Llapingachos – Cheese Stuffed Potato Patties

Potatoes? I have a love hate relationship with potatoes. They are starch, carbohydrate, heavy, and can be dry. They are time-consuming to cook and often need so much added “stuff” to make them palatable. Jeff loves potatoes – especially french fries, but it’s not really the potato he loves – they’re just a “vehicle for ketchup!” They are delicious though, aren’t they? Especially roasted with garlic and lots of salt. I loved them in the Vindaloo Roasted Potatoes and Cauliflower dish I made a few weeks ago, and I am always happy to toss a couple of diced potatoes into any winter stew.

If you get a CSA or shop the farmer’s markets, you know fresh potatoes are rolling in from the fields daily right now. They are dense, creamy and still full of water as the starches haven’t had time to convert to sugars yet. They cook more quickly when they are fresh, and in my opinion, taste better in this state.

When I was in college I had an internship in Ecuador, where in the highlands, folks enjoy a cheese stuffed fried potato patty called a “Llapingacho (ya ping gacho). This dish stands out as having a lovely yellow color, a rich flavor, and creamy texture that is nearly impossible to recreate in the United States if you shop at conventional grocery stores. Why is this so? Well, I learned through trial and error, that the Llapingacho will not cooperate with a potato whose starches are overly developed. It simply will not. It can be made, but the texture and flavor never match that of those served in the Andes. Unfortunately, potatoes in the U.S. spend lots of time in storage which allows water to evaporate and starches to form.

Since returning from my internship in 1991 I have tried to recreate the smooth and creamy texture of the Ecuadorian Llapingacho but was not successful until I used the Yukon Golds from my Wisconsin CSA! Fresh from the field they had the perfect consistency and flavor needed to recreate this dish. I assume the potatoes had been dug from the field a day or two before delivery so spent little or no time in cold storage. I don’t think most of us can find potatoes fresh enough in most grocery stores to make the Llapingacho. Even the Yukon Golds that I have tried from the co-op haven’t worked. In addition to needing a completely fresh potato, there are other tricks to making a perfect Llapingacho: 1) wash the starch off the potato cubes before you cook them, 2) let the patties cool completely before frying, and 3) make sure your cooking oil is really hot. This is a great recipe to prep one day and cook the next.

Of course, even fried this potato is still a vehicle for other goodies. In South America the Llapingacho is served with a peanut sauce. Many enjoy a zesty salsa to top, or a grated cabbage coleslaw. We ate ours with a side of yesterday’s Zucchini Salad, chopped fresh jalapenos, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Delicious!

Take advantage of the fresh Yukons coming out of the fields to make this dish that can only be fully realized in Minnesota right NOW! You’ll love it!

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds Yukon Golds, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup leeks, thinly sliced (any kind of onion may be used)
  • olive oil to saute leeks
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • peanut or canola oil to fry patties
  • 1 cup grated cheddar or mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Start a large pot of water to boil while you peel and cube the potatoes. After they are diced, swish them around in a big bowl of water to wash off some of the starch.

Once the water begins to boil, spoon the potatoes into the pot and cook them until they are just tender. Drain the potatoes from the cooking water and allow them to cool before mashing.

While the potatoes cool, saute leeks on low heat until they begin to caramelize. Mash the potatoes, mix in the leeks and add salt and pepper to taste. Allow the mixture to cool completely until it can be handled.

Form the mashed potatoes into a ball a little smaller than a tennis ball. Press your thumb into the center of it forming a small indentation. Fill this with cheese then close the potato mixture around the cheese to form a ball again. Press the ball into a patty making sure that the patty is about 3/4 of an inch thick. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cool in the fridge for at least an hour. (I covered mine with wax paper and fried them the next day.)

Heat peanut or canola oil on a skillet until it is very hot. Fry the patties until they are browned on both sides. If your patties are not completely chilled or thick enough, they will be very delicate for flipping.

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Plantains Fried and Smothered

If you’ve ever been to Latin America, you have undoubtedly enjoyed fried plantains. They can be prepared green, or at any point in their ripening process. Green plantains are light on the banana flavor and heavy in starch. When they ripen, they impart a rich yet subtle banana flavor and tend a little less starchy than the green. I think they may be an acquired taste for most Northerners, but once adopted, not to be forgotten. I’ve been pining for them since our Mexican holiday, but they’re not a commonly found co-op item. Last week’s shopping transgressions took me to Cub, where there is a plethora of plantain to be had. Not organic, unfortunately, but in my basket nonetheless.

These little amber jewels are easy to peel once ripe, and are a wonder sliced and fried in a little canola oil.  Until this evening I had never paired sweet plantains with savory, but I have to admit, I am hooked. This will definitely be a new staple amongst the variety of enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas and tacos that we eat regularly in our home. I also had a little dish of toasted coconut that found itself sprinkled over the plantains which turned out to be quite fabulous, indeed.

Smothered Fried Plantains Recipe

Ingredients:

  • plantains, one per person
  • canola to coat cast iron pan
  • black beans
  • cheddar cheese, grated
  • toasted coconut
  • Fresh Tomato Salsa
  • Tomatillo Salsa
  • cilantro, chopped
  • queso fresco, chopped

Directions: Peel and slice plantains so they are a little less than 1/2 inch thick. They can be sliced into circles, or you can cut the banana in half and then slice it into lengths. Heat the oil in a pan and fry bananas on each side until they are brown. Drain them on paper towel before serving.

Place plantains on a plate and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Top with a bit of grated cheddar cheese followed by black beans, salsa, cilantro and queso fresco. Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Tacos with Pickled Onions

Have you ever met someone who is leftover sensitive? As soon as they find out that dinner will be yesterday’s feast, they either begin to whine and complain or suddenly insist they’re dieting. Growing up, I remember my friends complaining about Mom’s leftovers. I always assumed they would be served some sloppy mess resembling you-know-what, or canned green beans that had become even more disgusting having once been heated or something. Those moms must not have been able to creatively disguise yesterday’s meal as a new concoction, because I think leftovers are wonderful.

Take these tacos, for example. They are the collection of separate dishes from my not-so-fabulous weekend meal. Fortunately, my funk has lifted and the food is delicious. After warming a double layer of La Poblanita corn tortillas, I filled them with  black bean and zucchini stuffing, topped them with Fresh Tomato Salsa, pickled onions, fresh queso and toasted coconut. Super delicious leftovers!

Pickled Onions Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium white onions, sliced into rings
  • 2 jalapenos, minced
  • 3 limes, juiced
  • 1 Tbs. salt

Directions: Bring two cups of water to boil. Immerse onion slices in the water for a few seconds then strain. Run the onions under cold water to stop the cooking. Place onions in a glass dish and squeeze the limes over them. Add jalapenos and salt and mix well. Allow the onions to marinate in the refrigerator for two or three hours before eating. They keep well for many days and improve with age.

Poblano Spinach Quesadillas

These are unapologetically green. Before you finish you’ll have bits between your teeth, a huge boost in antioxidants, and perhaps a good recipe for a St. Pattie’s Day party. As the sun angle tilts ever so slightly leaving us each day with a few more minutes of sunshine, I dream of green. I love green. I love green so much in fact, that all of my houses have been green and my bedroom is green. I’m not a fan of Kelly Green for anything except things in nature or food, so my home tends to take on a more apple or celery hue, but the grass green of nature and food consistently entices me. The evergreen colored hint-of-spice Poblano pairs remarkably well with the nutty spinach and the sassy goat cheese. This one is an easy work-week dinner that will help ring in the greens of Spring. The tortillas I use are Stacy’s BIG Organic from Colorado. Eat these for breakfast and you’ll be set for the day!

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbs. canola oil to coat pan
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 3 Poblano peppers, diced
  • 5 oz. fresh spinach, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • salt to taste
  • 1 cup grated hard goat cheese
  • flour tortillas

Directions:

Saute the onion until it turns translucent. Add the diced Poblanos and cook on a medium high heat for a few minutes. Add garlic and mix with onion Poblanos. When the garlic smells fragrant after a minute, add the spinach. Season with lime juice and salt. Cook off any excess water.

To make the quesadillas, heat a griddle on medium heat. Place a tortilla in the griddle and fill with about 1/4 cup of the onion and pepper mixture as well as about 1 Tbs. of the cheese. Fold the tortilla in half and flip when one side is beginning to brown. Toast the other side and serve with black beans or your favorite salsa.

Tamale Pie

Oh so yummy, oh such comfort food, oh so easy! This is leftover heaven with a few added tidbits – a great work-night dish. Not to mention the fact that much of it is local: beans, corn, carrots, cornmeal, and butter. This one will make you feel good – body and brain!

If your’re not familiar with Michael Natkin from Herbivoracious, I suggest you check out his work. I give him credit for teaching me how to make cornbread, and although I did not follow his recipe exactly, I did obey his fifty/fifty theory regarding flour and cornmeal proportions.

Bottom Ingredients:

  • oil to coat pan
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Habanero, minced
  • 2 poblano peppers, diced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 small (10 oz.) bag frozen corn
  • 1-2 cups salsa (I used some leftover frozen tomatillo from last weekend)
  • 1 Tbs. cumin
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 6-8 cups kidney beans, cooked

Directions:

Saute onion on low heat until it begins to brown. Next add poblanos and carrots. I turned up the heat a little and stirred because I love to release the flavor of the slightly roasted poblano. Next add garlic and habanero and cook just until the garlic gives off its’ goods. Add the salsa, corn, beans, cumin, and salt . Mix this all together, turn down the heat and cover to let simmer for a few minutes while you whip up the cornbread top.

Cornbread Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup frozen corn (the other half of the bag), ground in food processor
  • 1 cup coarse-grind cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • pinch of dried pepper flakes
  • dash of salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat the eggs and milk together and add the melted butter. In a separate bowl mix all the dry ingredients and the chopped corn. Mix in the butter, eggs and milk just enough to blend batter – no over mixing!

To assemble the Tamale Pie:

Pour the chile mixture into the bottom of a baking dish the spread the cornbread mixture over the chili. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 375 degrees.

Zucchini Stuffed Blackened Peppers

It’s interesting how a dish presents itself to me. If the produce is not in the house, nothing will manifest. I mean really, nothing. I can’t come up with an idea if my life depended on it. Jeff will say, “I’m going to the store. What do we need?” and I can’t think of a thing. I hate cooking recipes that involve all kinds of store foraging as I’m not really that much into shopping. On the other hand, I’m happy to pluck from the garden or if the kitchen is well-stocked, things start to speak to me. That’s why I love my CSA box. I never have to think of what to cook. The box dictates a directive and I follow. How will I survive until June?

Since a trip to the local market last Wednesday here in Mexico, I’ve had these lovely little zucchini haunting me from the fridge, and at times I could also hear green peppers in the crisper screaming out for attention. I knew they wanted something, but what? Yesterday it came to me, a subtle scent wafted off the ocean, and as a vision, I saw charred green peppers stuffed with diced zucchini all on a bed of ranchera sauce with a little drizzle of cilantro lime crema to cool the heat.

The ranchera sauce was really quite an accident…I mean experiment! I figured I’d slow roast some onions, garlic, jalapeno and diced tomatoes and then zing them all together with an old tortilla to help thicken the sauce a bit. This worked out beautifully and with a little cumin, delivered a lovely deep flavor, but unlike the rich brownish red of my inspirational image, the sauce was carrot orange. Now, being that I am in Condolandia with a limited kitchen, I have no spices other than salt, pepper and few cumin seeds. How was I to turn the sauce brown? Well, that’s when the idea of mole came to mind. I could add chocolate. I don’t have any chocolate laying around, but we do have a giant jar of Nutella, so in went a big blop, and the most amazing sauce resulted. It’s got a slow burn heat with a sweet chocolate finish, and with the charred green peppers is quite the compliment.

Ranchera Sauce:

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 jalapenos, cut into rings
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 6-8 large Roma tomatoes, cut into circles
  • 2 large tablespoons Nutella
  • 2 Tbs. adobo sauce from chipotle peppers
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

The prep work for this is really easy because everything will get blended, so don’t take much care in cutting the veggies. Start with a hot pan and heat the oil, add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the jalapenos and cook until soft. Add the garlic and let everything cook on medium heat for three or four minutes. Add the tomatoes and let the whole thing cook down. Empty into the blender with a ripped up corn tortilla, the Nutella, adobo, salt and pepper. Zing until smooth. Return to a pan and simmer for a few minutes.

Zucchini Stuffing:

  • 3 medium zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • olive oil for saute
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/2 cup black beans, pre-cooked
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Saute the onions on a slow heat until they are nicely wilted. Add the cumin and allow the seeds to toast with the onions and oil. Next add the minced garlic and saute for about a minute. Then add the zucchini and cook until just tender. Add the black beans and salt and pepper to taste. Remove zucchini mixture to a bowl.

Blackened Peppers:

Cut green peppers in half and remove the seeds. Place them cut side down on a heated skillet. Cook them until they blacken and then turn to blacken the skin side. Cover so they can steam a bit to soften. Do not overcook to soften, but allow then to get nice and black. That’s where the wonderful roasted pepper flavors comes from.

Cilantro Lime Crema:

Add finely chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice to 1/2 cup of fresh crema. If you are using American sour cream, thin it out with a little dash of milk.

Assembly:

Fill the bottom of a plate with a thin layer of ranchera sauce and place a green pepper open on top. Fill the pepper with the zucchini stuffing and top with a little melting cheese (manchego, provolone, cheddar, whatever you have). Next, garnish with guacamole, chopped tomato, cilantro, queso fresco and crema. Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Chilaquiles

There are a few groups  of people in the world who just can’t imagine not eating meat: Mexicans, Hmong and the French. I can live without the heavy creams and sauces of the French, but unfortunately for me, I LOVE Mexican food. In order to indulge, I have to make it at home, because Mexican restaurants rarely leave out the lard and chicken stock. Luckily, for the culinary world, many Mexicans are Catholic, and that means meatless Fridays during the days of Lent. Lots of wonderful creations have come from these meatless moments of penance: Chilaquiles, Chile Relleno, Enchiladas de Queso, etc. The other great thing about Mexican food is its dependance on the chile and abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. Really, it’s a cuisine quite suitable to vegetarianism, and I have often wondered why a totally Mexican restaurant has not already opened in my neck of the woods! Oh yeah, they couldn’t get a parking variance, that’s right.

When we visit Mexico, we often stay in all-inclusive resorts because we can eat. Lots of people complain about the buffets always being the same, but that is not our perspective. Every day there are new veggie creations, salads, potatoes and rice, wonderful breads and cheeses – these hotels often cater to the gringo/euro crowd. But, it’s the breakfasts we really love, because that is when Mexican food becomes vegetarian. Sometimes they serve quesadillas stuffed with cheese or mushrooms, other times they make gorditas or pupusas, sometimes they have tamales de pina or de frijol and always they serve chilaquiles. This is my absolute favorite breakfast meal. Chilaquiles are leftover totopos (fried corn tortillas) smothered in warm green or red salsa and topped with crumbled queso fresco, cotija, crema, onion and cilantro. They are easy to make and completely satisfying. Today, in celebration of Christmas, I made mine green –  the color of summer!

A few days later, I made these red…in honor of Christmas!

By the way, check out my new favorite blogger’s take on Chilaquiles. Mi Vida Naca

Ingredients:

  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 cups salsa, warmed
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onion
  • 1/4 cup queso fresco, chopped
  • cotija, to sprinkle on top
  • crema, to drizzle on top
  • cilantro garnish

Directions:

Cut the tortillas into triangular sixths and fry in hot oil until they get crisp. I used very little oil to avoid the fat factor and it seems to work out well. Warm the salsa. Once the tortillas are fried, put them on a serving platter and pour the salsa over the top. Garnish with the cheeses, onions and cilantro.

Patties Galore – Sweet Corn Cakes

Sweet Corn Cakes with Pineapple syrup

Corn Flour Patties Stuffed with Black Beans and Potato (Gorditos)

Ecuadorian Potato Patties (Llapingachos)

I don’t know what it is, perhaps some subliminal message sent to me via Sponge Bob Squarepants, or the fact that I have only a two-burner hot plate for cooking, but I have patties on my brain. First I made Gorditos stuffed with potato and black beans, then I made Ecuadorian potato patties, called “Llapingachos,” and today big fat corn cakes with fresh pineapple syrup. Sauces and salsa are an easy-to-make accompaniment.

The Gorditos reminded me a little of tamales, and with Christmas upon us,  I thought it would be fun to make a sweet cake in the same manner. I intended to stuff them with little bits of pineapple, but figured Max would like them better without fruit pieces inside. I opted instead, to make a pineapple syrup with sugar, lime zest and juice. Of course there is no microzester here in Condolandia, so I resorted to using a paring knife – oh, the things we take for granted!

Pineapple Syrup:

  • 1 cup chopped pineapple
  • zest and juice from one lemon or lime
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • splash of water

Simmer on the stove for a few minutes until the syrup starts to thicken.

Dough:

  • 4 cups Maseca tortilla flour
  • About 5 cups warm water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • canola oil in a bowl for finger dipping

Directions: Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, and add water until the dough is soft and doesn’t break apart.

Forming Sweet Corn Cakes

Take a ball of dough about the size of your palm and flatten it out. Once the fat tortilla is formed, place it on a dry skillet on medium heat and cook until browned. Turn it and brown the other side as well. The gorditas take quite a long time to cook, so it’s not a bad idea to keep them warming in the oven until they are all prepared. They reheat easily in the microwave as well.

Gorditas

These little fatties are stuffed with leftover potato and black bean filling. They are essentially a very fat, yet soft tortilla that can be opened like a pocket pita if done correctly. The dough differs from a traditional corn tortilla in that it calls for about a cup of flour and baking powder. Gorditas are supposed to be griddle-cooked then sliced open like a pocket, but I filled these pupusa style and left them hefty. These babies have a good 1/2 inch girth, and with all the carbs, would make a great marathon meal. Aren’t we all looking for alternatives to the ubiquitous “Spaghetti Dinner?”

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups Maseca tortilla flour
  • About 5 cups warm water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • canola oil in a bowl for finger dipping

Directions: Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, and add water until the dough is soft and doesn’t break apart when you test-run a tortilla. The edges will crack open a little, but you want enough water so the tortillas don’t totally break apart.

Forming Gorditas

Take a ball of dough about the size of your palm and flatten it out. Make an indentation as you cup it in your hand. This little cup you make is where you will place your filling. Spoon in potatoes, black beans or cheese, and bring the dough together to form a ball again. Now you can begin to flatten the ball into a fat tortilla. Remember, there are lots of demonstrations on YouTube to help you through the process. Once the fat tortilla is formed, place it on a dry skillet on medium heat and cook until browned. Turn it and brown the other side as well. The gorditas take quite a long time to cook, so it’s not a bad idea to keep them warming in the oven until they are all prepared. They reheat easily in the microwave as well. Serve with salsa, guacamole, shredded lettuce and crema.

Breakfast Burrito

 

Sorry about the green grass in the background – I know most of you prefer a snow-white backdrop for food photography! I have to take the shots outside to avoid using the flash, and so it’s either a background of grass, white sand beach or the sparkling water of the pool. Mexico for the holidays. Ho humm! Sorry. Would you feel better if I told you it was raining?

Breakfast this morning was a blast from our Honduran past – the kind of hearty breakfast that takes too much time to make, but is absolutely worth it.  This dish was born in a Honduran kitchen (sin refri)  as a way to get rid of marinara sauce leftovers. It’s the kind of dish that can take many hours to assemble each part, but if you plan ahead, and do a little here and there, it can be a cinch. Parboil the potatoes and make the beans and salsa ahead of time and you’ll be happy. My burritos today sported a stewed tomato with Mexican pickled onion salsa rather than a thick red sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large yellow potatoes, parboiled and diced
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 2 Tbs. oil
  • 2 Serrano peppers, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup cooked black beans
  • 1 cup grated white cheese (manchego, queso blanco)
  • flour tortillas
  • 1 cup salsa, warmed
  • 1 cup simple guacamole

Directions:

Saute the onions and Serranos in oil. Once the onions become translucent, add the diced parboiled potatoes and cook until they become crisp on the bottom. Turn potatoes and brown.

To assemble the burritos, place a little bit of the potato filling, cheese and beans in a flour tortilla and fold it in half. Toast the burrito in a hot pan until it starts to brown and then flip it to the other side. Once the burritos are plated, they should be covered with the warmed salsa and a side of guacamole. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Smoky Chipotle Mock Duck Burrito

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“That was the best meal I’ve had in a decade,” Jeff hailed with a quick kiss on the cheek before hauling a box of can lights up to the attic for the remodel. I smiled to myself as I thought, This is a meal for a woman who needs something done around the house! (Not that he wouldn’t do it anyway, but some guys may need a little extra push!) My husband, vegetarian for nearly seventeen years, still craves the satisfying texture and richness of protein, and despite not wanting to consume meat, he doesn’t mind the similarities to meat that plant protein substitutes like veggie burgers and mock duck have.

Burritos and Enchiladas have always been our favorite foods, and many years ago, when we were working on starting a restaurant, Mock Duck Stuffed Burritos were to be on the menu. The restaurant was to be in a quiet neighborhood in Minneapolis and would serve vegetarian Latino Fusion. The old corner store we were hoping to convert didn’t have any parking, and the neighbors didn’t want a restaurant in the location, so our plan died and so did the Mock Duck Stuffed Burrito…until today!

Mock duck prepared this way is a little like red chile stew made with slow cooked pork roast – a great meal to help prove to our fellow carnivores that vegetarian food isn’t hard to palate. Not only do these burritos have this amazingly flavorful mock duck, but I whipped up a batch of tomatillo salsa, some wicked delicious guacamole and a rice dish that will send you on a Soma holiday (Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1932)! This meal has many pieces and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

To prepare the burritos, we heat the tortillas on a skillet until they begin to toast slightly. As the tortilla warms, I like to add grated cheddar cheese first so it melts, then top it with rice and mock duck. Then I fold my burritos in half more like a quesadilla and toast them on both sides. Once it lands on the plate, the fun begins. I am all about the garnishes when it comes to Latin American food. I load on salsa, chopped cilantro, guacamole and some kind of cheese – either crema, cotija or crumbled feta. Oh, so satisfying!

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Mock Duck Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, halved and sliced so onion breaks apart in half-circles
  • 1/2 head roasted garlic, pureed in food processor
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo, pureed in food processor
  • 4 cans mock duck, shredded
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. dried chipotle powder

Directions:

Saute the onions in the oil on low heat until they begin to caramelize. Next add the mashed garlic and chipotles. Mix in the shredded mock duck and spices. Cook on low heat for just a few minutes until the flavors have combined. I have found that if you cook mock duck too long, it breaks down and gets soft and mushy, so you really want to simply warm it.

Stacked Enchilada

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Doesn’t this just look autumnal? I never noticed light quality as much as I have since I started snapping pictures of food. Using natural light in the late afternoon with late August sun is enough to remind me that winter in the Northern Hemisphere is heading in this direction. Fortunately, we have stacked enchiladas to warm the way.

The other day when I woke up thinking “Mexico,” I cooked eight pounds of black beans in order to have them on hand in the freezer. The only CSA produce remaining in the crisper were a pound of tomatillos and four yellow squash. As you know, the tomatillos got a spin around the salsa dance floor while the yellow squash demanded to be sliced up into buttery yellow ribbons. The yellow squash didn’t really get the parade it deserved with this dish, but added a sweet color and flavor when sautéed with strips of onions and little slivers of garlic before being sandwiched between two giant tortillas.

Not wanting to hide the layers and completely smother the enchilada in sauce, I only used a little tomatillo salsa to dress-up the stack. Extra salsas were served on the side along with cotija, crema and fresh avocado.

Part of the fun of this enchilada is its size. I wanted a giant single stacked enchilada that could be sliced like a pie for serving, so I made giant tortillas from maseca. I used a spring form pan so the thing wouldn’t slide, but in the end, could have baked it on the plate. As it’s a dry enchilada, it didn’t move at all. If the tortillas had been a little bigger, it would have been fun to really pack the springform pan full, so the enchilada would have a more cake-like shape. I’ll save that experiment for later.

Stacked Enchiladas with Black Beans and Yellow Squash

Tortilla Ingredients:

* 4 cups maseca tortilla flour
* Water to make soft dough

Directions: I have found that the directions on the maseca bag make the tortillas a little too dry. I add water to the maseca flour until I get nice smooth dough when it’s kneaded. Form the dough into a cylinder and cut into six pieces.

To make the tortillas you will need two pieces of plastic wrap and a large flat object to press the tortilla. I used the bottom of the spring form pan, but a small cutting board would also work. Roll the tortilla dough into a ball and gently press and flatten until you get a disk shape. Dip your fingers in a little oil at this point and cover the dough with it. Place the disk on the plastic wrap and cover with another piece of plastic. Then place your pie pan bottom or cutting board on top and press firmly until the tortilla is about 1/8 inch thick. The edges of the tortilla will split open, so I usually push all the edges together before I cook it.

To cook the tortilla you need a griddle on medium temperature. Place the tortilla on the griddle and cook it until it starts to show spots of brown then flip it. Each tortilla usually needs three to four minutes per side.

Enchilada Ingredients:

  • Two cups black beans cooked
  • Four yellow squash peeled into ribbons
  • 1/2 white onion cut into thinly sliced rounds
  • 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • oil to coat pan
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • white cheddar cheese
  • Tomatillo Salsa – link to recipe

Enchilada Directions:

Peel the yellow squash with a potato peeler leaving the seeds. You only want the firm seedless part of the squash. Slice the onion rounds and then from the middle of the onion to the outside make a cut, so when the onions are sautéed they will form strips. In a little olive oil, sauté the onions until they become translucent then add the garlic and squash. Cook until the squash is just tender.

To make the enchilada stack, put a little tomatillo salsa on the bottom of the pan and then a tortilla. Alternate each stack with black beans, cheese and the sautéed squash. Cover the enchilada with grated cheese and bake for 30 minutes on 400 degrees. The cheese should be bubbly and beginning to brown. Garnish the enchilada with more tomatillo salsa and fresh cilantro. Mexican cotija, crema and fresh avocado give it a nice finish.

Pupusas

The day I met the Pupusa was one of the happiest days of my life! I became a traitor that day – falling in love with something I could not have – giving my allegiance to another country’s cuisine. I was a Peace Corp Volunteer on vacation in Guatemala from Honduras where food is more practical than delicious.  After a year of vainly searching for something satisfying and vegetarian, I had finally found a Central American foodstuff I could love. I found the Pupusa!

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It was December 1994 and Jeff and I were strolling through the Plaza Central in Antigua, Guatemala when we saw a woman making these fat stuffed tortillas. Central America is famous for making a thicker pancake-like tortilla than the paper-thin Mexican version, but these were downright chubby. We watched mesmerized as she took a ball of masa (corn flour dough), patted it out into a little cup formed in the palm of her hand, stuffed it with cheese and other savories, then sealed it all up. Then she skillfully smack, smack, smacked it back and forth in her hands forming it into a fat tortilla and tossed it on the comal, a griddle in Latin America. When they were perfectly crisp and piping hot, she served them up on a piece of brown paper along with some spicy pickled cabbage and hot sauce. This was the pocket sandwich of my dreams!

It turns out the Pupusa is the national street food of El Salvador, and despite a trip to that country, we never ate Pupusas again in Central America. Many times, since our return to the States, have I tried to recreate the Pupusa. But not until today, have I been successful! And there is a trick – a secret Pupusa trick – oil! The Pupusa maker needs a little bit of oil on the finger tips when forming the final Pupusa tortilla, and had it not been for YouTube, I think I very well could have lived out the rest of my life attempting, unsuccessfully to make the Pupusa.

These little delicacies are worth every minute of preparation, but I recommend a little YouTube viewing before you begin. Here are some links to check out:

Making Pupusas

Making Pupusas 1

Making Pupusas 2

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La Masa – Corn Flour Dough

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Fresh Mozzarella

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Smashed Black Beans

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One Pupusa to go

Ingredients:

La Masa – The Dough

Note: If you live in an area with Latino markets, you can buy fresh masa which is better than Maseca. Mercado Central in Minneapolis sells masa in bags at the Tortilleria.

4 cups Maseca tortilla flour

About 5 cups water

1/2 tsp. salt

canola oil in a bowl for finger dipping

Directions: Mix the dough in a bowl adding the water until the dough is soft and doesn’t break apart when you test-run a tortilla. The edges will crack open a little, but you want enough water so the tortillas don’t totally break apart.

Fillings

I think it is safe to say you could put nearly anything in a Pupusa as long as it is not too wet. Today I used mashed black beans and fresh mozzarella that I ran through the food processor.

Forming Pupusas

If you are not well practiced with the smack, smack smacking of tortilla formation, I recommend you use two pieces of plastic wrap and a flat round plastic lid to form them. Once you fill the Pupusa and close the dough around the filling, form it into a flattened disk by placing it between the plastic sheets and gently pressing on it with the plastic lid. Remove the top sheet of plastic, and with your finger, close all the cracked edges of the Pupusa. Again, there are lots of demonstrations on YouTube to help you through the process. Enjoy!

Curtido De Repollo (Pickled Cabbage Salad)

  • 1 head cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Mix together and allow to sit for a few hours before serving with pupusas.