Wednesday, January 28, 2009

apples and oranges

The other day an old friend called me from Texas to ask my advice about a romantic situation she is in. My opinion of the relationship she was referring to happens to be that it should end. The parties involved are simply wrong for each other. It's not a matter of one of them being "good" and the other being "bad," but rather that their respective needs and wants just don't work very well together. In an attempt to gently explain myself, I used oranges an an analogy: I explained to my friend that if she were having people over for brunch and she wanted to squeeze fresh orange juice, but the only citruses at the store were limes and lemons, she wouldn't buy them anyway just because they were available and then try to make them work. No. She would either go to another store where she might be able to find the fruit she wanted--or she would opt for no orange juice at all. She sighed and said, "Thanks for the cooking analogy, Gab."

After we hung up, it occurred to me that, though the essence of the advice I gave was relevant to her situation, it isn't necessarily true in cooking. There are so many opportunities to get creative with food and so few circumstances where the absence of a called-for ingredient actually ruins a recipe--it just ends up different. In fact, if I were throwing the aforementioned brunch and ran into the same citrus dilemma, I probably would buy the lemons and limes and also some seltzer and superfine sugar and make a tasty limeade sparkler. *Note: that is not to say that I would do the same on the romantic end. The situations are like apples and oranges. Ha.

But getting back to my point...

As a child I was obsessed with rules. I was terrified of getting into trouble at school and was something of a tattle-tale on my misbehaving peers. The only arena in which I delighted in taking risks and straying from the defined was in the kitchen. And that may still be my favorite part of cooking today.

Take for example, the dinner I had last night. Since my Salvadorean breakfast adventure with Andrew on Sunday I have been wanting to try making pupusas, the thick little stuffed tortillas served in Central and South America. They are traditionally made with a dough made from masa harina (a very finely ground corn flour) and water and filled with beans, vegetables, cheese and/or meat. Well, I didn't have any masa harina, nor did I feel like scouring the streets of San Francisco to find some (OK, I live in the Mission so it wouldn't be hard, but still...). I did have some leftover pizza dough though. And some cheese. And some black beans and vegetables and an avocado. And you know what? While my creation did not taste exactly like a traditional pupusa, it did taste good. And it was fun to make and satisfying and something I would make again. Here's how to do it:

Pizza Dough Pupusas
1/2 recipe pizza dough
1 cup cooked black beans
1/2 cup shredded cheese (jack, cheddar, or queso quesadilla)
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh baby spinach, cleaned and dried
1/4 cup uncooked white corn
1 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Meanwhile, combine beans, cheese, cilantro, onion, corn, chili powder, salt and pepper in a bowl. Toss lightly to combine and set aside.

On a floured surface, divide the dough into 6 circles. Roll out into 6" circles. To make pupusas, put about 1/2 cup filling in the middle of a dough circle and top with another circle. Fold the edges to seal and then gently roll both circles together with the filling inside using a rolling pin until it become one thick disk.

Cook pupusas in the pan for 2-3 minutes on each side (turning down the heat if necessary). Cut into wedges like a quesadilla and serve with sliced avocado and hot sauce.


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