For Eddy Urias-Castro, food is a way of expressing love. Born in San Salvador, El Salvador, Urias-Castro moved to Australia in 1989 when he was just five years old with his parents. Together they fled their homeland amid a civil war, settling initially in Brisbane on a humanitarian visa.
After enduring years of unrest in El Salvador, the final driver for the move was when one morning a man broke into their home and Urias-Castro and his parents were held hostage at gunpoint.
However, notwithstanding the trauma of that event, for Urias-Castro it is talk of food and cooking that makes him truly emotional.
The former manufacturing production manager turned baker and owner of Munch Bakery in Melbourne, tells SBS Food, "Cooking is such a strong way of saying I love you and I appreciate you… and I've poured everything into this."
His passion for food and cooking began at Queen Victoria Market. After a year in Australia, he and his family moved to Melbourne and it was at this iconic marketplace where his mother Hennie, a senior psychologist and his biggest influence, gave him an informal apprenticeship in the kitchen, starting with produce.
Cooking was how Hennie "connected with what she lost through immigrating," says Urias-Castro. "She was the one that taught me to navigate the market. How to find the best fish, check whether the meat was tinted.
"[My mother] was always talking to vendors, always going at the right time to get the best prices, but also going early to get the best produce. It was always about the best."
"Cooking is such a strong way of saying I love you and I appreciate you… and I've poured everything into this."
Even to this day, after an excellent meal out his mother "just marches straight into the kitchen and starts talking to the chef about the food."
At home, Urias-Castro mostly ate Salvadoran food. Some of the common dishes were pupusas (maize–flour pancakes), sopa de carne con vegetales (a meat broth soup with vegetables) and vegetales rellenos (vegetables stuffed with ricotta, shallow fried and simmered in a tomato sauce). Frijoles rojos, a versatile red bean dish that can be enjoyed as a soup or used to make refried beans, was also a constant feature.
"Mum would always have a pot [of frijoles rojos] on the stove."
Outside of the home, however, Urias-Castro and his family also enjoyed eating multicultural food.
"When I was young, I don't just remember eating El Salvadoran food, I also remember going to Box Hill to eat yum cha, going to Footscray to eat African food," he says.
However, the most influential food from his upbringing in Australia is surprising. "Pies had a profound effect on me," Urias-Castro recounts. "Rather than getting chocolates in my stockings, I would ask for pies for Christmas."
Unsurprisingly, pies are the focus of Urias-Castro's Munch Bakery. His gourmet offering is inspired "by anything and everything," he says. One pie showcases some of the Latin American spices and flavours he grew up with. The El Pastor was initially a nod to barbacoa, a Mexican tradition and method of slow cooking also used in El Salvador.
Urias-Castro's preparation involves wrapping beef brisket in banana leaves then slow cooking it in his own homemade chipotle and adobo sauce for eight hours. When Urias-Castro was developing the recipe, he found that the intensity and heat of the barbacoa style beef, unlike a classic beef pie, needed to be balanced out by something else. This is where the unintentional marriage of the two cultures he grew up with fell into place.
"I love a shepherd's pie… but I still wanted to use the same kind of flavour profiles [El Salvadorans and Central Americans] have, but also mix it a little bit, so that's why there's lemon rind in the mash."
One of the biggest philosophies adopted from Urias-Castro's heritage via his mother Hennie is that sharing food is everything.
"You never make a meal, you are always creating something for someone."
'El pastor' barbacoa shepherd's pie
The filling features an eight-hour braised beef brisket in chipotle and adobo sauce cooked in banana leaves and topped with a lemon and chive mash.
• 1.5 kg beef brisket
• Salt and pepper (for dry brine) – enough to liberally coat both sides of the beef
• 3 banana leaves (enough to line a pot)
• 500 ml chicken stock
• 2 heaped tbsp of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
• 1 large onion
• 1 head of garlic
• Oil for frying
• Salt for onions – a generous pinch
• 1 tbsp brown sugar
• 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
• 1 tbsp butter
• Juice of one lemon
• Half a bunch of coriander, leaves and stems, finely chopped
• 3-4 pastry sheets (puff pastry recommended, but shortcrust also works well)
• 3 bay leaves
• 2 tbsp coriander seeds
• 1 tbsp cumin seeds
• 4 cloves
• 1 tbsp black peppercorns
Mashed potato topping
• 1.5 kg désirée potatoes
• Half a bunch of chives, finely chopped
• 80 g of butter
• Salt, to taste
• Zest of 1 lemon
• Pepper, to taste
• 2-4 tbsp full cream milk
This recipe can be cooked in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or any large ovenproof dish with a lid that you could bake in the oven for a few hours. Cooking times for each method below.
If your potatoes need to be washed, do it the day before to allow them to dry before cooking. Cooking the barbacoa the day before helps develop the flavour further.
1. Heat up slow cooker and set to low, or if using a pot/casserole dish set oven to around 200°c.
2. Prepare brisket – remove any silver skin and excess fat, then cut into cubes no larger than 2.5cm. Alternatively, you can use diced beef from the supermarket or butcher.
3. Salt and pepper your beef and let rest anywhere between 45mins to 3 days in the fridge to dry brine the meat. If dry brining for more than a couple of hours make sure to place it in an airtight container in the fridge.
4. Heat the banana leaves in a pan to soften, you only need to kiss the leaves onto the pan, they become soft very quickly (about five seconds) and then line the base of the slow cooker/pot/casserole dish with the leaves making sure to cover both the base and sides of your pot. Remember to leave some excess to cover the top once all your ingredients are in to form a sealed parcel.
5. Add chicken stock and chipotle peppers with adobo sauce into the lined pot and set aside.
6. Dice onion and crush garlic.
7. Set a pan to medium heat and add a little bit of oil to caramelise onions with salt, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, and butter until medium brown and fragrant. Add crushed garlic until aromatic and remove from heat. Set aside.
8. Take the dry brined beef out of the fridge, pat dry and bring to room temperature.
9. Bring a pan up to medium-high heat and brown brisket pieces for around three to five minutes on each side or until a deep crunchy brown, paying special attention to properly cooking the fat. You're going to be scraping the fond (crispy meat bits) out of this pan into the slow cooker/pot/casserole dish so make sure it's a heavy-based pan.
10. Once browned, place all the meat into the stock with remaining juices and scrapings from the pan for flavour.
11. Cover with banana leaves, remembering to soften banana leaves with a little bit of heat from a pan. You could even use the residual heat from the pan you just used to brown the meat.
12. In a slow cooker, cook on low for one hour, then high for seven hours.
13. In a pot/casserole dish, place in oven for around 2 hours depending on your oven. Keep a close eye on it. It's ready when the meat is soft and pulls apart easily.
14. Add bouquet garni one hour prior to cooking completion and let simmer.
15. Once cooked and cooled, add the juice of one lemon, and half a bunch of coriander leaves, and mix through.
16. Place in a container overnight to develop flavour or use straight away.
1. Heat up a skillet to medium-high, then place bay leaves first as they take longer to toast, then coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cloves and black peppercorns, until aromatic. Be careful not to burn. Once you can smell the toasted spices take off the heat immediately.
2. Cut a square of cheesecloth or filter paper and some kitchen string, and place toasted herbs and spices into the middle, and tie the string to form a little package. Leave in an airtight container until ready to use.
Mashed potato topping
1. Pre-heat oven to 200°c.
2. Wrap potatoes in aluminium foil and place them in the oven for around 40–60 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. If potatoes require washing, wash them the day before, leaving them enough time to dry off. You want the potatoes to be dry as possible, so they hold their structure when baked.
3. Mince chives super finely and place in a large mixing bowl with butter, salt, lemon zest, and pepper.
4. Take potatoes out of the oven and while still hot, one by one unwrap and de-skin them and press through a potato ricer, or just place in large bowl with previous ingredients.
5. Mash the potato with a fork or potato masher until broken up into small chunks. Then, slowly add the milk and whisk until desired consistency is reached: smooth but firm. You can also cheat a little by using a stand mixer or electric beater for extra smoothness.
1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
2. Line the baking tin with two strips of baking paper in the form of a cross before placing the pastry in, to help pull out the pie after cooking. Cut 2 long 4cm thick strips and leave them like handles hanging over the edge making sure you have around 10cm of baking paper as your makeshift handles.
3. Cut your pastry sheets to fit the baking dish, making sure to properly seal any seams, and line all the way up to the top of the baking dish. To stop your pastry from sliding down the sides, fold the top lip under itself and press down gently on the edge of the baking dish. Set aside in the fridge to chill.
4. Lay a sheet of baking paper over the pastry, and pour baking beads into the dish. Uncooked rice also works in place of baking beads.
5. Blind bake for 20-25 mins, rotating the dish 180 degrees halfway through. If browning too quickly, cover the edges with a strip of foil.
6. Remove from oven and place the barbacoa into the blind-baked pie, filling it to the top.
7. Dollop on the mashed potato and spread evenly over the top of the pie with a spatula. Alternatively, you can also use a piping bag to pipe on the mashed potato.
8. Place pie back in the oven for a further 30-40mins or until the mash has reached a beautiful light golden colour and the meat is warmed through. Test by sticking your knife in and seeing if it comes out hot.
9. Remove pie from baking dish and serve while hot.
Note: Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce can be found in the Mexican section of your supermarket. Banana leaves can be found in most Asian grocers.
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