Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pupusas with Spicy Beer-and-Lime Roasted Summer Squash

You may notice that this picture, unlike all the others on this blog, was not taken on either my front or back porch, but instead on my friend Chris's back porch, which happens to look out over a lake. I was making pupusas for a lake party, more specifically a going-away party for myself and another friend, who was also getting ready to leave for school overseas.

These pupusas, while delicious, were an example of poor planning. There's a reason people don't cook at parties. I spent so long making the fresh salsa, prepping the vegetables, cooking the vegetables, forming the pupusas, and finally cooking them, that I spent hours alone by myself in the kitchen listening to Chris's Beatles mix that, thoughtfully, he left on for me.

Usually I don't mind that so much, since I spend a lot of time alone in the kitchen cooking and listening to music, but I did miss a lot of time on the lake with friends and could have gotten significantly more sun and floated for significantly longer on the lake with a beer in my hand if I'd just done my prep work before. Lesson learned.

These are best with some really flavorful salsa or guacamole, beer, and friends. I highly suggest Sun, and Lake if you can get it.

Pupusa Dough

Traditional pupusa dough is just masa harina, water, and sometimes salt. If you love masa dough like I do (I always eat little pinches of it while I'm making tamales), then you may prefer to reduce or leave out the salt and cayenne, but even I think these are a little better with more flavor, because they're so thick (also, they lack the shortening and butter content that makes tamale dough so rich). A really flavorful filling will make them fantastic.

2 c. masa harina (Maseca is the brand I use)
1 1/2 c. warm water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Spicy Beer and Lime Marinade

1 bottle of a Mexican beer, whatever you like best, but not too dark
2-3 tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce, or more to taste (Tabasco works just fine)
1/8-1/4 c. lime juice, to taste
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. olive oil

About 1/2 lbs of squash (zucchini, pattypan, crookneck, or whatever looks good), diced
1 small white onion, diced

In a large bowl, combine the marinade ingredients, mixing well. Smell, taste, and adjust according to your preferences. Marinate the diced squash and onions for 30 minutes to an hour, turning regularly with your hands to fully coat. Heat a lightly-oiled pan to medium-high and saute the squash in a single layer, reserving the marinade. Divide the mixture into batches if there's too much. Once the pieces begin to get a little browned, drizzle in some marinade and let it simmer. As the liquid is absorbed, taste the squash. Add more marinade if you can, trying to balance the intensity of the flavor with the texture of the squash. It won't cook much more when you pan-fry the pupusas, but you don't want it falling apart while you try to form them, either.

Don't try to mix the masa dough until the squash is done. It dries out so quickly, and the squash will need to cool a little so you can handle it anyway. Before you get started, set out a little dish of oil with which to brush the pupusas when you finish forming them

Mix the masa, salt and cayenne well, then add the water, mixing thoroughly. You may need to add a little more water as you go if it dries out and becomes difficult to handle, or you can wet your hands to smooth over any cracks in your little pupusa patties.

Divide the dough into balls bigger than a golf ball but smaller than a tennis ball; the dough ball should flatten out to about 1/4 inch thick and a little wider than your palm. Take a dough ball and begin to work it into a bowl shape, using the palm of your hand to help form it and keep it from splitting apart. As it gets larger, it may work for you to start using both hands, with the pupusa cupped in your hands (cupped like you're trying to hold water), slowly turning it as you go. Try to keep the pupusa a consistent width.

When you think it's done, grab a little handful of the filling, about several tablespoons, and put it right in the middle of your little bowl. Seal up the top edge over the filling, pressing and smoothing the sides of the pupusa until it is a solid cake. Continue to work the pupusa into a rounder shape, smoothing over any cracks as you go. If you need to, you can usually pinch off a little bit of dough from the ends; when you sealed your pupusa it was probably shaped like a football, and the tips are probably just masa, but be careful not to break the whole thing open.

That process sounds like it takes forever, and it may the first time, but you'll get the hang of it. Forming pupusas can be tricky, and if you need a visual aid, this video is cute and helpful. And even though they do spend a lot of the time on the filling, Abuelita clearly knows what she's doing.

So, as you finish forming each pupusa, brush it top and bottom with oil and set it gently on a non-stick surface covered with a towel to keep them from drying out. You can brush them with oil again and smooth over any cracks if you need to before you fry them, so don't worry. As you get close to being done, heat up a pan to medium-medium high, depending on the kind of pan. Pupusas are cooked in a dry pan, traditionally, but a little oil wouldn't hurt if charring things makes you nervous. The video addresses this, too.)

When the pan is fully heated, test the heat with a little bit of masa dough to make sure that it doesn't burn immediately, or adhere, or whatever. You want the pupusas to be able to cook for a little while without burning, so all the dough gets cooked and you get a nice crisp golden crust with some nice charring. You can do about 4 at a time, depending on the pan. Scoot them around to keep them from sticking or burning, and check the bottoms once in a while so you can flip them at the right time. I like to start with just one, so I get a handle on things before I risk a whole batch. Also so I can have a snack while I cook.

Serve with more Mexican beer and a homemade fresh salsa or guacamole, or as in the picture above, a weird (but delicious!) hybrid of salsa and guacamole. People tend to have strong opinions about how to make salsa and guacamole, so I'll leave that to you.