Thursday, October 1, 2009

Argentina



Ahh, Argentina! Land of beef! This South American nation provides us with our most complex and least healthy meal thus far. I must admit I was intimidated by the thought of cooking an Argentine meal. My anxiety over this meal stems from the fact that several of our dinner guests had either traveled extensively in Argentina or actually had family members from the country. Neither Amy or myself have ever been to Argentina. My only experience with Argentine food has come from overcooked steak in bad restaurants that claimed to be Argentine. Fortunately, my friends were more than happy to help us plan a menu. And Carl, my former roommate, was more than happy to help cook.
Much like the U.S., we found that Argentine cuisine is tailored to a culture that has a passion for meat and a complete sense of apathy toward vegetable dishes. This is most likely a result of the country's Gaucho identity. Historically, much of Argentina's land has been dedicated to the raising of cattle. Think of it as a much classier version of Texas. The resulting cuisine is food that anybody who loves outdoor grilling, fatty food, and sugar will fall in love with.

Creamed Chayote

I was originally attempting to make this recipe a bit more elegant by serving the mashed chayote baked in its own skin much like a twice baked potato. But the tough squash simply crumbled in my hands as I did this, so the result was a much less elegant yet still tasty and even simpler dish.

4 chayote squash
1 tsp mace
5 tablespoons butter
3 eggs
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lime
pepper to taste

1. Clean the chayotes of any dirt, and steam them for 1 hour or until they are tender.
2. Remove chayotes and allow them to cool for ten minutes. Open the chayotes, remove and discard the large seed inside.
and roughly chop them.
3. Put chopped chayote into a food processor with mace and butter and blend the pieces into a smooth paste.
4. In a large bowl combine the chayote paste with the remaining ingredients, and pour the mixture into a shallow two quart baking dish.
5. Bake the mashed chayote in an oven preheated to 475 f for 15 minutes or until the mixture thickens.
6. Serve

Spinach, Feta, and Crimini Mushroom Empanadas

To save time on the dinner we made these the night before. They would be much simpler to make if we simply bought the empanada shells at a store, but I felt the need to make it all from scratch. They turned out great, but in the future I will probably just buy the wrappers to save myself an hour of work.

For nine big empanadas

4 cups all purpose flour plus extra flour
1 cup lard preferably not hydrogenated (Sorry vegetarians...I guess you can use shortening, but it won't be as good.)
1 egg
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg beaten for coating

1. In a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and lard until the mixture becomes crumbly.
2. Add the egg and pulse until it is incorporated in the mix.
3. With the motor running slowly add the water until the mixture forms itself into a single goopy ball (You might need more water to accomplish this depending on your dough.)
4. Turn the mix onto a floured board and kneed and flour it until it is no longer sticking to the work surface.
5. Ball the dough up and cover it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes
6. Remove the dough and portion it out into golf ball sized spheres. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough into a circle by turning the dough with each turn until it is roughly an 1/8 inch thick.
7. Finish the pastry by cutting the edges with a knife to form a cleaner circle. (I just turned a soup bowl over it and used it like a cookie cutter.)
8. Now they are ready to be filled! I was able to fit 1/4 cup of filling into each empanada. Simply place the filling in the center of the dough and fold the pastry over the filling. Seal it up by pressing the edges with wet hands. At this point you can store the filled pastries or even freeze them until you are ready to cook.
9. Brush the pastries with beaten egg and bake for twenty minutes in an oven heated to 400 f.
10. Allow 15 minutes to cool before serving.

The Filling

2/3 cup feta crumbled
1/2 pound spinach
Two fistfuls of crimini mushrooms thinly sliced.
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.

1. Blanch the spinach in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water until it is cool enough to handle. Squeeze out excess water and coarsely chop on a cutting board.
2. Place a large skillet containing the olive oil over medium high heat, add the chopped mushrooms, and cook for five minutes stirring frequently.
3. Add the spinach and cook until any excess water from the spinach has evaporated.
4. Remove and toss the mixture in a bowl with the crumbled feta.
5. Set the mixture aside until you are ready to fill the empanadas.

Spaghetti in Garlic Sauce

A large chunk of Argentina's population is the result of Italian immigration that began in the late 19th century. Today, an estimated 60 percent of the population has some Italian heritage. Naturally, Italian food has had an impact on the cuisine. This provided us with the perfect excuse to use pasta with our meal. My good friend Carl came up with this simple recipe that he recalled from his time in Buenos Aires. We did not make the noodles from scratch...sorry.

1 lb dried spaghetti
6 cloves garlic
1 egg
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 tsp coarsely ground pepper
Juice of 1 lime.
Handful of basil chopped for garnish.

1. In the food processor or blender blend the garlic, egg, salt, pepper, and lime into a rough paste.
2. With the motor running slowly pour in the oil until the mixture thickens.
3. Boil the pasta in salted water until tender and drain.
4. In a large skillet, gently warm the sauce to smooth out the harsh garlic flavor. Add the pasta with 1/2 cup pasta water and cook on medium for two minutes.
5. Garnish the pasta with chopped basil and extra olive oil to taste.

The Grill:
Skirt Steak with Chimichurri sauce
Sweetbreads


We recently purchased an ugly old gas grill off of Craigslist for dirt cheap. Fortunately this was just in time for Argentina. No Argentine meal is complete without a large pile of grilled meat. Carl was on hand to work the grill while I cooked all of the non-meats upstairs. Thanks again, Carl!

For the Steak

Skirt steak (we went for 1/2 pound per person)
Olive oil, salt, and pepper for garnish.

1. Heat coals or crank up your gas flame to as hot a heat as you can get it. It's important that you have a lot of heat, but don't char the meat into a lump of carbon!
2. Roast the steak quickly over the high heat to your preference. We went for medium rare and gave it roughly 3.5 minutes per side, but this all depends on the amount of heat your grill puts out.
3. Remove to a plate and garnish. Depending on your grill size you may have to do this in steps. Ideally somebody should be rushing cooked meat to an oven set to warm, but we simply covered the cooked meat with aluminum foil until everything was done.
4. Cut the steak into 1/2 inch thick slivers and serve with chimichurri sauce.

For the Chimichurri

The standard condiment of the Argentines. This sauce goes great with any grilled meat.

1 large bunch of parsley (2 cups)
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp dried oregano
Salt to taste.

1. Put everything in a blender or processor.
2. Blend it to a paste.
3. Put the sauce on the steak and eat.

For the Sweetbreads

For those who don't know sweet breads are not a tasty pastry. They are simply calf pancreas but they do happen to be tasty. And they are hard to find. We managed to track ours down at the Buenos Aires deli at Cicero and Belmont. Not everybody was a fan of these, but I thought they were worth the extra effort.

Sweetbreads (Again 1/2 pound per person. There will be leftovers!)
Salt, pepper, and the juice of 1 lemon for garnish.

1. Wash the sweetbreads and remove as much of the tough membrane as possible.
2. Grill over extra high heat for about five minutes a side.
3. Cut into bite sized portions, garnish, and serve!


Dessert! Alfajores with homemade Dulce De Leche

I'd be insane to attempt making cookies and dulce de leche at the same time as the rest of this food, so instead I pumped this dessert out the night before while i made the empanadas and kept it under plastic wrap until the dinner.

For the Dulce de Leche

This is simple but super tedious. Feel free to just use store bought caramel or better yet a jar of store bought dulce de leche.

1 quart milk
1.5 cups sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda

1. In a large pot heat the milk and sugar until the sugar dissolves.
2. Add the baking soda and stir to avoid the mixture fizzling out of the pot!
3. Cook at a low simmer for at least two hours stirring every ten minutes or so to avoid burning.
4. When the sauce is reduced to about 1 cup you're done!
5. Chill it in the fridge while you make the cookies.

For the Alfajores

2 cups flour
2 sticks butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
The dulce de leche
Sweetened coconut flakes

1. Preheat the oven to 375 and combine everything in a processor until it turns into a sticky ball.
2. Plastic wrap it and put in the fridge for 20 minutes.
3. Roll to about 1/8 inch thick and cut into rounds with the mouth of a coffee cup or whatever you generally use for sugar cookies.
4. Bake formed cookies on a baking sheet for 20 minutes.
5. Remove and let cool for 10 minutes.
6. Put 1 tablespoon of dulce de leche on one cookie and place another cookie over this to make a cookie sandwich.
7. Flatten the sandwich gently and scrape the dulce de leche flat with a butterknife around the edges.
8. Roll the edges in the coconut and repeat this process for each cookie.
9. Set aside until you want dessert.

Conclusion

This was the fullest I have been in a very long time. Everything turned out pretty well and even the guests who had been to Argentina found the meal to be somewhat decent. This also happened to be the most people we've had over for one of these dinners and we've reached the conclusion that eight is the most we can fit around our wee table. See below for photographic evidence. For larger crowds we'll probably need to start seating people at our counter. This was also our first chance to use a grill for one of these dinners and it was great drinking wine on our stoop and looking really cool. Today I am tired, and tonight I will be craving vegetables. Salud!

P.S.: It will be at least a week and a half until Armenia is posted. We apologize in advance, but Amy's got a new job starting next week! So she'll be out of town in Philly for corporate training. We promise to return to the meals with gusto when she returns!



3 comments:

  1. I LOVE your blog Tom and Amy! And I also love the way those empanadas sound. Can you suggest a place to buy empanada wrappers? Im assuming if they do have them at Jewel they will be entirely overpriced?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'd say your best bet is a large Mexican grocery. Goya makes some cheap ones that I've seen. The place I went to at Cicero and Belmont had them as well. Also somewhere around western and fullerton there's a Brazilian place that sells them. Happy hunting!

    ReplyDelete
  3. There are a lot or travelers but almost all of them have the same problem and that is they don't have any place to stay where they are traveling, here's the best place for you to stay when you travel Argentina.

    Hostels in Mendoza

    ReplyDelete