A Miracle Worker

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I don’t get sick too often. Maybe once or twice a year, tops. So when I do get sick all hell breaks loose. I simply hate getting sick and avoid it like, say, the plague.

Blame it on over-exhaustion, not getting enough sleep, working too much. Whatever week-long illness it was, it was completely unbearable. I had this unstoppable cough that seemed to worsen at night while in bed trying to sleep. The incessant coughing led to a sore throat and muscle pains in the abdomen; it was like I was doing nonstop crunches, but no 6-pack to show for.

What I needed was a miracle. Or Miracle Max.

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My regimen to nurse these ailments included daily vitamins, Emergen-C, so much orange juice, a hot elixir comprised of honey, fresh lemon juice, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne and turmeric. (It does the trick and nicely coats the throat.) But what really helps is a chicken soup of some kind. I had purchased a whole chicken and decided to make this Peruvian Aguadito soup quite reminiscent of the ones I used to enjoy at the L.A. Peruvian mini-chain, El Pollo Inka, that I used to frequent. The soup only gets better with a squeeze of the restaurant’s cilantro-chile sauce.

This Aguadito is a miracle worker, a magician, or brujo–the Miracle Max of soups. It has magical powers, I think, bringing you back to life. So much so that I felt increasingly better every time I consumed it (I ate the whole thing over the course of a week).

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I butchered the whole chicken into 10 pieces (halving the breasts) and kept the leftover bones to make stock for another time. The base of the recipe is usually mild, but I needed an extra kick of heat to help clear my nasal passages, and replaced with whole jalapeños for the typical serrano.

Make this the next time you start to have the ill feels. And once you start feeling better, have fun storming the castle.

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Peruvian Aguadito Chicken + Rice Soup
Recipe slightly adapted from A Cozy Kitchen
Serves 4-10

INGREDIENTS
2 bunches cilantro, stems discarded
12 garlic cloves, peeled
2 medium-sized jalapeños, stems discarded
10 cups chicken stock
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole chicken, skin-on and bone-in, butchered into 10 pieces (2 drumsticks, 2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 breasts halved into 4 pieces)
1 medium-sized red onion, julienned
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/3 cup long grain rice
1 can corn, drained
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
salt and pepper, to taste

METHOD
Purée the cilantro, garlic, jalapeños, and 1/2 cup of the chicken stock in a food processor or blender.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces, skin side down and season with salt and pepper, cooking for 5-10 minutes or till lightly browned. Turn and sear the other side for an additional 5 minutes. Once all sides are nicely seared, remove from the pot and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and add the onions and sauté till translucent. About 5-7 minutes. Add in the cilantro-garlic and jalapeño purée. Stir for 3 minutes to incorporate. Add in the rice, cumin and cayenne, stir for 2 minutes.

Slowly pour in the stock, stirring to incorporate. Bring to a boil, then add in the chicken pieces. Turn down the heat to low, add the corn and allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Finish with the lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

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(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots in this story are property of Act III Communications and Twentieth Century Fox.)

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No Contest

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Thai food has become my comfort food. It’s the cuisine I crave on the regular. It’s become a big problem.

At work we had an open call “Salmon Chowder Contest” that would run on our menu at the restaurant if it was chosen to be the winner. This is the soup I made for the contest.

I decided to base my recipe off of one I made last year for my Tom Kha Gai soup. It’s not your traditional chowder, but it’s crazy delicious. Like, it’s really good. Trust me.

Forget tradition and try this! You won’t be disappointed.

Coconut Salmon Chowder
Yields 2 quarts

FOR THE CHOWDER

INGREDIENTS
2 nubs medium-sized galangal, peeled and sliced*
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, sliced thin
5 kaffir lime leaves
6 Thai bird chiles
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
1 yellow onion, julienned
2 cups Yukon potatoes, peeled and medium-diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans coconut cream
2 cups vegetable stock
1 pound salmon, skin-off, cut into medium-sized cubes
1/8 cup fish sauce
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup Thai basil, picked and minced
1 cup cilantro, picked and minced
1 lime, zested and juiced
salt and pepper, to taste
*galangal is a rhizome from the same family as ginger, used primarily in Thai, Lao and Vietnamese cooking. Find it at your local Asian supermarket.

METHOD
Place the first 4 ingredients in a food processor and process to a paste. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add the paste, stirring till fragrant; about 5 minutes. Add the onions and saute till lightly browned. Add the potatoes and garlic and stir for a minute.

Turn down the heat and add the coconut cream and stir. Stir in the fish sauce and sugar, and bring to a gentle simmer, then add the salmon and simmer for an additional 5 minutes or till salmon is cooked.

Add the cilantro, Thai basil, lime zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper. Top with a healthy drizzle of Thai basil oil. (Recipe below).

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FOR THE THAI BASIL OIL
Yields 2 cups

INGREDIENTS
2 cups Thai basil, packed
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 3/4 cups olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

METHOD
Blanch the basil leaves in boiling salted water for 20 seconds. Remove the basil and shock in an ice water bath. Add in the garlic and olive oil. Process in a food processor till fully combined.

Store in an airtight container overnight in the refrigerator. Not he next day, strain the oil through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the leaves.

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Eat Like a Viking

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Much of the history surrounding the origin of the Danish aebleskive is shrouded in mystery—and to some, in ancient Scandinavian folklore. Legend has it that during the days of the Vikings, after the warriors returned home, hit hard in battle (many poorly wounded and hungry) mixed together flour with milk, and cooked the batter inside the hollows of their iron shields and horned helmets (which, too, were dented and broken) over an open fire.

The result: A delicious golf ball-shaped cake, golden on the outside and fluffy in the middle.

Today, aebleskiver (plural) which roughly translates to “sliced apples” are enjoyed by just about anyone in every corner of the world. Topped simply with powdered sugar, filled with delicious lingonberry jam, or dipped in a creamy lemon curd—the possibilities with these apple-shaped delights are endless. For my first solo (and best!) attempt at aebleskiver-making (I can briefly remember a short lesson on making them in culinary school), I decided to pair a simple aebleskive recipe with an of-the-moment curd. While we’re still in a weird transitional season from late-fall to winter fruits, I made a delicious pomegranate-lemon curd that pairs perfectly with this recipe.

Cooking with a special aebleskiver pan makes this recipe so much easier, but I used a mini muffin pan, and it worked out PERFECTLY.

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Aebleskiver (Danish Pancakes)

Yields 16
Recipe slightly adapted from Serious Eats

INGREDIENTS
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 cup half and half
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT
Aebleskiver pan (found in select cooking supply stores, like Sur La Table)
or, use a mini muffin pan (which I did.)

METHOD
Whisk together the AP flour, baking powder and salt, then set aside. In a larger bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk and 3 tablespoons of the melted butter until just-combined. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula, don’t overmix, as it should be slightly lumpy.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites till stiff peaks form,  about 5 minutes. Then fold in the whipped egg whites into the lumpy batter.

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If you have an aebleskiver pan, place the pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter evenly to each well of the mold, and once the butter starts to bubble, add 2 heaping tablespoons of batter. Allow the aebleskiver to cook till the bottoms are golden, about 4 minutes, then flip and continue cooking till the tops are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer cooked pancakes to a plate covered with foil to retain heat. Repeat steps till the rest of the pancake batter is used.

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If you DON’T have an aebleskiver pan, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and place a mini muffin pan into the oven to heat up. Once your oven is up to temperature, remove the muffin pan and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter into each mold well, then add about 2 heaping Tablespoons of pancake batter into each well. Place into the oven and allow the aebleskiver to cook till the bottoms are golden, about 3 minutes. Once you see that the bottoms are golden, remove from the oven and flip each pancake onto the other side.

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Raise your oven’s temperature to 425 degrees, and once heated up, place the aebleskivers back into the oven to finish cooking for another 3-5 minutes, till golden brown. Once done, immediately transfer the cooked aebleskiver to a plate covered with foil to retain heat, and repeat the steps till the rest of the batter is used.

Garnish with Pomegranate-lemon curd. (Recipe here)

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Bao Down

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Gua Bao
is a Taiwanese street food, comprised of a steamed bun, braised meat, and other fillings. I was first introduced to these teeny-tiny bites of delight while I worked for a food truck in San Francisco. Every weekend our truck met with other food trucks at Fort Mason hosted by Off the Grid, a Bay Area-based food and music event planner of sorts, bringing together only the best local food trucks at different venues weekly throughout the Bay. Off the Grid events were super fun to work because we were always busy and we got to meet some really awesome and talented people in the food truck community. One of my favorite trucks that I became a huge fan of was Chairman Bao, food truck that specialized in gua bao. A light and fluffy steamed bun with a tender, crisp slice of pork belly, with a nicely pickled crunch of daikon. So many excellent flavors all in one bite. You can’t help but want more.

This week I put my own spin on gua bao with braised pork belly, sweet pickled papaya and spicy pickled cucumbers.

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FOR THE BUNS
Recipe slightly adapted from Food52
Yields 16

INGREDIENTS
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup water, room temperature
2 1/8 cups flour
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup reserved pork fat, room temperature (you can use bacon or pork belly fat)

METHOD
Set up a stand mixer with a dough hook. Place the yeast and water together and mix just to incorporate to activate the yeast. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Then add in the flour, sugar, milk powder, Kosher salt, baking powder, baking soda and fat and mix on low for about 10 minutes. After the mixing cycle, your dough should be gathered into a ball. Place the dough ball in a lightly oiled medium-sized bowl, wrapped in plastic wrap. Keep the bowl in a warm area of your kitchen and allow the dough to rest for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

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Once the dough has rested and risen, transfer it onto a lightly floured work surface. Use a sharp knife to divide the ball in 2 equal-sized pieces.

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Then divide each half into 4 equal-sized pieces, making 8.

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Roll each piece into mini logs, then cut each log in half, making 16 pieces total.

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Each piece should weigh about 25 grams each and be about the size of a Ping-Pong ball. Then roll each piece into a ball and place on a baking sheet. Loosely wrap the sheet tray with plastic wrap and allow to rise for a half-hour.

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After the buns have rested, use a rolling pin to roll each ball into a 4-inch-long oval. Brush each bun lightly with oil, and lay a chopstick horizontally across the center of the oval and fold it over onto itself to form a bun. Gently pull out the chopstick, leaving the bun folded, and place it onto a sheet tray, allow all the rolled out buns to rest for another 45 minutes.

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Set up a steamer on top of your stove. Steam your buns in batches so the steamer isn’t overcrowded, and steam them for about 8 to 10 minutes. Quickly remove each bun and place on a sheet tray to cool.

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The steamed buns can be used immediately or kept frozen in Zip-Lock bags for up to 2 months. Reheat the frozen buns on a stove top steamer for about 3 minutes, or until soft and warmed all the way through.

FOR THE FILLING
Recipe slightly adapted from Serious Eats
Serves 4-8

INGREDIENTS
1/2 pound slab skin-on pork belly
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 stub ginger, peeled and minced
3 each star anise
2 each Thai chili
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup Asian rice wine
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 Spice
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
1/4 cup light soy sauce
3 cups water

METHOD
Heat a nonstick or cast-iron skillet on medium-high. Once hot, place the pork belly into the pan and allow to sear for 5 minutes (or until light golden brown) before turning the belly onto the other side. Allow to sear for another 5 minutes, flipping the belly till all sides are seared nicely.

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Remove the belly and place onto a plate. Lower the heat to medium, then add the oil, garlic, ginger, and chilis. Toss for 2 minutes. Then add the star anise and brown sugar. Stir for a minute then deglaze with the wine. Stir till the sugar is melted.

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir thoroughly. Return the belly to the pan and turn down the heat to low. Carefully cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil. Allow to braise for at least 1 hour. Check the belly for tenderness after 1 hour. Cook till fork tender.

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FOR THE PICKLES

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Spicy Pickled Cucumbers
Yields 1 cup

INGREDIENTS
1 large English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 Thai chili, julienned
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds

METHOD
Heat the vinegar, sugar, chili, salt, pepper flake and sesame seeds in a small pan till boiling. Place the sliced cucumbers in a Mason jar or deli cup, then pour the boiling brine into the jar then cover. Allow to sit in room temperature for an hour, then keep in the refrigerator.

Sweet Pickled Papaya
Yields 2 cups

INGREDIENTS
1 small green papaya, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

METHOD
Bring the vinegar, sugar, water and salt to a boil until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the brine into a Mason jar or deli cup with the papaya. Cover tightly and allow to sit in room temperature for 1 hour. Then keep in the refrigerator.

Pickles can be used once cooled, and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

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TO ASSEMBLE
16 steamed buns
braised pork belly, sliced into 16 pieces
hoisin sauce
spicy pickled cucumbers
sweet pickled papaya
1/4 cup cilantro leaves

METHOD
Place a slice of the pork belly into the bun, smear a little hoisin sauce on the pork. Put 3-6 cucumber slices and about 3 tablespoons of papaya on top of the pork. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves. Enjoy!

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Sir Mix-Mix A-Lot

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My first memory of devouring halo-halo (pronounced hollow-hollow, and Tagalog for “mix-mix”) was at an early age at Magic Wok, a Filipino restaurant in L.A. close to where I grew up. (The restaurant is luckily still around, but it’s now called Crispy House, I highly recommend checking it out if you’re ever in L.A.) The food was soooo good; the best Filipino food I’ve ever had–crispy pata (fried pork belly), Shanghai lumpiang (Chinese-style deep-fried egg rolls), chicken adobo (braised chicken in herbs, vinegar and soy sauce), pancit bihon (stir-fried rice noodles), and of course, the house special halo-halo, a shaved ice/ice cream dessert with milk, Spanish flan, and various beans. Yes, beans. As in, frijoles.

the inspo: Halo-halo at Magic Wok circa 2012

the inspo: Halo-halo at Magic Wok circa 2012

Anthony Bourdain tried it for the first time on his show, Parts Unknown, and described it as, “It makes no goddam sense at all; I like it,”  and “it’s oddly beautiful.”

The standout part of halo-halo is the bright purple scoop of ice cream gracing the top of the ice-cold glass, called ube, a naturally-hued purple yam. Yes, yam. Yes, it’s purple. And it’s delicious.

Alone the beans, milk, ice cream, flan, shaved ice, and chunks of jackfruit and various jellies, are odd, but once mix-mixed, the blend of savory, sweet, creamy, caramel and sometimes tangy work perfectly well together. It actually works.

The key to enjoying halo-halo to its fullest is doing exactly what its name asks: mix! And mix! Use a long spoon to mix all the layers of ingredients together.

I haven’t had legit halo-halo in a few years, but during a recent trip to the local Asian market, I stumbled upon a quart of Magnolia’s Ube ice cream. I quickly added it to my basket and enjoyed it at home. I wanted to recreate the halo-halo that reminds me of the ones I had at Magic Wok with my family. Here’s my take on Filipino halo-halo, with homemade ube ice cream and Spanish-style flan!

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FOR THE ICE CREAM

Ube Ice Cream
Yields about 2 quarts
Recipe slightly adapted from Rot In Rice

INGREDIENTS
16 ounces (1 package) ube, grated purple yam*
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons Kosher salt
(*Cook’s Note: Ube/grated purple yam can be found at your local Asian market.)

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METHOD
If your ube is uncooked (as most are in the package) steam it in a double boiler for about 20-30 minutes.

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Carefully remove the cooked ube and mash it with a fork.

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In a large sauce pot, heat the sugar and milks over medium-low heat till just-summering. Add in the mashed ube and mix till completely incorporated.

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Place the mixture into a blender or stick blender and purée till smooth. Mix in the heavy cream and salt.

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Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove the grainy bits. Discard those bits. Place the ice cream base into the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

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Place the ice cream base into your ice cream maker bowl, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

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Enjoy!

FOR ASSEMBLING THE HALO-HALO

Halo-Halo
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
Spanish flan (recipe HERE)
Ube ice cream (recipe above)
1 can evaporated milk
4 cups crushed or shaved ice
1 jar Halo-Halo mix*
(Cook’s Note: Halo-Halo mix can be found at your local Asian market.)

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METHOD
Gather 4 sundae or chalice glasses (I used a tulip-style one). Add a scoop of the ice in each, then add a layer of the halo-halo mix.

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Layer on another scoop of ice and halo-halo mix after that till you reach about 1/3 to the rim.

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Cut the flan into quarters and place a wedge on the top of each glass with 1-2 scoops of ube ice cream. Top with enough evaporated milk to cover a 1/4 to the rim.

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Marta! Marta! Marta!

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And now a scene from one of my favorite movies:

(This scene in Clueless always makes me laugh. Cher is so ignorant clueless, she doesn’t realize that her maid, Lucy, is from El Salvador, not Mexico. And that they are, in fact, two different countries. Luckily, hunky Josh sets the record straight.)

I first learned how to make traditional El Salvadorian pupusas with a very fiesty 50-something-year-old woman named Marta. I worked with Marta at a restaurant a few years ago; she was our dishwasher who’d come into work every day with the reddest lipstick and a full face of makeup and her curly hair all styled perfectly. You wouldn’t think she came into work to wash dishes by the way she presented herself. She took pride in the way she looked, and always joked to me and the other cooks that she was a “hot mama.”

Marta didn’t speak a word of English, so we communicated with each other in Spanish. Marta called me “Selena” because I would often belt out a song by the Tejano singer when I’d bring dishes to the dishpit, and she would be there, smiling brightly as I sang the words to “Como La Flor” with such passion and conviction. (Marta was one of my biggest fans.)

I learned in our conversations that she owned a pupuseria in El Salvador. How fortunate was I to work with a real pupusa expert?! “Mira, Selena,” she’d say, as she brought me and the staff pupusas con chicharones (shredded pork) and share them with the staff. I wanted so desperately to pick her brain and learn how to make the pupusas myself. So after a while we began serving her pupusas once a month in the restaurant, and guess who made them with her? Yep, me. Working next to her as she formed and shaped the pupusa balls at lightning speed was so impressive. It was, at first, quite difficult catching up to her. (She had been making pupusas for 40+ years.) But I was determined to be well versed in pupusa-making. And after a while, I got pretty good at it! Here are the recipes I remember making with Marta.

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El Salvadorian Pupusas with Curtido and Salsa Roja
Yields 5 pupusas; 1 quart curtido; 1 pint salsa roja

INGREDIENTS
FOR THE CURTIDO
1/2 head of small green cabbage, julienned thin
2 each carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/2 white onion, julienned thin
1/2 cup white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
1/4 cup fresh oregano, finely chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

FOR THE SALSA ROJA
1 each canned tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed
1 bunch fresh oregano, picked
1/2 white onion, roughly chopped
1 jalapeño, tops cut off and deseeded
1 each lime, juiced
Kosher salt, to taste
splash olive oil, to taste

FOR THE PUPUSAS
2 cups masa harina (corn flour, I used Maseca)
2 cups water
1 cup shredded habanero jack cheese
2 jalapeños, minced
oil for frying

METHOD
FOR THE CURTIDO (cabbage slaw)
Mix the shredded cabbage, onion, carrots in a large bowl. Sprinkle salt and add in the vinegar and herbs. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Set aside for at least 1 hour to allow the cabbage to break down.

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FOR THE SALSA ROJA
Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor till fully incorporated. Add salt to taste. Set aside.

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FOR THE PUPUSAS
In a large bowl and with your hands, mix the masa, salt and water till the dough is thoroughly mixed and feels like slightly wet clay or Play-Doh.

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Divvy up with dough and form into large balls. You should have about 5. In a small bowl add the minced jalapeños and shredded cheese. Add a splash of water to help bind the cheese-chile filling together.

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Fill a small bowl with lukewarm water. This water will help you when working with the pupusa dough, as it may harden and may become difficult to shape. Take one of the masa balls into your hand and flatten it onto your palm, creating a plate-like shape. Place a dollop of the cheese-chile mixture into the middle of the masa ball.

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Bring the outer sides of the masa to the other side to close the filling. Press down on the sides together to seal the seams. Shape the pupusa balls into a saucer-like shape. Dip your hands into the water bowl to add moisture to the dough if needed. Using some of the water also helps to close the seams and any cracks the dough may create.

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Fill a cast-iron skillet or shallow pan with about a half-inch of oil and turn the heat onto medium. When the skillet is hot and a little haze is over the oil, slowly add in the pupusas without overcrowding the pan.

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Allow the pupusas to cook for about 5 minutes per side. Using a heat-resistant spatula, place the fried pupusas onto a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat till all pupusas are cooked off. Serve with curtido and salsa.

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