Tag Archives: lard

SOPAIPILLAS

Nearly every cuisine I’m aware of has a deep-fried fritter that is puffy and flaky. The Northern New Mexico version is the sopaipilla. I first had them during a visit with my aunt and uncle in Los Alamos when I was ten yers old. I liked the treat so much that I brought the recipe back home with me and tried to make them – probably with not much success. Since then I’ve had countless sopaipillas, some delicious, some not very good, some light and fluffy, some greasy.

The most memorable sopaipillas I never had were at the Cactus Taqueria in Dumas, Texas. On a long road trip, our family had stopped for lunch. After we had placed our order, one of the kids went to the restroom only to report on return that there was a dead cow in the kitchen. When I checked it out for myself, sure enough there was a black and white spotted cow lying in the kitchen with its four legs stuck straight up. That should have been our first clue to leave, but we decided to wait for our food.

While we were eating we noticed three cowboys at a nearby table. The waitress brought them their traditional complimentary basket of sopaipillas for dessert. The men ate the puffs with honey and then stuck the squeeze bottle of honey in their mouths, sucking out the last few drops. We left before we got our dessert.

Sopaipillas make great containers for both sweet and savory foods. Traditionally, they are served with honey (although traditionally it is expected that you put the honey container back on the table instead of your mouth) but they are also delicious when filled with stew or chili.

The real thing should be made with lard, but you can substitute vegetable shortening.

If you are trying to make them for the first time, you may have difficulty in getting them to puff. The two secrets are that you need to make sure the deep-frying oil is hot enough, and you can hasten the process by holding the frying sopiapilla under the surface of the frying oil for a few seconds using a spatula.

The frying oil should be hotter (400° F) than the usual 350° F recommended for deep frying. I have suggested using peanut oil because it has a smoke point above that temperature even though sopaipillas are traditionally fried in hot lard with a smoke point below 400° F. I used my new infra-red thermometer to measure the surface temperature of the oil. That was amazingly similar to the temperature that I got with an instant-read probe. Use whatever thermometer you want as long as it will register the temperature of deep-frying oil.

If the sopaipillas don’t puff up right away in the hot oil, they won’t puff, but you can still eat them, covered with honey, with a fork.

RECIPE

Sopaipillas 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lard
  • ¼ cup water
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Method

  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Cut in the lard with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
  2. Add the water and knead gently until the dough comes together. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour. If it is too dry add a little more water a few drops at a time. The dough should form a a firm, smooth, ball.
  3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Flatten it out with the palm of your hand. Then fold it in half. Repeat this process 10 or so times. Then form the dough into a ball, cover it with plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes.
  4. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into squares, rectangles, or triangles about 6 inches on a side.
  5. Cover the cut pieces with a cloth to keep them from drying out before you fry them.
  6. Heat at least 3 inches of peanut oil in a heavy skillet or deep-frying pot to 400°F. When the oil is hot, drop one or two pieces of dough into the oil and hold them under the surface of the oil with a spatula for a few seconds until they begin to puff.  Fry the sopaipillas on both sides until they are golden brown.
  7. Remove the fried fritters to drain on several thicknesses of paper toweling. Then transfer to an oven heated to 200°F to keep them warm until you have finished frying the remaining dough pieces.
  8. Serve immediately while still hot. If you wish, you can sprinkle them generously with powdered sugar or a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.  Serve with honey for a dessert or serve them plain if you want to fill them with stew or chili. They are also delicious just plain with butter.

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CHICKEN TAMALES, A CHRISTMAS TRADITION

Our family has lived in the Southwest USA long enough that we have adopted many of the local traditions, especially those that have to do with food and with Christmas. For many years we have gathered around the kitchen table on Christmas Eve to make and then eat tamales.

The event is festive, with everyone laughing and each person assigned a particular task. Susan usually prepares the masa – always with lard, and beaten until the dough floats on water to show that it has enough incorporated air. I prepare the corn husks in hot water so that they are pliable and can be used to wrap up the dough and filling. Others make the filling. Our favorite is chicken. The recipe came from the back of a bag of masa harina from many years ago.

Pork in red chile is more traditional, and we sometimes make those, too, but our family favorite is chicken with an unusual ingredient – olives.

After the filling and dough are prepared, the teamwork and fun begin.  Some spread the masa dough on the corn husks. Others put on the filling. Others wrap up the tamales. We try to make things come out even with just enough filling for the masa dough. Usually it doesn’t, and we have a little of one or the other left over. Even at that, we always wind up with enough tamales for everyone to get their fill.

Finally, the tamales  are stacked on a trivet in a big pot to be steamed. The steamer pot is put on the stove, and the tamales are cooked to perfection.

While we wait – it may take an hour or so – we sit around the Christmas tree and enjoy a mug of home-made eggnog. Then the feast begins before it is time for bed and dreams of Christmas Day.

This year, Sarah and her son will join us for a few days before Christmas while Carol and her family will arrive on Christmas Eve so we won’t be able to have our tamales party. Instead we will make them ahead, freeze them, and then thaw and steam them for each of our visiting families.

 

RECIPE

Ingredients

Filling

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ cup taco sauce, canned or homemade
  • 1/3 cup black olive slices
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups shredded cooked chicken

Masa

  • 1 cup lard (may substitute vegetable shortening)
  • 2½ cups masa harina
  • 2 teaspoons ground red chiles (do not use chili powder)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1¾ cups chicken stock

Corn husks for filling (about 2 dozen, soaked in hot water)

Method

  • Sauté onions in oil. Then add taco sauce, olives, cumin, salt, and chicken.  Combine well, cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then set aside.
  • In a stand mixer, cream the lard (or shortening) until fluffy. Then add masa harina, chiles, salt, and chicken stock. Continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy enough that a small piece of the dough floats in water.
  • Divide the masa into 24 balls. Spread each of the dough balls onto a soaked corn husk so that the dough comes to the edge of the husk. Place a good-sized tablespoon of the filling on the dough, fold over the two edges of the husk so that the dough completely covers the filling. Then fold over the two edges of the corn husk so that the dough completely covers the filling. Fold the tail of the folded husk over the tamal.
  • Stack the finished tamales on a trivet over water in a large kettle
  • Steam, covered, over gently boiling water for about one hour or until the masa does not stick to the corn husks. Serve warm with your favorite chile sauce or molé.
  • If you choose to freeze the tamales, thaw them completely before steaming.

Don’t try to make the dough without a mixer as the dough is heavy and it really does need to float in water before you quit beating. That’s hard on the modern wrist. You can use vegetable shortening if you wish, but the tamales are never as tasty as those made with lard. Choose your own degree of heat with the ground chiles. Personally, I prefer “hot”, but some in our family are incredibly sensitive so we choose “mild”. You can always douse your personal tamales with hot sauce.

IMPORTANT: Remember to remove the corn husk wrapper before you eat the tamal.

There should be about 2 dozen tamales.

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LAS POSADAS AND BISCOCHOS

Along the Border in El Paso, they’re called biscochos and in Northern New Mexico they are called bizcochitos, but they are the same cookie and an important part of the Christmas tradition. They are served at nearly every party, but they are essential to Las Posadas. This celebration recalls the biblical story of Mary and Joseph seeking lodging on their journey to Bethlehem in order to participate in the census. Throughout New Mexico the story is re-enacted in villages and urban centers alike. Two individuals dressed as Mary and Joseph lead a band of pilgrims from door to door, often around the plaza, seeking lodging. Repeatedly they are turned away, often with scornful cries, until at last they are welcomed in –  usually at the church on the plaza – to find rest and warmth.

Once the crowd is inside the welcoming site, there is a celebration with traditional songs, hot drinks like atole, and treats, always including biscochos.

There are many recipes for biscochos, but the best ones always include lard. This recipe is the best of the best. It comes from Lorenza Zuñiga, an amazing woman who worked as my promotora de salud many years ago when I worked in the clinics in the colonias along the Texas-Mexico border.

RECIPE

Ingredients

For cookies

  • 7½ cups flour
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground anise
  • 1 pound lard
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/3  cup pineapple juice (more if the dough is too dry)

For sugar-coating

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground anise

Method

  • Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, and anise. Then add lard and mix well before adding beaten eggs and enough pineapple juice to make a soft dough. You may need to knead with your hands for a few minutes to incorporate all the ingredients.
  • Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a ¼ inch thickness. This should make a circle about 20 to 24 inches across. Cut into diamond shapes and place on an ungreased baking sheet.
  • Bake in an oven preheated to 350° for 10 to 15 minutes or until light brown. Check often as the cookies burn easily.
  • While the cookies are baking combine the remaining sugar, cinnamon and anise and place in a tray or other wide, shallow container.
  • When the cookies are baked, transfer them, still warm, to the sugar mixture in a tray. Turn them while cooling to completely coat them
Lard and dry ingredients

Lard and dry ingredients

Kneaded dough

Kneaded dough

Sugar and spice topping

Sugar and spice topping

Cutting two-inch diamond shapes

Cutting two-inch diamond shapes

Ready to bake

Ready to bake

Cooling and ready to eat

Cooling and ready to eat

The recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies, of course depending on the size of the diamonds.

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