on the cuisine of other Latin American countries as well. The pupusa is so fundamental to the cuisine of El Salvador that the country has even declared November 13th "National Pupusa Day." Pupusas are traditionally made by slapping the dough from palm to palm to flatten it out. I find the tortilla press would be quicker and easier for beginners like me.

Pupusas are fairly easy to prepare and anyone who has made homemade tortillas will not have any difficulty making the Salvadoran staple. You may use well-crumbled Mexican cheese queso fresco for this version, if you can get it, or else use coarsely grated quesillo, farmer's cheese, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Swiss or a combination. Add some minced green chile if you like as well.

Pupusas are typically served with curtido, a sour cabbage relish. This is the deliciously spicy and sour salad that is served with papoosa, the stuffed corn breads of El Salvador.  Large jars of curtido are kept at restaurants and sides of the slaw are served with most meals. Curtido is usually allowed to ferment slightly at room temperature before serving, becoming a kind of Salvadoran sauerkraut.  It is so good that it could almost replace coleslaw in the MTBT household. I would make it at least an hour ahead of time as suggested because it needs to sit and "pickle" in its own juices. You can even make it a day in advance; just keep it covered and refrigerated.

This recipe is for basic pupusas de queso with a few other variations thrown in for good measure. Thanks for taking us on this journey Joan...see you in Nicaragua!!!!

 **Pupusas de Queso**

2 cups masa harina
1 cup water
1 cup queso fresco, crumbled

Stir the masa harina and water together in a mixing bowl until smooth; knead well. Cover bowl, and let the dough rest 5 to 10 minutes. Shape the dough into eight, 2-inch diameter balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each ball into 6-inch diameter round. Sprinkle 1/4 cup queso fresco over each round. Place a second tortilla over the cheese, and pinch the edges together to seal in the cheese. Heat an ungreased skillet over medium-high heat. Place one tortilla into the skillet at a time and cook until cheese melts and tortillas are lightly browned, about 2 minutes on each side.


Pupusas de Chicharrones: With a filling of fried chopped pork and a little tomato sauce. A reasonable facsimile can be made by pulsing 1 cup of cooked bacon with a little bit of tomato sauce in a food processor.

Pupusas de Frijoles Refritos: With a refried bean filling.

Pupusas Revueltas: Use a mixture of chicharrones, cheese and refried beans.

Pupusas de Queso y Loroco: With a cheese and tropical vine flower filling. Loroco can be found in jars at many Latin markets.

Pupusas de Arroz: A variety of pupusa that uses rice flour instead of corn masa.

Cooked potatoes or finely minced, sautéed jalapeño peppers are also tasty fillings. Try a mixture of different fillings.

NOTE: The above recipe uses masa harina, a special dried cornmeal flour used in making tortillas, tamales, etc. If you are able to get fresh masa, definitely use it instead. The flavor will be much fresher. Just substitute the masa harina and water with fresh masa. One pound will make about 4-6 pupusas depending on their size.

**Curtido (Cabbage Salad with Oregano)**

Here I used half of a 2-pound green cabbage, cored, with the coarse outer leaves removed.

6 well-packed cups shredded green cabbage
1 cup shredded crisp lettuce, such as iceberg
1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss well to mix. Set aside for 1 hour or longer, refrigerating if necessary.

**Salsa Roja (Salvadoran Tomato Sauce)**

Salsa roja, a simple yet flavourful Salvadoran cooked tomato sauce, is often served alongside pupusas and curtido.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 Serrano or jalapeño chile pepper, chopped
2 cups tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Salt and pepper -- to taste
1/4 cup cilantro (optional), chopped

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium flame. Add the onion, garlic and chile and sauté for 2-3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

Stir in the tomatoes and oregano and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool a bit.

Puree the tomato sauce in a blender until smooth, adding a little water if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste, stir in cilantro if using and serve.


Substitute chopped parsley for the cilantro if you like.

Makes about 2 cups (Serves 6)

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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  1. Yum, I love pupusas. This post reminds me I need to make them again, especially since I just bought a new bag of masa!

  2. Val, What a fabulous post! I really enjoyed it. So informative and entertaining -- and those pupusas look delicious. I must admit to having a difficult time with El Salvador. Thanks so much for continuing the journey with me.

  3. Good research Val. I was reading about the pupusas and thought about them but then opted for a chicken dish. They look really interesting.

  4. MMmmm,mmm,good! I love those little pupusos and that cabbage salad sounds terrific. I'm spending a lot of time learning new cabbage recipes lately, and so this one goes on the Definitely Will Be Made list. The benefits of cabbage salad, especially paired with vinegar, is off the charts good for you. I have everything for the pupusos, too. YUM!

  5. I love those! Yours looks delicious!



  6. What a very informative post Val! Phew! The papusas and the curtido look wonderful...and the salsa roja is a great accompaniment.

  7. I love this type of food, especially the salsa rojo...very nice indeed.

  8. Yummy and great history lesson...

  9. So international!!! Loved the history!!!

  10. forget tortillas--i want pupusas! and any of the variations that you've listed would be welcome in my kitchen, mouth, and belly. :)

  11. I adore freshly made corn tortillas and have made them often. This recipe sounds like something that I would enjoy beyond measure!!!

  12. What a delicious adventure!

  13. Oh, how fun! I like ethnic recipes and have a section in my website. Would you like to include this one (if it is yours!)?

  14. Val, I always marvel at you attention to detail and the research that you put in every post...Truly inspirational!!!

  15. Another delicious and educational post. I have yet to try papusas, although there are places in my neighborhood to get them. These look great with the condiments.

  16. Wow, it sounds like you had an amazing trip! I feel like I was right there with you, Val!

  17. Excellent informative post on El Salvador and their cuisine! The pupusas and curdito look excellent! I can't wait to try!


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