Comida Porteño: Parrilla– Bife de Ojo (Rib Eye) y Entraña (Skirt Steak) con Chimichurri Argentino

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Chef Chris is sharing our final course of our evening of comida porteño with the piece de resistance (wrong language): more meat.  Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?

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Parrillas are Argentinian steakhouses that specialize in grilled meats. Barbeque, or Asado, typically consists of beef cooked on a grill (parrilla) with an open flame.  Common cuts of beef used in parrillas include lomo (filet), ojo de bife (rib eye) or bife de chorizo (sirloin) as well as chorizo (sausage). The steaks are huge but relatively cheap by U.S. prices, usually for half or one-third the cost. The meat is simply seasoned with salt and pepper. No marinade is used so that nothing masks the flavor of the meat. The beef is cooked fairly slowly over medium heat. Argentines prefer their chargrilled meats to be a punto (medium). Side dishes are also simple and usually consist of a simple green salad and steak fries. We also had grilled provolone cheese (provoleta – a reflection of the Italian influence in Argentine cuisine) at a parrilla in Buenos Aires.

Recipe:

Serves 8

2 lbs rib eye steak

1.5 lbs skirt steak

Season meat with salt and pepper.

Fire up your grill so that all the burners/coals give off an even medium temperature. You want all your meat to be well browned and slightly crispy, but NOT blackened.

Cook rib eye for about 5 minutes per side depending on thickness. Skirt steak is thinner and will cook faster so needs about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from heat and let rest uncovered for 5 minutes.

Serve with chimichurri (see previous recipe) and a nice red wine such as a delicious Argentine malbec.

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This post is part of the second Spicebox Supperclub, the Comida Porteño con Sabor Latino, celebrating the food and drink of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Come back next week for the final recipe from our menu from Argentina!

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Comida Porteño: Tarta Pascualina (Spinach Tart)

spinach torta

What, vegetables? Si, our traditional Argentine meal has been authentically meat-heavy.  Pero Chef Chris surprised us towards us at the end with a lovely spinach and chard torta, with a delicate filling lusciously enrobed in golden flaky pastry.  Look what a fresh and lovely contrast it is to the assertive and equally lovely steak (coming next time!), which is keeping those green vegetables at a neighborly distance on their shared plate.

This is what Chef Chris had to say:

Tarta Pascualina– Spinach Ricotta Pie

Adapted from recipe on From Argentina with Love. In her blog, Rebecca states that Pascua is the word for Easter, so Tarta Pascualina literally means ‘Eastertime Tart’. What makes this dish extra-special is that under the crust, little wells have been made in the filling, and eggs are cracked into each well. When the Pascualina is served, each slice has a cross-sectioned hard-cooked egg in it.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

We used a combination of chard and spinach, about  a 50/50 split.

2 tarta shells or pie crusts (we purchased La Saltena at Evergreen Market in the Mission District, San Francisco. Look for hojaldrades style which makes a flakier crust)

1 bunch each of fresh spinach and chard, deveined and chopped into large pieces. (you can also use 2 packets of 9 oz. frozen spinach instead)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons milk

6-8 eggs

butter, for greasing pan

Technique

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Wash spinach/chard thoroughly. Steam in pot for a few minutes until just tender. Drain water and let cool. (or, defrost frozen spinach by heating in the microwave or in a pot on the stove top over medium heat.  Heat the spinach to defrost, but do not heat it up too hot.  Let cool before handling. Place the spinach in a linen towel, and squeeze out to drain the moisture from the spinach.  Not until it’s totally dry, leave a little moisture).

3. In a medium bowl, mix together the spinach/chard, crushed garlic, ricotta, and the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and mix well to combine.  Dissolve the cornstarch in the milk, and add the milk mixture to the spinach and cheese mixture and stir well until incorporated.

4.  Traditionally, Tarta Pascualina  is made using a spring-form pan.  However, a regular pie plate also works fine.  Grease the bottom of your pie pan or spring form pan with butter.  Line the bottom of your pie plate or spring-form pan with one of the tarta shells.  Put the filling into the shell.  Make 6-8 indentations in the filling (about one inch apart, and one inch from the edge of the pan) and crack an egg into each indentation.

5.  Cover the pie with the other tarta crust.  Seal the edges by pinching together the two shells with your thumb and forefinger making an indentation, as you would seal an emapanada.  Slice a few vents in the top of the pie.  Optional: brush the top of the crust with beaten egg to give it shine.

6.  Bake for 45 minutes or until the crust has turned a golden brown on top.  Make sure not to undercook otherwise the crust will not be flaky.  Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

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This post is part of the second Spicebox Supperclub, the Comida Porteño con Sabor Latino, celebrating the food and drink of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Come back next week for another delicioso recipe from Argentina!

Comida Porteño: Choripan y Chimichurri

choripanOh, that locro was ¡que rico! But there was much more.  Chef Chris moved us quickly along to the heart and soul of Argentine cuisine: meat.  Up first, some sausages.  The Argentines have perfected the condiment which brings out the best in their wonderful meat dishes, the equally deliciously named chimichurri (which has an intriguing etymology, see below).  Hungry? Me, too.  Read on…

Choripan

Choripan is a sandwich with chorizo sausage and bread (pan = bread in Spanish), hence the name. We had choripan as an appetizer with asado (grilled meats) at several parrillas, the ubiquitous “steak houses” throughout Buenos Aires. It reminds me of really good Italian sausages I have had outside Fenway Park before a Red Sox game, but without the peppers and onions or mustard.  Similarly, choripan is eaten at Argentine football (or soccer) games. Argentine chorizo is normally made of pork or beef. Chorizo is often thought of as spicy but Argentine chorizo isn’t. Instead, red spicy chorizo is Spanish or Mexican chorizo.

Chorizo is cooked on an open flame grill and split down the middle lengthwise (butterflied). The high heat of the grill chars the meat and fat to delicious effect.  It is served on a grilled (toasted) soft and chewy roll, sort of a cross between a hot dog bun or dinner roll. In general, the bread we had in BA was excellent and this was no different. The typical accompaniment  is chimichurri which can be added sparingly or generously….very tasty! Chimichurri is made with garlic, olive oil, oregano, and white or red wine vinegar. The typical green chimichurri we see in the U.S. gets its color from an abundance of finely chopped parsley. The chimichurri we had in BA was often reddish from addition of minced red bell pepper.

Choripan

Serves 6-8

2 lbs uncooked Argentine chorizo sausage (we found at a local San Francisco grocery catering to Argentine products, Evergreen Market.)

8-12 rolls or hot dog style buns (we used dinner rolls from Acme Bread Co. purchased fresh at the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, CA)

Chimichurri sauce (we brought back packets of dried chimichurri spices that we received on our Parrilla Tour in Buenos Aires and reconstituted with olive oil and vinegar).

choripans

Chimichurri

If you want to make from scratch here is a recipe from the blog Inside Buenos Aires posted by the Fierro Hotel Staff. They say that chimichurri is a traditional sauce made from herbs, garlic and vinegar that is used on meat at asados.  It is said that the name of the sauce comes from the British. Allegedly, the English men associated the spice-based sauce with curry, so when they wanted it they said “give me curry” which was locally understood as chimichurri.

Ingredients:

1 cup water

¼ cup vinegar

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 Tbsp coarse salt

1 Tbsp dried oregano

1 Tbsp thyme

1 Tbsp ground chili pepper

1 Bay leaf

Fresh parsley

5 garlic cloves, chopped

Preparation:

Heat the water, vinegar and salt until they boil.

Mix all the other ingredients except for the oil and incorporate them to the water mixture.

Allow to cool at room temperature.

Add the oil.

Store covered in a glass jar. Make it a few days ahead to enhance the flavor.

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This post is part of the second Spicebox Supperclub, the Comida Porteño con Sabor Latino, celebrating the food and drink of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Come back next week for another delicioso recipe from Argentina!

Comida Porteño: Locro (Bean and Hominy Stew)

locro

Dear Readers– Lo siento, we got a little ahead of ourselves with last week’s dessert, alfajores.  Skipped over several more savory courses.  We’re back this week with Locro. Don’t worry, there will be more dessert to come!

In the words of Chef Chris:

Locro (bean and hominy stew) is a traditional stew throughout the Andes regions of South America often made with squash, beans, corn/hominy and meat including bacon and chorizo. It is considered a Argentine national dish and often served on the anniversary of the May Revolution. It is thick and rich and we thought that is had similarities to chili. We had locro at Cumaña, a restaurant in Buenos Aires popular with locals. It was a bit heavy but would be great on a chilly winter evening.

We tried to recreate the locro we had in Buenos Aires and found many of the ingredients at a local grocery in the Mission district in San Francisco, CA. We used canned hominy and beans (brand: Goya).

Argentine Locro

Adapted from recipe in Seashells and Sunflowers, which had adapted a recipe by Dan Perlman in his blog Saltshaker. Since we have been on a recent slow cooker kick we made some adjustments accordingly then at the end we simmered the entire stew on low heat for an additional few hours to reduce the sauce and bring out the rich, smoky flavors.

Serves 8

Ingredients

2 tbs. olive oil

3/4 cup white corn (hominy)

3/4 cup white navy beans

1/2 cup chick peas

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

4 oz.  pancetta, cubed

2 oz. chorizo, uncooked

1/2 lb. pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch pieces

2 ears of fresh yellow sweet corn, cut the kernels off the cobs

14 oz. crushed tomatoes

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tbs. paprika

salt to taste

½ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper

1/2  cup sweet potato or butternut squash (or both), peeled and diced small

chopped green onion for garnish (optional)

chili oil (see directions below)

crème fraiche topping (optional)

Directions

Prepare the chili oil in advance by soaking a teaspoon of ají molido (or crushed red pepper flakes) in a tablespoon of olive oil for 2-3 hours.

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute onions until they start to become translucent. Reduce heat and add chorizo and garlic until cooked through. Add cumin and paprika and cook for 1-2 minutes. Transfer everything to slow cooker. In separate saucepan, cook pancetta until well done and crispy. Drain fat and transfer to slow cooker. Add pork shoulder.

Drain and rinse hominy, beans and chick peas. Transfer to slow cooker. Stir in the sweet potato/squash, crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper.  Cook on low for 8-9 hours. Add fresh corn for last 30 minutes.

We then transferred everything into large pot to simmer at low heat. Stir and mash the starchy vegetables using the back of a wide spoon or spatula, press the ingredients up against the sides of the pot so they break down into the soup. As you continue to stir and mash the soup should gradually thicken. Continue until the locro reaches the rich consistency of a stew. Add salt to taste.

Serve in bowls, and garnish with green onions and a touch of chili oil. We also topped off with a dollop of crème fraiche mixed with lemon juice to lighten the heaviness and add a bit of tangy goodness (a la sour cream on chili).

This post is part of the second Spicebox Supperclub, the Comida Porteño con Sabor Latino, celebrating the food and drink of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Comida Porteño: Postres (Desserts) Part One: Alfajores

alfajor

Dessert was comprised of two Latin American classics: alfajores, a symbol of Argentina, and tres leches cake, which is enjoyed throughout Latin America.  This week, we start with the alfajor.

This story is excerpted from an article Linda published on Salon.com in 2010.  For the full article and an additional recipe using dulce de leche ice cream, see the post on SpiceboxTravels.com.

Before I met José, I had never heard of alfajores.  José, whose parents hail from Cordoba, Argentina, may have been raised in Connecticut, but he has an Argentine soul.  He can even do the tango.

He excitedly shared some alfajores after a trip back to visit family.  He enthused, “The combination of the unctuous, sweet, toasty middle set off by the crumbly, citrusy cookie, is like Proust’s madeleine for the Argentine set.”

Argentines are known for their passionate opinions, and José is no exception, so I wasn’t sure if I would necessarily be as overwhelmed by this cookie.  After my first bite of this confection, though, I understood that this was no hyperbole.  That first bite triggered a sort of madeleine moment for me as well: I realized that I actually had seen, but not tasted, alfajores before.  They’re sold without fanfare in bodegas around San Francisco, and in certain cafés which otherwise have no trace of Latin American ties.  They’re usually kept in a glass jar or Lucite display case near the cash register and, to be honest, don’t look all that appealing to an alfajores novice.  They look like a dry cookie mounded with too much confectioners sugar.  But as I found out, the homemade version is in a different category.

For alfajores innocents, as I was before José’s initiation, let me give you some more details.  The alfajor (singular for alfajores) is a lemony, buttery sandwich cookie containing dulce de leche, the beloved caramel sauce of Latin America.  It’s often dusted in fluffy white confectioners sugar, or alternatively, dipped in chocolate or a sugar glaze.  Some versions also use flaked coconut.  Its exotic-sounding name traces its ancestry to the Moors who ruled for over 800 years in the South of Spain in Andalusia, or Al-Andalus, as this region was called in Arabic.  Andalusia retains much of its Moorish character: there’s lacy architecture and buildings adorned with intricate tiles featuring geometric and floral designs.  The name “alfajor” itself has Arabic roots, translating as “fancy” or “great” sweets.

Sevilla by Linda Shiue

When the Spanish conquistadors set up shop in Latin America, they brought over alfajores, hence the popularity of these treats in Argentina and other parts of Latin America, including Uruguay, Ecuador, Paraguay, Chile and parts of Brazil. Each country has a variation on alfajores, and each claims its own as the authentic version.

Seeing as I was enthusiastic about his alfajores, before his next trip home José asked if I would like some of his mother’s homemade dulce de leche.  Of course! I was excited.  I imagined his mother performing alchemy, stirring a pot of butter, milk and sugar over the stove for hours until it was transformed into the thick caramel sauce.  You could do that.   But I found out that the way dulce de leche is most often made in Latin America, including by José’s mother, is by warming an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk for hours in a slowly simmering hot water bath.  José’s mom also adds cocoa powder to thicken the dulce de leche, if needed, when she makes alfajores.

Sevilla tiles by Linda Shiue

Most alfajores lovers from Latin America, José included, insist that homemade alfajores are the best.  But not everyone has the time to simmer condensed milk for hours over a stove to make the dulce de leche filling, or to make the corn starch-based butter cookies, called maicenitas, that form the sandwich.  Commercial brands of dulce de leche are available.  And there are mass-market brands of alfajores, too, with Havanna being the most popular.  But José does not find these worth eating.  He’ll hold out for homemade.  Second best are those baked by an old bakery in Cordoba called La Costanera.  He and his family make a pilgrimage to La Costanera whenever they visit Argentina:

“Whenever we go to (or relatives come from) Argentina (Cordoba specifically), we bring back a box of La Costanera alfajores for each of the rest of the family.  They sell different shapes and sizes of alfajores, usually with a lightly sweet sugar glazing.  At La Costanera bakery (which my Dad remembers from when he was a kid in the 1940s, and which up until the 1990s still had an old woman working there who he remembered from childhood), they also have alfajores with jams (apricot, quince, etc.) as the filling — but these are clearly inferior, not anything to waste your time upon.”

José’s favorite variety from La Costanera is called a Colacion:  ”It has only one cookie, kind of concave, with a thick layer of dulce de leche… I quickly discovered during childhood that this has the maximum dulce de leche-to-cookie ratio, they key measure of worth of an alfajor, of course.”  See what I was saying about passionate opinions? And long ago memories, triggered by a cookie.  Now I understand that his reference to Proust’s madeleines was heartfelt.

Alfajores

Makes 1 dozen.

Ingredients

2 dozen maicenitas (lemony butter cookies, recipe below)

1 can of dulce de leche

grated coconut, toasted if desired

confectioners sugar

Technique

1.  For each sandwich, you’ll need two cookies.  Place a tablespoon or two of dulce de leche on the bottom of one cookie and smooth it out with the spoon.  Top it with the bottom of the second cookie.  Press down gently so that some of the dulce de leche squeezes out on the sides.

2.  Roll the sides (the dulce de leche) in coconut, and then dust the top and bottom in confectioners sugar.

Maicenitas (butter cookies for alfajores)

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (12 tablespoons)

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons rum

2 1/2 cups cornstarch

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Zest of 1 lemon

Technique

1.  Cream the butter and sugar together.

2.  Mix in the remaining ingredients.

3.  Knead on a floured work surface until the dough is smooth.

4.  Chill for 2 hours, then roll out into 1/4 inch thickness.

5.  Cut dough into 2 dozen 2″ rounds.

6.  Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 300°F oven for 15-20 minutes, until just slightly golden.

7.  Allow to cool completely on a rack before assembling into alfajores.

Dulce de Leche

dulce de leche

Yield: about 3 cups (enough for a dozen alfajores, with another extra cup to spread on bread or to save for another batch).

Ingredients

2 14 oz cans sweetened condensed milk

Technique

1.  Place unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk in a pot with enough water to cover the cans.

2.  Bring the water slowly to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and let cook, covered, for 3-4 hours.

3.  Check occasionally to make sure the cans remain covered with water.  Top off with more water as needed.

4.  Cool the cans before opening.

Note: Be careful! Make sure the cans are always covered with water, and that the hot water bath is simmering slowly to avoid the risk of the cans exploding.

This post is part of the second Spicebox Supperclub, the Comida Porteño con Sabor Latino, celebrating the food and drink of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Come back next time for the second dessert– Tres Leches Cake.

Comida Porteño: Empanadas

empanadas

After being welcomed by pisco cocktails and centered by a few rounds of yerba mate, we began with a classic and mouthwatering appetizer: empanadas.  Chef Chris has kindly described the two types of empanadas he prepared:

Empanadas are common and everyone seems to have their favorite empanada joint. We went to several places and all were very good. Empanadas are common throughout Latin and South America. In Argentina, empanadas are baked although each region has their own differences. Common flavors were Carne (usually chopped steak with red peppers, green olives and hard boiled egg), Jamon y queso, Humita (mashed corn with red peppers and cheese). There are also sweet kinds with dulce de leche and coated with sugar.

Empanada de Carne (adapted from recipe on blog “From Argentina with Love”: Mendoza-Style Empanadas from the Oliva-Quiroz family).

empanada beef

Traditionally,  ground beef or chopped steak is used. We exchanged for short ribs prepared the day before with our slow cooker for fantastic juicy meat.

makes about one dozen

1 lb Short ribs, trimmed. slow cooked in slow cooker for 8 hours on low setting

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

8oz tomato paste

1 onion, chopped

1 1/2 Tbs smoked paprika

1 tsp cumin

~6-10 green olives, pitted and cut into slices

1 hard-boiled egg, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

crushed red pepper, to taste

12 empanada rounds (tapas): we bought brand La Saltena at a local grocery store that specializes in Argentine food products (Evergreen Market in the Mission District of San Francisco.) We used estilo hojaldre, which makes a flakier crust.

1 egg, beaten, for glazing

1 glass water, to seal edges

Note: The meat can be made a day/s in advance and keep in refrigerator.

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute onions until they start to become translucent, then add in the beef. Cook the ground beef, chopping as it cooks with a flat spatula to maintain ground beef texture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the beef has cooked through, then taste for salt and pepper, and stir in the paprika, cumin, and crushed red pepper and mix well.

Or, use our variation with slow cooker. Trim short ribs and cut into 2-3 inch chunks. As above, sauté onions then stir in paprika, cumin, tomato paste and crushed red pepper. Then transfer to slow cooker. Next, heat more olive oil on medium-high heat and sear short ribs on each side for 1 minute each. Do not cook through. Place short ribs in slow cooker. Pour in warm water to add some liquid but not too much (about ½-1 cup). Cook on low setting for about 8 hours. When cool, shred meat into smaller pieces and return to remaining sauce.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the tapas on a lightly floured work surface. With a tablespoon, put a little of the meat filling in the center of the dough round. Add a piece or two of green olive and hard boiled egg.

For sealing, you’ll need a small glass of water. Moisten the edge on the top half of the round with a little water on your finger. Fold the bottom half of the dough up until the edges meet and seal with your fingers by pressing down. The empanada should have a half-moon shape.

Use the palms of the hands to pack the filling firmly in the center. Next, fold the edges with the Repulgue: using your fingertip, fold one corner of the empanada over, pressing down firmly. Go to the edge again and repeat, pressing firmly each time. Go around the edge of the empanada and you’ll get a spiral pattern. You can also use a fork-seal, instead.

Beat an egg in a cup and paint the top of each sealed empanada so that when they bake, they have a shiny, golden shell. Spread flour lightly over several cookie sheets, and place the finished empanadas on top. Put the empanadas in to bake for 12 to 15 minutes-they should be sizzling and very golden brown on top. Take out and eat very carefully while hot!

Empanadas de Humita

(also adapted from recipe on blog “From Argentina with Love”)

empanada humitas

10 ears of fresh corn

1 medium-sized onion

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup cornstarch

about six roasted piquillo peppers or three roasted red bell peppers

one teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

12 tapas or discos for empanadas, either store-bought or homemade (we used La Saltena)

1 egg, beaten

Shuck the corn, removing all hulls and silk, and rinse the ears under cold water. Then, using the large holes of a box grater, grate the kernels into a large bowl. Rotate the ear around, grating the ear of corn, until all the kernels have been grated off. Slide the flat edge of a butter knife down the edge of the ear of corn all around to release any additional starchy juices into the bowl.

Peel and finely chop the onion, and heat the oil in a medium-sized non-reactive sauce pan to medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, but not browned, lowering the heat if needed. Add in the grated corn and stir to incorporate.

Bring the corn mixture to a boil (it will just sort of bubble up slowly) and continue to boil, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add in the cornstarch and stir to incorporate, and continue to cook at a simmer until the mixture thickens, about a half hour. Meanwhile, dice the peppers. Stir the peppers into the corn mixture, then add in the salt, crushed red pepper, and grated Mozzarella, and stir to incorporate.

Remove the mixture from heat and let cool completely, first on the stovetop and then in the refrigerator–this helps a lot in getting the mixture to thicken and make a good spoonful of filling. When the humitas have cooled completely, you’re ready to fill the empanadas.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly dust a baking sheet with flour.

Lay out the tapas four at a time on a clean countertop, lightly dusted with flour. Put out a small glass of water for sealing the empanadas, along with a small glass with one beaten egg, for brushing over the empanadas before baking.

Place a heaping tablespoon of the humitas filling in the center of the empanada shell.

For sealing, you’ll need a small glass of water. Moisten the edge on the top half of the round with a little water on your finger. Fold the bottom half of the dough up until the edges meet and seal with your fingers by pressing down. The empanada should have a half-moon shape.

Use the palms of the hands to pack the filling firmly in the center. Next, fold the edges with the Repulgue: using your fingertip, fold one corner of the empanada over, pressing down firmly. Go to the edge again and repeat, pressing firmly each time. Go around the edge of the empanada and you’ll get a spiral pattern. You can also use a fork-seal, instead. (Make sure there is a good seal, some of ours had leaks!)

Beat an egg in a cup and paint the top of each sealed empanada so that when they bake, they have a shiny, golden shell. Spread flour lightly over several cookie sheets, and place the finished empanadas on top. Put the empanadas in to bake for 12 to 15 minutes-they should be sizzling and very golden brown on top. Take out and eat very carefully while hot!

This post is part of the second Spicebox Supperclub, the Comida Porteño con Sabor Latino, celebrating the food and drink of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Please visit previous posts and come back soon– there’s more food to come, plus dessert!

Comida Porteño: Yerba Mate

mate

We left you wondering in the previous two posts, what is this yerba mate all about? Your wait is over.  This is the traditional way of beginning a meal in Argentina, a gathering of friends around a shared gourd of brewed yerba mate.  Chris and Diana brought back a large bag of prepared (cleaned, “sin palo” (“without sticks”)) yerba mate from Argentina,

yerba mate pack

along with a beautiful ceramic gourd and a traditional stainless steel straw (bombilla), which we passed around and took sips  until the brew was too bitter.mate bowl and strawIt had a pleasing, grassy, green tea-like taste, and was a nice way of centering ourselves before sitting down to dinner.

Chris did a little more research into the drinking of yerba mate and shared it with us:

  1. Get yerba mate. While in BA we brought home a bag we purchased from a local grocery store. Yerba mate seems to be available everywhere and can be found in any convenience or grocery store. The yerba mate section was impressive, taking up a good portion of an entire aisle with many different brands, sizes and styles (similar to a coffee section at a grocery store in the US. As “novices”, we were told to get yerba mate sin palo (without sticks) which only contains the leaves and is less bitter. We bought the smallest bag (500g) by brand Taragui. Note: we were told to put in our checked luggage on our flight home so that we wouldn’t get hassled by security or customs given its similar appearance to a certain illegal green leafy plant.
  2. Get gourd (also called a mate). Traditionally, this is a hollowed out gourd but also saw many different types including more modern styles. We purchased a contemporary ceramic mate from a local store called Nobrand that also sells hip T-shirts with cool graphic prints.
  3. Get bombilla (pronounced bom-bee-ja) which is the special metal straw used for drinking the mate. It has a bulbous end with tiny holes that acts as a filter to keep you from sucking up the leaves.

Preparation adapted from WikiHow.

Mate (pronounced mah-teh) is a drink made by steeping dried leaves from the yerba mate plant in hot water. It was the Guarani Indians of South America who first discovered the rejuvenating qualities of yerba mate and now it’s enjoyed in Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, parts of Brazil, Chile, eastern Bolivia, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. It tastes somewhat like green tea, with hints of tobacco and oak.

A gourd being used for the first time should be cured, or else the first few drinks from it might be a little on the bitter side. Curing removes the soft inner tissues of the gourd and “seasons” the inside with the flavor of mate. Fill the gourd with boiling water almost to the metal rim (or to the top if there is no metal rim) and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then softly scrape the membrane out of the gourd with a metal spoon under running water (but do not remove the stem in the center). Finally, put the cleaned-out gourd in the sunlight for a day or two until it is completely dry.]

  1. Pack the dry, loose yerba mate into the gourd just over half full.
  2. Place your hand on the top of the half-filled gourd and turn it upside-down. Shake the more powdery leaves to the top of the gourd with several flicks of the wrist. This helps to ensure that you don’t suck in the powdery leaves through the bombilla later. Repeat as needed.
  3. Insert the bombilla into the gourd so that the tip is at the bottom.
  4. Pour in hot water. (Some sites tell you to start with cold water first to soak the leaves but we went with the faster version and just started with hot). Pour in enough water just up to the level of the leaves. It is important to use hot water (70–80 °C, 160–180 °F) but not boiling, as boiling water will make the mate bitter.
  5. Drink from the bombilla. We were told that you are not supposed to touch the bombilla (except with your lips of course!)
    1. Newcomers to mate tend to jiggle the bombilla and stir the herb. Resist this temptation, or you’ll end up clogging the bombilla. Drink the entire mate when it’s handed to you, don’t just take a small sip and pass it back. You should hear a sound similar to when drinking soda with straw.
    2. In a group, the first brew is traditionally taken by the person who prepares the mate. If you are the server, drink the mate until there is no water left, then refill the gourd with hot water and pass it to the next person, sharing the same bombilla. Keep refilling the gourd as it’s passed around (one brew per person) until it loses its flavor (called lavado in Spanish, because the flavor is “washed out”); it should take ten refills, more or less (depending on the quality of the mate). To signal that you don’t want any more mate, give thanks to “el cebador” (the server). Remember only to give thanks after your last mate. Once you give thanks it will be understood that you do not want anymore.

Additional info and tips (via WikiHow)

  1. In Argentina, mate is also sold in teabag form (called mate cocido) so it can be steeped like other teas (but still not in boiling water).
  2. You can also treat the yerba mate like any other loose tea; steep it in hot water (the amount depends on how strong you want it to be, you’ll need to experiment) and then filter out the leaves before drinking.
  3. If you have a coffee french press, you can prepare the mate with it.
  4. You can also make mate in a standard automatic coffee maker. Just put the mate where you would normally put the coffee grounds.
  5. In some parts of South America, the peel of citrus fruits (especially oranges) is added to the herb, or, alternatively, it is brewed with nearly scalded milk.
  6. For a sweeter drink, you can add some sugar or honey to the gourd before pouring in the hot water.
  7. You can also add Fresh Mint leaves, or other aromatic plants directly in the water.
  8. In the summer, try making “tereré” by replacing the hot water with ice-cold water or lemonade. For tereré, it is better to use a small metal cup or mason jar instead of a gourd.
  9. You can also add Chamomile (Egyptian has strong taste), Mint leaves, Star Anise in the Yerba Mate.
  10. Mate contains caffeine; though generally less than tea and coffee.

This post is part of the second Spicebox Supperclub, the Comida Porteño con Sabor Latino, celebrating the food and drink of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Come back next week for (finally) some food– empanadas!