Atol de Elote and Pupusas!

I love that even in my very own small city of Grand Rapids, Michigan I can walk into a local establishment and be swept off to another culture for a moment.  I felt this today when on a whim I entered “Pupuseria El Salvador.”  From the not so grandiose entrance, to the mismatched decor, greetings of buenos dìas from behind the counter and the buzz of Spanish filling my ears–a smile swept my face.  I knew that the food was going to be muy bien before my first taste.

photo by michelle.

I walked up to the counter, and since this was a pupuseria decided upon ordering a few pupusas.  I asked the young lady which were the most popular and decided upon the Camaron (shrimp) Puerco y Queso (pork and cheese) and the Loroco, a vine with edible flowers which is native to Salvador and was described as tasting of green bean.

photo by michelle.

The pupusa is a lovely, little pocket of masa filled with bubbling cheese and your choice of veg or meat.  They are served with a type of slaw called curtido which to me tasted subtly of kimchee.  I was not too far off in that curtido is fermented cabbage with red chili, vinegar and a tomato based sauce.  It paired well with the pupusa and extended a nice crunch effect.

My eyes were also drawn to a bebidà called Atol de Elote (Hot Drink of Corn) and was told it was good, so I added that to my orde.  I am so glad that I did….dang it was phenomenal!!!  I immediately had to look up a recipe and found that it is fresh corn on the cob mixed with water, then boiled with sugar, cinnamon sticks and vanilla.  The consistency is quite thick with a milky taste of cinnamon and sweetness with bits of fresh sweet corn.  Atoles have roots to ancient Mayan culture and are considered a comfort food.  If corn doesn’t suit your taste there are flavors such as chocolate and pineapple too!

photo by michelle.

The following recipe is from whats4eats

Atol de Elote

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • Yellow corn on the cob — 6 to 7 ears
  • Water — 4 cups
  • Sugar — 1/3 cup, or to taste
  • Salt — 1/2 teaspoon
  • Cornstarch (optional) — 3 to 4 teaspoons
  • Ground cinnamon — for garnishing

Method

  1. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut enough kernels off the corn cobs to make 3 to 3 1/2 cups. Then scrape the cobs with a knife to remove all their milk. Place 2 1/2 cups of the corn in a blender along with 2 cups of the water and puree well.
  2. Strain the pureed corn through a sieve into a medium saucepan and discard the solids. Stir in the remaining corn kernels, 1/3 cup sugar and salt.
  3. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, or until lightly thickened. If the atol doesn’t thicken to a creamy consistency, mix the cornstarch with a little cold water and whisk into the simmering liquid until it is just thick enough to coat a spoon.
  4. Pour the hot atol into mugs or small bowls, sprinkle with a little cinnamon and serve hot with a spoon to scoop up the corn kernels.

Variations

  • Frozen corn can be used in a pinch, but the flavor won’t be nearly as good.

Notes

  • Because the corn used in Central America is starchier, you may have to add the suggested cornstarch to achieve the lightly thickened consistency.
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Ta Da! Café Sua Da!

Envision a bright summer day you are on a drive with your windows rolled down.  The scent of fresh air and flora fill your lungs while sunshine warms your shoulders.  The rhythmic rumble of pavement is felt beneath your car tires as you wind through the countryside.  Glancing at the passing scenery you will most certainly see stalks of indigo flowers dotting the roadsides.  I’ve always grouped this flowering plant into the “pretty weeds” category…like Queen Anne’s Lace, Yarrow and Milkweed.  I have now discovered that this “weed” is delicious and it is called chicory!!! Stemming from Europe it flourishes in the Mediterranean, India, Australia, South East Asia and the United States.
The chicory plant’s leaves and roots can be consumed and are often described as having a bitter bite.  The greens are used fresh in salads, cooked, stuffed or baked.  The root is what I am interested in because it is used in two of my favorite things:

1. Cafè du Monde 

That is right, the chicory root is ground down and used in coffee or as a substitute for coffee…if that’ your thing! What I’m about to tell you next may deter you from trying chicory root but it’s history and history is important  so here it goes.  The chicory root has been used as a coffee substitute in prisons, it has gained popularity in times of economic hardship such as, The Civil War and Great Depression and has widespread use in poorer global regions.

My first taste of chicory arose when my lips brushed the foam from my first real Cafè Au Lait.  It was utter bliss, bubbly foam, dark coffee mixed with creamy milk and a warmth that traveled to my toes.  I was in New Orleans at the famed Cafè du Monde.  This is an original French market stand that roasts and brews it’s own coffee mixed with chicory!  Why with chicory you may ask?  Well, it was brought to this area by the French as they settled colonies during the  1700’s.  They acquired a taste for this blend during their civil war.  Now all visitors of New Orleans can enjoy a fresh cup of cafè au lait and a beignet 7 days a week 24 hours a day at this landmark in the French Quarter.

For those who are not able to head to NOLA for a fresh cup of coffee with chicory you can purchase the Cafè du Monde coffee here and I recommend that you do!

2. Café Sua Da

This is a coffee and chicory beverage hailing from Vietnam.  Cafè Sua Da is probably the most sublime iced coffee that one can experience.  The French are noted for introducing coffee into the region sometime during the 19th century.  The Vietnamese began using sweetened condensed milk in their morning brew due to a lack of fresh milk hence the birth of Cafè Sua Da!  This icy treat is made with thick sweetened condensed milk, robust French coffee with chicory and ice.  A few inexpensive utensils are needed in the preparation such as, a small metal French drip filter. I found mine in a local Asian market for around $3.00  otherwise you can purchase one here.

The following recipe is from Todd Porter and Diane Cu and was featured in the LA Times

Ca Phe Sua Da Recipe (Iced Vietnamese Coffee)

(makes 1 serving)

1 1/2 T Coarse Ground Coffee (use a strong roast suitable for espresso, the grind the same as for a french press)  such as Cafe du Monde
2 T Sweetened Condensed Milk
Hot Water (almost to a boil)
Ice
Vietnamese Coffee Filter

1. Pour the 2 T Sweetened Condensed Milk into an 8-10 oz glass.

2. Remove the top screen from the coffee filter. Put the ground coffee in the filter, screw screen back on, compacting the grounds. Place filter on the glass with the sweetened condensed milk. Pour just enough hot water to cover the grounds and let sit for 30 sec.

3. Loosen the filter screen screw at least 2 full rotations. Pour hot water to top of filter, cover and let sit until water has gone all the way through filter. (should be @ 5 min. at a rate of 3-4 drips/sec. If it is faster, coffees grind is too coarse. If slower, coffees grind is too fine.)

4. When water has passed though filter, remove filter from glass. Stir coffee and sweetened condensed milk together. Add ice and enjoy.

Ta Da!!!

Feathered and Furred

Do you understand the notion of not having experience with something and then, almost suddenly you come into continued contact or conversation with it?  Well, a few weeks ago I was grocery shopping and came across local farm raised rabbit in the freezer section. Now, I have never tried rabbit before but I’ve heard it is good and the Italians and French enjoy it so it must be…la verità, no!

A week later I was enjoying a pint with friends and our conversation began to revolve around curiosities and food.  I shared my discovery of the local raised rabbit for sale and it was decided that rabbit is something we ought to try. Someone came up with the suggestion of hosting a rabbit dinner party…which we will have to get a hop on!

This week I was attending a birthday party and the topic of meat was the spotlight of our conversation.  My friend’s husband was telling us that he grew up on a rabbit farm and really enjoyed rabbit meat!  There it was three instances of rabbit in about three weeks….now I have to try it!  So, stay tuned because I will be cooking rabbit in one way or another this fall.  I’ll let you know how it turns out good or bad!

With rabbit on the mind I was reminded of another recipe which I have always, always, always wanted to attempt- Quail in Rose Petal Sauce.  To me this sounds exquisite, intoxicating, and delicate.  I was introduced to the recipe in the book “Como Agua Para Chocolate” by Laura Esquivel which was later made into a movie.  The following clip depicts the scene in which the main character Tita serves her Quail in Rose Petal Sauce:

Perhaps, I’ll try this when I  come across some local quail or organic pesticide free roses!   I have found some adaptations in which chicken is substituted for quail.  I believe a nice a Cornish hen would do as well, but for now here is the original recipe from Laura Esquivel’s book:

QUAIL IN ROSE PETAL SAUCE
12 roses, preferably red
12 chestnuts
2 tsp. butter
2 tsp. cornstarch
2 drops attar of roses (rose oil)
2 Tbsp. anise
2 Tbsp. honey
2 cloves garlic
6 quail
1 pitaya

Brown the quail in butter and season with salt and pepper.

Remove the petals carefully from the roses. Ground the petals with the anise in a mortar. Separately, brown the chestnuts in a pan, remove the peels and cook them in water. Then puree them. Mince the garlic and brown slightly in butter; when it is transparent, add it to the chestnut puree along with the honey, the ground pitaya and the rose petals, and salt to taste.

To thicken the sauce slightly, you may add two Tablespoons of cornstarch.

Last, strain through a fine sieve and add no more than 2 drops of attar of roses. As soon as the seasonings have been added, remove the sauce from heat. The quail should be immersed in this sauce for 10 minutes to infuse them with the flavor, and then removed.

The quail are placed on a platter, the sauce is poured over them and they are garnished with a single perfect rose in the center and rose petals scattered all around.

Aubergines and Pomegranates

Deep Purple Eggplants

Tangy Buttermilk

Blood Red Pomegranates

Toasty Za’atar

I came across these ingredients in a recipe that I just had to try.  The onset of fall had me craving for a slow cooked dish and pomegranates have just begun to make a presence in our local produce department.

A delightful fruit filled with ruby colored seeds that are pocketed amongst the pomegranate’s white pith.  I recall my first encounter with the pomegranate: I was teaching children at their home in Oaxaca, Mexico and they picked for me a large, thick-skinned, red fruit from a tree growing in their yard.   I had never seen such a fruit before and ironically had to be taught how to eat it!  I quickly discovered that it is messy business!  Peeling away the thick skin and prying the jeweled seeds from the pith had my hands covered in bright red juice.

Now that I’ve gotten to know the pomegranate a little better I’ve found that cutting it in half and prying the seeds from the fruit under running water into a bowl is much easier.  In Michigan, pomegranates are available from October through January, so I decided to take advantage of the pomegranate’s recent debut!

photo by michelle.

The recipe which follows incorporates the smoky meatiness of slow roasted eggplant with tangy buttermilk and yogurt, nutty za’atar and a sweet burst of pomegranate.  A nice starter which I enjoyed with warmed pita bread.

Eggplant in Buttermilk Sauce

by Yotam Ottolenghi http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/

Ingredients:

  • 2 large and long eggplants
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish
  • Maldon sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 tsp za’atar

Sauce:

  • 9 tbsp buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, cutting straight through the green stalk (the stalk is for the look; don’t eat it). Use a small sharp knife to make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half, without cutting through to the skin. Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped pattern.

Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oil—keep on brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh. Sprinkle with the lemon thyme leaves and some salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, at which point the flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down completely.

While the eggplants are in the oven, cut the pomegranate into two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling-pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin. Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.

To make the sauce. Whisk together all of the ingredients. Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed.

To serve, spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves without covering the stalks. Sprinkle za’atar and plenty of pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with lemon thyme. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

photo by michelle.

note: When I made this dish I found that 40 minutes at 200 F did not roast the eggplants to my liking.  I roasted them for 1.5 hours until nicely browned.