Pupusas at Cabana

Our search for a quick, freshly made-to-order lunch found us at Cabana, a restaurant, specializing in pupusas and other Salvadoran treats. I had been introduced to these hearty and addictive treats by a friend and co-worker who took me there after hearing that I’d prefer a unique casual meal over a high-end puffery every time. It was time for me to take Maureen to share in the delight.

The place is very friendly, family run operation with and adjacent Latin food shop called La Tiendita, where Maureen and I go to stock up on good corn tortillas, queso fresco, chili peppers and other Latin food staples.

We sat down and ordered three pupusas each, one of each kind on  the menu, cheese, pork and combination and a side dish of fried plantains, refried beans and crema, a rich variant of creme fraiche. The pupusas came with a large jar of a lightly fermented cabbage slaw, reminiscent of Korean kimchi and a fresh tasting thin tomato salsa. Hot sauce was on the table. 3 pupusas is too many. Two would be perfect, and is the minimum order size.

The pupusas themselves are almost like doughy corn pancakes, stuffed with meat and cheese and delicious all by themselves, but with the gentle bite of the cabbage and the fresh tomato flavours of the salsa, they form the perfect combination of rich, salty, with just enough bite and tang to keep me going back for more. It’s a shock that these pupusas and their condiments are $2.25 each. I dare say that I can’t think of a better food bargain in the city.

The menu at Cabana is full of authentic, home-cooked Salvadoran specialties and we may try some some day if we have the will to order anything but these amazing pupusas when we go there.
La Cabana on Urbanspoon

Other Springtime Traditions

It never fails to amaze me how much energy is expended every April, by my frozen patch of  planet, in a renewed quest to become lush with verdant life almost over night and certainly before my very eyes. Trees literally pop to life. Sap warms and begins begins to course through veins, buds swell, a bright green haze signals the advent of a new season and an electrical surge seems to pass through the earth to ignite us humans, causing us to smile, be a little giddy and drunk with sunshine, clean out closets and share large meals with loved ones.

Spring brings us Easter and Passover. Both traditions have deeply-rooted food experiences. Our families’ Christian traditions included glazed ham with pineapple rings, maraschino cherries, studded with cloves, potato scallop, or turkey and all the trimmings. And Family. And Chocolate. And Peeps. And those horrible, pure sugar pink and purple eggs, that peg the sugar index just below maple sugar candy, which we ate anyways. My teeth hurt just remembering.

Not sure what the other side ate. It did not include the “bunny” and that was enough for me to ignore it. Now as an adult, I don’t celebrate the religious end of things but instead, I love to appreciate the beginning of things, the rebirth of my garden, city and world, with friends, family and food. This year, since we can just go to the store and buy as many chocolate bunnies, eggs, and coloured cellophane grass  as we please, Rob and I thought it might be interesting to experience some of the goodies that Passover has to offer. We are not being attentive to any religious dietary restrictions, as we are interested purely in the food experience. Chocolate bunnies will be present as my kids are still my kids at any age.

12 pm Easter Sunday: Noodle kugel is warm from the oven, and the brisket is going in for a long braise. Tzimmes (which is almost like a chutney) is simmering on the stove top, smelling oddly enough of Christmas, I think because of the cinnamon, nuts, dried fruit, vanilla and orange.

The brisket recipe is adapted from many found on the web, but mostly, I followed The Pioneer Woman’s excellent blog posting. It’s a 6-lb. brisket that’s been trimmed of excess fat and placed in a roasting pan. In a separate bowl, I mixed about 2 cups of ketchup, 1 cup of grape jelly (really!) and a packet of onion soup mix, which is then poured over both sides of the brisket. I cooked the brisket at 275 degrees F for 6 hours, turning it over  and spooning the sauce on top halfway through. When it was done, I removed the brisket to a cutting board and cut it into 1/4 inch-or-so slices and poured the sauce into a large enough serving dish to hold both the sauce and brisket slices. I then transferred the slices to the sauce.

The meal was warming and delicious. The brisket and sauce was accompanied by the tzimmes, steamed green beans and smashed potatoes. We had the Kugel for dessert although Jewish friends have since told us that the kugel, despite its custardy sweetness is a side. A real Passover meal  would likely have a choice of a couple flourless cakes for dessert. Of course, this certainly wasn’t meant to be authentic – we used butter where we shouldn’t have, for example – but it was wildly successful as a tasty exploration of another set of traditions.


Coq Au Reisling

This rustic yet elegant chicken, a meal in a bowl, satisfies in cold weather but is light enough for a spring meal. I usually serve this dish with parsleyed new potatoes which I prepare separately. Just boil and toss with a little butter and parsley, then add to the serving bowls. You can add any other vegetables that you like or have on hand such as carrots or small squashes. Serve with a crusty, rustic bread to soak up the broth, which is very flavourful and really the star of the show.

Coq au Reisling (Adapted from Jaime Oliver)
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
750 ml  Canadian Reisling
1 bouquet garni celery, bay leaf, sprig parsley, sprig thyme, tied with kitchen string
olive oil
4 ounces pancetta
8 ounces button mushrooms
12 small pickling or chipolini onions
1 tbsp flour
salt and pepper
parsleyed potatoes

1. Marinate the chicken in the wine with the bouquet garni in the fridge overnight, in a ziplock bag. Place it in a bowl  in case it leaks. (It will leak)
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3. Heat oil in a dutch oven. Remove chicken from marinade (save it and garni) and season liberally with salt and pepper, add to pot and brown on both sides. Remove from pot and set aside. Add another glug of oil and add bacon to pot. Saute 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and onions and saute 5 more minutes.
4.  Add flour to pot and stir. Return chicken to the pot, place on medium heat. Add wine and garni, bring to a boil, stirring. Cover and transfer to oven and cook for 45 minutes.

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.

Tonight, also inspired by Jaime Oliver, I am roasting some stone fruits (plums and nectarines), but any fruit will do. Toss with a little sugar (about 1/4 cup, adjust to how sour the fruit is), zest some orange peel (just the coloured part, the white pith is bitter), juice the orange, sprinkle in some vanilla extract, break two cinnamon sticks in half, toss in  and add a good splash of bourbon, cognac, port, whatever you like and have on hand. I’m using Cavaldos. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Serve over ice cream or Greek yogurt and top with honey if desired.