Monday, March 8, 2010


The history of Uruguay began with the 500 day Argentina-Brazil War in the 1820's for control of their border region. The war ended in a stalemate and a compromise. The border region that had been fought over was transformed, thanks to the coercion of the British, into the independent state of Uruguay. Despite being the second smallest nation on the continent, Uruguay is one of the most affluent countries in South America. Much like Argentina, Uruguay remains very old world in it's culture. The overwhelming majority of Uruguayans are descendants of past waves of European immigrants. Much like it's population, the food of Uruguay is also an offspring of European culture.

To be honest, we did not find many differences between the foods of Uruguay and Argentina. Both countries claim many of the same foods as their national dishes. Fortunately, there were a lot of foods I wished I had the chance to make when we did Argentina. Uruguay provided the perfect opportunity to cook what we didn't get the chance to make last time around.

Burnt Carrot Salad

Uruguay isn't well known for any vegetable dishes, so we just made this one up to compliment all the roasted food we were eating. I find roasted carrots to have a sweet and savory flavor that goes great with any meaty meal.

1 head red leaf lettuce washed and chopped
2 pounds carrots peeled and cut into fairly thick 2 inc spears
4 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion thinly sliced
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (I have no idea how to shell these things effectively with my hands, but many latino markets sell them preshelled)
1 bell pepper seeded and sliced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Fire up the broiler or the grill and rub the chopped carrots with five tablespoons of olive oil and cook until they are nicely browned and soft. Set aside to cool.
2. Shortly before serving combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and taste for seasoning. Feel free to add more olive oil or vinegar.

Polenta Gratin
This recipe was probably made popular by the many Italians who immigrated to Uruguay. It's absurdly simple to make, and involves very few ingredients; making it a great cheap way to feed a large crowd guests.

2 cups coarsely cut corn meal
6 cups water
1 tbsp salt
1.5 cups cotija or other crumbly cheese

1. Combine corn meal, water, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
2. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.
3. Grease a fairly shallow casserole dish with the butter and add the corn mush to the pan. Allow 15 minutes to set in the dish.
4. Top the mush with the cheese and bake under a broiler until the cheese browns about ten minutes.
5. Serve.

Bacon Empanadas

No picture for these this time, but they looked exactly like the empanadas we made for Argentina. The filling in these empanadas make them quite different from what we served for that meal. Although bacon and raisins might sound like a horrible mistake to some, let me assure you that bacon is a sweet meat that tastes great when paired with other sweet things.

For the dough

4 cups all purpose flour
1 egg
1 cup lard chilled
1 tsp salt
1 beaten egg for coating

For the filling combine the following:

1/2 pound bacon thinly sliced and roughly chopped and cooked in a skillet until crisp
3 medium onions thinly sliced and and sautéed until golden brown
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins soaked 30 minutes
Flesh of two avocados roughly chopped
1 cup crumbly cheese such as cotija or feta
3 tbsp capers

1. Combine all the dough ingredients but the beaten egg in a food processor and process until a smooth ball forms. If it remains a goopy mess add more flour until a ball is rendered.
2. On a lightly floured surface kneed the ball of dough until it is no longer sticky.
3. Set aside for a half hour in a lightly oiled bowl covered.
4. Cut the dough into golf ball sized spheres and roll each sphere into flat circle.
5. Fill each circle with about 2 tablespoons of the filling.
6. Brush the edges of the circle with the beaten egg mixture and seal them into half moon shapes pressing the edges to make sure they are closed.
7. Brush the tops of the pastry with the egg mixture and bake in a 400 degree oven for twenty minutes. Serve.

Matambre: Roast of Stuffed Skirt Steak Braised in Red Wine

For me, this was the real star of the meal. It's difficult finding good quality beef around my neighborhood for a reasonable price, but fortunately skirt steak sells fairly cheaply here because of the large Latino population. Unfortunately, the meat is cheap for a reason and tends to be very tough. The slow braising in this recipe breaks that toughness down and makes the cheap beef a pleasure to eat, and a great way to feed a group of friends a roast while staying on a tight budget. Also, the final product looks lovely on a plate.

4 lbs skirt steak trimmed of excess fat
2 red onions thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup green olives stoned and chopped
4 carrots cut into small spears
1.5 cups cotija or other crumbly cheese
4 hard boiled eggs cut into rings
5 oz fresh spinach washed
Bottle of red (dry)

1. Divide the skirt steak into two equal sized 2lb portions. With a meat mallet pound the skirt steak until it is about 1/2 inch thick taking care not to shred the meat. I recommend wearing an apron as you do this because it can get messy. I for some reason did it shirtless like a caveman.
2. Salt and pepper both sides of the steak and layer all the filling ingredients over the surface.
3. Roll both flattened steaks as tightly as you can taking care to keep the ingredients from spilling outside of the meat.
4. Tie the rolls up well with butcher's twine and place them side by side in a large cast iron pot. Fill the pot with the red wine and bake in the oven at 325 for 2 hours covered. Flipping the roasts once after one hour of cooking.
5. Remove the roasts from the pot, cut and remove the twine, carve into individual rounds and serve topped with juices from the pot.

In Conclusion

I was very pleased with this meal. Not only was it easy to make, but the food looked and tasted wonderful. The meal was made even better by the surprise visit of two of our good friends from Cleveland who came into town that night. Much like our other meals, everybody had a great time and drank way too much over the course of the evening! Up next is Rwanda! Salud!

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