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Stuffed or topped? No matter, because salbutes are delicious. As of June 22, the Mayan Cafe has reopened for dining inside; read the restaurant’s moving letter to Louisville at the web site. The Mayan Cafe food truck also operates at Gravely Brewing Company.

Mayan Café salbutes come with a variety of seasonal toppings. Black bean and goat cheese is a favorite of restaurant patrons; cochinita (slow roasted pork) is the favorite of owner Bruce Ucan; butternut squash makes use of seasonal vegetables.

(By Sarah Fritschner; originally published in the Winter 2010 issue of Food & Dining)

Salbutes is the Mayan word for “stuffed.” Smallish discs made with aromatic masa flour, they are the not so much “stuffed” as they are topped with a myriad selection of nearly anything you can think of.

At Mayan Café (813 E. Market St.), owner-chef Bruce Ucan’s salbute toppings change seasonally, except for the black bean and goat cheese, which is always available. “People love black bean and goat cheese,” he says, accounting in part for the restaurant using 100 pounds of dried black beans every three weeks or so.

Summer salbutes can have squash on top, and tomatoes, fall might be mushrooms and chorizo. Fried greens work, so does seviche.  Pork shoulder, simmered with achiote for hours covered with a banana leaf, is Ucan’s personal favorite. He buys about 80 pounds of pork from an Indiana farmer every week. And a customer who buys salbutes to take home and freeze uses them under his fried eggs.

It’s the base of the salbutes that make them so addictive. Made of the same corn flour that corn tortillas are made of, with an ancient, musky, earthy flavor of corn that says “home cooking” to me. Salbutes have a smaller circumference than tortillas, and are a little thicker, but larger and thinner than sopas. “Salbutes are the signature main dish of the Yucatan,” says Ucan.

As we celebrate the holiday season, we will have access to all sorts of holiday foods that, for me (and I admit I’ve seen lots of holiday seasons), begin to wear on the palate. I always search for something that will give my taste buds a break — something fresh that doesn’t taste like everything else I’ve been eating. It’s a time I head to places like the Mayan Café where a set of soft salbutes topped with paper-thin slices of butternut squash, a piquant pico de gallo and a few shreds of cabbage let my palate take a refreshing vacaciones from the holidays’ sugar and spice and everything over the top.

If you’re not quite so Grinch-like, you’ll find salbutes can play a major role in your holiday cocktail party, or dinner party. They are unbelievably easy to make. The masa flour is easily found in supermarkets, the dough is pliable and forgiving, you can make the disks ahead and freeze them, make toppings and sauces ahead and freeze or refrigerate them. Last-minute preparation requires frying the disks and topping them. One trouble: they will be gobbled up in seconds. People love salbutes.

Every one of the 700 or so salbutes served by Ucan are handmade on the restaurant’s single tortilla press. They are stacked and frozen ready to be cooked when an order is placed. If you want a tortilla press you can buy them at Mexican supermarkets, or use the bottom of a flat skillet to press your salbutes.

Though you can find good Mexican grocery stores from southwest Metro Louisville to Shelbyville, perhaps the most comprehensive selection (and centrally-located for Metro residents) is La Tropicana (5215 Preston Hwy.), where you can find everything you need for authentic Mexican cooking. Mi Preferida Supermercado (4752 Bardstown Rd. and 8104 National Turnpike) also has a good selection.


Black Bean & Goat Cheese Salbutes, topped with pico de gallo and cabbage

This is the same dough that Ucan uses to make his chilaquiles, which holds a vegetable filling between disks of corn masa.

About 40 3-inch salbutes
4 cups masa flour (Maseca brand)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teapsoon salt
2 to 3 cups water

Pico de gallo

2 medium tomatoes
½ white onion
1 bunch cilantro
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of 2 limes

Toppings

2 cups slivered Savoy cabbage, chopped
2 limes
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups mashed black or refried beans
8 ounces Capriole or other fresh goat cheese
3 cups neutral oil for frying

 In a bowl, put masa, flour and salt.

Add water a bit at a time, stirring (Ucan uses his fingers, spread wide apart like a claw), until it’s firm like pizza dough but soft and pliable. It should not be sticky, and should not crack when you press your finger into it. Cover dough with plastic and set aside.

Make pico de gallo by dicing tomatoes, onion and cilantro very small. Add salt and juice of 2 limes.

Put chopped cabbage in a bowl. Add juice of 2 limes, salt and olive oil. Stir and set aside.

To make salbutes:

Cut the top and sides off a plastic sandwich bag to make 2 pieces of plastic (plastic wrap is not strong enough for making salbutes).

Make a small ball with the dough (about an ounce or the size of a walnut). Place the dough between the plastic on a tortilla press or on the counter. Press with the tortilla press or the flat bottom of a skillet until the disk is about 3 inches wide and about 1/8-inch thick. Repeat with remaining dough, stacking them separated by plastic wrap. Disks may be frozen at this point (do not thaw before cooking, just put them directly in oil).

In a wide, deep skillet (or electric skillet), pour oil to about ¾-inch deep and heat. Add patties and cook about thirty seconds on each side. They will still be blond. Remove and set on absorbent towels.

Repeat with all disks or as many as you would like. Put a small scoop of beans on each salbute, then add a small scoop of goat cheese. Top with a teaspoon or so of pico de gallo and cabbage. Add hot sauce if desired. F&D