Completos: The Complete Chilean Hot Dog

When I usually mention that I enjoy an occasional avocado or two on my hot dogs, most people’s reaction is one of surprise or even mild disgust.

The few people who nod their head in approval are obviously from Chile or one of the few other countries that engages in the interesting practice of creating “completos,” hot dogs with a few surprising toppings.

Completos – a World of Toppings

What’s actually on a completo?

It starts off like any hot dog would, with a standard bun and a hot dog of your choice. Though the “traditional” toppings vary, my wife’s family usually adds:

  • Mayonnaise, mustard or ketchup (or all three for some)
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Chopped or mashed avocados (if mashed, usually used like a spread to line the buns)

One variant uses sauerkraut instead or in addition to some of the other ingredients, depending on your personal taste, and yet another adds shredded cheese to the mix for some family members.

According to Wikipedia, another variant called “A lo Pobre,” or Poor Style, dresses the dog with fried onions, french fries and a fried egg, which sounds really delicious. My in-laws make a different version of the “A lo Pobre,” which pairs the onions, fries and fried egg with a piece of steak instead. It’s always a crowd-pleaser and a nostalgic favorite.

If you’re more of a visual person, Anthony Bourdain experiences one version of the completo during his time in Chile while filming No Reservations:

Anthony Bourdain – Giant Hot Dogs from Chile

The slathering of mayo over the top of the hot dog would gross some people out, which is why we choose to cream up our bun pre-dog and apply the rest of the toppings over everything. We also use the standard 6″ hot dog and bun, rather than opting for the full 12″, which tends to get messy and awkward to eat.

If you’re having a hot dog afternoon anytime soon, why not pick up some avocados at the store and give this version a try?

(Photo credit)

The 12 Dishes You Must Eat for Christmas

Holiday traditions are as unique as the cultures and families that create them. Everyone I have talked to this week shared something that’s completely their own, a long-standing set of rules and habits governing everything from when and how gifts are opened to what, when and how the holiday meal takes place.

As Christmas Eve, the particular holiday our family and most of our friends celebrate approaches, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share my own story, and encourage you to share yours. While we no longer practice many of these traditions in the States, my Polish relatives continue to celebrate Christmas this way and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The most important meal at Christmas time in Poland is the Christmas Eve dinner. There’s a sense of great anticipation for the day of Christmas that’s almost anticlimactic with all the work that goes into the night before. It’s customary to start the Christmas Eve meal at the sight of the first star in the sky, symbolizing the star the shepherds saw that night which led them to the manger.

Sunset this time of year occurs about 3:20 in the afternoon, which generally means that Christmas “eve” dinner actually begins between 3 and 4, normal by Polish standards but early for those of us used to eating at 7 or 8 after work. While the 6 hours of daily sunlight in the winter are troublesome, you’ll be pleased to know that you’re at least very likely to get a white Christmas, since snow is frequent and abundant in Poland during the winter, and it tends to stay on the ground for weeks, sometimes accumulating from snowfall to snowfall. There’s a 40-60% chance of snow for this Friday and Saturday night in my hometown.

Eve dinner is usually preceded by readings from the Bible, and the dinner itself can last anywhere from an hour to a few hours at most if little kids are present. By 6 or 7, most families will be opening presents and singing Christmas carols well into the night. Those who are able to keep their eyes open will attend the pasterka, the midnight mass at their local church.

Decorations and gifts around the season are surprisingly low-key. Most children receive two or three presents at best under the tree, which seems absurd by our consumerist standards. Adults in the family will frequently exchange one gift or even none at all. The Christmas tree itself will usually be set up the week of Christmas Eve, and sometimes even in the hours preceding dinner. While things are changing, there isn’t a strong tradition of house and yard decorating in Poland–to the outside passerby, it might look like just another moonlit night.

The meal itself is truly the focal point of the entire Christmas Eve experience. It’s not unusual for moms and grandmas everywhere to spend 2-3 days ahead of Christmas Eve preparing, cooking and baking countless goodies. Another strong tradition in Poland is to serve 12 dishes the night of Christmas Eve, a tie to the symbolism of the number 12 (for example, Jesus was accompanied by 12 apostles). It’s also customary and expected for the guests to eat each one of the 12 dishes served. This is true even though many of the dishes overlap in ingredients.

It’s also important to note that absolutely no meat is served on Christmas Eve, as it is considered a day of fasting by the Catholic Church. While most people I talk with see this as a “restrictive” rule, I actually see it as an opportunity to be more creative with the meal, and many Poles agree.

The typical lineup on our family’s table would include most of the following dishes:

  • Red Barszcz, the traditional red beet soup, typically served with dumplings.
  • Carp, the “classic” Christmas fish, which can be served broiled, boiled, or fried.
  • Herring, another Polish classic, which is usually prepared at least two or three different ways.
  • Potato salad, which is often made with peas, carrots, eggs, and could include other ingredients.
  • Vegetarian pierogies.
  • Homemade bread.
  • Makowiec, a poppy seed cake.
  • Kluski z makiem, which is essentially a pasta dessert with honey, poppy seeds and nuts.
  • Warm compote, usually from fruits like apple or plum.

Every family will add their own dishes and variations that make the dinner uniquely theirs. It’s a point of pride for the family chefs to point out the various preparation methods and the amount of time it look to prepare certain foods.

The most wonderful thing of all, of course, isn’t all this delicious food or the time and effort it takes to prepare it, but the wonderful memories and relationships created at the dinner table while enjoying it all.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season, and I can’t wait to hear about your own holiday traditions and foods if you’d care to share it with us.

Photo by milele

Making Homemade Sofrito

homemade sofrito

A couple of weeks ago a friend mentioned that she was going to make a batch of sofrito and wanted to see if I was still interested in learning how to make it myself. I was, so I spent an afternoon with her – getting supplies, preparing it (really easy!), and canning (learned about bath canning). Besides getting to learn to make something I enjoy, it was a wonderful afternoon with a friend. I love when food brings people together 🙂

In case you’re not familiar with it, sofrito is a base for many Puerto Rican dishes. The sell at some stores like Walmart, but it’s nothing like what I had growing up.

Here’s the general recipe for sofrito. You adjust it for your personal taste. For example, decide exactly how much garlic you want to have – I love garlic so I’d probably have more in my batch than yours.homemade sofrito

Ingredients

  • 3 onions
  • 2 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 10 ajies dulces peppers, tops removed
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 3 medium heads garlic
  • cilantro leaves with stems (base amount on taste)
  • 25 leaves culantro ( we picked up 3 small bunches)
  •  salt
  • black pepper

Preparation

  • Cut the ingredients into manageable chunks for your food processor.
  • Puree it to the consistency you like.
  • If you plan on making a big batch to use now and later, then take the ingredients from the food processor and put it into a large pot.
  • Have the pot on low heat and mix the ingredients.

Thoughts on Sofrito

I love having a few jars ready to go in the pantry. We made a bunch, but you can make it smaller amount if you prefer. If you’re still unsure about making sofrito, Elba has a great video on preparing sofrito. Have you made sofrito before? What’s your personal recipe? Do you make it as you need or do you prepare it in batches?

Really Simple Pork Cutlets

One of the most classic Polish dishes that I enjoy preparing often is the kotlet schabowy, or breaded pork cutlet. You might know it by some of its other names, like the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel (more often made with veal, rather than pork), or the Italian milanese, though this type of preparation is most often done with chicken. While these are the most well-known varieties, almost every country and culinary culture has a similar dish in its repertoire.

Breaded Cutlets

The simplicity of the breaded cutlet is deceiving, but it doesn’t take a culinary master to put this dish together. All you need is a bit of control over your pan and a little prep work. Let’s take a look at the various components:

The pork. Pork loin cutlets can be purchased pre-sliced at almost any supermarket. They usually come in a “standard” thickness (roughly ½”) and a “thin sliced” variety (about ¼” or less). If you like your cutlets more “bready,” you’ll want to get the thinner ones, and for more “meaty” cutlets, opt for the thicker cut. Once you get your cutlets home, use a mallet with small indentations to pound the meat until it’s about 1.5 to 2.5 times the size of when you started. It should be as uniform in thickness as possible for even cooking. I will also salt the cutlets at this point with some garlic salt.

The stations. On their way to the hot pan, the cutlets need to travel through three stations. The first station consists of all-purpose flour. Pressing down on the cutlets until they’re evenly coated ensures that everything down the line will stick. Station #2 are lightly beaten eggs to which I add a splash of milk. Once dunked, you’ll want to hold the cutlets vertically to let any egg clumps drain off the meat. The final station are the bread crumbs–I use regular or Italian, depending on what I have at home. If everything stuck on properly down the line, you should end up with a perfect, even coating of crumbs.

The pan. The actual cooking process is probably the most tricky affair of the entire night, and you’ll need to experiment with what works on your heat and in your pan type. If the olive oil is too cold, the cutlets will soak and cook too slowly. If it’s too hot, you risk burning the coating before the meat is done. The perfect temperature will produce an even golden brown crust that melts in your mouth.

The toppings. There are no toppings. Polish cooking keeps things simple, and this is no exception–finished cutlets are usually served as-is. They are typically paired with potatoes (I like them either boiled or mashed) and with a cold shredded salad that most closely approximates coleslaw in the U.S. This is normal of Polish dinner dishes, which are almost always served with a starch and salad simultaneously with the main protein.

If you have a chance to try this dish, I hope you enjoy it. I’ve made it twice this week, and it’s been a big hit every time. Smacznego!

Photo by scaredy_kat

4 Polish Culinary Habits I’d Like to Bring Over

One of the amazing things about any culture is not only what they eat, but also the manner in which they eat it. After all, many attribute the fact that the French can stay so amazingly thin with their diet to anything but the food–from what happens around the meal to the way they lead their lives.

This kind of observation and absorption is exactly what I had the chance to experience in my two weeks in Poland, in a way I had not experienced in a long time. That’s because this was the longest time spent there in almost 10 years, and my maturity and interest in culinary things on the last trip of that duration was almost non-existent.

In thinking about the various ways and customs, I made a short list when we returned of a few that I’d like to implement, and we’ve started doing so already. I’d like to share them with you today for your benefit and to offer a small window into the daily culinary culture of Poland.

Meal Time & Frequency. Poles, or at least the ones I know, eat four meals a day regularly. Breakfast is eaten first thing in the morning, lunch shortly before or around noon, dinner between 3 and 4 in the afternoon and “kolacja” or what I simply translate as “4th meal” or “teatime” before bed (depends on your age–as an adult, I would eat this around 8 at night). The meals are somewhat smaller as a result of their frequency, and the long lag most people in the U.S. experience between lunch and dinner (6-8 hours) is cut off.

Kolacja. So what exactly is 4th meal? Like any of the other Polish meals, there are no “traditional” recipes, but rather a sense of the amount and “lightness” or “heaviness” of the fare to be served. My favorite kolacja, for example, is some rye bread with butter and scallion and one or two soft-boiled eggs. Simplicity of preparation and something not too heavy before bedtime are the keys.

Tea, Kompot, and Sparkling Water. The range of Polish drinks served with meals does not include still water, juice, or sodas. Instead, the typical choices include tea (almost always served hot, sometimes flavored with homemade fruit juices), kompot (a hot or warm mix of water and fruit juice), and sparkling water. The latter is not usually served with meals, but rather as a liquid filler between them.

Sandwiches. I had forgotten the art of the simple “kanapka” or sandwich. A slice of rye bread, butter, fresh ham and tomatoes, and a sprinkle of scallion can send me into heaven during any lunch hour. Sandwiches in Poland can be served for any meal, including breakfast (often with kielbasa or other cold cuts).

Jarring. Summer creates an abundance and incredible variety of fruits and vegetables for Poles. Instead of eating pounds of plums every day for weeks, many families are adept at and equipped for the processing of this volume of food. Fruits are processed into everything from jam to juice, while vegetables are pickled or processed into preserved salads.

Other factors. Weekends are used for projects and relaxation, and for procuring food for the week ahead. Walking is an everyday part of life. The food is “fattening” by any other standards, but nothing contains corn syrup or soy, and amazingly, you can stuff your face silly and not gain weight.

Culinary habits are based on centuries of traditions and wisdom, and through many of them may seem silly to our modern, “educated” minds, ignoring them is done at your own risk. I think each and every one of them has a grain of truth and good-for-youness. And I hope to translate many of them into our American lives soon.

Thanks for letting me share my family traditions with you today!

Photo by tristankenney