Spicy Curtido and Cheesy Pupusas

Every once in a while, I stumble upon a recipe that makes me wonder why I had never heard of it before. I first heard of pupusas when I was searching for a recipe for curtido, which is a pickled or lightly fermented spicy cabbage slaw, and an international cousin to sauerkraut and kimchi, which I make often.

curtido

I found recipes for pupusas again when I was searching for ways to use this bag of masa flour I had left over from last weekend’s tamale party.

premade storebough masa dough

For the curtido to get spicy, make it at least a couple of days ahead of time. Start with a good, clean mason jar, preferably a large one. You can’t make too much of this stuff, trust me. You’ll be surprised how quickly it disappears.

I made my curtido as I started a few other pickling projects.

eggplant

I found a gorgeous bunch of tiny eggplants at the Korean market, and, along with a bag of small pickling cucumbers, a package each of jalapenos, habaneros, and Korean hot peppers, a head of green cabbage, a few carrots, onions, and heads of garlic, I consulted my trusty, well-read copy of Linda Ziedrich’s “The Joy of Pickling.”

pickle shelf

As a result, last week’s pickling shelf was a trip around the world: Puerto Rican pique (vinegar steeped in peppers, garlic, peppercorns, and salt); Lebanese stuffed eggplant (small eggplants sliced in half, stuffed with crushed garlic and spices, then pickled); Japanese-style cucumber and eggplant pickled with soy sauce and sake; and curtido, which is a delicacy of El Salvador.

Honestly, all of the recipes are pretty simple (as are most pickling recipes), and the curtido is also one of the fastest. It should be nice and spicy within 2-3 days on the shelf.

I based my recipe off of Linda Ziedrich’s as well as a few others– they’re basically all the same, but I left out the fresh onions. To my taste, the fresh-cut onions pack so much flavor, that it overpowers all of the other flavors mixing in there. I also add dried Mexican oregano, and let it sit on the shelf with an airlock cap while fermenting — and I ferment mine with vinegar. You can also ferment it without vinegar and it will take 5 days to two weeks.

curtido recipe card

Curtido

  • 1 head of green cabbage, thinly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, diced
  • 1/4 cup dried Mexican oregano
  • 7-8 hot peppers, diced (jalapeno, habanero, Thai chilis work well, or a mix)
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 3 tablespoons pickling salt
  • 2-3 cups white vinegar

Blend all of the chopped vegetables in a large bowl, and cover with salt and oregano. Using a large wooden spoon or a krautpounder, pound the vegetables until the salt has dissolved and the vegetables are coated. Add pineapple juice and mix thoroughly. Transfer everything to a large mason jar and fill the jar almost to the top with vinegar. Cover with an airlock cap and let it rest in a cool place for 2-3 days.

045

Once it’s nice and spicy, the curtido is good for pretty much anything. It was a great accompaniment to all of the tamales we made before Thanksgiving … and, for that matter, it was good with my Thanksgiving leftovers, too.

I even ate it with some Chinese potstickers. You can’t go wrong with it.

However, they are traditionally eaten with pupusas, which are basically tiny handheld hot cornmeal sandwiches.

045

I based my recipe off of this one from The Kitchn, but as I said, my masa was pre-made and store-bought. If you ask me, that’s the easier way to go when it comes to masa, whether it’s for tamales or anything else. Although it’s a good idea to mix in a few pats of cold butter to make the masa taste good.

040They’re very easy to make: I blended a pound of pre-made masa dough with a stick of cold butter, and formed it into little balls of dough. Then I made a hole in each ball of dough, filled it with cheese, then flattened the dough and fried it. That’s it! I made mine with two different kinds of delicious cheddar, but you can stuff them with any type of meat, cheese, beans or vegetables.

pupusas

 Pupusas

  • 1 lb premade masa dough
  • 1 stick of cold, salted butter
  • 3 cups grated cheddar cheese (I used half mild and half sharp cheddar)
  • salt, pepper, cayenne

Mix the dough and butter thoroughly (using clean, dry hands), and form the dough into balls (you should have about 12). Holding the ball of dough in one palm, poke a hole in the dough with your thumb, then hollow out a hole in the center. Fill the hole with grated cheese, and seal the hole again. Then flatten the dough. Make sure no cheese has escaped. When you have all of the pupusas ready, bring your cast-iron or other heavy-duty frying pan up to high heat and coat with vegetable oil. Fry each pupusa for about 4-5 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Once removed from heat, sprinkle each side with salt, pepper and a bit of cayenne. Serve with curtido.

pupusa with curtido

 

pupusas recipe card

Of course, now I see why these two go together so well. It’s like an awesome, handheld, spicy cheesy quesadilla, without all of the mess. The light crunch and spicy tang of the slaw is a perfect companion to the smooth cheese inside of a thick corn crust. When you give it a try, you’ll see.

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In a pickle down at the farm

This weekend, I attended a great pickling class at Wild Willow Farms outside of San Diego, a lovely organic farm and educational center.  I learned many things and will list them in no particular order of importance:

1. ) Refrigerator pickles are quite literally the easiest thing you can ever make. Ever. Period. If you don’t need to seal it in a mason jar and store it on a cupboard shelf, that means you don’t need to worry about the acid/pH levels, and you can simply make what tastes good to you, put it in the fridge, and eat it at your convenience.

Before: Cut up veggies and herbs, arrange artfully. Use whatever fresh herbs and spices you like.

After: Brine is one quart of water to 2 tbsp. kosher salt. (You can also do this brine with vinegar if you prefer a vinegar-y pickle to a salty one.) Refrigerate and enjoy. Keep it refrigerated. No really. That's it.

2) Classes are not enough — if you want to learn how to preserve, pickle, can, etc., learn the basics of pressure canning vs. hot-water bath canning, as well as acid and pH-levels. It’s not complicated to learn and misunderstanding the essentials may cause people who eat your food to get sick or your food to spoil before its time.

I do not claim to be an expert at … well, anything …. but I will refer you to the experts who can educate you better than I ever could. You can read the USDA guidelines for safe canning here and a great summary here. Basically, if something is high in acid (say, pickles, jellies, jams), they can be safely sealed in a hot water bath, which is literally placing the filled mason jar into a pot of water and boiling it. Things like tomatoes, soups, sauces, and other foods that are low in acid MUST BE sealed in a pressure canner. If you are unsure about the pH levels, err on the side of caution and pressure-seal the jars. Better to be safe than sorry, that’s my motto.

3.) I like pickled things way more than I ever thought I would. Maybe it’s because as I get older and my tastes change, I eat better food also. I still don’t care for a store-bought pickle, but the pickled green beans and garlic-dill refrigerator pickles I have tried lately are killer.

Nom nom nom.

4.) You would be (or at least, I was) surprised at how many things there are to be pickled. If you think about it in a historical sense, you know that before there was refrigeration, pretty much everything was either fresh or fermented/pickled in some way. (Think about it, when you can only grow vegetables for a few months out of the year, if that, you rely on preserving and saving your crops.) My favorite recipe from this class is for pickled figs, which make a delicious and fragrant treat.

Pickled Figs

Recipe courtesy of Mariah Gayler at Wild Willow Farms.

  • 3-4 lbs. fresh figs
  • 3 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup sage honey (sage has the best flavor, but any honey works)
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup shelled and halved walnuts (optional)
  • 3 tbsp. peppercorns
  • sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary
  • strips and/or pieces of orange zest

Cut the stem off of each fig, and prick each one with a fork or a toothpick (this helps the fruit to absorb the liquid and not float when you put it in a jar). Place figs in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Gently swish the figs around to clean, and drain the water out (note: sometimes homegrown figs can be extra sticky and may need two rinses). Combine vinegar, water, sugar and honey in a large nonreactive pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Carefully add the figs to the simmering syrup, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Add walnuts.

And it smells delicious!

Arrange the figs in jars , and add the herbs and zest to the individual jars. (Make it look pretty.) Then carefully ladle the syrup into each jar, leaving about 1/2-inch of headroom. Seal the jars for 15 minutes in a hot water bath.

5.) Kimchi is a mystery to me. I learned from “The Joy of Pickling,” a great primer on pickles by my home-canning heroine Linda Ziedrich, that Koreans eat more pickles per capita than any other nationality, mostly because of their love for kimchi. I know that kimchi is cabbage as well as generally anything from the Brassiceae family (think cabbage, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower), and that the elements of the food in this family create a bacteria that pickles the vegetables after fermenting over time. The instructor at my class had a pot of cabbage, kale, and a myraid of other veggies, kosher salt and spices, but no liquid, and as it gets pushed down the liquid comes out of the vegetables and ferments.

Kimchi, fermenting away.

It’s hard to reconcile the act of letting something sit at room temperature for a couple of days while (good) bacteria swishes around and reacts in there, but the spicy tang of kimchi is worth it. I have never made it but plan to do some recon and investigate what spices and flavors I want in my kimchi, then I will try some recipes and make some for myself. Stay tuned to find out what delicious shenanigans I come up with next.

Teeny little eggplants. Aren't they cute?

6.) In order to maintain the crisp deliciousness of a carrot, cucumber or green bean, most pickles are made with fresh and uncooked produce. There are a few exceptions, though, like eggplant — whose bitterness would make an icky pickle indeed if it weren’t blanched before pickling.

I got some flatbread and tabbouleh with your NAME on it.

 Quick Pickled Eggplant with Basil

Recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s “The Joy of Pickling.” We used a lot of her recipes during this class. I highly recommend both of her books (she is also the author of “The Joys of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves.”)

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 tbsp. plus one tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 medium eggplants (about 3 1/4 lbs.), cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh basil (frozen or refrigerated pesto also works)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

In a saucepan, bring the water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add half of the eggplant cubes and simmer them for about 5 minutes, until they are tender. Put them in a colander and cook the remaining eggplant cubes the same way. Add them to the colander and rinse and drain the eggplant. In a bowl, mix the cooked eggplant with the vinegar, basil, pepper, garlic, and remaining salt. Cover or place in jars and refrigerate at least 8 hours. Add the olive oil just before serving (although there will be some liquid in the mixture).