The land of mate and empanadas

A sprinkle of chimichurri

The land of mate and empanadas

How about a mate, mate? A mate with a bombilla?” The sign read ‘Argentinian Grills’. The crowd around a charcoal grill was clamouring for Argentina’s favourite barbecue and I was sitting flummoxed about the executive chef Franco Canzano’s alliteration.

My cuisine confusion setting was not in Argentina; I was in Park Hyatt Resort & Spa, Goa, for an Argentinian brunch. “It is pronounced may-teh,” Chef Franco starts. Mate is a traditional Argentinian drink which is an infusion of yerba leaves. It is sipped with a straw called bombilla.

Let’s look at the menu

In Argentina, everyone sips on mate. In Argentina, everyone eats asado (also known as parrillada). While its origin lies with the country’s cowboys or gauchos, asado is prepared on a grill or over open fire as part of a barbecue. “Everything that walks can be put on a grill,” says Chef Franco with a laugh. He grew up in Buenos Aires, the country’s capital.

The Argentinian must-eats include empanadas (deep-fried or baked stuffed pastry pockets with either a savoury or a sweet filling), carbonada (a thick stew often served in a holed out pumpkin) and lacro (a stew made of white corn, beef or pork, and vegetables and beans). The ultimate Argentinean street food item is choripan, which is grilled pork/beef chorizo served between slices of crusty bread.

If you are looking for a hunger killer, there’s this dish called matambre arrollado (literally, hunger killer). Slim cut meat is rolled with vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, herbs, olives and then boiled, baked or grilled.

The spice palate

No conversation about Argentinian food is complete without chimichurri, the country’s go-to condiment. A tangy, garlicky salsa made of chopped parsley, oregano, onion, garlic, lime juice or vinegar and olive oil, the chimichurri is primarily used as a sprinkle over grilled meat; sometimes as marinade. The dry variant of chimichurri is also found in every home in the region.

In the South American country, grilled cheese acquires a new meaning with porvoleta – think of it as cousin of provolone cheese. The Italian connect is not difficult to decipher because hordes of Italians migrated to Argentina after World War II. The British and Spanish rule over the country created a distinct cuisine where European culinary influences melded with the traditional Quechua cuisine.

There is hardly any turmeric, chilli or cardamom in Argentinian food, but being a cow country, milk overflows. Not surprisingly, the sweet-toothed swarm to the country for various desserts, the most famous being dulce de leche. Loosely translated as ‘milk jam’, dulce de leche is condensed milk reduced until it is sticky and sweetened. The leche is put to several uses – look for it in alfajores (melt in the mouth shortbread-like cookies filled with leche and rolled in desiccated coconut), sweet empanadas, to another national favourite, helado (ice cream).

Football lovers love Argentina for Deigo Maradona and Lionel Messi, the dancer for the tango, the book lover for Jorge Luis Borges and everyone loves the country for Che Guevara. The gourmand has countless reasons to love Argentina. Drink mate to it, mate!

Humitas

Ingredients (serves 6)

12 raw sweet yellow corn cobs, grated
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons fat or oil
21 oz. pumpkin, diced
1 tomato, chopped
1 small bundle of green onions
A pinch each of salt,
sweet paprika, red hot pepper, cumin
200g cheese Taleggio

Method

Sauté the onion in oil until translucent with tomatoes and green onions. Season with salt, paprika, pepper and cumin, and add water until ingredients are just covered. Simmer for 20 minutes until creamy, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the corn, and cook for 5 minutes more. Wrap the filling in corn leaf. Serve sprinkled with sweet paprika, if desired with a slice of cheese on top.

Recipe + photograph courtesy
Chef Franco Canzano, Park Hyatt Resort & Spa, Goa

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