Tag Archives: food

Making Pupusas

Making Pupusas

at the Gateway International Food and Music Festival

Pupusas are the official national dish of El Salvador. What is a pupusa? Think of pupusas as corn-flour pancakes stuffed with a savory mixture of cheese and meat or vegetables. I can’t take you to El Salvador, but I can show you a bit of the Gateway International Food and Music Festival. As festivals go this annual event each September in Norcross, Georgia, USA, is certainly not one of the larger ones. For years, however, it has been one of my favorite festivals.

You might think with the word “International” in its name it brings acts from countries far and wide. Not so. All the singers, vendors, dancers, musicians, artists, cooks, and other participants are from local communities. These are groups that keep cultural and national traditions alive with dedication and great enthusiasm. “Food” comes first in the title, but let me delay that here for just a bit and give you a glimpse of the color, the spirit, the sheer enjoyment of the event. The first group here are spirited Salvadoran dancers in their wonderful blue and white dresses.

The festival ground is ringed with booths of artists and artisans, but the important ones are the food vendors. Here a wide variety of delicacies are prepared and consumed. I will visit just one of the “pupusarias” and show you how pupusas, these delightful edibles are prepared.

It takes experienced and talented hands to bring the corn flour dough to the right consistency. The cook grabs just the right amount and flattens it out. A savory filling, consisting of mainly pork and cheese, is pressed into the center. The dough if formed around it and rolled into a ball first, then into a thick disk. Ninety five seconds for one pupusa. This is not mass production but careful, loving cooking.

Don’t let the Italian apron fool you, this is genuine Salvadoran cooking. The pupusa is friend on both sides like a pancake and served with a traditional curtida slaw and salsa roja. That’s it. No recipe here, I could not see anything being measured. It is a learned tradition, handed down in each family.

Mmm, good!

Allow me just one more comment. As you can see from the pictures, this event brings people together from many cultures of the world. From places where hatred and strive cause hardships and much suffering. Yet here, at this festival, in in this country, people of different backgrounds, different cultures, can live as friends and enjoy the crafts and traditions of one another. This is the quilt that is the real America. I only wish there were not so many tears and holes in that quilt.

First published in Our Arts Magazine on October 8, 2017

Shrimp and Corn

Shrimp and Corn

In recent years shrimp and grits has become an iconic dish of the South. The South is that area in the south-eastern United States, from Virginia to Texas, that is synonymous with hospitality and good cooking. When I first came to Georgia many decades ago, I wanted to become part of my new community and cooking, and sharing, became a fun hobby. I still look for new ways and new recipes.

In recent years shrimp and grits has become an iconic dish of The South. It is a favorite of mine at local restaurants and I have been developing my own version. Shrimp boats ply the waters off the Georgia coast, although the industry has declined due to heavy competition from Asian sources. Local shrimp is hard to find away from the coast. Preparing fresh shrimp is a very time-consuming chore. It goes about like this: cut off the head, crack off the shell, pull off the tail, cut a slit all the way along the back and remove the “vein”. Rinse and do the next one. After a few hours, you might have enough to cook your dish. I usually buy Gulf shrimp shelled, deveined and frozen and spend by afternoon in a more fun activity.

Local grits, however, are plentiful in every grocery. Grits is coarsely ground corn and has been a staple in these parts since long before Europeans discovered America. Traditionally grits have been prepared by boiling in water. Of course, competitive cooks have taken grits to culinary heights. Grits is often cooked in milk and loaded with cheese and butter and spices for unique and distinctive variations.
When I came across a recipe in my local paper that called for creamed corn, I was intrigued and just had to adapt it to my own ways. Fresh corn is, of course, quite different from the ground dried grits, it is softer and sweeter, and should make an interesting dish.

As luck would have it, before I could try the recipe, I saw a tweet from Garden & Gun magazine, offering “the way” to prepare Southern corn. Now any recipe that starts with crisping bacon in olive oil is really up my alley. Corn is then browned in the oil and bacon bits. Add cream, butter, and Feta cheese and finish cooking. Nobody has ever accused Southern cuisine of being diet food.

Ingredients for Southern style shrimp and creamed corn
Southern style creamed corn

As you would expect, cooking the shrimp is not any less complicated. There must be other ingredients, or “seasonings” as an admired friend calls them. This recipe calls for bacon, of course, two red onions, one green pepper, and two large tomatoes. Also, butter, Worcestershire sauce, and a spicy pepper sauce. We don’t go for spicy food in my family, so I substitute bourbon – what could be more Southern.

But first the shrimp are marinated with salt and minced garlic for a couple of hours. The onions are then cooked with crisped bacon, olive oil and butter, slowly until they just start to caramelize. The other ingredients are then added with the shrimp going in for just the last ten minutes.

Shrimp cooking in cast iron frying pan with “seasonings” Plated Southern style shrimp and creamed corn

Mmm, shrimp and creamed corn. Not bad at all. A fine variation on shrimp and grits. Sorry, dear reader, that I can’t share the dish with you, there were no leftovers.


First published in Our Arts Magazine on September 12, 2017

Persian Pasta

Persian Pasta

It is said that need is the mother of inventions, but sometimes opportunity can be the inspiration of a fabulous product. I offer the story of Keiller’s Dundee Marmalade as an example. But I am getting off the track already.

For the past few weeks every time I rummaged in the dry goods cabinet, where we store rice, quinoa, barley and a colorful assortment of beans, a bag of garbanzo beans, chickpeas to some, got in the way of my searches. It has been there seemingly forever. I have no idea why I ever bought it.

Now there is a very practical reason why this bag of treasure stayed around. Using garbanzo beans requires planning. They need an overnight soak before cooking. Then they are simmered for an hour and a half to two hours. The “quick way” on the bag label instructs to boil them for a few minutes and the let them steep an hour before the final boil. This still is a three-hour chore.
I was looking for the pasta, my family had requested spaghetti for dinner, when I came across that bean bag again. For once I had plenty of time and that proverbial light bulb came on.

The name for my unique culinary treat came much later, halfway through dinner, as courtesy from my family. My working idea was to add the garbanzo beans to my marinara sauce and serve it over spaghetti.

All proceeded as planned and I served small samples of my “chickpeas enrobed in house marinara sauce over spaghetti”.

Persian Pasta

Well, there was no standing ovation. Besides the name “Persian Pasta” all I got from my family was “an interesting meal”. The word “interesting” is their way of complimenting me when praise is absolutely out of the question. There was no request to document the recipe for future use. Ah, well, I tried.

First published in Our Arts Magazine on August 29, 2017