Buenos Aires – The aforementioned drizzle kept myself and my guests in for most of the weekend. For the most part it was two days of television, reading, and me playing in the kitchen. We did venture out briefly on Saturday. Here’s a picture of Henry whom I’ve mentioned in several posts. The young lady is his niece Viviana, a somewhat timid 14-year old who lives on the outskirts of La Plata, about two hours south of here. The “big city” was a bit of an adventure, as we discovered new things, like riding on an escalator – the tentative entrance to which was accompanied by a small shriek of delight and clutching of arms.
I like trying to figure out things to make from whatever happens to be lying about. I’d seen a recipe for a fish and potato locro on a website somewhere, searched it out, and invented from there. It made a wonderfully warming and filling lunch yesterday – sort of a brandade soup. I didn’t take a picture because it turned out looking sort of grey and formless – sometimes flavor and looks just don’t match.
Sautéed two chopped onions and a minced clove of garlic in a 1/4 cup of melted butter until slightly golden. Added four cups of peeled, diced potatoes and filled with hot water until just covered. Chopped up a fish fillet (I had a fillet of the salmón blanco left over – again, not really salmon, but a perch from patagonian waters) and added to the pot. Brought to a boil, reduced the heat and simmered until the fish and potato fell apart – at least an hour. Scrambled together two eggs and 1/4 cup of milk. Added a little of the potato mixture to the eggs and stirred to warm (a chef’s tip to not have the egg instantly harden when you add it to the pot). Added this back into the potato soup off the heat along with 1/4 cup of grated cheese (I had argentine parmesan). Stirred together briskly and served.
Dinner last night was much the same adventure, though the store of what was available had become a tad more depleted. I ended up with sort of a kitchen sink sausage stew served over rice and peas. Thankfully, it was excellent!
Cooked a pot of brown rice and split peas, roughly 2:1, with a cube of instant chicken broth and a bay leaf tossed in.
Sautéed two minced cloves of garlic, and a chopped chili in a little olive oil and butter. Added some diced mushroom, zucchini and tomato (I had one of each left). Seasoned with a bit of salt and black pepper. There were some sausages in the freezer – four morcillas and four chorizos – removed the skin and crumbled the sausage meat into the pan. Cooked for a couple of minutes and then added 1/2 cup of red wine to deglaze, then enough water to braise it all in for about half an hour at a low simmer. Adjusted the seasoning with a little more salt and pepper. Served atop the rice and peas.
Early this afternoon the drizzle finally stopped so we headed out for a bite to eat. La Querencia (“the homing instinct”) at the corner of Junín and Juncal here in the neighborhood (along with other locations) had been recommended as one of the best spots for northern argentine cooking, mostly centered around the province of Tucumán, which is just south of Salta and east of Catamarca (regions I’ve talked about in recent posts). I’ll have to take a peek in one day when it isn’t Sunday afternoon. The room was pretty much filled to capacity with couples and ladies-who-lunch, all in their 60s and 70s. Other than most of the conversation being in Spanish (a little German and British English as well), it could have been a coffee shop in Miami Beach – right down to the attitude. I watched one new arrival march over to a table and demand “This is the table we always sit at, are you going to be here long?”
The empanadas were delicious, if a tad small, which is clearly a Tucumán thing. These had a delicate, cracker thin crust that crackled ever-so-slightly when bitten into. The carne cortada en cuchillo (“beef cut with a knife”) empanadas, while not as spicy as I might have liked, were perfectly balanced with diced steak, caramelized onions, and a touch of tomato. By the way, while the word “carne” techinically just refers to meat, here in Buenos Aires it virtually always refers to beef. The humita, a filling made of mashed corn, was likewise touched off with the caramelized onions. The best were the house specialty, del tambo (tambos were specially constructed reststops for use by the Incan emperors when they travelled the countryside – sort of royal wayside inns) , which was a blend of eight different artesanal cheeses. Que rico!
It was a shame that the main dishes weren’t up to the same standards. We tried three different ones. The locro here (look at past posts for more locro info) was little more than bland white bean and hominy soup with occasional pieces of beef and pork, and pureed squash to give it some body. It was in desperate need of salt and spice, a shaker and a small bowl of chile paste (once again with the unnecessary warning of “muy picante”) were there to provide. Still, not up to the quality of the other locros I’ve tried.
The lentejas, or lentils, had quite a bit more flavor, and was the best of the three dishes. A rich stew of lentils, beef, bacon, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and chorizo sausage gave more than enough different flavors to create something interesting. Earthy and quite good!
The third dish, pastel de papas norteño was touted by our very friendly and helpful waitress (who had already recommended the delicious del tambo empanadas). According to her, this is not only the most typical dish of the region, but also the specialty of the house. Shepherd’s Pie. Really and truly, that’s basically what it was. Underneath a crust of browned mashed potatoes was a mixture of ground beef, chopped bell peppers, hard-boiled eggs, and some sliced green and black olives. The dominant seasoning, other than a touch too much salt, was cumin.
I’d go back in a heartbeat for the empanadas.