Tuesday, December 11, 2012


 Nacatamal, a Nicaraguan Style Tamale.

These tasty packages are so much more then a regular tamale. They are a whole meal wrapped up in a big leaf and then steamed. I love Mexican style tamales and there are so many different types of tamales other then what most people who live outside of Mexico realize. From pork, beef, chicken to seafood tamales and dolce (sweet) tamales. The sweet ones are made with fruit like coconut, strawberries etc and others that are made with pumpkin and sweetened condensed milk. It seems like the varieties of tamales goes on and on. But, there is a special place in my heart and my stomach for the Nicaraguan Nacatamal. Making ths dish is not for the lazy cook that is for sure. It is labor intensive and for the beginner is best undertaken over two days. It is also wise to include the whole family in making them. It is a lot of work but it is a lot of fun and in my opinion is well worth the work. I love Latin American food and when we make these it usually will involve having guests over more then one night and the entire week will consist of Caribbean and south American cooking.

Below is how I learned to make nacatamal from The Chavaria family. They moved here from Nicaragua during the war in the eighties. Every family has a different recipe and there are all kinds of combinations that I have tried. I like this one the best. 

Ingredients for a LOT of nacatamal.  It is tough to say how many because it depends on the size one small 2-3 lb pork shoulder will  yield 10-20 nacatamal.

 Pork Shoulder
Avocado leaves (substitute bay leaf)
1 bag of masa harina
1/2 lb rendered pork lard
1 package of prepared banana leaves (You can get these at any Asian supermarket) 
2-3 Potatoes 
1 large Yucca (optional) if not use more potato.
2 large Carrots
          20 or so cured green Spanish olives pitted.  
                          (Be careful not to accidentally leave a pit, someone could break a tooth)
10 or so rasins
1 large onion diced
1 green or red pepper diced
1 large ripe tomato diced
Handful of cooked chick peas 
chopped fresh cilantro
chopped fresh spearmint
sea salt and pepper

Clean, prepare and cut all of your vegetables into manageable pieces.

 As with all tamales start with a stock. Typically nacatamals are made with pork. I use a pork shoulder and I like to get the one with the most fat and skin that I can find and preferably with the bone in. You can substituent some cut of beef, chicken, even lamb or even goat.

Put the shoulder in a large stock pot  with fresh salted water, an avocado leaf or two (substitute with bay leaf) salt and pepper. Keep the stock simple as other flavors will be added with the stuffing.You can put the onion skins and veg cut offs in the cooking stock as well. 

Bring this to a bioil then turn it down to a slow simmer. Put the lid on the pot and simmer until the meat is easily pulled away from the bone. About two or three hours. This cut of pork has a lot of connective tissue and fat. It is capable of cooking for this long without drying out as all of that stuff breaks down. If you are using chicken or some other lean cut of meat, be sure to adjust your time so to not over cook.

When the stock is cooked let it cool it down. Wash your hands really well, (make sure to clean from under your finger nails) Remove the pork shoulder and pick it clean with fingers. Put the meat into a bowl and break apart into mouth size manageable pieces. Most people throw away the cooked out skin and layer of fat. In the name of authenticity I chop them up and add it to the meat mixture. Set the meat mixture aside. 

MASA (Batter) 
Start with about two cups of masa harina flour in a large mixing bowl or pot. Then with your fingers work in the lard and add a bit of sea salt. Work it in until it cakes a biut much like you would making pie crust. When all of the lard has been incorporated add a bit of cooled stock. Mix with a wooden spoon until well blended. Now add flour and stock alternately until weel blended and about the thickness of corn bread batter or very thick cake batter. Add more masa harina if to wet add more stock if too dry. Don't worry if you run out of stock you can add some cold water. Don't run out of masa harina. Let this batter sit for an hour or so before assembly.

Clear and clean a section of counter or set up on the kitchen table and make an assembly line with your various ingredients.  Set up a metal cullender or steamer basket if you have one. With a less is more kitchen moto I make do with pots stacked inverted to one another with a metal cullender as my steamer basket.
Take out the banana leaves and cut them to fit the size nacatamal you are going to make. Banana leaves are very large and depending on how large I cut them either in half or sometimes thirds. Then I cut a few strips to use as ties if needed.

 Lay out a piece of leaf and place a good dollop of masa onto the center. Then a few pieces of meat followed by a small amount of all the filling ingredients. Then place another small dollop of masa on top. Next fold the leaf over the batter and tuck it in like an envelope. Don't get frustrated because it may take a couple to get the hang of the folding and how much to put in each leaf. If it does not stay closed very well then use a small strip of banana leaf or string to tie it closed. I find that just stacking them in the cullender close to one another helps keep them from opening.

To make some of them spicy hot I add chopped green chilis or sometimes ancho peppers in adobo sauce. 

After the your steamer basket is full put it in a large enough stock pot to have a few cups of water. Then cover with a lid or another pot. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a medium simmer, steam for at least one hour, more if they are on the larger size. The size you see here were steamed for more then two hours.

Is making nacatamal and other types of tamales a lot of work? Yes. But like so many other good things in life it is worth the extra effort. Serve them on the banana leaf for a nice presentation, a little creme fresh on top or sour cream, some chopped tomatoes, cilantro and diced onion. Nicaraguans love to have this dish with strong black coffee similar to espresso, or beer depending on the time of day. The Nacatamal is an exotic and hearty take on the tamale.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Like Pickles

 Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes

Pickles are wonderful. Its very interesting to see and taste all of the different types of pickled fruits and vegetables from around the world. From the ubiquitous Jewish dill to the indescribable Indian pickled lime. I can safely say that I have never had a pickle that I didn't like.
So many pickles, so little time.

Pickles are easy to make, like with sauerkraut one only has to be patient. Pickling, fermenting and canning are a great introduction to the world of food preservation and they are a great way to bring summer garden freshness to the winter table. 

At work the other day we were outside of the shop in the court yard and noticed that there were hundreds of tiny cherry tomatoes still surviving this late in the season.We plucked and ate several that were nicely ripe and delicious. Fearing that the other green ones would not last much longer I picked them all and brought them home to make pickles. 

There are literally thousands of pickle recipes from all over the world. This recipe is a very simple one and a great way to use up any green tomatoes you may have out there in the garden.

Pick clean and was the tomatoes and slice them in half, this allows for the brine to easily penetrate the interior of the fruit. 

Then sterilize your  jars in boiling water and set them aside.

For each 16 oz jar you will need about a cup of the following brine depending on how well the jars are packed. In a large enough pot bring three cups water to one cup vinegar to a simmer. Add two tablespoons of kosher or sea salt to the simmering liquid. Do not use iodized salt.

As the liquid simmers put your spices into the jars. 

I put in about two tablespoons total of the following mixture into each jar. 

Celery seed
Black mustard seed
one whole clove
Bay leaf
Black Pepper

I then add a clove of fresh garlic chopped and a tablespoon or so of chopped fresh dill. 

Then fill the jars well with the tomato halves. Pour over the hot brine and fill the jars until there is about a half inch of space or head room as it is called. Don,t worry if the tomatoes float over the top of the liquid, they will drop back down as they sit in the hot brine. Now place the jars into a pot of boiling water large enough that the boiling water is 3/4 the way to the top of the jar.  as you would for all canning.  Be careful that you don't splash and get burnt. Wearing some oven mitts is a good idea. Then clean off the rim of the jars well and seal the lids. Simmer the jars for another 15 minuets or so. Take the jars out and let them cool. Place in a cool dark place and in about six weeks after which you will have some wonderful pickled green tomatoes.

You can find several recipes for spice mixtures, brine and method. You can also experiment and use your imagination to find your own unique pickle.  

I made two batches, one is a regular version like above, the other is made super hot with the addition of a few red chili peppers in each jar. 

I remember my grand father making pickled green tomato which I liked very much. He would sometimes slip one of his unbelievably hot ones in on us grand kids just to see our reaction. He was kind and loving but sometimes a sadistic man. I miss him.

Happy Pickling.  

Monday, February 20, 2012


Doubles is one of the best 'sandwiches' in the world. 

An exotic treat from the Islands of Trinidad and Tobago most commonly served by street venders all over the islands. I have never been there but I would love to go. For now I can enjoy making and eating this tasty treat. They are made with two Bara; a fried unleavened bread made most authentically with atta or chapaty flour. The two bara are topped with chili garlic sauce, mango chutney, channa masala and grated cucumber.  Channa masla is curried chick peas.

The name doubles comes from the fact that there are two yummy bara. Apparently at some point in the early days after the invention of this dish, someone wanted another bara and asked for doubles. The name stuck.

This sandwich much like most of the Trini cooking is strongly influenced by Indian cooking. Early in Great Britain's colonial days they imported Indian "workers" to the Islands to work the sugar cane fields and other exploits. The Indian cooking techniques influenced the local Trini cooks and magic happened. A tiny wonderful thing came from something not so nice and the world is a better place for it I suppose.

There are many recipes on the internet for making bara but they are mostly makeshift. Not bad just not completely authentic. I have done a lot of research and found that authentic bara is really just Indian Poori. Poori is a simple unleavened bread that is fried till it puffed up into a big bubble.But when making bara they are wrapped in a towel or kept in a container to keep them warm. They deflate and become a little stretchy and resilient.

To make bara you will need chapity flour or atta flour as it is sometimes called. It is real easy to find at any Indian grocery store. I have to say that if you want to improve all of your cooking and be able to get quality ingredients find an Indian grocery store. You will be able to get all kinds of things there. Especially fresh high quality spices for a small fraction of what you will pay at a chain grocery store.

For ten or twelve bara put two cups of atta flour into a bowl and a half teaspoon of salt. Take a cup or so of water and gradually work it into the flour with your fingers. Do not use a mixer as this will break the gluten in the flour and make the dough rubbery and the bara will not be very good. Work the dough and knead and add water or flour as needed until a firm but slightly sticky ball forms. Cover it with a damp towel and let it rest for at least an hour. The reason to let it rest is the dehydrated flour granules will drink up the water and reconstitute.  Without this resting period the finished bara will not be very tender.

After the dough is ready break off small pieces and roll them into balls about half the size of a golf ball. Then get a small frying pan of veg or peanut oil about 3/4" deep hot over medium heat. Pour a small amount of cold cooking oil in a bowl for dipping a paper towel in. Dip and wipe the area of counter where you will be rolling out the bara. Also wipe the rolling pin with oil as well. This is so the dough does not stick to either. One would ordinarily use flour for this process but the problem with that is the loose flour comes off in the frying oil and burns. Leaving the bara with a burnt taste.  Roll them out until they are about 1/8th of an inch thick.

 Then carefully drop them one at a time into the heated oil. With tongs or a spatula press them lightly on top to help the bubbles form and puff up. Flip them cooking on each side for 10-20 seconds. Maybe more depending on the oil temperature. They should look like the bara pictured above.Place them on paper towel to drain after frying.

Then cover them with a clean towel to keep them warm and let them cook further in their own steam.

To make about two cups of chana masala you can used can chick peas, or you can soak dried chick peas over night. Use two cans of chick peas or two cups of the dried chick peas.

  • 2 cups of chick peas
  • 1 med. sized onion chopped
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh ginger grated
You can use two tablespoons of  pre-made curry powder but whole spices work much better. 
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 3 clove
  • 1 cardamom seed broken open
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
 When ready to cook them, get a pot hot over medium high heat. then add a little oil. Drop in the spices including the salt and pepper and stir till they start to crackle. Then immediately drop in the onions, garlic and ginger. Stir until the onions start to turn translucent and turn light brown. Then add the chick peas and a small amount of water. Bring this to a boil and then turn it down to low and cover. Simmer till the channa masala starts to thicken and the chick peas are tender.

To serve take two of the bara on a plate and top them to taste. I like the standard combination of  mango chutney, chili sauce and grated cucumber. For the hot sauce you can use just about any brand as long as it is on the thicker side. I like to use Vietnamese Chili Garlic Sauce because it is very similar if not identical to Caribbean style chili sauce.First spread on the desired amount of chili sauce, a generous amount of mango chutney, and a dollor of the chana masala. On top of that place the grated cucumber.

Then they are ready to serve.

Someday I would love to visit Trinidad and Tobago. Im absolutely certain I would love it there!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Argentinian style BBQ, in this cooks opinon is one of the best meals in the world. It is a down to earth, simple way to cook meat. It is pure and unfettered relying on on three simple things: Meat, Salt and Fire. A wonderful combination and most likely one of the oldest if not the oldest forms of cooking meat.

All manner of meats are used lamb, pork chicken, game etc. but in Argentina beef is the king of meats. The cooking is simple but there are several different types of parilla (grill). Many in Argentina are large concrete or stone open face ovens with a metal rack for the meats typically with a hand crank that lowers and raises the grill to control the temperature on the food. Sometimes the meat is just put onto a metal cross that is staked into the ground near the fire like pictured above.

I built an open air type pictured here. Its made with two inch open bar grate and it is on top of some flag stone. the stones are there to hold and help radiate heat back to the grill.. Later as the stones cracked from the heat I added play sand on top. It can be done with out the sand.

To make authentic Argentinian Asado you do not need a special grill. You can use any grill but you have to use WOOD definitely not charcoal. Oak works really well.

To prepare the meat simply rub it with sea salt or kosher salt, do not use iodized salt. In fact take your iodized salt and throw it in the trash can. Only use kosher salt or sea salt for your cooking.

When using my grill I adjust the heat by reaching under the grill with a metal rake and then by either pushing and building up the pile of wood coals so they are closer, or I spreading them out so they are lower I can control the heat level to the meat. 

A common item you will see on the parilla is beef ribs, often cut short like they are here. Another item that I love (but is not for everyone) is morcillia. This is a sausage made with beef and or pork blood and rice. With a hint of chili peppers they are delicious.

Beef chuck roast works really well in the style of asado. The typical way of doing chickens is to "spachcock" them by cutting them up the breast and spreading them out.

To cook the chickens simply rub them with salt and place them on the grill skin facing down. Make sure you are getting a nice slow roasting action and adjust the height from the fire accordingly so the skin does not burn. Depending on the temperature outside and the wind you will be about 10 or 12 inches from the hot coals. Cook them on average about 45 min. Then turn them over cavity down and cook them for about another half hour. Turn them back over so the skin is down and cook them for another 20 min or so. The times will vary depending on the size of the chickens.

Beef chuck roast comes out simply great too. Slow roast that over the fire and use a meat thermometer to check it. You will want it to be about 140 degrees internal temperature. Any more and it will dry out.

When cooking cow intestines you want them to cook slowly. They will really drink up the wood flavor and become crispy. They are very "earthy" tasting.

Skin on pork shoulder is to die for. Cook to an internal temperature of about 160 degrees. When carefully watched and placed on the the grill the skin becomes crispy and very tasty like bacon.

Oh yeah, you can put some vegetables on the grill too. But, why bother?

Don't neglect any part of the cow. pre-boiled cows tongue comes out fantastic.

...and it is a real conversation piece.

Asado is definitely about the meat.

Even though is is all about the meat a great accompaniment is Argentinian potato salad. Please find the recipe below. Another delicious accompaniment is this carrot salad.

I dont have the recipe for that one that was made by our Argentinian friend Maria the last time our lovely friends Peter and Maria visited us. With a little luck she will chime in and post the recipe for this fantastic salad.

Whole lamp while popular all over the world is also another ubiquitous Argentinian favorite.

We made this at our friends Donna and Dave's house. It was great fun. Dave spent a lot of time in Argentina and became somewhat of an expert on Argentinian BBQ. I'm proud to say he approved of our preparation of Asado.

When Dave went to pick the lamb up it was alive, and it road back in the back of his truck..alive. He took it to the butcher and the next morning it was prepped for the grill.

Talk about fresh!!!

Venison loin comes off off the parilla perfect too. Cooked hot and fast and left rare it is juicy and tender. Unlike what most people are used to deer meat being.

The sauce with Asado is Chimichurri. It is a delicious blend of fresh herbs olive oil and citrus. Served here with morcillia.

Sorry that I haven't posted in a while. Things have been kind of crazy at work. But with spring just around the corner I have visions of Asado in my head. I want to get out there and build a fire. Its fresh in my head today because the ground hog saw his shadow. Oh, well six more weeks.

Ill promise to try to stay on top of the posting if you promise to give Argentinian BBQ a try. Its easy fun and oh so delicious!

Remember, I have my eye on you.