Tuesday, January 19, 2010

El Salvador

El Salvador, located on the Pacific coast of Central America, has a cuisine very similar to that of Guatemala. Both countries are influenced by Mayan culture and use indigenous foods such as corn, tomatoes, and beans in their cooking. With that knowledge and the help of our friend Sarah, who has had Salvadoran food firsthand during her travels in Central America, we concocted this meal with confidence and great ease. This was truly one of our greatest accomplishments as far as efficiency and getting food from concept to the table.

Curtido: Pickled Cabbage Salad

This was not our first foray into the world of pickling. We have been trying to master the art of pickling over the last year. Unfortunately, not all of our attempts have been successful, but we have done very well with recipes that call for quick pickling. When we came across this wonderful item, we knew we would be okay. Not only can you put this on virtually everything you eat, but it is made with our favorite underrated vegetable: the cabbage. It also ferments in about a day, so it looked promising from the get-go. The final product received a lot of praise and produced many, many days worth of leftovers that Sarah is still enjoying.

1/2 head cabbage cored and sliced very thin
1 red onion thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1.5 tbsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic minced
3 carrots grated
5 dried red chiles de arbol
3 tsp salt or more to taste
1.5 cups white vinegar
1 cup water

1. In a small sauce pan bring vinegar, water, salt, garlic, chiles, sugar, and spices to a simmer on the stove. Cook for ten minutes.
2. In a large bowl or huge jar add all the chopped vegetables.
3. Pour the vinegar mixture over everything and cover with a cloth. Allow 24 hours for the vegetables to ferment at room temperature and then cover with either a lid or plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
4. Use it like you would sauerkraut!

Salsa Roja: Red Sauce

This salsa, much like the curtido, went on everything in the meal. It's a simple, quick sauce to make and adds a lot of flavor to starchy food.

4 tomatoes chopped
1 cup water
1/2 cup corn oil
1 small onion chopped
1 clove garlic minced

1.Combine everything in a small saucepan.
2. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
3. Blend into a smooth sauce.
4. Salt to taste.

Avocado Soup

This soup is not for everyone's palate since most people aren't used to eating cooked avocado. Generally in America we eat it raw, sliced or blended into a guacamole. When it's prepared this way, however, it comes off as sweet and thinned out. Much different than I expected.

4 liters stock
4 avocados sliced (edible bits only)
1 large onion roughly chopped
2 limes
1 chile serrano
Salt to taste

1. In a large pot combine the avocado, onions, stock, and serrano. Bring this to a boil and simmer over medium low heat covered for 30 minutes.
2. Cut the heat and puree the soup in a blender and return to the pot.
3. Zest the limes and add the zest and squeezed lime juice to the pot. Salt the soup to taste and serve.


We had 13 guests come over for this meal and nothing feeds a last minute crowd like a big ol' pot of rice and beans.

Cooked rice
Cooked black beans
2 onions chopped
1/2 cup corn oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the rice, beans, and onions in a larger pot. Pour on 1.5 cups water and 1/2 cup corn oil and heat over medium stirring often until the water has been absorbed and the mixture has heated up.
2. Salt and pepper to taste and serve with red sauce (recipe above) and crumbly fresh cheese such as feta or cotija.


Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvodor. I couldn't even begin to explain them to you, but they are quite the tasty treat.

Masa Harina (Extra starchy corn meal generally used for tamales that can be found at a Latino grocery)
Grated white cheese
Corn Oil

1. Mix corn masa with salt and water bit by bit until a firm and non crumbly dough is made. This could be anwhere from a 1/6 or a 1/4 ratio of water to masa it really depends on how dense the meal is. So use your eyes and hands to judge it. The final product should be firm and gooey but should not stick to your hands.
2. Let this rest for 20 minutes covered with a damp cloth.
3. To form the pupusas roll each mixture into a 3 inch ball in the palm of your hand and punch a deep pocket into the middle of the ball.
4. Fill this pocket with cheese (we used Queso Chihuahua) and close off the sides and pat it flat into a cake slightly less than a centimeter thick. Beans, meat, and just about anything else can be used for filling as well!
5. Fry the pupusas in batches in a large well greased frying pan over medium heat until both sides are well browned.
6. Store finished pupusas in the oven on low heat until all are finished and you are ready to serve.
7. Serve topped with curtido, red sauce, and cotija or feta.

Tilapia Ceviche

Sorry we did not get an individual picture of this. We were having some particularly strange camera problems this night. You can see it pictured on the plate on the left.

To Marinate:
3 lbs tilapia fillets cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup lime juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup coconut milk
1 red onion thinly sliced
1 red pepper thinly sliced
1 chile serrano minced with seeds

Add 30 minutes before Serving:
2 tomatoes diced
1/2 cup cilantro finely chopped
2 tbsp chives
2 scallions thinly sliced into circles
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lime juice
salt to taste

1. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade and allow at least six hours and no more than 24 for the tilapia pieces to marinate. The fish should be white and not too flaky at the end of the marinade.
2. Drain the juices from the marinade and add the remaining ingredients.
3. Serve!

Atole de Elote: Corn Drink

We messed up with the picture for this one, too. We do have a suggestion for this drink though. No matter how well you think brandy would go with this drink, it is a big mistake. Don't do it. Carl thought it would be great, the rest of us followed suit and we ended up with a kitchen full of foul, curdled mugs of elote and a lot less brandy in our bottle. Fortunately, we made a lot of it and those who were still willing got a taste of what this drink is supposed to be.

Kernels freshly removed from 4 ears of corn
1 liter milk
1.5 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 sticks cinnamon
1 tbsp starch
Ground cinnamon for garnish

1. Combine the corn with half the milk in a blender into a very smooth paste and add to a large pot.
2. Add the rest of the milk, sugar, and cinnamon sticks and simmer covered for 30 minutes.
3. Stir in the starch with a bit of the corn drink and add it all to the pot to thicken.
4. Serve in mugs garnished with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

In Conclusion

Tom and I strongly disagree on the outcome of this meal. For me, it was a lot of hit and misses, but I think I could eat pupusas every day. Tom liked everything except for the brandy elote disaster. Our guests were also split on some of the dishes, namely the avocado soup. Fortunately Sarah, the only guest in attendance who has gone to El Salvador, was very content with the outcome. This to us validated the authenticity of this meal.

Next is Guyana. Until then, salud!


  1. The cabbage salad sounds amazing. Might have to try that recipe out!

  2. just for the record, "gallo pinto" is not called that in El Salvador. Salvadorans use the word "casamiento" for the same dish.

  3. Thanks for the tip! I've changed the dish to its proper name.