Gorditas with roasted salsa and pigeon peas

Gorditas

So it’s the first week of school. I ventured to the CSA this morning to pick some vegetables – easier, quicker, and much less fun without my boyish entourage. On the way home, I heard a man on the radio talking about raising successful children by teaching them grit and character. (I realize that I am very badly paraphrasing the words of this man who sounded both reasonable and intelligent, and I apologize.) His words really struck home, as we send the boys back into the uncertain waters of a new school year – by turns bright and clear and uplifting, and dark and murky, full of fascinating silt and weeds. They learn from it all, of course! I think it must be impossible for a parent to hear somebody talk about this subject without turning it back on themselves. Am I doing enough to teach them grit and character? How do you even do that? What the heck is grit? What’s character? Secretly, part of you thinks, “Of course I’m doing a good job! Just look at my brilliant boys!” And part of you thinks, “My god, I’m failing completely, they’ll be gritless and lacking in character and scarred for life!” Somebody phoned in a question about I.Q. and academic success – assuming a correlation between the two, and the man said that in fact self-control was more important than I.Q. in determining academic success. Oh dear! I thought…parent-teacher conferences for both boys tend to run, “Your son is so smart and creative, but he’s just got too much energy/he calls out too much/he can’t focus on the assignment…” Sigh. We hit a strange patch last year with Malcolm, when his first “real grades” report card came out, and it was very different from the straight s+ report cards of years gone by. Oh dear! Well, this is when it always helps to take a step back and widen the picture for yourself, and think about the meaning of “success” and how varied and subjective it is. (Of course I want my boys to be successful in every accepted conventional sense, of course I do – life is so much easier that way!) But when you ask the boys what they’re good at, what achievements they’re proud of, they’ll say: jumping off of things, finding an antique bottle in a creek, drawing dragons and robots, running very fast, climbing steep hills. They feel good about these things! And, honestly, any of them can lead to every kind of success, if they’re not discouraged. And I’m glad that they like writing and reading, too, and that Malcolm’s favorite subject is math. They both love school, and that makes me feel very lucky and very happy.

Roasted salsa

And, of course, they’re good little cooks!! These gorditas were very fun to make, and even more fun to eat! I have to thank the proprietess of Hot Spicy and Skinny for drawing them to my attention, when she read of my struggles making tortillas without a press. I’m not sure if I made them authentically. I sort of combined a bunch of different recipes that I saw, and I used a combination of butter and olive oil rather than lard. They turned out so tasty! Crispy, chewy, flavorful. We split them in the middle, but it might have been easier to pile the peas on top, or even break off pieces and use them like naan. The salsa is the result of my preference for roasted garlic, onions and peppers over raw. I decided to roast everything (well, broil, really) and then mix it all together. It’s yummy! Smoky, a little sweet, a little spicy. You can use any combination of sweet peppers and hot peppers that you happen to have on hand, and you could easily use onion instead of shallot. And the pigeon peas match their earthy meatiness with bright sweet corn, tomatoes and cilantro. We ate everything mixed together, with basmati rice and grated sharp cheddar.

Pigeon peas and corn

Here’s Expectations by Belle and Sebastian.

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Pumpkinseed sage sauce & smokey masa harina crepes

Pumpkinseed sage sauce

I’m really taken with this sauce! I wish I had better words to describe food, because I’d love to tell you what this tastes like. Though I think perhaps the reason I like it so much is that it has a mysterious sort of flavor. That’s the pumpkinseeds! I think they’re just lovely. I was wondering if their indescribable taste is “umami.” That’s the fifth basic taste. It’s described as a “pleasant savory flavor,” quite distinct from salty, sweet, sour and bitter. That’s how this sauce tastes to me! It’s very simple and very easy to put together. It’s creamy, though vegan, and is actually another example of a nut sauce, which I seem to go on and on about. (I call them “tarator sauces,” but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate.) I think the sage is just perfect with the pumpkinseeds (they’re similar colors, no wonder they taste good together!) And the cayenne adds just a little kick to what is quite a mild sauce. It’s extremely versatile! Good as a dip for crackers, chips, or veg. Good as a sauce for roasted vegetables. Or a sauce for enchiladas or tacos, or pasta.

And these crepes. I’m sorry, I wasn’t going to write about masa harina again for a while, a long while. I didn’t want to talk about it so much that people got tired of hearing about it. But if you cast your memory back, you might recall that I had some trouble making tortillas without a tortilla press. Well, a good cook doesn’t blame her equipment (or lack thereof!), she just reinvents the recipe.

Masa harina crepes

So I applied the cheater’s treatment to it – the same one I used to make socca more simple. I added a couple of eggs. It helps to hold them together and make them more flippable, and because it’s a batter rather than a dough, you don’t need to roll them out. So they’re still gluten-free, but I’m afraid they’re not vegan any more. I added some smoked paprika, because that’s another ingredient I can’t resist using, and it goes so well with the sage & pumpkinseed flavors.

We had these with my every kind of favorite meal, as Isaac would say. We had fat balsamic roasted musrhooms (with shallots); french lentils; some lightly dressed baby spinach (olive oil and balsamic); some tinsy crispy roasted potatoes with rosemary; and some grated mozzarella cheese. You take whatever you like, and use the crepes to wrap around little bundles of delicious food. Plus we ate at the picnic table outside, which makes me very happy!!

Here’s The Sage by The Chico Hamilton Quintet. So strange and beautiful!
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Homemade tortillas and pigeon peas & greens

Tortilla & pigeon peas

In my short acquaintance with masa harina I’ve become very fond of it. It has such a mysterious taste. It taxes my limited descriptive powers. Almost sweet, a little floral, maybe. I think the corn is treated with lime. Is that the flavor? I want to use it all the time, in a million different ways! I’ve already made pupusas with it, which I think turned out very good! And I made something else, but I don’t remember what it was, because I didn’t write about it, and this blog has become my auxiliary memory. (It’s very convenient!) The other night I tried using it to make (as I understand it) its main reason for existence – tortillas! I don’t have a tortilla press, but that didn’t stop me, because I don’t have a pasta machine, and we made good pasta. Turns out it’s not that simple with the tortillas. They were delicious, but they weren’t pretty! They’re harder to roll out than pasta, and they stick to the counter and fall apart, and generally made me feel a little cranky and sweary. They were worth making, though, and I’d do it again, but I think I’d make them smaller and call them tortilla chips. I think they’re fine if they’re irregularly shaped…it adds to their appeal! I fried them in a shallow pool of hot olive oil. And burned my finger! Do not dip your finger in hot oil! Don’t do it! We ate the with rice and pigeon peas sauteed with broccoli rabe and tomatoes. Very nice!

Here’s the Clash with 1-2 Crush on You, because that’s how I feel about Masa Harina! There, I’ve admitted it to the world.
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Pupusa with pinto beans & spinach

pupusa

I had a rough week, and for some reason I found it comforting to watch videos of old women making pupusa on youTube. It’s one of those foods, like stuffed grape leaves, and many others, that you like to think about a group of women making together. The process is all made with hands, it’s repetitive and circular and almost hypnotizing. And I have a new fascination with stuffed flatbreads, which goes so nicely with my fascination with savory pastries! I’m also starting quite an impressive flour collection. I’ve got toasted barley flour, rice flour, semolina flour, chickpea flour, tapioca flour, buckwheat flour, wheat flour, and now masa harina. I’ve been intrigued by this for a while, and now I’m a big fan!

Back to pupusa – it’s a Salvadoran dish made with masa harina, and it’s stuffed with cheese or meat or refried beans. It’s cooked on a hot, ungreased griddle. I’m sure the version I made is not like the real deal, but it was so tasty! David said it’s like a combination of tacos and mashed potatoes – it’s got a very comforting quality, the taste and texture as well as the process of forming and cooking. You make it by taking a handful of dough, and turning and pressing, turning and pressing, trying to keep the edges neat. I love the idea that the pupusa will be the shape and size of the palms of the maker. You can fill it with anything you like. I chose pinto beans, spinach, and sharp cheddar. Just substantial enough not to be mushy, just soft enough to provide a comforting contrast to the crispy outside. This is one of my favorite things I’ve made in a while – to make and to eat.

It’s also gluten free, as far as I know! And it would be vegan if you left the cheese out.

Here’s Espiritu Libre with A Mi Me Gustan Las Pupusas.
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