Monday, 18 April 2011

Presépio goes Argie in a sip!

(si prefieres leer este post en español, por favor sigue este enlace)

A few days ago my friend Sandra (author of the blog, "Presépio com Vista para o Canal") came to Zwolle for a visit. The plan was to have a lazy lunch and walk around town a little. Since we were having a spell of nice weather with lots of sun and clear sky, I thought it would be a good idea to sit somewhere nice near the water in the city centre and have a bit of a picnic.

Sandra is always very receptive and enthusiastic about discovering traditions and habits from other parts of the world, so I came up with a little surprise for her. Before leaving the house, I boiled some water and poured it into a thermos flask I brought from Argentina. What surprise did I have in mind? Well, pouring Sandra some mates, of course!
Pouring "mates" for friends.
Mate (pronounced MAH-teh, stressing the first syllable, not the last as I see it written everywhere)  is Argentina's national drink, but it is not just any drink, something you pour when you are thirsty and then forget about. Mate is for an Argentine his or her best friend when he or she is at home alone studying, working or relaxing. Preparing the mate, pouring it, holding the gourd in your hand, sipping it slowly - the whole ritual is comforting and it gives an immediate sense of well being that, originating in your brain, spreads then through your body.
My collection of mate gourds from Argentina.
But mate is the drink you serve when you are entertaining at home, always the first thing you offer and is accepted by your guests. Also, if you are off to spend the day at the beach or by the pool, the mate gear is the first thing that you want to pack and God may help you if, upon arriving at your destination, you discover you have forgotten to take it with you! You will be despised and blamed by your companions relentlessly - for about five whole minutes!

Because mate is such an important part of our everyday lives back in Argentina, I thought that Sandra would be interested in tasting it and hearing all about it. In order to  prepare and pour this infusion you need a bit of equipment: the thermos flask for the hot water, the yerba mate or dry leaves to be brewed, some sugar, the gourd to pour it in (also called mate) and the metal filter straw. You can also add other herbs to the mate or even orange or lemon peel to give it a citrus flavour.
The raw gourds waiting to be carved and polished to be used to pour mates.
The metal straws wih filters, used to sip the mates from the gourd.
Once I had collected and prepared all these elements, I had to put them somewhere to transport them safely. And that is when my mysterious magic leather case came  in handy. In Argentina you can find special cases made for the sole purpose of carrying the mate implements, and last year during my holiday in Argentina, I bought a very nice one made from carpincho or capibara skin.

My carpincho leather case to transport the mate equipment. Photo by Sandra.
When Sandra saw my fancy case, she immediately got curious but I was determined not to give away what was in it until the moment was right. After lunch in "La Meridiana", an Italian restaurant on the Melkmarkt, opposite the Grote Kerk (Big Church), we took a walk around and I took her to see the Zwolse Balletjeshuis, where they sell these special, old fashioned sweets typical of Zwolle. Unfortunately it was closed, but we managed to find some balletjes at the Tourist Information Office or VVV right next to the Grote Kerk.
Finally, the moment to open the mysterious leather case arrived. We sat by the canal, I opened the case, took the thermos out -nothing odd there, maybe it was coffee? tea? spirits?- and then out came the tumbler containing the dried leaves of yerba mate and I started preparing the drink. First I took the gourd, filled 3/4 of it with the yerba, then shook it a bit to make the loose powder to go to the surface and avoid them from going through the sieve and drinking them. Then I placed the metal filter straw to one side and I also added a pinch of peppermint leaves to give it more taste. Instead of sugar I normally use sweetener so I added some of that and then poured the hot water. The first mate is always for the cebador (the person pouring it) to make sure it is prepared correctly, so I had the first one and I made sure it was ok. Then, I poured again and passed it to Sandra. What did Sandra think of it?

Well, I am sure that it tasted quite strange to her, probably! Drinking mate is an acquired taste and the first few sips or the first few rounds of mate will definitely taste a bit too strong and probably bitter, We, Argentines, drink it normally from an early age and some of us don't even get to really like it, but because it is usually done socially, we always join in the mate circles while spending time with friends or family.
Rosario, a friend's daughter, is not yet 3 years old and she already drinks mates as an expert!
I can go on and on talking about mate drinking since the ritual has its own etiquette and the manner of preparing and pouring it varies from region to region. It also has a number of health benefits, since it is an excellent anti-oxidant, protects the inmune system and is an energy booster.

I am not sure what Sandra thought of those first sips of mate, but I do know that she was rather impressed with the ritual and the health benefits that yerba mate offers. So, guess what I am giving her for her birthday?

Packets of different types of yerba mate.

Thank you, Sandra, for posting this article about mate and your visit in your blog and for letting me use your photo of the "magic case"!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Elena's Carbonada criolla (pumpkin beef stew)

(Para leer en español, sigue este enlace)

In my last blog entry I presented a ritual that my Argentinean friends Elena, Mónica and I started a while ago: all three families spending a day together, cooking and eating Argentinean food. Today, Elena is sharing with us her recipe for one of the dishes that she prepared for our first Argies in Dutchland party: the carbonada criolla, or pumpkin beef stew.

Elena pouring mates (the Argentinean national drink) for her guests.
 While I was doing some research about this traditional Argentinean dish, I was surprised to know that its origin is in fact, Belgian. I had always thought that carbonada criolla was one of the dishes that could be traced back to the colonial times of our history, a dish Spanish in origin that had been adopted by the criollos (the people of Spanish descent who were born in the colony) and changed to include some of the local ingredients available.

Instead, it seems that the carbonada criolla hails originally from Belgium where it is known as carbonade or more specifically, carbonade flamande which is, "a sweet-sour beef and onion stew made with beer and seasoned with thyme and bay." (source, Wikipedia) Interesting how this dish started its journey not too far from where we, the argies in the team, are living right now!

 Besides this unexpected discovery, I found that the name carbonada refers to the cooking method: the stew was or is cooked traditionally on a pot over the flame very slowly until all the logs in the open stove are reduced to ashes, which in Spanish is carbonizados. Then the criolla part of the name, refers to the indigenous ingredients that were added by the locals -the criollos- like the corn on the cob, the pumpkin and the fruit. The pumpkin shell is sometimes used to serve the dish.

Carbonada criolla served in the pumpkin shell. Photo courtesy of Recetario Cocina
Here is the recipe of this hearty traditional Argentinean dish. If you are now located in the northern hemisphere you might want to wait until the autumn or winter to try it since it is a rather hearty dish; but trust me, you will love it! 

Carbonada Criolla for the Argies in Dutchland, by Elena:

Heat some oil in a pan and brown two cloves of garlic and a finely chopped onion for a few minutes until soft. Add a pound (1/2 kg.) of steweing beef cut in small cubes and seal it in the garlic and onion before adding two peeled tomatoes chopped, 100g. of butter and a bunch of fresh herbs, one potato, a chunk of pumpkin, and another of sweet potato, all cubed; then some pieces of corn still on the cob, three ladelfulls of stock. Season with salt and pepper.
Put the lid on the pan and let it boil  until everything is tender. Add then 250g of rice, one peeled apple cubed, three peeled peaches also cubed (it can also be whole small peaches, always peeled). Cook on a low flame until the rice is cooked, which should be about 20 minutes.
Add more stock if necessary, but bear in mind that the carbonada should have the consistency of a broth.
This dish tastes better when its made on the same day, since it will get too mushy if you prepare it the day before.

Elena's delicious carbonada, served on the beautiful dishes she brought over from Argentina.

The recipe was taken from El Libro de Doña Petrona, a book containing the recipes of the "guru" of Argentinean cooking: Petrona C. de Gandulfo.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Argies in Dutchland: doing what we know best

 (si prefieres leer este artículo en español, por favor sigue este enlace)

And what is that Argies do best, you may ask? Play football, dance the tango, run a country efficiently? (Allow me a little sarcasm here!) Well no, I was rather talking about having a good time with friends around food - good food and a lot of it, to be more exact.

I am sure that in many cultures and many countries people enjoy getting together, having a good time and eating good food. Inviting people over and treating guests to a home-cooked meal is not a habit exclusively practiced by us, Argies. While abroad, I have been to the homes of many people od different nationalities where I have been made to feel at home, served excellent food and been treated like royalty.

However, if you are an expat, I am sure you will agree with me that one sometimes yearns for the company of people who are just like you, who enjoy the same things, share your background, speak the same language in the same way and, most of all, miss the same things from back home, especially food. This is why with my Argentinean expat friends Mónica and Elena, we get together a couple of times a year to enjoy a true Argie feast which normally involves a lot of cooking, a lot of eating and a lot of talking and relaxing, too.
The Argie "team": Elena, Mónica and myself.
From the moment we mention a possible date for the meet-up, we start making suggestions of dishes from back home which we would like to see on the menu of the day. Because Argentina is mainly a country of immigrants, our favourite dishes normally include not only traditional dishes which originated in colonial times or with a more native Latin American flavour, like the locro Mónica made the last time or the carbonada criolla that Elena made for our first Argies in Holland party; but also dishes that were brought over from Europe by our grandparents or parents, dishes that we regularly cook at home on weekends for the family or friends -like Monica's delicious canelones or the ravioles I made when I hosted the meeting in my house last year.

Since many of the regulars here on this blog are interested in food, I thought it was a good idea to share some of the recipes of the Argentinean classics that we have cooked so far for our parties. Mónica and Elena have both kindly agreed to provide the recipes and if you have any questions about the dishes or Argentinean food in general, we will be very happy to answer them.

A word of warning though: our dishes normally include meat, so those of you who are vegetarians can skip the main dishes or try to adapt them to your taste (like the locro) or wait for the recipes of our desserts and pastry.

For our first "Argies in Dutchland" party the menu included:

Elena's Carbonada Criolla
(beef stew with pumpkin, veggies and fruit)

Mónica's Cazuela de Pollo
(chicken casserole)

Aledys' Budín de Pan al Caramelo
(bread pudding with caramel sauce)

Elena's Alfajores de Maicena
( dulce de leche sandwich shortbread biscuits)

Mónica's torta rápida de chocolate
(fast chocolate cake)

In the next blog post Elena will share with us her recipes for the carbonada criolla - a hearty country dish with an interesting background -  and the alfajores de maicena, the delicious sandwich biscuits filled with the ever-present dulce de leche... Now go and work up some appetite for the next blog entry!