Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Prueba Definitiva

Found in the Subway:

Individual Courses in: Universal Literature, Greek Tragedy, Greek Myths, Philosophy, Creative Writing, Literature and Psychoanalysis, Tao-Chien Martial Arts-- a bit broad but ok, I`ll accept that...Erotic Art and Spirituality in 1001 Nights? The White God and the Origin of Poetry? And finally, but unsurprisingly, Symbolic Language y Tarot...I suspected that Buenos Aires was having its 60´s moment, and now I have proof.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Estos Tipos Lo Tienen Mas Claro...

I have officially been living for two months without a refrigerator (a situation that was supposed to last a week), something I thought would be impossible but that is being managed by reorganizing the grocery shopping (and the use of the outside and occasionally the inside of the kitchen) knowing that we are very limited in what can be bought not being for immediate use. Potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and eggs-- which are sold unrefrigerated here-- abound, as do batatas, something close to sweet potatoes but less sweet and with yellowish-purple flesh. This situation is not ideal but it is doable, and one thing that I do like is that this has translated to fish for dinner after going to the supermarket every week or two. Argentina is a very heavily meat-oriented place-- as in very very. As in your most reliable way to see your average Argentine make a face is to bring up fish for dinner. There are a good 5 or 6 carnicerias and pollerias within one square block of my apartment, but pescaderias are much harder to come across. The local supermarket does however have a small fish section, and it has a guy who will, on request, gut the fish for you, making very loud scary chopping noises with the knife, and then tell you the best way to prepare it. Last week he had one very nice-looking whole fish left, and a basic and in the end delicious method of preparing it.

We came home with the fish, bought some broccoli from the vegetable guys down the block, and grabbed some potatoes from storage under the sink. The oven got cranked up (well, the oven more or less cranked itself up-- it only has one setting-- really hot), and thanks to the less local but equally knowledgeable Orangette and Melissa Clark, the broccoli was tossed with olive oil and cumin and coriander, the potatoes with just a bit of olive oil, and the fish stuffed al nuestro tipo pescadero (our fish dude´s way). While everything roasted in the oven, chopped capers and parsley were combined with lemon and garlic to make a sauce to be poured over the potatoes hot out of the oven.

I may not have a fridge but at least I have people I can rely on for some really good, simple food.

Simple Whole Roasted Fish
     from the fish dude (don´t tell me fishmonger, I can´t picture fishmongers inside supermarkets) at the Coto

One whole river fish-- trout or other white fish, gutted by your friendly fish dude
1 lemon, cut in half
handful flat-leaf parsley
1 clove garlic

Preheat the oven to 450°. Wash the fish in cold water and place it on a baking tray with sides or in a baking dish. Open the slit where the fish was gutted, cut it open wider towards the unopened side if there isn´t much room to stuff it, and salt the inside of the fish. Cut one of the lemon halves into thin rounds and arrange them flat inside the fish, leaving a couple out to put on top. Chop the parsley and garlic together finely and spread the mixture on top of the lemon slices. Close your fish flap as well as you can, place the remaining lemon slices on top of the fish, and sprinkle with salt. Bake in the oven until the flesh is white, I would say around 20 minutes but the truth is I didn´t time it. Cut the remaining lemon half into wedges and serve to squeeze over the fish.

Roasted Potatoes with Caper-Parsley Sauce
     closely adapted from Orangette

4 big potatoes, or the equivalent (I used something like russet potatoes-- here they´re just called papas negras and they´re your standard, state-subsidized potato-- but I would imagine this would work well with many different kinds although I probably wouldn´t use red potatoes with this because they always seem to have a sweeter flavor to me, and I don´t know, in my brain at least I wouldn´t think it would fit as well.)
6 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. capers, drained and coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. finely chopped Italian parsley
2 medium garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. finely grated lemon zest
small pinch salt (remember that capers are quite salty on their own)
Pinch of red pepper flakes or dried chile pepper

Scrub the potatoes well and cut them into chunks (6 to 8 from one potato). Toss them in a bit of olive oil and roast them in a hot oven (we had the potatoes, the broccoli, and the fish all in together, a feat of balance and pure stupidity if there ever was one given the size of the oven and the fact that there is only one rack) until a fork goes in easily and they are nice and crispy on the outside.
Meanwhile combine all the subsequent ingredients, mix well, and set aside while everything else roasts in the oven.
When the potatoes done, check your sauce for salt and lemon, and then pour it over the hot potatoes.

Roasted Broccoli
     taken from Orangette, taken from this blog, taken from NYTimes' Melissa Clark

2 big heads broccoli, cut into small florets, the stalks peeled and chopped
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. coriander seed
1/2 tsp. black pepper
small pinch cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp. salt
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 450°. Combine all of the ingredients except the lemon in a large baking dish and toss well to coat the broccoli evenly. Roast in the oven for 20-30 min. until blackened in spots. Squeeze lemon juice on top and eat.

Si el horno tuyo tiene espacio se puede cocinar todo juntos al mismo tiempo.

Pescado Entero Al Horno
     del tipo que vende pescado en el Coto

Un pescado entero del rio-- una trucha o otro pescado blanco, limpiado por el tipo que te vende el pescado
1 limon, cortado por la mitad
un puñado de perejil
1 diente de ajo

Precalienta el horno a 220ºC (fuego alto). Lava el pescado en agua frio y colocalo en una bandeja. Abre el pescado del corte donde haya estado limpiado, cortalo mas para abrirlo mas ancho hacia al lado cerrado si no hay espacio suficiente para rellenarlo, y echa sal al interior del pescado. Corta una de las mitades de limon en rodajas delgadas y colocalas plenas al dentro del pescado, dejando un par de rodajas poner encima del pescado. Pica el perejil y el ajo juntos muy chiquitos y unta la mezcla encima de las rodajas de limon. Cierra el pescado tan bien que pueda, pone las rodajas de limon que quedaban encima del pescado y salpicar con sal. Hornea en el horno hasta la carne este blanca, por alli 20 minutes o de pronto un poquito mas, la verdad es que no me fije el tiempo. Corta la mitad de limon que te queda en trozos y sirvalos para exprimir encima del pescado.

Papas Asadas con Salsa de Alcaparras y Perejil
     adaptada de Orangette

4 papas negras grandes o otras papas en la misma cantidad (la papa amarilla funcionaria bien tambien me imagino)
6 cucharadas de aceite de oliva
3 cucharadas alcaparras, escurridas y picadas
2 cucharadas perejil, picada chiquita
2 dientes de ajo, picada chiquita
1 cucharada jugo de limon exprimido
½ cucharita cascara de limon rallada bien chiquita
pizca muy chiquita de sal (acordate que alcaparras son muy saladas solas)
pizca de pimenton

Lava bien las papas y cortalas en pedazos (6 a 8 de una papa). Mezclalas con un poco de aceite de oliva y asalas en un horno caliente (teniamos las papas, el brocoli, el pescado alli todo juntos-- un acto de balanza y mucha estupidez la verdad, segun al tamaño del horno y que hay una sola rejilla) hasta que las entre un tenedor muy facilmente y estan crocantes por afuera.
Mientras tanto combina todo los otros ingredientes, mezclalos bien, y dejalos combinar bien mientras los demas asan en el horno.
Cuando las papas esten listas, fijate si tu salsa esta bien de sal y limon, y echala a las papas calientes.

Brocoli Asado
     tomada de Orangette, tomada de este blog, tomada de Melissa Clark del New York Times

2 cabezas grandes de brocoli, cortado en cogollito chiquitos, los tallos peleados y picados
2 cucharitas de semillas de comino (se puede encontrarlas, y las de cilantro, en las dieteticas)
2 cucharitas de semillas de cilantro
1/2 cucharita pimienta negra
pizca chiquita pimenton
3/4 cucharita sal
3-4 cucharadas aceite de oliva
1 limon

Precalienta el horno a 220ºC. Echa todos los ingredientes con la excepcion del limon en un fuente para el horno o en una bandeja y mezclalos bien para cubrir el brocoli uniformamente. Asalo en el horno por 20-30 minutos hasta este medio quemado en partes. Exprime limon encima y come.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July in the Southern Hemisphere

As proof that it´s actually freezing in Buenos Aires right now and that is lying to me when it tells me that it´s 42ºF outside, the natural peanut butter (courtesy of my suitcase, 2 jars down, 3 to go) stored in a drawer in my kitchen is congealed, refrigerator-style.

A couple of weekends ago I had promised the bassist of a Jazz quartet that I would go to its debut. I had also promised said bassist that I would make dinner that night because one of us had a rehearsal until 9, and the other had nothing more planned than a brief skype teleconference with her university cohorts to go over the final corrections in a group report. Fast forward to 10 o´clock, I´m still skyping (I still don´t know how I feel about "skype" as a verb but "teleconferencing" sounds far too corporate, and for that matter far too organized, for what was going on) because the supposed almost-final draft was nowhere near final, but at this point I had moved to the kitchen, headphones and all, to finish dinner, because no one knows better than me how horrible at is to arrive, cold, hungry, and in a rush to what you think will be food, to find your supposed cook a stressed-out mess, and no dinner. So I finished the ratatouille, stirred (and made a mess all over the stove with) polenta, and made a fennel and orange salad, all while editing a health-analysis report with three other people over Skype. In Spanish.

Our friendly bassist arrived, ate, and tried to wait for the interminable unexpected editing to end but finally had to leave so he wouldn´t be late to his own gig. We didn´t finish editing until almost 12, which means that someone didn´t eat dinner until almost 12 and therefore was cranky, and I put too much rosemary in the ratatouille, because I love rosemary and when I´m cooking sometimes I forget how much it can overwhelm things, so I was annoyed about that, and the polenta was cold, which is gross when you haven´t spread it out in sheet form. The fennel salad, on the other hand, was great, which was rather remarkable given how simple it was. It´s a good thing, too, because after eating it, I spent one freezing cold hour waiting for the bus to take me to the show, because I arrived on the opposite side of the street just to watch my bus pull out and the lovely bus driver wag his finger at me, to arrive at the show just in time to hear the final song. It took 2 hours for my legs to warm up. It´s a good thing that at least among the jazz musicians I know, salsa and Fernet are considered entirely acceptable after-activities.

Fennel, or anise more generally speaking, is one of those flavors that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I actually find that rather strange given the frequency with which it shows up as the preferred national drink (pastis, aguardiente, sambuca, raki etc.) When I was travelling with my friend Caroline in Europe the summer after college, we spent a lot of time eating together and in turn influencing each others´ likes and dislikes. When we started out, I thought marzipan was a weird tasting crumbly waste of sugar, and she (more tactfully) avoided anything containing anise, but after a (budgeted) tour of chocolate and confectioner´s shops I fell completely in love with calisson, and after much pastis, with socca, with mussels, and by itself on the beach in Marseille for 3 euros, Caroline was more or less good to go with anise, at least in beverage form.

I love it in any form, though I admit that I´ve had my share of blunders in learning how to cook with it. This salad is really simple although its deliciousness (and I think that of most fennel salads) depends on the fennel being sliced very thinly and the olive oil being very flavorful on its own.

And my stomach is now starting to hurt from eating too much peanut butter out of the jar with my finger (the one I´m not typing with) so I guess I should put it back in the fridge, that is to say, my kitchen.

Fennel and Orange Salad

1 small of 1/2 large bulb fennel (with the fronds)
1 navel orange
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Cut off the top of the fennel with the fronds and reserve it. Slice off the very bottom of the bulb and any other damaged part, and then slice the fennel very, very thinly. Using a knife, remove the peel and the pith (the white part) of the orange so that you have a still whole but completely peeled orange, and then manuever the knife inside each section so that you cut out the meat part of the orange while avoiding the transparent skin (the skin and the pith are bitter.)
Toss the orange and fennel together, dress with the olive oil, vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Chop up 1-2 tbsp. of the fennel fronds and mix those in as well, then taste for salt.

Esta ensalada es muy facil de hacer pero su exito (y el exito de las ensaladas de hinojo en general pienso) depende de la delgadez con que se corta el hinojo y a que uses un buen aceite de oliva.

Ensalada de Hinojo y Naranja

1 hinojo pequeño, o medio de un bulbo grande (con las hojas)
1 naranja de ombligo
1 cucharada de vinagre de vino tinto
1 cucharada de aceite de oliva extra virgen

Quita la parte arriba con las hojas del hinojo y guardala. Haz un corte muy fino de la parte de abajo del hinojo y botalo junto con cualquier otra parte dañada, el resto cortalo en trozos lo mas finos posible. Con un cuchillo, quita la cascara y la corteza blanca de la naranja, dejandola entera pero completemente pelada, y saca la carne de cada seccion evitando la piel transparente (la piel y la corteza blanca son amargas.)
En un recipiente coloca el hinojo y la naranja, echa el aceite, el vinagre, y una pizca de sal. Corta una o dos cucharadas de las hojas del hinojo y echalas tambien, mezclando todo, prueba para saber si hace falta sal.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lentejitas para Carlitos

I had never heard of International Friends Day until last year, when my sister and I were wandering past shop windows in Buenos Aires and noticed flyer after flyer advertising candy-colored shiny mates and special dinner menus for "El Día Internacional del Amigo." We asked our Argentine Spanish teacher what on earth they might be referring to- more baffled by the supposed internationality of the day than the concept of a "Friends Day," which actually sounded kind of nice.

"On International Friends Day you go out with your friends to eat, or you have a barbecue," he told us, "it´s just a day to be with and appreciate your friends." Sounds good. And why on this day specifically? What makes it international? "Yeah, I´m pretty sure we only have it in Argentina. But it´s on July 20th because that´s the day the first man walked on the moon." Does that clear everything up for you? Yeah, it cleared everything up for us too.

And this evening I was on the bus and a sixty-year-old white-haired man wearing a houndstooth jacket sat next to me and began to go through his address book, calling his friends to wish them a happy friends´day and send them hugs and kisses (very Argentine and not as weird as it sounds; "un beso, chau" is a typical sign off from a telephone conversation.)

But still. How can a country be so confusing and at the same time so endearing?

A couple of months ago, after returning to the U.S. and then coming back to Argentina I was homeless and searching for a house, during which time some lovely Colombian friends of mine put me up. One day while I was staying with them I made lentils, which is a very typical food for Colombians, but they eat them hot and almost soup-like, flavored with tomato and onion, and cooked until quite mushy. I made mine more like a traditional French lentil salad, the lentils retaining their shape, and a vinaigrette poured over at the end.

At any rate, the lentils were a big hit with my friend Carlos, who asked me to show him how I made them sometime. This was actually quite an achievement of sorts because Carlos makes a grand total of two meals for himself: vegetable-beef stir-fry, eaten with rice, and pasta with bolognese sauce. He alternates day by day, and has been following this routine for over a year. Occaisonally-- very occasionally-- Colombian-style lentils are seen as well. I told him of course I´d show him and that it was really very simple, but we never got around to it while I still lived there. And now that I don´t live there, I hear of his daily aspirations around lunch time, "Hoy quiero hacer algo diferente, sabes, estaba pensando en hacer las lentejas de Eva" (Today I want to make something different, you know, I was thinking about making Eva´s lentils), and the subsequent discovery, at lunch time, that Carlos has made...vegetable-beef stir fry!

Therefore as a nod to International Friends Day, though it may not actually be international (though it is celebrated in some form in several other countries), an American dedicates a French-inspired recipe to a Colombian on this Argentine holiday. Carlitos, esta receta es para ti, que de pronto llegues a hacertelas un dia. (Carlitos, this recipe is for you, so that maybe you might actually end up making them for yourself one day.)

For reasons of location, i.e. Argentina has limited and/or expensive options for ingredients that I formerly thought of as commonplace and relatively inexpensive, I´ve learned to adjust the recipe so that it tastes right to me without having to search out ridiculously expensive mustard (though I really do love Maille) in Carrefour.

Lentil Salad

1 c. lentils

1 bay leaf

thyme, fresh or dried


1 tbsp. olive oil

1 med. onion, finely diced

1 carrot, half a fennel bulb, or both, finely diced

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. dijon mustard (optional)

3-4 tbsp. good olive oil

1 shallot or 1 clove garlic, finely chopped

freshly ground black pepper

- a handful of chopped parsley goes well if you use the carrot

Rinse the lentils and put them in a pot with water covering them by a good 3 inches. Bring to a boil and skim off the dirty looking foam that starts to collect in the center with a spoon. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the bay leaf, a pinch of salt, and a couple of branches of fresh thyme or two pinches of dried thyme. Simmer for around 25 min., until tender but not falling apart, adding more water if needed.

Meanwhile saute the onion and carrot/fennel over med-low heat in the 1 tbsp. of oil, sprinkling them with a bit of salt and pepper, until soft. Remove from heat.

When the lentils are done, drain them and remove the bay leaf. Pour them into the skillet with the cooked onion, or combine the onion and the lentils in the receptacle you plan on serving them out of.

Mix the shallot, vinegar, mustard, and a pinch of salt. Whisk in the olive oil, and pour the whole thing over the lentils while they´re still warm. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper, and add parsley if desired.

When my sister was here with me we ate a lot of lentils (actually that´s not much of an excuse, I always eat a lot of lentils, because I love them, and because well, 70 cents a pound, anyone?); she beforehand had more or less refused to eat them but learned very quickly that lentil salad and goat cheese are amazing together, and even more so if you throw in some marinated red peppers and eat them bruschetta-style on slices of mini-baguettes.

The Elena variation:

2 red bell peppers

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (our family likes garlic; this can be halved if you prefer not to have vampire-killing breath after lunch)

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 tbsp. olive oil


soft fresh goat cheese (chevre)

Before starting the lentils, roast peppers over a flame, or halve, de-seed, and de-vein them and stick them under a broiler or in a very hot oven until well charred. Throw them into a plastic or paper bag and close the bag, allowing the peppers to steam their skins off. After 15 min., or when you have a minute free and the peppers are already cool, peel off the skins (don´t run the peppers under water as you´re rinsing off flavor), de-seed and de-vein them if you haven´t already, and slice them into long strips. Combine the peppers with the vinegar, oil, garlic, and a big pinch of salt. Taste and add more salt and vinegar to taste. Let marinate for as long as you have (anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours.) When the lentils are ready to eat, retrieve your pepper slices, dice them, and mix them into the lentils. Add a bunch of crumbled goat cheese on top, and eat accompanied by or on top of French or sourdough bread.

Lentejitas para Carlitos

(Ensalada de Lentejas, o Lentejas Secas)

1 taza de lentejas

1 hoja de laurel

tomillo, fresco o seco


1 cucharada de aciete de oliva

1 cebolla, picada chiquita

1 zanahoria, o medio hinojo, o ambos, picados chiquitos

1 cucharada de vinagre de vino tinto

1/2 cucharita de mostaza (opcional)

3-4 cucharadas de aceite de oliva de buena calidad

1 chalote o 1 diente de ajo, bien picadito

pimienta, recien molida (lo que venden en saquitos tiene un sabor diferente; la dejaria afuera si solo tienes esta)

- un puñado de perejil picado combina bien aca si usas la zanahoria

Lava las lentejas y ponelas en una olla con agua para cubrir por 7 cm. Hiervelas y saca la espuma mugrosa que acumula en el centro con una cuchara. Baja el fuego a un fuego lento y echa la hoja de laurel, una pizca de sal, y unas ramas de tomillo fresco o 2 pizcas de tomillo seco. Cocinalo por 25 minutos, hasta que esten en su punto pero no desbaratando, añadando mas agua si se necesita. Mientras tanto saltea la cebolla y la zanahoria/hinojo con fuego medio-bajo con la una cucharada de aceite, salpicandolas con un poquito de sal y pimienta, hasta que se ablanden. Quitalas del fuego. Cuando las lentejas esten listas, escurrilas y saca la hoja de laurel. Echalas en el sarten con la cebolla cocida, o mezcla la cebolla y las lentejas en el receptaculo de donde quieres servirlas. Mezcla el chalote, el vinagre, la mostaza, y una pizca de sal. Añade el aceite y batela, y echa todo a las lentejas mientras estan todavia calienticas. Pruebalas para ver si necesiten mas sal y pimienta, y echa perejil si quieres.

La variacion de Elena:

2 pimentones/morrones

2 dientes de ajo, bien picado (en mi familia nos gusta el ajo; puedes usar solo un diente si prefieres que no tengas el aliento listo para matar a los vampiros)

2 cucharadas de vinagre de vino tinto

1 cucharada de aceite de oliva


queso de cabra fresco (que casi no hay en Buenos Aires a menos que quieras comprarlo en el Carrefour y pagar 20 pesos)

Antes de empezar las lentejas, asar los morrones encima de un fuego, o partelos y quitales las semillas y las venas y metelas debajo de una parrilla o en un horno muy caliente hasta que esten bien asados (y se vean carbonizados.) Metelos en una bolsa de plastico o de papel y cierrala, dejando los morrones a hervirse para quitarlos las cascaras. Despues de 15 minutos, o cuando tienes un momento libre y ya estan frescos, quita las cascaras (no metas los morrones en agua porque eso los quita sabor), quitales las semillas y las venas si ya no lo habias hecho, y cortalos en tajadas largas. Coloca los morrones con el vinagre, el aceite de oliva, el ajo, y dos pizcas de sal. Fijate si hace falta mas de sal y vinagre. Dejalo marinar por cualquier tiempo que tenga (entre 10 minutos a unas horas o mas, pero el sabor del ajo aumenta con tiempo.) Cuando las lentejas esten listas a comer, saca los morrones del adobo, cortalos en cuadritos y mezclalos con las lentejas. Añade el queso de cabra desmenuzado encima, y cometelo con o encima de pan frances, como si fuera bruschetta.