Hazel Lorusso, 27, a homemaker and former Nicaraguan community leader, lives in Lindenhurst with her husband, Michael, a Spanish teacher in the Dix Hills school district, and daughters, Maddalena, 2½, and Mariella, 19 months.
Having grown up in Nicaragua, how did you end up coming to the United States?
My husband went to Nicaragua with a group that was helping the community where I lived. He volunteered to build houses there and was translating because he speaks Spanish. I was working as a leader for Project Nicaragua when we met in 2009. We got married and came to the United States the next year.
Who were your culinary inspirations growing up?
I was always watching my mom or my grandmother cooking, asking questions. That was how I learned.
Now that you are a mom living in Lindenhurst, what do your young daughters see you making?
I cook Nicaraguan, Latin American and Italian-American food. One dish, mustard chicken, is a Nicaraguan recipe that's a favorite of my husband. And our daughters eat everything that we eat. They love when I make tajadas, which are fried plantains. I use the green plantains. I make the sweet plantains too, but they like the green ones better.
What's your go-to dish when you entertain or are invited to parties?
I usually make empanadas, which both my daughters love. I also make rice pudding and something called buñuelos, which are like round doughnuts that we make with yucca, not flour. Then we make a syrup with sugar, lime, cinnamon and water.
When you're not cooking at home, where do you like to eat out?
We like Chichimecas, a Mexican restaurant in Farmingdale. I like to get something a little spicy, so I get the chicken mole. And every time we go, the owner, Alejandro, takes the guitar and sings for us in Spanish.
NICARAGUAN BEEF EMPANADAS
1½ cups masa harina, or masa corn flour (Lorusso prefers Maseca brand)
? teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground annatto, a spice used for flavor and yellow color
Pinch baking soda
? cup water at room temperature
3 tablespoons oil, divided
1 pound ground beef
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 ribs celery, diced
1 small carrot, cut into ¼-inch cubes
¼ cup corn kernels
¼ cup green peas
¼ cup pitted green olives, whole
2 bay leaves, whole
1 cube of beef bouillon
¼ cup tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
For frying empanadas:
1½ to 2 cups vegetable oil
1. In large mixing bowl, combine masa harina, salt, annatto and baking soda.
2. Slowly add water to the mixture, mixing by hand. After you have formed a dough, add egg and mix in. Form mixture into a ball. It should be pale orange-yellow in color. Reserve.
3. To make filling, heat half the olive oil over medium flame in large heavy skillet. Add ground beef and cook, stirring, until meat is brown. Remove beef, draining fat. Reserve.
4. Heat remaining oil. Add onion, pepper, garlic and celery and sauté about 5 minutes or until soft. Then add carrot, corn, green peas and olives. Stir in bay leaves, bouillon, tomato sauce and return ground beef to pan. Add salt and pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Set aside to cool.
5. To prepare dough, pull off a small ball, about 2 inches in diameter and flatten with a rolling pin, making a circle about 5 inches in diameter. Place a tablespoon of the meat mixture in the center of the circle. Fold in half to close, pressing edges to seal. Repeat with remaining dough and meat mixture until you have made about 20 empanadas.
6. Heat frying oil in large heavy pan. Fry empanadas, about 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. When done, drain on paper towels. Makes about 20 empanadas. May be refrigerated and reheated in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.