Transforming Vegetables into Fish

2008.Sep.10 Wednesday · 7 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

 A CARTOON in The New Yorker many years ago depicted a disgruntled little girl confronted with a mysterious substance on her dinner plate. Though assured by her mother that it was broccoli, she remained unconvinced. ”I say it’s spinach,” she insisted, ”and I say the hell with it.”

– Marian Burros, NY Times, 12/22/82

Buenos Aires – It’s my own fault. I told you all many months ago that I wouldn’t fall for this again. Yes, it’s the evil vegetarians. They’ve struck one more time. A series of requests over the last month or so from local and soon to be visiting folk of the vegetable-based lifestyle to please, please, please hold another of our vegetarian dinners. Promises all around to reserve, attend, enjoy… I scheduled the weekend six weeks in advance, let them all know… and waited, and waited… and not one, once again, not one of those folk who’d pleaded, made a reservation. Top that off with the three parties of vegetarian folk (not amongst the requesters), seven people in total, who did reserve, who all cancelled their reservations within the last 48 hours before the dinners, and here’s the thing. We’re not planning any more vegetarian dinners. Period (okay, unless of course I just feel like planning one). I’ve gone through this routine half a dozen times in the last 2½ years. I will still continue to provide vegetarian options when it works for the menu planned for the evening, I’m happy to do that, we will continue to have vegetarian dishes as part of the menus, but I’m not going to arrange the dinners, the public ones anyway, around the same group of people who don’t show up, time and again.

So what we did do, was a last minute change of theme. The dozen folk remaining who were split between the two nights of the planned dinners had all told me that if we were to change away from a completely vegetable based menu, they certainly wouldn’t object. I recontacted them, made sure that they were all fine with a seafood based menu, and put together a menu around a trio of personal favorites that I’m working on “perfecting”.

Causa de Langostinos

First up, our causa de langostinos is pretty much at the point where I want it. It’s not really a causa, it’s more just based on the idea. The base this time a mix of potato, zucchini, olive oil, lemon, and yellow pepper. The avocado layer of avocado, lime, cilantro, and banana. The shrimp sauteed in shallots and jalapeños. The latter two I think are at the point I like them – the jalapeños pair better with the banana guacamole than rocotos do. The base, I’m going to go back to the blend of potato, zucchini, milk, butter, lemon, and thyme. The olive oil, while great in a traditional causa, is too apparent in this version, and I like the addition of the zucchini and thyme for texture and flavor. Presentation-wise, I like the dish better with the guacamole atop the potato layer, but I also like the idea of something sandwiched in the potatoes, giving it some color. Maybe splitting the potatoes and half of them with yellow pepper and half with red…

Our soup was a vegetable one, with fresh, beautiful green beans in the market I couldn’t resist another stab at the Portuguese style green bean and mint soup from pretty much exactly a year ago.

Peppered mussels with risotto cake

On to the hot appetizer, and one of my true favorite dishes that I’ve put together over the last few years – peppered mussels with risotto cakes, made from risotto alla salernitana. More mussels this time, and a smaller risotto cake – just playing with the balance, and also the mussels were significantly smaller than the ones I found on previous renditions of this dish. I added a bit of piquillo pepper puree atop, an addition that works nicely, and flavored the dish with oregano instead of thyme, which I think works a little better. Fresh marjoram would be great…!

Our main course, baked hake with two sauces – a green bell pepper and herb sauce and a fried garlic oil – the photo from the first time around on this dish does the plate more justice, and details of the recipe are on the linked post.

Warm poached pears with two chocolate sauces

I noticed that fresh Bosc pears have just come into the market – perfect little hard pears for poaching. I peeled them, cored them, and poached them in water with molasses and whiskey until just softened, and then left them in the liquid, kept warm, for several hours to marinate. The warm sauces – white chocolate, cream, and milk infused with green tea and dried pineapple; and semi-sweet chocolate, cream, and milk infused with hibiscus flower tea. A little messy to serve, but the flavors are there…


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Wembley September 11, 2008 at 17:35

You have been spectacularly unlucky and we feel the reputation of vegetarianism is at stake. You can count on us – only war, terrorism, an air crash or ill health will keep us away! Perhaps the offenders were not “true” vegetarians and couldn’t actually face a meal (however sumptuous) without meat?

dan September 11, 2008 at 18:05

Vegetarianism itself is not at stake here, nor its reputation. It’s merely a particular group of vegetarians who live here who, and I’ll go out on a limb and just state it bluntly, like to complain, constantly, that there are no options for them in Buenos Aires. And when options do present themselves, they go out of their way to make sure they don’t experience them – after all, that would take away complaining rights. (I actually got kicked off one of the local online expat forums for daring to list a dozen or so vegetarian restaurants in town when the moderator of the board had at stake her claim that there was no such thing in BA – she actually threatened me with a lawsuit for defamation of character!) That, and perhaps there’s a certain element of liking to mix with non-vegetarians. Some of these same folk come to our regular dinners, requesting vegetarian substitutions – which I don’t generally mind doing – but then it gets to be a topic of conversation over the dinner table… you know what I mean?

Wembley September 14, 2008 at 06:24

That’s an interesting answer – I know exactly what you mean about vegetarianism as a topic of conversation. I am considering wearing a placard round my neck saying that I am a complex and inconsistent individual whose moral code is pebbledashed with failings and errors..would this be acceptable? Or maybe we should publish a list of acceptable conversation topics ahead of time? I don’t really like the dinner table to be a battle ground!


we are never full March 30, 2009 at 20:40

this post alone is making us even more excited to meet you and dine – only another week and a half. even cooking for vegetarian friends is annoying to me. i’m sure it’s even harder in argentina. if i was a veggie and was taking a trip to argentina, that would be my time to change my beliefs- just for that trip. as much as i try, i’ll just never understand it. meat is too damn good.

also, your vegetarians may have not eaten seafood – what the heck would you have done then? this menu is lovely, meat-free or not.

can’t wait to dine at casa saltshaker.

amy and jonny

dan March 31, 2009 at 02:04

I don’t mind cooking vegetarian dinners at all. I just mind when the people who ask me to do them don’t show up after I plan it for them. As to seafood eaters – they’re not vegetarians. Period. The original menu was vegetarian, I switched it to include seafood because all of the vegetarians who’d reserved, cancelled – since no one coming minded eating meat, I just simply re-did the menu to include seafood.

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