I wanted to make something different this week, so I bought a pretty yellow bag of PAN masa harina and looked up South American cooking for a change. Let me tell you, that’s not a cuisine I’m familiar with. The cover informed me that I can now make arepas, hallacas, hallaquitas, bollos pelones, pupusas, gorditas, and milho fritto. Holy information overload. My interest was peaked, so I Googled “Bollos Pelones” – literal translation: HAIRLESS BUNS. Serious. How could you pass that up? These had to be made immediately.
Let’s get nerdy about the dough. In order to make masa harina, field corn (maize) is dried and then treated in a solution of lime and water. This loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn. The soaking process is important for people who eat corn as a staple because it makes certain vitamins nutritionally available, something early European settlers probably wish they knew about.
The soaked maize is then washed, and the wet corn is ground into a dough, called masa. This fresh masa, when dried and powdered, becomes masa harina. Add water once again to make dough, as we do here. You can steam, boil, fry, grill, or bake it. It’s thickening properties and grainy texture can also be used to improve the taste and texture of chili (note to self).
Masa harina is not the same as cornmeal and the two are not interchangeable.
I haven’t been able to find an English recipe for the filling – so this is hobbled together from Spanish sources and adapted to suit my style of cooking, and by that I mean “I read, understood, and did my own thing anyway”. I used ground turkey here, but ground beef, pork and chicken would be good stand-ins as well. I’ve seen versions with capers, olives and chopped boiled eggs, but decided to go with pickled jalapenos, red pepper, cumin, and a touch of agave syrup to bring the flavors together. The sauce is a sweet mix of tomato sauce, chipotle peppers and mango – I thought anything else might be too plain. Just make sure you cool down the filling before using, preferably somewhere frigid and uninhabitable – my yard will do. Keep away from birds and small nosy animals.
You can see that shaping the dumplings is straightforward. The dough is surprisingly easy to handle, but lightly wetting your palms will make handling even easier. Avoid overstuffing the dumpling – the first couple can be tricky to make, but you’ll get into the groove of things quickly.
Have fun and I hope you learned something new!
- 4 cups PAN masa harina
- 5 cups water
- 1 tbs salt
- 2 tbs vegetable oil
- 450g (1lb) ground turkey, beef, pork, or chicken
- 1 large sweet onion, finely diced
- 1 large red bell pepper, finely diced
- 2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tbs agave syrup, or honey
- 1 tbs butter
- 1 tbs finely chopped onion
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 28oz can tomatoes, whole, or diced
- 1 ripe mango, peeled and cubed
- 1 tbs agave syrup
- 1 tsp ground chipotle pepper, or substitute equal amount chopped canned chipotles in adobo sauce salt and pepper to taste
- for browning the dumplings
- 1 egg + ¼ cup milk
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tbs butter + 1 tbs vegetable oil for frying the dumplings
- cilantro and sliced jalapenos to garnish
- To make the dough, pour the water into a large bowl. Add the masa harina and salt, then mix with your hands until a soft dough is formed. Leave to rest for 5 minutes.
- To make the stuffing, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, red pepper and jalapenos. Saute until the onions translucent and lightly browned. Add the meat and continue cooking, breaking the meat with a wooden spatula and mixing often. Add the garlic when the meat is no longer pink, and continue cooking for 5 more minutes, until thoroughly cooked through. Season with cumin, coriander and agave syrup, mix well and set aside to cool.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and divide into 4 portions. Shape each segment into an approximately 5 inch long cylinder and cut into small 1 inch pieces. Wet your palms lightly and flatten the piece into a ¼ inch thick circle. Place 1 teaspoon of the filling in the middle and close the dumpling over, sealing the edges with your fingers. Shape into a ball and set aside.
- To make the sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, taking care not to burn. Add the tomatoes quickly (it may splatter). Add the mango, agave syrup, and ground chipotle (or chopped canned chipotle in adobo sauce). Bring to a brief boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 mins. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- To boil the dumplings, bring a large salted pot of water to a boil. Drop in the dumplings and let boil until they rise to the surface. Keep boiling for 30 more seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and let cool slightly. In a medium skillet, melt the butter with the vegetable oil. Whisk together the egg and milk, coat each dumpling in the mixture, then toss in the breakcrumbs. Fry until golden brown.
- Serve ladled with the sauce and garnished with cilantro and sliced jalapeno peppers.