I present guest contributor, Susan Taylor –offering her take on Argentinian Cuisine. Yum!
When you want to try another country’s cuisine, it’s usually pretty easy to choose one dish that represents a nation’s traditions. For Italy, you might have an insalata caprese. Japan offers sushi. For Spain, it’s paella de mariscos. But when you want to sample traditional Argentinean cuisine, you really need to go all out, and not make just one dish, but host an entire party the way the Argentineans do. It’s called an asado, which loosely translates to barbecue, and you don’t even need to learn Spanish to pull it off successfully. Once you do, though, you’ll never look at grilled meat the same way again.
You’ll need a good-sized grill as it’s integral to several components of the meal, and because a traditional asado uses several kinds of meat. For the first course, start with provoleta, or grilled provolone cheese. Use thick slices of provolone, drizzle them with olive oil, press herbs and red pepper flakes into the cheese and then yes, as the name suggests, the cheese goes right on the grill. It takes some practice because if it’s not done well, the cheese can simply melt through the grating and right onto the coals, making a big, gooey mess. If that’s too intimidating, you can start off with a picada, which is a plate of meats and cheeses. Be sure to include a good chorizo, and a hard cheese like manchego.
Next, grill the meat. Unlike many grilled meat recipes, an asado only calls for a sprinkling of sea salt on the meat—nothing more. No marinade, no herbs, no oil. The appeal is in the flavor of the meat itself. You can use flank steak, chicken pieces, sausages, sirloin tip, brisket—the list goes on. Sear the meat over hot coals first, then move to a cooler part of the grill to slowly cook it through.
Once the meat is thoroughly cooked, remove it to platters to cool to room temperature for serving. While the meat cools, use the still-hot grill to prepare several vegetables such as mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and zucchini. The vegetables should be sliced into chunks, or can be placed on skewers, if you prefer. Drizzle them with olive oil, and add herbs and seasonings to taste. Grill them until they’re tender.
Before your guests arrive, prepare a simple salad to go with the meal. To keep it in line with a traditional Argentinian asado, limit it to lettuce, tomato, and onion with a simple vinegar and oil dressing. Of course, you can add other vegetables, if you like. Avocado is a good way to punch up a plain salad. Along with the salad, a crusty bread should accompany the meal.
While the meat is the most important part of the asado, there’s an equally important ingredient that cannot be excluded—a chimichurri sauce. It’s the traditional Argentinian accompaniment to the meat, and part of the reason the meat is prepared so plainly. It’s easy to make, and is the star of the asado, so don’t forget to serve it with the meat. It can be prepared a couple of hours ahead of time so the flavors have time to blend.
- 1 cup fresh Italian parsley, packed
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, packed
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Puree all the ingredients in a food processor. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Be sure to use a glass or ceramic bowl not metal. Vinegar and metal don’t react well to each other, and it will ruin the sauce. Cover it, and let it stand at room temperature until you’re ready to serve it. To serve, simply spoon it over the meat, and then use the crusty bread to soak up any leftovers on the plate. Chimichurri sauce is so delicious, you won’t want to leave any behind!
A traditional asado calls for fresh fruit as a dessert, but it’s okay to stray a little here, perhaps with a rich caramel flan custard. The best part of an asado is the social aspect. For this much food, you definitely want to invite a group. Add some Argentinian music, and maybe even some dancing, and your friends may want you to make it a regular event. ¡Buen provecho!
Susan Taylor is a freelance writer who loves traveling, eating good food, and curling up with a good book.