Hola! This weekend found us in Latin America once again, this time in El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. The country tends to have a bad reputation for being a dangerous and violent place, but I don’t think we’re being Pollyannas by believing that there are good things about El Salvador, its people and culture, that don’t get as much attention.
On Saturday morning I wanted to make the plato típico (typical dish) for our Salvadoran breakfast, a plate with scrambled eggs, fried plantains, beans, sour cream and corn tortillas from scratch. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to read the bag of masa harina, the corn flour used for making tortillas, ahead of time, and hadn’t realized that the dough needed to sit for an hour. I decided to skip the tortillas and fried some extra plantain. Without the tortillas, maybe our breakfast should be considered plato atípico, but it was still satisfying.
Having learned my lesson about fully reading recipes ahead of time. I made one part of our lunch, a Salvadoran cabbage salad called curtido, right after breakfast so it would have time to marinate before it was time to have lunch. Derek and I ran a few errands afterwards, and when we returned, we started making the other component of our lunch, pupusas. Pupusas, thick corn tortillas stuffed with filling, are probably the most well-known food from El Salvador. We made our pupusas with cheese, following this how-to video (we also used the curtido recipe on the same page). Derek was the one who got the hang of shaping the pupusas, so he formed them and I cooked them in one of our skillets.
I definitely recommend making the curtido, because the tangy cabbage added extra flavor and crunch to the pupusas.
After lunch, we watched Geography Now for an overview of El Salvador. While I already knew a little about gang violence and political unrest in the country, I hadn’t known about the natural disasters it’s vulnerable to, like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
Derek found an article in the Los Angeles Times published just a few days ago, about the increase in children fleeing El Salvador for the United States, because of gang violence in their native country, and how the new American president’s stance on immigration and refugees has complicated the situation. It’s sad to realize that Salvadorans are just one of many groups of people that the xenophobic new administration wants to turn its back on–but I’ll refrain from ranting about the present state of American politics here, and stick to El Salvador.
We watched two tourism videos that presented El Salvador in a much more positive light, one an overview of the country, and the second a video focused on the capital city, San Salvador. These videos let us see the country’s natural beauty and some of its charming colonial towns. While watching these videos, we also enjoyed slices of the cake I had baked earlier in the morning, quesadilla. Like me, you probably associate quesadillas with folded tortillas filled with melted cheese, but a Salvadoran quesadilla is like a pound cake, made from rice flour and cheese, among other more common cake ingredients like butter, eggs and sugar. The quesadilla was very rich and tasty.
One of Derek’s colleagues had invited us to dinner, and since there are no Salvadoran restaurants in Buffalo, the rest of our Saturday was not Salvadoran at all. But we resumed on Sunday morning with plato típico for breakfast, this time with corn tortillas. They’re in the bottom left of this picture.
We both had some chores to do, fortified by some snacking on slices of quesadilla mid-morning. Derek also started to prepare lunch, a rice and beans dish called casamiento. Casamiento means “wedding” in Spanish, and Derek recalled that he had made a dish during our Costa Rican globetrot called casado, which means “married man.” Both dishes have rice and beans, further illustrating the importance of both foods in Latin American cuisine. (As a vegetarian, I’m grateful that so many countries combine the two in their cooking, since they make a nutritionally-balanced meat free meal!)
Before eating our casamiento, we watched a piece from Al Jazeera English about the vigilante groups that have sprung up in El Salvador, who have taken it upon themselves to target and murder gang members who have long terrorized Salvadoran communities.
Here’s the casamiento:
The forty-degree weather this weekend inspired us to start doing some spring cleaning, so we spent most of the afternoon sorting through our things, deciding what to keep, discard or donate.
For dinner, Derek made us rellenos de ejotes, green beans and cheese dipped in batter and fried. We ate these with some salsa and fried plantains.
Our final activity of the weekend was watching the 2004 film Innocent Voices, which is set during the Salvadoran Civil War (1979-1992). The movie focuses on a boy named Chava, who’s about to turn 12–the age that the Salvadoran military conscripted boys to fight against the guerillas. Here’s the trailer:
This look at a terrible time in Salvadoran history may not have been the ideal way to wrap up our weekend, but I don’t think our globetrot would have really been complete had we not acknowledged the recent civil war in some way.
We’ve globetrotted to quite a few Latin American countries in the past six months or so: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and El Salvador. We won’t be back in Latin America for a while, not until Guatemala. Our next country, however, was also once a Spanish colony: Equatorial Guinea. Hasta pronto!