In November we returned to Argentina, to the northwestern provinces of Jujuy and Salta. Primarily a birding trip, it also gave us the opportunity to enjoy Argentine food outside of the big cities, and especially to sample more Argentine wine, including the fine white Torrontés.
Our birding guide joked that the tour should be called “Birds and Empanadas of Argentina”. And he was right – in Argentina, empanadas can be found everywhere, either baked or fried, and no two places made the fillings the same. And we would find them in (to me) the most unlikely places … we’re on a birding trip, passing through a small village high in the Andes, and invariably there would be a sign: “Hay empanadas”. Wait a bit while they’re being baked or fried, and hurray, lunch! The beef empanadas varied between ground beef with onion (and maybe potato), or chopped beef with a gravy. Chicken empanadas often had peas, carrots, and/or potato. Sometimes a sauce was offered. All of them were delicious. I already enjoy making empanadas, and now I can expand my repertoire with some new (to me) fillings.
Our Spanish is decent, but not great, so while we could read the menus in restaurants, sometimes we weren’t entirely sure what something was, and just ordered it to see. (I know, I could have googled it, but where’s the fun in that?) Thus we tried humitas (steamed soft sweet corn tamales, where we had them), locro (a hearty stew made with meat, corn, potatoes, squash), and cazuela de cabrito (stewed baby goat). We were reminded that a rusa is a salad of potatoes, carrots and peas doused with mayonnaise, and that anything milanesa was basically what I’d call a thin breaded/fried schnitzel. And there were tamales (also corn, but different…firmer, and more savory).
The Italian influence being rather strong in Argentina, besides the milanesa, we also had some good pasta dishes, including bolognesa and ravioles, not to mention the ever-present pizza! We also enjoyed the provoleta, a grilled provolone cheese appetizer.
Then there was the asado – a national point of pride in Argentina if ever there was one. Asado usually consists of beef, sausages, and sometimes other meats, which are cooked on a grill, called a parrilla, over an open fire. Excellent beef there, and the sausages (including morcilla (blood) sausage and chorizo) were also superb. I believe one of the nights our “asado for two” probably filled our red meat and cholesterol quota for the month.
Since we hopped over to Uruguay (ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento, then later onto Montevideo), we had to try the chivito, the national dish of Uruguay. It is thin slices of tender cooked beef steak, with mozzarella, tomatoes, mayonnaise, olives, and commonly also bacon and fried eggs. We opted for the chivito al plato for two vs. the sandwich, so it came plated on a mound of fried potatoes with some token salad on the side. I think the waiter was surprised we’d want that vs. a fine wood-grilled ribeye! But we had to experience it at least once. A cholesterol bomb for sure.
Desserts were generally light, a good thing considering one often ate dinner anywhere between 8:00 and 11:00 pm. Flan, ice cream, fruit … all good. My own attempt at “dessert only” for an early dinner in Colonia del Sacramento though resulted in getting a huge chajá, an iconic Uruguayan dessert. It consisted of a core of meringue and sponge cake, surrounded by whipped cream, dulce de leche, chocolate syrup, strawberries, and peaches. Delicious to be sure, but definitely not light!
For a lighter sweet bite (well, light is a relative thing), any time of day, there are always the alfajores. The standard is a cake-like cookie sandwich with a dulce de leche filling and coated in chocolate, but variations of course abound. I did my best to try them all.
Last but not least, wine and beer. The Salta province is best known for the white Torrontés, and we did go to one winery (Bodega Domingo Hermanos) near Cafayate as part of a day trip through the gorgeous Quebrada de las Conchas (think red rocks and Utah, on steroids). The majority of our wine sampling was simply trying things in restaurants, so we did have some very nice Malbec and Cabernet. In Uruguay our focus was on Tannat, a dark red so tannic that sometimes it is blended with Cabernet to soften it. Beer drinkers have many local options too, with our tastes running from ambers to darker stouts and porters.
So now that I’m back home, I’ll be working on reproducing a few of these recipes. New empanada fillings of course, and soon (hopefully) the locro, chivito, and alfajores. I might even give that chajá a try, too. Stay tuned!
A few more food and drink photos follow.
© Liza Weissler lizasworldkitchen.wordpress.com 2017, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International License.