Saturday, June 26, 2010

On England

Living through a World Cup in Argentina involves craziness that one is just not prepared for coming from a soccer lukewarm country. Everything stopped when Argentine played. No school, no work. Stopped. If you followed the Cup this year, you might have noticed how fun it is to watch Maradona on the sidelines-- the jumping, the shouting, the emotional transparency (I didn´t know who Maradona was when I moved here-- if you don´t, let me sum it up for you: if you´re Argentine, he´s God. Period.) Watching soccer with Argentines is like that, and then in the middle of all the yelling and swearing if you happen to be the only female in the bar they will apologize for their language, until they forget that you´re there again during the next play. Which is not to say that only men watch the games-- I was surprised to see that every single person at my work had a printed out schedule of the game next to their desks, including 40-year old mothers, some of whom went home to watch the game with their families during the supposed work day.

Anyway, it´s over, and crowds of people went to meet the defeated team at the airport when the team got back. Then they went to go eat some pulpo.

I stayed in and pretended I was British. The Argentines would probably not have been pleased if they knew, as there is the ever-present tension over The Faulkland Islands (that would be Las Malvinas), the war over which was followed by Argentine victory over England in the 1986 World Cup that included Maradona´s "Hand of God" goal (which was completely illegal, the very fact of which makes them even more gleeful about it.)

Back to being British, if you´ve never read Julian Barnes, he´s lovely:

Anyway... she's asleep, turned away from me on her side. The usual strategems and repositionings have failed to induce narcosis in me, so I decide to settle myself against the soft zigzag of her body. As I move and start to nestle my shin against a calf whose muscles are loosened by sleep, she senses what I'm doing, and without waking reaches up with her left hand and pulls the hair off her shoulders on to the top of her head, leaving me her bare nape to nestle in. Each time she does this I feel a shudder of love at the exactness of this sleeping courtesy.

You think she's really awake when she does it? I suppose it could sound like a conscious courtesy -- an agreeable gesture, but hardly one denoting that love has roots below the gum of consciousness. Still, I can offer you further proof. Her hair falls, you see, to her shoulders. But a few years ago, when they promised us the summer heat would last for months, she had it cut short. Her nape was bare for kissing all day long.

In the dark, she would, with a soft murmur, try to lift the lost hair from the back of her neck.
(from The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters)

Lovely like toasted homemade English muffins with apple lemon curd. You can make English muffins at home, who knew? I do now, as broken ovens and no bread make me a very hungry (=not nice) person. They´re freakin´ delicious, actually, and they make Uncle Thomas or whoever that dude is muffin´s look small, cold and pathetic. Ha, take that spontaneous oven combusting. And, and, if you make apple lemon curd, a recipe I only tried because it was described as "like eating apples and custard" because man what else do I want out of life, you can spread it on your homemade split, toasted, warm English muffin, curl up in your bed, and think of England (so sorry about that one, but it just came out that way.)

English Muffins
 Adapted from the Washington Post, adapted from "Winos and Foodies"

2 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 c. warm water (between 105 and 115ºF)
1/2 c. warm milk
3 c. cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. semolina or cornmeal

In a large mixing bowl, place yeast, sugar and water. After 5 min., add milk and stir. Add 1 c. of the flour and the salt, stir well, and then add the rest of the flour gradually while stirring. The dough will be very sticky, if you need to add a bit more flour to handle the dough then do so. Flour your hands and knead the dough the best you can given how sticky it is (you want the dough to stay soft, don´t add enough flour for it to be easily kneadable), folding, stretching and turning it the best you can. Form the dough into a ball/mass as best you can, cover the bowl with plastic and leave it to double in size, 1-2 hours, or you can let it rise in the fridge overnight (I didn´t do this because I didn´t want to wait until the next day to eat, but leaving dough to rise overnight always seems to improve it, so I´ll definitely refrigerate it overnight in the future).
Sprinkle a baking sheet with the semolina or cornmeal. Flour your counter and your hands, and turn the risen dough out onto the counter. Roll out into a thick rope, and then cut it into 10 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then roll it on the baking sheet, coating it with the semolina. The dough balls are going to rest, coated with semolina, on the baking sheet, so separate them as if they were cookies. Cover the balls with a towel and let rise again for 30 min. Heat a griddle or a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Allow to cook on first side for about 10 minutes; you'll notice puffing and the first side getting golden. With tongs, turn onto second side and cook for about the same amount of time. Cover cooked muffins with a clean dish towel to keep warm. Open with a fork or serrated knife, and eat as is or toasted. Keep in an airtight zip-style bag for a couple of days, or freeze for later.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

These Things Matter

We have two new members of the family, and one recently departed one. The little one´s name is Murcielaguita (Little Bat). She like to nip at that very sensitive skin on the back of your upper arms. The upside of the recent temperature dive is the constant necessity of long sleeves. The big one was made by a young Argentinean luthier (I didn´t know that word existed in English either) and has powerful low resonance. Boom. It scared her at first but now the challenge is keeping her off.

Our departed (and much beloved) member of the family would be our oven, whose door exploded the other day when it was opened. Our (now ex-) landlady recently sold the apartment, and the poor guy she sold it to is having everything that she should have replaced over the last year break on him. She had been needing to sell the place, and people here buy properties up front in cash (loans are hard to come by). The whole thing went down pretty quickly. She seems to not have told him, well, anything.

The oven broke when I had some extra pizza dough in the fridge. Guess what? You can cook pizza dough on the stove. Some potentially gross experiments are coming on, that´s for sure. Donuts, too. And even more soups and legumes than I normally eat, as I can´t roast any vegetables or bake any gratins.

Every now and then my brother Max calls me to tell me about his own kitchen experiments with legumes. As far as what he tells me, he keeps making lentils and they keep turning out borderline inedible. The first two times this happened I asked him what went wrong. Both times he left the room while the lentils were cooking, all the water boiled off and they burned to the bottom of the pan. The third time he didn´t have any salt and didn´t think it would make that big of a difference so he just left it out. So...I can´t say I was surprised that they turned out gross. Which is not to say that when I started cooking I didn´t make a whole lot of inedible stuff (or that I don´t still on occasion.)

To quote very liberally from John Cusack in High Fidelity: These things matter. Salt matters. Not burning the crap out of your food matters too. (Books, records, films too. I finally saw-- after seeing posters for it absolutely everywhere for months and months-- The Secret of Their Eyes, the Argentine movie that won the Academy Award this year. I really liked it. I liked how very Argentine it felt-- this movie just couldn´t have been made the same way had it been set in another country-- and I thought it was well done.)

Ok, so. Let's try something else. Chickpeas and greens. Yum. This will take you 10 minutes to make if you already have the chickpeas cooked. So first, the chickpeas. Don't buy them canned, they don't taste nearly as good and they're more expensive. Open a 1-lb. bag of dried chickpeas and soak them in a big bowl of cold water overnight. The next day, boil them in lots of water (give yourself a good 5 in. of water up the side of the pot from the top of the chickpeas) over medium heat for about an hour, until you fish one out and it is tender between your teeth. Don't add salt to this initial boiling as it inhibits the cooking process. Drain the chickpeas, and either use them immediately or freeze them (or use half immediately and freeze the rest). Remember that you haven't added anything to them, so when you use them you will want to add at least some salt. Salt. These things matter. Now, moving on, you have your chickpeas cooked, possibly frozen at this point. You're going to take olive oil, salt, and lemon, and make something delicious with those chickpeas. I use cumin seeds, too, because they taste great with chickpeas, and I use cilantro because I love it and because they somehow have a magical affinity with chard, but these things are flexible. You can use spinach or kale in place of the chard, although spinach will cook much faster than chard, and kale will take a bit longer. And you can use a chopped jalapeño or dried chile instead of red pepper flakes; you want something to give just a bit of heat. But you need the salt, and you need the lemon, and you need the onion and/or garlic, although it´s best with both. Now, go heat up that pan.

Lemony Chickpeas with Greens

2 Tbsp. olive oil

½ med. yellow onion, halved vertically and thinly sliced

pinch red pepper flakes

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tsp. cumin seeds

¼ c. finely chopped cilantro

½ large bunch swiss chard


1½ c. cooked chickpeas

juice of ½ lemon

Place a skillet over medium heat, then add your olive oil and let it heat up for a minute. Throw in the onion, red pepper flakes, garlic and cumin seeds, and cook until the onion is soft, around 6-8 minutes, stirring every minute or so. While the onion is cooking, rip or cut the leaves off the stalks of the chard. You can either toss the stalks or use them later-- stuck under the broiler with olive oil and parmesan, for example. Roll the leaves up in a bundle and chop them into pieces 1 to 2 inches wide. Stick the leaves in a colander and wash well, shaking the colander to get rid of the excess water. Throw the cilantro in with the onion, and let cook for another couple of minutes, stirring well. Throw in the chard and a big pinch of salt, and stir while the chard wilts in the heat. (If you cooked your chickpeas without salt, make the chard just a bit too salty for your taste. It will be perfect once you add in the chickpeas. If your chickpeas already have salt added, go a bit easier on the chard; you can always add more salt at the end if you find it lacking.) Once the leaves have wilted down (after a couple of minutes), stir well, and add in your chickpeas. If they are in a frozen block, add an extra splash of water to the pan with the chickpeas (you don´t want anything to start burning, add splashes of water as necessary) and turn up the heat so the chickpeas defrost, stirring every now and them. When the chickpeas are heated through, squeeze in the juice of 1/2 a lemon and take them off the heat. If they taste a bit boring, add more lemon and a bit more salt-- it will make the difference between a meh kind of meal and a really tasty one. Serve hot with rice, and they will be even better reheated the next day for lunch.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sin Querer Ofender

Colombia´s run-off elections were Sunday, as was the Brazil-Ivory Coast world cup match (which, incidentally-- Ivory Coast in Spanish= Costa de Marfil. Marfil? I did not see that one coming) They put up a huge screen downtown in Plaza San Martin. We sat on the sloping hill and watched the very pro-Brazil crowd laugh at the ridiculous referee calls and at the commentary regarding an injured Brazilian player with a very funny last name [Se cuela Elano! Elano gets through! Se acabó para Elano! It´s over for Elano! (Elano=el ano=the anus)]. The masses left happy, we left cold and hungry, and came home to election news from Colombia that made everyone I know extremely unhappy. (Not unlike our own 2004 election, where obviously millions of people voted for the winning candidate, but I fail to know any of them.) Spirits deflated, we made lentils and lemon rice and spinach for a very late lunch/dinner, and then decided to go out and get some work done in a coffee shop.

Which explains why I found myself later that night unwillingly watching two couples shamelessly make out in public in the way only Argentines seem to be capable. When my sister was here with me she would always say in reaction, Oh my god, they really can´t contain themselves until they get home? How far could they possibly be from their houses? And then we realized that, well, they may be around the corner from their houses, but the problem is that if they´re under 30 it´s quite likely their parents live there too. As in many other countries, people here live with their parents until much later than Americans typically do. This also helps explain the proliferation of telos, hourly hotels, that can be found hidden in plain sight all over the city. Does the parking garage door of the apartment building next to you have florescent backlighting? If you´re in Buenos Aires, it´s probably a telo.

Lemon rice, which is really lemon peanut rice, sounds really weird but is awesome. My friend Ada made it back in college-- we used to get together and make Indian food, and her sister Ettie would always make some amazing dessert. Awhile ago I asked Ada to send me the recipe, and have been making it for rice-obsessed Colombians ever since, who give their whole-hearted approval. They are a tough bunch to please when it comes to rice [don´t even get them started about risotto, or arroz mojado (wet rice) as they like to call it, making 2004 election-worthy faces], not unlike my cousins of Persian descent. I like risotto, but I´ve learned to leave it well enough alone around people for whom rice is like a religion. And I of course would never want to be uncouth.

Lemon Peanut Rice

2 c. plain cooked white rice (Start with scant 1 c. uncooked- Basmati is lovely but you can use medium grain as well. I briefly saute med. grain rice in a teaspoon of oil, then add 2 c. of water and 1 tsp. salt. Cook on low heat until the water is absorbed, then spread out on a plate to cool. But I bet you could use leftover takeout rice too.)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
½ tsp. mustard seeds (preferably black, but you can use yellow as well)
¼ c. peanuts- if they are already salted, you probably won´t have to add any additional salt to the rice
2 tsp. finely minced/grated ginger
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
juice of ½ a lemon

Notes: if you have split gram beans, you can add a tsp. or two for seasoning, and if you have access to kari leaves, use a whole handful in place of the bay leaves. Kari leaves are delicious but I have never seen them in Argentina.

In a wide pan, heat the oil over med. heat. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and cover immediately. When the mustard seeds stop sputtering, add the peanuts and stir, cooking, until lightly colored but not burnt (be careful as peanuts, like all nuts, can burn really quickly). Reduce the heat and add the ginger and garlic. Cook for a minute or two, stirring, and then add in the rest of the ingredients except for the lemon juice. Add a tablespoon or two of water to the mixture and cook, stirring everything together, until heated through. Taste for salt, stir in the lemon juice, and taste again.

Arroz con Limón y Maní

2 tazas de arroz blanco cocido
1 cucharada de aceite vegetal (me gusta girasol)
½ cucharita de semillas de mostaza (las negras son preferibles pero se puede usar las amarillas también)
¼ taza de maní-- si ya vienen con sal es muy probable que no vas a tener que agregar sal adicional al arroz
2 tsp. jengibre rallado chiquito
1 diente de ajo, picado chiquito
1 cucharita de azúcar
½ cucharita de curcuma
½ cucharita de pimienta picante
2 hojas de laurel
jugo de ½ limón

Nota adicional: si tenes acceso a hojas de kari son deliciosas aquí en vez de las hojas de laurel (echa un puñado grande de ellas) pero no las he visto nunca en Sudamerica. 

En un sarten ancho sobre fuego medio, calienta el aceite. Cuando esté caliente, echale las semillas de mostaza y tapalo inmediatamente. Cuando las semillas de mostaza dejan de hacer ruido, agrega el maní y revuelva, cocinandolo, hasta que esté dorado pero no quemado (ojo que el maní, como todos los nueces, quema muy facilmente). Baja el fuego y echa el jengibre y el ajo. Cocina durante un par de minutos, revolviendo cada tanto y entonces agrega el resto de los ingredientes menos el jugo de limón. Agrega una cucharada o dos de agua a la mezcla y cocina, revolviendo para que todo los ingredientes se incorporen bien, hasta que el arroz esté bien caliente. Fijate que esta bien de sal e incorpora el jugo de limón.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Everyone´s a Machista

The other day a classmate who I don't know very well asked me if I'm dating anyone here. "Yes," I said. -Is he Argentine? "No, he's Colombian." -Is he machista?  "What?" -We always have a bunch of Colombians residents in the hospital, and they are all super machista. Ooh, burn. "No," I said, half-laughing, "he's not, I wouldn't be with him if he was."  -Yeah, I wouldn't have thought you would be with someone like that, she replied.

I frankly think it's a rather strange question to ask someone. What if I had said yes? How would she have replied then? Cool, how's that going for you?

People always talk about intercultural relationships as being difficult, but I actually think it can be easier sorting out the preconceptions that we all have when the other person is from a different culture, as the differences are easier to identify. When someone is from the same culture, we tend to assume they must think about things the same way, and if they don't there is something wrong with them, or that they just "don't get it".

And when I step back and think about it, I know lots of American men who are machista, but it's hidden among jokes and shrugs and off-hand comments about not being interested in housework (as if women love nothing more than cleaning the bathroom), girls being sluts, and bitchy female politicians (Can you imagine anyone it being used for men? Cheney was being really bitchy today.)

Last night we went out and ate Peruvian food, which I am madly in love with; however, at this particular restaurant which we'd never been to before, the waiter barely acknowledged my presence, while being extremely friendly with Felipe. I assumed it was because he liked the fact that Felipe was Colombian (he had asked immediately where we were from as soon as we opened our mouths) but as soon as we left the restaurant, Felipe turned to me and said, Peruvians are super machista.

So there you go. We got machistas en todos lados (everywhere). I have a supposedly machista boyfriend who does more housework than I do (which is not to say that's ok either, I need to get on that) and makes breakfast before I even begin to exist in the morning. None of which is to say that he doesn't have his moments of machismo either, but I also have my moments of knee-jerk feminism (does it really matter who lugs the suitcase up the stairs?) that it's good to be made conscious of as well.

So anyway, a couple of nights ago my Colombian machista of a boyfriend and I made amazing beet and white bean croquettes, one of those things that could have turned out weirdly gross but instead was great. I got the idea from an Ottolenghi recipe (the well-known vegetarian cafe in London, owned by an Israeli and a Palestinean), which I would have had faith in, but then I changed almost everything given what we had in the fridge. Serendipity is what it was, and one I'd like to be able to repeat, so I best write everything down now.

By the way, I love and adore beets. I know a lot of people don't, and I certainly can't blame them if all they've ever eaten are the canned ones from the salad bar at Old Country Buffet. Every week or two during the fall and winter I buy a bunch and roast them in the oven, and they come out infinitely better than the tinny-tasting salad bar ones. I used to work in an Italian restaurant that served a salad with roasted golden beets, and we used to eat them like candy, the Ecuadorian guy who worked the salad station passing us quarters through the plating window. I use whatever beets are available, most often the regular pink ones, though the golden ones are fantastic when you can find them, as are the striped ones. Roasting concentrates their sweetness and their earthiness, and it's the easiest thing in the world to do. Just take a bunch of beets, cut of the stalks an inch above the beet, and wash the beets well. Stick them in an oven dish with a glug of olive oil, roll them around to coat, and then cover the dish. Roast them in an oven preheated to 375º for a good hour, and they should be good to go (stick a fork in the biggest one of the bunch and check if it's tender to see if they're done.) You can burn your hands slipping the skins off, like I do, or you can be smart and wait for them to cool down before peeling and slicing them. Either way, once they're baked, you can keep them in a closed container in the fridge for a good week, and throw them into salads. I especially like them with arugula and hard boiled eggs, although both blue cheese and goat cheese are delicious with them too. Either way, they're infinitely better than winter tomatoes. Sometimes you have to give things a change to surprise you.

Beet-White Bean Croquettes

2 med. cooked beets, grated
1 c. cooked white beans, roughly mashed
grated zest of ½ lemon
1 Tbsp. finely chopped basil (can use mint, parsely, cilantro, etc., and I´m sure you could use quite a bit more if you wanted)
1 Tbsp. peanut butter (or other nut butter)
1 egg
¼ c. flour
pinch ground cumin
pinch salt
freshly ground pepper
sesame seeds
oil (I use a mix of sunflower and olive oil as olive oil burns at a low temperature)
½ c. plain yogurt

Mix all the ingredients except for the sesame seeds, oil, and yogurt together (if the batter seems very liquidy, throw in a bit more flour and a tiny bit more salt.) Film a cast-iron or other heavy skillet with oil and set it over medium heat. When the pan is hot (if you stick a bit of bread in it and it sizzles immediately, it's ready) and about 2 Tbsp. of batter to the pan. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. When the edges start to dry out, flip the croquette. Leave it a couple of minutes on the other side until it's cooked through. Taste your first croquette to see if it needs more salt or cumin (or flour if the texture is still not quite there.) Continue with the rest of the batter-- you should be able to do 2 or 3 at a time in the skillet.
Whisk the yogurt until it's smooth and then add a pinch of salt and pepper.
Serve the croquettes warm, with the yogurt as a sauce on the side.

Beet Arugula Salad

2 roasted beets, peeled, halved and sliced (Not to be a jerk, but do not make this with canned beets. It will taste like canned beets, and, well, why bother.)
2 hard-boiled eggs, halved and sliced
1 packet arugula (a couple of big handfuls), washed and well-dried

For the dressing:
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard (Maille if you have it)
salt, cracked black pepper to taste

Whisk the oil, vinegar and mustard together with a pinch of salt until emulsified (or shake in a jar with the cap on.) Throw the beets, egg, arugula, and dressing together in a bowl and mix carefully (the beets will start to stain everything, which I don´t mind, but you might). Taste for salt and grind a bit of black pepper over everything. Serves 2 as a good side salad with soup and bread for lunch.

Para asar remolachas, quita las ramas, dejando 2 cm. arriba de la remolacha, lavalas bien y echalas a un recipiente con un chorro de aceite de oliva. Tapa el recipiente y hornealas a 190ºC durante una hora.

Croquetas de Remolacha y Blanquillos

2 remolachas medianas asadas, peladas y ralladas
1 taza de blanquillos, medio-machacados
la cascara rallada de medio limón
1 cucharada de albahaca, picada chiquita (podes usar menta, perejil, cilantro, etc., y puedes echar mas hierba si quieres)
1 cucharada de mantequilla de maní (o mantequilla de almendras, cajú o sesamo si lo tenes)
1 huevo
¼ taza de harina (000)
una pizca de comino molido
una pizca de sal
pimienta negra recien molida
sesamo (ajonjoli)
aceite (uso una mezcla de aceite de girasol y aceite de oliva, pues el de oliva quema a temperaturas mas bajas)
½ taza de yogur natural

Echa todos los ingredientes menos el sesamo, el aceite, y el yogur a un bol y mezclalos bien. Si esta muy liquida, echa un poco mas de harina y de sal. Calienta un chorro de aceite en un sarten sobre fuego medio, y cuando el aceite este caliente (si echas un pedacito de pan allí y empieza hacer ruidos, esta), echa por alli 2 cucharadas de la mezcla al aceite. Salpica la superficie de la masa con sesamo. Dejala cocinar hasta que los lados se sequen un poco, y volteala. Sacala cuando ya este cocida por dentro. Prueba tu primera croqueta para ver si hace falta echarle mas sal o comino. Sigue con el resto de la masa-- si usas un sarten de 22 cm. podes ir haciendo 2 o 3 juntos al mismo tiempo.
Mezcla el yogur con una pizquita de sal y de pimienta. Sirve las croquetas con el yogur como salsa al lado.

Ensalada de Remolacha y Rucula

2 remolachas medianas asadas, peladas, partidas por la mitad y cortadas en tajadas (No quiero ser muy pesada ni nada, pero no hagas esta ensalada con remolacha de lata. Va a saber a lata, y no tiene sentido hacerlo.)
2 huevo duros, partidas por la mitad y cortadas en tajadas
un paquete de rucula (quita las raices y las ramas debajo de las hojas), lavada y bien secada

Para el aderezo:
3 Cucharadas de aceite de oliva
1 Cucharada de vinagre de vino rojo
1 cucharita de mostaza dijon (Maille si lo tenes)
sal, pimienta a gusto

Mezcla el aceite, el vinagre, y la mostaza con una pizca de sal hasta que emulsione (o agitalos en un tarrito con la tapa cerrada.) Echa la remolacha, el huevo, la rucula y la salsa a un bol y mezcla con cuidado (las remolachas empiezan a manchar todo, que no me molesta a mi, pero de pronto a ti si). Prueba como esta de sal y muele un toque de pimienta negra encima. Suficiente para 2 como ensalada de buen tamaño con sopa y pan para el almuerzo.