Every week, Executive Food Editor Keith Dresser pairs each main dish with a side to give you a complete, satisfying dinner without the guesswork. Look for the game plan section to learn tips on how to streamline your kitchen work so dinner comes together quicker.
Dinner 1: Cheese Pupusas with Curtido
Game Plan: Start by making the curtido. While it rests, prepare and cook the pupusas.
Pupusas, a traditional dish from El Salvador and Honduras, consist of small masa harina cakes stuffed with cheese. Hydrating the masa harina with boiling rather than room temperature water allows the starches in the flour to absorb it more quickly and completely, resulting in a well-hydrated dough that is easy to work with and doesn't dry out when cooked. Curtido is a traditional accompaniment to pupusas. Instead of fermenting the cabbage, we marinate thin slices of it, along with chiles, in a fruity cider vinegar–based pickling liquid. Waiting to add the cilantro until after draining the liquid ensures that the herb is vibrant and fresh for serving.
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Dinner 2: Pan-Seared Strip Steaks and Oven Fries
Game Plan: Start by prepping and roasting the potatoes. Pan-sear the steaks after removing the foil from the potatoes.
For fast, mess-free Pan-Seared Strip Steaks, we start cooking the steaks in a “cold” (not preheated) nonstick skillet over high heat and flip them every 2 minutes; that way, the meat's temperature increases gradually, allowing a crust to build up on the outside without overcooking the interior. For Oven Fries, we coat the potatoes in a cornstarch slurry that crisps up like a deep-fried fry would. We arrange the coated planks on a rimmed baking sheet that we coat with both vegetable oil spray and vegetable oil; the former contains a surfactant called lecithin, which prevents the oil from pooling and, in turn, prevents the potatoes from sticking.
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Dinner 3: Italian Sausage with Grapes and Creamy Parmesan Polenta
Game Plan: For this pairing, start with the polenta. Once the cornmeal has been added to the water and the heat reduced, begin the sausage recipe. By the time the polenta is fully cooked, the sausages should be ready to serve. If the sausages are done early, they can be held in the skillet, covered, and rewarmed before serving.
Italian Sausage with Grapes and Balsamic Vinegar is a great example of the affinity that pork and fruit have for each other. Taking inspiration from a potsticker cooking method, we use a combination of sautéing and steaming to produce sausages that are nicely browned while still moist and juicy. For the sauce, we cook down seedless red grapes and thinly sliced onion until caramelized to create a sweet, complex base. White wine, in addition to balsamic vinegar, lends the dish acidity and complements the grapes. Oregano and pepper contribute earthiness and a touch of spice, while a finish of fresh mint adds brightness. For our Creamy Parmesan Polenta, we use coarse-ground, degerminated cornmeal, which provides a soft but hearty texture and nutty flavor. A pinch of baking soda cuts the cooking time in half and eliminates the need for stirring.