Good golly! As you know, my kitchen feels like the size of a peanut shell.
I love cooking and enjoying delicious foods and desserts with friends and family. In Canada, we’d have friends over all the time for brunch, dinner, BBQs, and it was great!
Two good friends here in Germany are from Venezuela. They too, share the love of cooking and having friends over. The four of us decided we would attempt to make pupusas together!
Here, we begin this wonderful kitchen endeavour.
What might pupusas be? You ask. They are a wonderfully excellent dish that hails from El Salvador. I was first introduced to them from one of my best friend’s back in Canada when going over for family dinner at her parents house years ago. Her family is from Guatemala, and they’re quite familiar with the dish.
Pupusas are essentially corn flour (masa) pancakes stuffed with pork, cheese, beans, and/or lorocco. Different variations exist, but my personal favourite filling is the pork and cheese (chicharrón y queso) combination! On the side, they’re served with a sort of salsa and curdito, which is roughly a carrot and cabbage slaw. You fry them in a little bit of oil after molding them into little circles, and voila!
It sounds easy, right? … Wrong! These delicious circles of joy take an army to make, if you don’t want to be in the kitchen all day or night – but you will be anyways, because with the work put into it, you want to make a lot, so enough to FEED an army.
Let’s start at the beginning. On this kitchen adventure, I learned that there are different kinds of corn flour. The variety offered at the “Asian stores” here in Germany, is the Harina PAN, which if you want to make arepas, hallacas, empanadas, or corn bread is great – but more on that later, and it is not the correct corn flour for pupusas.
Preparing the pork meat ahead of time is a good idea, it takes a few hours to cook – you have to brown it and slow cook it, so the meat is very tender, and you want to use a shoulder or butt cut of meat because of the fat rendering. Once it’s been cooked, pulled, and cooled, you will be mixing it in a food processor with peppers, onion, and tomatoes. Not a big amount, but a small mix in for the flavouring with some herbs.
Side note: the food processor we had to use is the perfect size for making 1/2 cup to 1 cup’s worth of basil pesto – to give you a frame of reference. We cooked about 2kg of pork, and ended up doing probably over 10 rounds of food processing. It was a process! This just added to the hilarious evening, since the kitchen is small, having four people work around on small surfaces, and a small food processor.
Between the four of us, we had our work cut out for us. The drinks were placed on top of the washing machine, as a temporary counter-top. The meat and vegetable mixture was being processed on the stove top and small ounce of counter space to the left, and the meet was being pulled on the window ledge. The masa was being mixed in a bowl with water on top of the wooden shelf beside the washing machine, and I was trying to clear dishes and make room whenever and where ever I could. Once we had this ready to go, then came the stuffing of the dough.
Remember when I said we had the wrong kind of masa? Well, now we learn why the type of corn flour is important. For pupusas, a cook is supposed to gently wet their hands with a mixture of cold water and oil (to prevent the batter from sticking). Then you take a small handful and shape it into a ball. Once you have the ball formed, this is when it gets tricky: you use your thumbs to hollow out a space in the centre, where you spoon a tablespoon of the mixture (plus a bit of cheese). From here, you’re to re-shape the batter around the stuffing to form a ball, again. We had one hell of a time trying to keep it all together!
After a few pupusa patties were formed, one person took on the frying – two frying pans on the stove, as the other three of us continued to attempt to form and stuff these pupusas (German-kitchen-style). It worked almost as a condensed or squished production line. We had each person doing a certain job, to make the whole system function as best as possible.
Once we got into the groove with the production line and pupusas were in the frying pans cooking, the four of us thought – ok, we got this! It was definitely a messy job creating these delicious little round patties, I also don’t want to imagine the length of time it would take to make pupusas if it were just one or two people – nearly impossible, I think.
Pupusas are traditionally served with curdito, a sort of cabbage-carrot slaw. You want to finely chop up cabbage and blanch it quickly in boiling water. Prepare the carrots by shredding them. Mix the two together with some red onion and we had to use rice vinegar (substituting in Germany – you get creative!), salt and pepper, and perhaps some other herbs/spices. The key when making the curdito is that it needs time to sit and set for the flavours to be released. Now, since Kühlschrank space is at a total premium here, we put the jar out on the balcony – because it needs to be stored in a cool place for a minimum of 6 hours. Luckily, it was winter. In the summer, we will once again have to figure out creative places and ways to store food.
Alas, hours later, a couple of bottles of wine later, we finished making the pupusas. Fortunately, with the large chunk of pork we used, we had a lot of leftover meat already mixed in the food processor with tomato, onion, and pepper. The four of us gladly took our hard-earned food to the table. They were TASTY!
Back to the earlier note about arepas, hallacas, and empanadas. Remember how just above I said there was extra meat stuffing leftovers? Yes… good! Because it was put into a container and frozen for the next cooking adventure. My friend from Venezuela came over again another night – and just the two of us made arepas together.
Arepas are a traditional Venezuelan (or Colombian) food made with the corn flour we DID have. I was taught the consistency of the masa that you mix with cold water and some salt. Learning how to cook in Canada, we always use utensils and equipment. With this though, you use your fingers to mix the dough together, and form it into a little ball, where you then flatten it into a rounded-patty in your hands. After some oil is hot in a pan, you just plop the rounded dough in there. Letting it sit for several minutes, you use a couple of fingers to slide the arepa up along the lip of the pan to flip it. Once again, leave it frying for a few minutes. How to test for doneness? Sort of tap it, to see if it sounds a bit hollow.
The trick for arepas is to eat them while they’re still hot (or at least warm), because it’s easy to cut into it and then fill it with whatever ingredients for filling you like! Since we had this wonderful leftover already seasoned and mixed pork, we heated some up, got some feta cheese, and BAM! Another wonderful dinner ready to go – this time, much less work and preparation time.
During this little duo adventure in South American cooking, I was also taught how to form an empanada – another food that I love to eat. You make the dough the same as an arepa (masa, water, salt), then with plastic wrap and some oil-water mixture, you place a ball of dough on it, and flatten it out (still wrapped in the plastic wrap). From here, you put a spoonful of the filling in, and take half the dough to re-cover the other half; push the sides together so that it forms a half-moon. You fry it the same way you would the arepas!
It always really fascinates me how great meals can be cooked in these small European kitchens. I mean, we did it! I’ve really learned to differentiate between needs and wants, especially for household items. In Canada, I had many doohickies, gadgets, and whatsits; by contract, in Germany, I boil water in a pot on the stove. Sometimes, I miss the ease of many appliances, while at the same time, I have a limited amount of space here, therefore I feel I optimize it as best as possible. As you can see from this article, it’s doable! Might not be the easiest way, but it creates more stories and fun memories with people you care about.
So, from this, not only was there one mammoth meal created for friends to enjoy together, but also, a second dinner for just two, with a fun exploration of other ways to use the corn flour. Y U M.