Pupusas at Los Cocos

Pupusas and caldo de pollo.

Pupusas and caldo de pollo.

Pupusa.  Just say it. “Pupusa”.   I don’t know if onomatopoeia would quite qualify in this instance, but doesn’t the word “pupusa” just sound like something bursting with savory goodness?  Indeed these Salvadorean treats rank up there with some of my favorite foods for a number of reasons.  Basically they’re fat tortillas (corn usually) stuffed with any number of ingredients (beans, cheese, pork or chicken, a even flowers –loroco) and fried on a griddle so the outside becomes nicely browned and crisp while the inside corn meal and fillings remain soft and moist, like a tamale.  The best part is when a bit of the cheesy insides ooze out onto the hot the griddle and add another layer of delicious crispy crust to the pupusa. They’re then served with a tomato-y hot sauce and a nice vinegary cabbage and carrot slaw, the acid of the sauce and salad perfectly complementing the rich savoriness of the pupusas.  They are supremely satisfying both to the palate and the stomach.  They will fill you up.

My first taste of pupusas was not in El Salvador but in Guatemala, when I was a young lad many many years ago doing the young lad backpacker thing down in Central America.  I was studying Spanish in Quetzaltenango  and one day I was searching for a late afternoon snack in the parque central .  I sampled a pupusa (not even that fresh of the griddle) from one of the food venders who’d set up shop. Mind blown.  And then when I crossed over into El Salvador and encountered more and different varieties of pupusas, what was left of my mind was blown further.  Living in SF – still as a young lad – I was ecstatic to find that I could find fresh and delicious pupusas at such favorites as Panchitas and El Zocolo.

But eight years living in NYC, meant a long hiatus from great pupusas.  Sure, I could occasionally get some good ones at the Red Hook Ball fields (at least before they became over run by hipster foodies), but there were few Salvadorean restaurants that I was aware of where I could indulge to my heart’s content.  Then a few months ago, we moved back to the Bay Area and I’ve been reunited with delectible pupusas once again.   We live in Oakland, just a stone’s throw away (or a nice bike ride) from Los Cocos, one of the sole Salvadorean restaurant in the Fruitvale district, a neighborhood where Mexican taquerias predominate (not a bad thing, just stating a fact).  I first ate at Los Cocos years ago with my friend Matt and when we feasted on pupusas and incredibly flavorful caldo de pollo (chicken soup). So, it was a real joy to bring Shef and K to this spot a couple months ago when we were newly arrived to Oakland. It was just as I had remembered it – decorated with Salvadorean tchotchkes, the air inside hazy with cooking grease.  In other words, perfect. K got her first taste of pupusas and it’s fair to say, she loved them.

Eating at Los Cocos (with Matt again) a few weeks later, I asked Rosa the cook and owner of the restaurant if I could make a short vid of her cooking pupusas process.  She said, “sure!” So, this is the result.  Please enjoy and go find pupusas near to you because this vid will make you hungry.

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Lahmacun and Sarmale

This past weekend found us taking a culinary trip from Turkey to Romania all from the comfort of our own kitchen.

Saturday Night = Turkey Night

As is often the case, Shefali suggested and I executed.  In this case, she suggested that  I make lahmacun, a flat bread “pizza” with a topping of ground meat  and spices for a potluck party we were attending on Saturday night,.  Now depending on whom you talk to, lahmacun (pronounced: lah-ma-joon) is either of Turkish or Armenian origins.  I don’t  want to get into the particular complications of the conflicted relationship between Turkey and it’s Armenian citizens, but one thing they do share in common is this delicious savory snack/meal (I say “meal” because because once you try it, you might not be able to refrain from eating just a snack like portion).  You can also find lahmacun in Lebanese and Syrian restaurants and bakeries.  I consulted a couple recipes for inspiration: a Saveur Magazine recipe and a recipe from a Turkish cook book by Özcan Ozan, the chef owner of The Sultan’s Kitchen, a Turkish restaurant in Boston.  Then I just kind of did my own thing.  Again proving the versatility of the sourdough starter, I used the sourdough for which I was originally intending to make baguettes and then re-purposed for the flat bread.  It added a nice extra tang and chewiness. Here’s what the lahmacun looked like:

uncooked lahamcun - basically spicy meat paste spread over dough

after baking for about 10 minutes at 475 degrees F. Smelled just like Turkey! In other words, it smelled deliciously of spiced savory lamb

Lamahcun waiting station. Packing them up for the poluck.

Sunday Night = Romania Night

A fun game that we often play in our house is naked twister. But when we get bored of that we play another game called “what the hell should we do with all this cabbage in our fridge?” And fortunately our CSA gives us ample opportunity to play this game.  Case in point, our last pick up we got three different types of cabbage: a red cabbage with which I made my patented cole slaw, a napa cabbage for which I already assigned supporting role duty in Shanghai chow mein.  That left me with one more head of cabbage, an arrowhead cabbage (?) that I had to figure out how to cook.  Solution: sarmale, or Romanian style stuffed cabbage.  I’m dating myself here, but I first sampled sarmale in Romania when I was shooting a “documentary” about the origins of Dracula and vampires,  which served as bonus material  on the DVD release of one of the finest movies ever made: Underworld – yeah that vampires v. werewolves movie staring Kate Beckinsale. Well, at least it got me to Romania where I remember the food being really, hearty, rustic (raw bacon? yes please) and delicious.   Case in point: the stuffed cabbage dish called sarmale.  Stuffing cabbage with meat and other ingredients is not unique to Romania.   According to Wikipedia, sarma as it is also called has it’s origins in the Ottoman Empire which makes complete sense if you consider all the the countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that have stuffed cabbage.  They were all under the influence directly or indirectly (or just by proximity) to the Ottoman Empire.  Isn’t history cool?  Anyway, I consulted a number of recipes on the web and basically incorporated a bunch of them to suit my needs and capabilities.  Some recipes called for using sauerkraut which I didn’t have, so I blanched the cabbage leaves in water and vinegar before using them to wrap the meat mixture ( a combination of ground pork, lamb and beef mixed with rice, spices, onions, garlic and celery).  The end result? Delicios! (uh, that’s Romanian for “delicious”)

Sarmale - cabbage is stuffed and ready to be cooked

Sarmale in the pot and simmered slowly in broth and a bit of tomato paste

The sarmale after cooking in the oven for about an hour at about 350?.

We cooked for our friends Ben and Maria visiting from out of town. Ben, who's Jewish said the sarmale reminde him of food his mom cooks. Mission accomplished. I always knew I'd make a great Jewish mother.

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C’s Cole Slaw

Alright, here’s a little bonus video for the four or five people who actually looked at the last pork butt post. As you’ll recall, I served it with a red cabbage cole slaw.  Well, dear reader, here’s the recipe and the instructional video.  Now I must be honest.  This cole slaw  recipe has a couple of key inspirations: 1) the pickled cabbage served on top of Salvadoran pupusas; 2) the cole slaw at  Bake Sale Betty’s in Oakland  that comes on top of their ridiculous fried chicken sandwiches –  and by ridiculous I mean fucking good.  The cole slaw is really simple to make and because of the  freshness of the cabbage and acidity of the dressing it is a nice counterbalance to grilled or fried meats.  It’s also good on tacos and pupusas or anything else you want to eat.  Without further ado, here’s the cole slaw recipe and the video. Enjoy.

Recipe
1 head of cabbage (red of regular)
1 medium to large jalapeño pepper
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
1-2 tablespoons of vinegar (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper (or to taste)
1/4- 1/2 teaspoon of oregano

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