Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pumpkin Food - Lunch

Carnitas, shredded cabbage & carrots
with a base of cumin & jalapeño kraut.
(don't have that?  the Mexican spicy vegetable escabeches
hold much of the same flavors) 

I love sopes.  Love LOVE Luv! them.  But they are a pain in the patoot to make.  I mean mixing the dough isn't so bad, but the frying.  Or the parbaking, and then frying.  Or the parbaking, shaping then frying.  (Aaaaahhhhhhh!)
And they are really only at their best for about 12 minutes.  Then the edges get hard, and they loose their fluffy interior.  And they get a little dense.

Tamales on the other hand have a better shelf life.  And I do enjoy a good tamale as well.  However in Casa de Texture Issues, the mushiness of the tamale masa doesn't go over so well with some of the people I encounter in my house.
And then there's the rage of the tamale snob.  Some of the most enjoyable prose in the "you're doing it wrong" internet-cookery-category comes in the fights over making tamale dough, "the way my Mother-in-Law from (fill in small town/village in Mexico/New Mexico/Texas) does."  And how every other tamale in the whole wide world is just so inferior etc. etc. etc.  And so on.
And then there are the people who don't see why you have to put any fat in tamale dough (because it turns into something with a texture between a rubber ball and a shoe sole, That's Why!)

Well, at the risk of being hounded by the ghosts of a million indignant Abuelas and the internet presences of their strangely numerous Daughters-in-Law, I am going to mess with tradition.

Sopes are just masa and water (maybe a little salt - but probably not).  And while they are fleetingly One of The Most Delicious Things In The World to eat other things on, due to their ingredients, they are quickly on their way to becoming cornstarch hockey pucks.  The fry gets the inside fluffy by turning the water inside to steam, and trapping it within a gently crispy crust of fried corn wonderfulness.  But as the heat leaves, and the steam with it, the poor thing collapses.  It's utter simplicity, making it an ideal vessel for deeply tasty food, also means that it has no internal resources to lean on.

Tamale dough doesn't get dried out anywhere near as badly.  Sure, it is wrapped in that corn husk, and steamed, not fried, but the real trick is the fat.  Even as the water flees, the fat (usually lard) is there to keep things from heading puck-wards.  It traps water, helps the dough retain some structure, and even adds flavor.

So-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o  what if I gave my sopes a little internal fortitude?  A liquid source that has something more to hold onto, and a nice subtle flavor that already plays well with corn.  And gave them internal fat, to help with the structure problem, and continue to fix the moisture problem.  This could allow me to bake the sopes (much easier in my kitchen, especially from a resource and clean up stand point), and allow them to be frozen and reheated.  

Ta Da!  I present....

(Note: this is a HEAVILY opinionated and thus lengthily annotated recipe.  For the simpler version, skip ahead to: Baked Pumpkin Sopes - Just the Recipe)

Oven Baked Pumpkin Sopes
this recipe makes 12-16 sopes depending on what size a "golf ball" is to you.  Any you don't eat right away can be frozen, and toasted or microwaved back to life (a little too hot too touch, pliable, maybe a little crispy, and tasty).

2C masa harina* (Corn Flour - NOT corn meal.  If the corn has NOT been treated with lime, it will not work.  You will have gritty polenta cakes, not sopes)
1.5 - 2C pumpkin purée (depending on the coarseness of the masa harina - finer will need less, coarser - more.)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 - 2/3 C fat (lard, oil, vegetable shortening - choose what you have or prefer to use.  I'm not going to argue about which is best.  I will say, if you go less than 1/2C fat to 2C masa harina, the texture, taste and durability of your sopes will suffer.  You may never know better, but someone will.  And the indignant Abuelas are always about.) 

clean hands
large mixing bowl
measuring cups & spoons
cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan (the cookie sheet of the gods - in my world)
oily/greasy paper towel (or a Silpat/silicone sheet liner)
[Stand mixer - if you are going to do a BIG BATCH, or would rather wash dishes rather than get your hands dirty, a stand mixer does this just fine!]

Pour the masa harina, salt, baking powder into the big bowl.  Briefly stir together.  Start by adding 1.5C pumpkin purée to the dry stuff.  Squish and mix it together.  Add a little more purée - until you get that firm "play-dough" texture - or get something that looks like this:
easily holds its shape
when you break it in half it neither slumps or crumbles
and NO dry bits
Then, fold in and evenly distribute the fat of your choosing.
It should have a lighter fluffier feel and be a bit sticker once the fat is folded in.
Form into a large ball/oval.
Break in half.  
Break each of those halves in half.
Each of those 4 chunks need to be broken into 3 or 4 parts.  They should be "golf-ball" sized.
(Special APPETIZER PATROL NOTE: Instead of golf ball size, try marble size for mini sopes.  You'll get 48 - 64 depending on the size of your marbles.  Awesome appetizer bases - and bonus - gluten free, and cook ahead and reheat-able.)
(If going the greasy paper towel route - liberally grease your cookie sheets)
Each ball should be patted flat.  And then placed on the greased/Silpat-ed metal tray.  Pinch up the edges with your fingers.

(I am ignoring all Abuela related scorn.  I am doing it wrong.
I know.  I don't care.  My lunch is SO good.)
You can also press down the center with one hand,
and shore up the edges with the other.

There, like this...
done, done done, mostly done,
still to be done, still....
The most common instruction I see on the internet is "press down the center with a drinking glass." This was useless to me.  I didn't have a "drinking glass" that was sope sized, and mine all have indented bottoms anyway (Damn you Pottery Barn! or was it Crate & Barrel?)  And when I did find ramekins that were the correct size, they stuck.  And the rim was too low.  Yeah, the "press down" instruction is more trouble that it is worth.  Go with the Carpel Tunnel Prevention Therapy of actually working with dough.

Heat up the oven to 350˚F.
Pop the sopes in for about 15 minutes.
Depending on their size they'll take 12 - 17 minutes.  You'll know you've hit the jackpot when you smell that tell-tale toasty corn smell.

several different sizes

So - what do I eat on a sope?

For me sope bliss was arrived at with my Oly Kraut cumin & jalapeño sauerkraut at the base (a stand in for the Mexican spicy vegetable escabeche), carnitas, and shredded cabbage and carrots, dressed with a little lime (photo at the top).

For the non meat eaters?  The sour/spicy/crunchy of the cumin jalapeño kraut (or vegetable escabeche), refried beans, jack cheese, and the cabbage & carrots.

And since I was doing so much sope testing, I was left with this:

After cooling -
bagged and into the FREEZER!
And then some were resurrected for a dinner of leftovers.  My son invented the chopped, pickled green bean, shredded pot roast sope - cabbage carrot slaw - of course.  But some went another route:

Left over kale & beet greens with carmelized onions & vinegar
Hey! I'm trying to take pictures here.  

Whatever else happens - the baked pumpkin sope has earned a place in my house.  Indignant DIL's of Abuealas be damned.

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