Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pupusas with roasted garlic mesclun and cherry tomatoes

Pupusas are, of course, delicious with their traditional topping/side dish, a spicy cabbage-and-carrot slaw called curtido, but they are also wonderfully adaptable to other toppings. To make them into a substantial meal, I generally like to use a cheese filling, spread them with a layer of refried beans, and then add toppings to make a kind of pupusa-tostada fusion.

For 8 pupusas:

2 cups masa harina
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup warm water
about 1/2 cup shredded jack cheese
oil for frying
1 cup refried beans (homemade, or from a can)
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp lemon juice
2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
several good handfuls of assorted young greens
a handful of cherry tomatoes

Make the Dressing
1.Roast the garlic cloves in a dry skillet until the skin is fairly blackened. When cool enough to handle, peel and place in mortar. Add the lemon juice and smash garlic and lemon juice into a thickish liquid. Blend in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Prep the Salad Ingredients
2. Wash and dry the mesclun, and place in medium-sized bowl. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and place in another bowl.

Make Pupusas
3. Mix the masa harina and salt well in a mixing bowl, then add the water and mix until the dough holds together. It will be a little on the dry side, but still workable.
4. Divide the dough into 8 equal-sized pieces, and form each piece into a ball. Push down into ball to form a cavity, fill each with about 1 TBSP of the cheese, and fold sides together to enclose cheese. Flatten on counter-top into a disk about 6-8 inches across and about 1/4 inch thick. Repeat with remaining dough.
5. Heat a flat griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Before starting the pupusas, make sure your refried beans are warm. If you're not going to be serving them right off the stovetop (my family takes each one as soon as it's done), heat the oven to 200 degrees to keep pupusas warm as they're finished.
6. Brush one side of each pupusa with oil, and put oil-side down on hot griddle. Cook until there are some brown spots on the underside, 2-3 minutes. Brush the other side with oil, flip, and cook an additional 1-2 minutes until second side also has some brown spots.
7. Once pupusas are done, spread each one thickly with refried beans. Toss most of the salad dressing with the mesclun, reserving a little to toss with the tomatoes. Top each pupusa with 1/8 of the mesclun, and add a few cherry tomatoes on top.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Eggplant and tomato curry

At long last, the recipe for which I was preparing my ingredients mise en place last Thursday night. A kind of Thai-Italian fusion; I was originally thinking about making a simple coconut-milk-based curry, but since I had all these tomatoes fresh from the garden, I went with the tomato-based sauce instead.

1 medium-to-large eggplant, cut into 3/4" dice
4 medium-to-large ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks (or I suppose you could use one 15-oz. can)
3 shallots, sliced
about 1/4 c. fish sauce
1/2 tsp red curry paste (more if you & your guests like spicy food)
1 tsp brown sugar
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 large handfuls of fresh herbs (I used regular sweet basil and citrus mint, but any combination of those and/or Thai basil, regular mint, and/or cilantro would be good)
oil (canola or other neutral oil)
1/3 to 1/2 pound of rice vermicelli

1. First, bring a pot of water to boil, add the vermicelli, turn off the heat and let noodles soak in water for 3-4 minutes. Reserve a little of the soaking liquid in a 1-cup measure, then drain and rinse well.
2. Cut everything up, and dissolve the curry paste and brown sugar in the fish sauce.
3. Heat a generous amount of oil in a wok. When hot, add shallots and stir-fry until well browned.
4. Add the eggplant chunks. They will absorb all the oil, so you want to toss them quickly so you don't have a handful of oil-soaked eggplant and the rest unflavored. As soon as wok seems dry and eggplants are browning a little, add the fish sauce mixture.
5. Stir well to distribute the fish sauce mixture, then add the tomatoes, stirring constantly to break them up. Once they start to break down, you can take a break from stirring.
6. Cook for 10-15 minutes over medium heat until eggplant is completely cooked through and sauce has thickened. If pan gets too dry, add some of the reserved noodle-soaking liquid.
7. Squeeze lime juice over curry. Roughly chop herbs and add to curry; stir well and remove from heat. Divide noodles among plates (I made this into about 4 servings), top with curry, and garnish with lime slices and/or reserved herb tops.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mise en place

Mise en place is many things: a good idea, a pretentious French phrase, and a religion among many chefs. It is nonetheless something I practice rarely, because I am (1) lazy, and (2) descended from People From the Frozen North Who Like to Cook Their Food Slowly (thus giving us plenty of time to prepare ingredients as we go).

Nonetheless, with the summer and its bounty of produce upon us, I determined that, if I were going to try to make an eggplant-tomato curry tonight (recipe tomorrow, I hope), it would be a good idea to prepare all the ingredients ahead of time:

The star of the show — eggplant from the Intervale Community Farm (our CSA).

Tomatoes, mostly from our thankfully late-blight-free garden, plus one or two from ICF.

Shallots, bought in a bundle from the Vietnamese grocery around the corner, with a lime behind the cutting board.

Rice noodles, from the same (the package bearing the label "Prime Minister's Export Award 1994").

Basil and citrus mint from the garden (being immersion-rinsed using the same pot I cooked the noodles in, to save on dishwashing...)

Fish sauce with a bit of red Thai curry paste and brown sugar dissolving in it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

By the skin of our eggplant

So today a grilled eggplant salad recipe was the featured recipe on Mark Bittman's blog, and I thought, "hey, I've got some grilled eggplant in the fridge" — but since it's been so hot and humid the past few days, I thought the whole-milk-yogurt dressing might be a bit heavy. Plus, I had some cherry tomatoes that needed a home, and wanted to make it a main dish by adding some garbanzo beans (canned, I'm afraid), so I opted for an olive-oil dressing instead.

I cut off the skins as per the Bittman recipe (it was a large eggplant from the CSA which I had grilled in thick rounds, mostly for sandwiches) and then my New England working-class "waste not, want not" complexes kicked in, and I suddenly couldn't bear to compost the eggplant skin sitting on my cutting board.

My solution? I minced the skins into 1/8" x 1/3" (the thickness of the grilled rounds) pieces, tossed them in a small bowl with plenty of salt, red wine vinegar, and red pepper flakes — making a kind of quick spicy pickle, which worked perfectly as a garnish. The skinless cubed chopped eggplant was meltingly tender, the small bits of briny, spicy skin added piquancy and a kind of olive-like chewiness.

(Seen here with the perfect side vegetable — New England sweet corn, picked that day, cooked in boiling water for exactly 60 seconds. So perfect it needs neither salt nor butter)