Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pupusa Casserole

I have been wanting to cook with cactus paddles (nopales) for ages, ever since I made a cactus salsa almost a decade ago, using canned cactus strips (nopalitos) from the grocery store. Every once in a while, I'd spot cactus paddles - fleetingly - on the store shelves, but never did wind up tossing them into my grocery cart. This time, I didn't let the opportunity slip away, since I also had a pack of masa harina (corn flour) at home, and knew exactly which recipe I wanted to try.

Pupusas are normally masa dough patties that are stuffed and baked, but this version simplifies things, turning the pupusa into casserole form.

For the filling:
  • 2 cups chopped cactus paddles (about 4 nopales)
  • 2 Gardein Tuscan chicken breasts (without sauce)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 cup shredded vegan Monterey Jack with jalapeno peppers, divided (such as Daiya)
For the dough:
  • 2 and 1/4 cups masa harina
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
1. To prepare the cactus, first trim off any spiny points with a knife, cutting away from you. Trim any browned edges, then chop. Much like okra, cactus is quite slimy and sticky when raw; I'm glad I had read about this in advance or I wouldn't have been prepared for it.

2. Cook the chopped cactus in boiling water for 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, sprinkle the chicken evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt, the cumin, and black pepper.  Heat a medium skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat.  Add the chicken and cook for 4 minutes on each side.  Remove from the pan and let cool slightly before shredding with 2 forks (or by hand if easier).

4. Return the pan to the burner over medium heat and recoat with cooking spray.  Add the onion and garlic; saute for 4 minutes.  Add the cooked cactus, chicken, and 2/3 cup Monterey Jack.  Cook for 5 minutes.

5. To prepare the dough, combine the masa harina in a bowl with the water and 3/4 teaspoon salt.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead lightly a few times.  Press one third of the dough into an 11x7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Note: I absolutely love working with masa dough, which I find to be utterly forgiving. You can tear it apart and then pat it back together again, covering up any holes that form while patting out to fit the baking dish. Also, it never sticks to your hands or becomes an unworkable mess like flour dough sadly sometimes can. For more fun with masa, see my post for Arepas.

6. Spread the cactus filling over the dough.  Press the remaining 2/3 of the dough into a 4-inch square on plastic wrap.  Cover with additional plastic wrap and roll into a 11x7-inch rectangle.  Remove the bottom sheet of plastic and fit the dough over the filling, then remove the final sheet of plastic wrap.

7. Bake the casserole at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.  Sprinkle with the final 1/3 cup Monterey Jack cheese and bake an additional 5 minutes.

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1 portion), Calories 234

Tasting Notes:
Well, cactus tastes just wonderful! I would consider it a cross between a green bell pepper and okra, with perhaps a tinge of green bean flavor too.  The masa dough on top became quite crisp and crunchy, which I hadn't expected but quite enjoyed, whereas the underside stayed softer from the juices in the filling. The filling itself has great creamy cheese, but I would add more chicken and increase the cumin. Very different and delicious.


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