The old New World

In my dreams, I live in Oaxaca, Mexico. I cook alongside my neighbor mamas with our earthen pots set over communal fires, roasting chilies and cacao beans for grinding…. I can feel the coarse chocolate between my fingers, smell the smoky warmth of ancho chiles, and taste a big pot of something dark and delicious simmering all day over hot coals. Our children play in the fields, boots muddy from nibbling tomatoes off the vine. And for a snack, we serve them pupusas with refried beans and marinated tofu.

Perhaps not. It’s my dream.

Pupusas with refried beans and marinated tofu

Marinated tofu

  • Olive oil
  • Zest and juice of a good lime
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest of half an orange
  • 2 tbsp chile powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 lb tofu, sliced into steaks (1/2″ thick and 2×3″ wide/long)

Pupusas

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 15-oz can pintos, drained and rinsed
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt to taste

Place the marinade ingredients and tofu in a large zip-top bag, seal, and toss from one hand to the other to distribute the marinade evenly over the tofu. Let marinate for about an hour, tossing every once in a while.

Meanwhile, place the masa, warm water, and salt in a large bowl, mixing first with a wooden spoon, then kneading with your hands for a minute or two. It should be soft, pliable, and not at all sticky. Cover with a damp dish towel and let sit for 10 minutes.

While the dough sits, heat a small cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the peanut oil and the onion, and fry for about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and stir until fragrant, about thirty seconds. Add the pintos, and stir until the beans are coated in onions and oil. Mash the mixture with a potato masher until well mashed and no whole beans remain. Add more oil if the mixture isn’t creamy enough. Taste for salt, turn off the heat.

Divide the dough into 8 balls, and poke a well in the middle of each ball. Add about a tsp of refried beans to the well, cover the beans with the surrounding dough, then pat between your hands to flatten the pupusas into about a 1/4″ thick disk. Place the raw pupusas on a sheet of wax paper.

Heat a large cast iron pan over slightly hotter than medium heat (medium-high was too high on my stove). Add about a tbsp of oil for frying the pupusas. You just want a thin coat, not a pool. Fry on each side for 2 or 3 minutes.

When you’re done with the pupusas, turn the pan up a little more, and add about a 1/4 cup of oil. Fry the tofu steaks for about 5 minutes per side, until they’re crispy golden. Sprinkle with a little salt.

To serve, top a pupusa with more refried beans and a tofu steak. Eat with your hands standing over your earthen pot.

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One thought on “The old New World

  1. You’ve mentioned Oaxaca, and you’ve mentioned the Mediterranean…have you played with the flavors coming out of Baja & Baja Sur? They call it “Baja Med,” and it really does feel like fusion…I mean, lots of mole, but also guajillo, citrus, and chayote. (I’ve become adept at getting masses of vanilla through customs.)

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