Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Recipes from Argentina

Recipes from Argentina
This week I am thankful for simple recipes, and for other bloggers.

We're hosting Thanksgiving again this year, so I guess I don't have to tell you that I have a million things to do before tomorrow. So what I really needed was either a week off from blogging or a some really, really simple, easy-to-find recipes.

As luck would have it, my next country is a nation of 40 million people who appreciate food. Argentina is the biggest Spanish-speaking country in the world (by land area) and the third-largest economy in Latin America. It was also one of the founding members of the United Nations. Here it is on the map:

Argentina: the largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world.

(Notice the light green areas there on our old friend Antarctica? Argentina once had land claims in Antarctica, which were suspended by the Antarctic Treaty of 1961.)

In addition to being a major economy in South America, Argentina is also considered a major world economy. Much of its prosperity comes from agriculture (the tallgrass prairie ecosystem in central Argentina, known as the humid pampas, is considered one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the world). Seven percent of the population works in agriculture, and more than half of Argentine exports consist of processed and unprocessed agricultural products such as soybeans, wheat, flour and maize.

As far as cuisine goes, Argentina is probably best known for its beef. Which brings us to our first recipe:

Steak with Chimichurri

For the steak:
  • 1 1/2 lbs flank steak
  • 2 tbsp olive
  • Salt and pepper

For the Chimichurri:

  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 2  cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes*
  • 1/4 extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Chimichurri is often (if not always) served with beef and other kinds of meats, making it one of the most popular condiments in the country.

Argentinians, or so I'm told, enjoy potatoes with their steak (just like we do here in the USA), but I had a hard time finding a recipe that was interesting. Most of the recipes I found (when I found them) were just basic potato recipes similar to what I prepare all the time throughout the year. I finally settled on one that was a little bit different, and though I found it on a Spanish-language website called "Recipes of Argentina," I guess I can't really vouch for how traditional or how widely-ejoyed it actually is. Here it is:

Potatoes with Basil
(from The Perfect Pantry)
  • 1 1/2 lbs baby potatoes
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 8 leaves basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

There was a third recipe that I couldn't resist: Provoleta, which is basically just a grilled slice of provolone cheese topped with herbs and spices. Even though I really didn't need to complicate things this week, I had to do this recipe ... because, you know, cheese.

  • 1 1-inch thick slice provolone cheese
  • Chopped fresh oregano, to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes*
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half

And finally, you can't take a culinary trip to Argentina without dulce de leche. What the heck is that? It's a sweetened, condensed milk that is a part of pretty much every popular dessert eaten in the country. Of course, it takes several hours to make dulce de leche, so I gave myself a pass on doing that (given that it's Thanksgiving week) and I bought it in a can. In my defense, Argentinians don't seem to have anything against dulce de leche from a can.

Here's the recipe I made with my canned dulce de leche:

Milhojas de Dulce de Leche (Dulce de Leche Napoleans)
  • One package puff pastry, thawed 
  • 1 cup dulce de leche
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

*A note about the red pepper flakes used in these recipes: Argentinians use a mild red pepper flake called Aji Molido, which is difficult to find in the US. Argentinian food is typically not spicy, so using a typical US red pepper flake is technically not authentic.

Now before I go any further, I have someone to thank: Rebecca Caro, who blogs at From Argentina with Love. Rebecca's website has hundreds of Argentine recipes, and her blog saved me loads of time by by providing three of the four recipes I used this week: the chimichurri sauce, the provoleta, and the Napoleons.

I began the meal with the potatoes, which have to be roasted and take the most time to prepare. I didn't have baby potatoes, so I just used thick slices.

First melt the butter in a dutch oven. Note: the recipe calls for a TON of butter. I halved mine and it was still a lot of butter.

Now saute the potatoes in the butter, adding salt and pepper, until they begin to brown.

Saute the potatoes in butter.

Then add the garlic and cook for a few seconds, until fragrant. Then move the dutch oven into your oven, preheated to about 350 degrees.

While the potatoes are roasting, move on to the chimichurri.

Chimichurri ingredients (oops, the olive oil isn't in this picture).

Chimichurri is pretty simple. Just finely chop the herbs, mince the garlic, and whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl (I used about half the oregano the recipe called for--oregano is a strong flavor and I thought it would be overwhelming to use that much of it).

My chimichurri is probably a little too watery, because I left out some of the oregano.

Now brush the steak with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over a medium flame until the internal temperature reaches about 140 degrees (the meat will continue to cook a little after you take it off the fire, which will give you a medium rare steak).

The flank steak is simply seasoned with salt and pepper.

To serve the flank steak, cut into thin strips and spoon some of the chimichurri sauce over.

At this point you can check the potatoes. They are done when the insides are soft (just prick with a fork to check). When they are finished, toss with the chopped basil.

Toss the potatoes with chopped basil.

While the meat is resting, you can do the provoleta. Now, this can be a bit tricky when it's just you and four kids at home (Martin was working late). I ended up serving the appetizer with the meal, which meant preparing plates ahead of time, keeping them warm and trying to get everything on the table at the same time, before the provoleta got cold. I was only marginally successful.

The provoleta is also pretty simple. Rebecca from From Argentina with Love has suggestions on how to toast the bread under a broiler (rub with the cut piece of garlic, paint with olive and brown under the broiler). I didn't do any of that, because I was in a hurry. So I stopped at just slicing the bread, and compromised by rubbing the cheese slices with the garlic.

Now heat a cast-iron skillet over very high heat (I used non-stick and it worked just fine) and put the cheese in it. Sprinkle with half the oregano and red pepper flakes and cook until the cheese begins to melt and you can see some brown around the bottom edges. Now carefully flip the cheese (that's the tricky part). Make sure you get all the crispy brown bits, because they are the best part. Sprinkle with the remaining oregano and red pepper and continue to grill until you see those brown edges again. Remove from the pan and serve immediately.

Grilled provolone cheese with pepper flakes and oregano. Yum!

By the way, you will set off the smoke detector when you make this.

Finally, the dessert, which was blissfully simple (when you don't have to make the dulce de leche from scratch). Here's how:

Unfold the puff pastry and slice into thirds, along the fold lines. Then slice each third in two so you have six rectangles. Repeat with the other piece of pastry. Then put the rectangles on a wax-paper lined baking sheet, leaving about one inch between pieces. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until pastry puffs up and turns a golden color. Remove and let cool.

Puff pastry ... what could be easier?

Now cut the tops off of each piece of pastry, so the two halves are about equal in size. Make a pile of top halves and a pile of bottom halves. Start by spreading dulce de leche on one of the bottom halves. Then cover with a second bottom half, and spread that one with dulce de leche.

Now top with one of the top halves. Repeat until you've used up all the bottom halves (you'll have several top halves left over). Now dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Three layers of pastry, two layers of dulce de leche.

 Note: the recipe says to use a "generous" amount of dulce de leche, but I found it overwhelming. If I make these again I'll probably use half as much.

This meal was a huge hit with Dylan, though I didn't bother to offer him the chimicurri sauce. He was perfectly happy just with the steak. He ate the potatoes and the cheese, too. Hailey enjoyed the potatoes, Natalie didn't eat anything and Henry ate it all. Martin, when he finally got home, ate his entire meal almost without a word and then said, "They eat well in Argentina."

My poor kids didn't get to try the Napoleons. I really didn't want to deal with a sugar high right before bedtime, so I saved them for me and Martin. Like I said, the liberal amount of dulce de leche I used was pretty overwhelming, but they were still good--though I have to admit eating a whole one made me feel a little off. Way too much richness.

By the way, in case you are a fan of self-inflicted pain, here is the recipe for dulce de leche from scratch (this one comes from Alton Brown):

Dulce de leche
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split scraped (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Put the milk, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds in a large pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the baking soda and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally. If any foam appears on the surface, don't try to mix it in.

After 1 hour, remove the vanilla bean. Keep cooking until the mixture is a dark caramel color, which will probably take about an hour and a half to two hours. You should have about a cup of mixture.

Strain the mixture through an fine mesh sieve and place in the refrigerator.

And that's Argentina! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Next week: Armenia.


  1. Good post! Very accurate, you did your homework searching about our food.
    I want to let you know that the link to your blog at is not working.
    Also a little comment about the hot pepper flakes: In Argentina we use ones call Aji Molido, that are not spicy but very flavourful. The majority of Argentines can't tolerate spicy food. (I'm an exception, I love it).
    I would like to recommend a wonderful cookbook call Seven Fires by Francis Mallmann (Amazon has it).
    Have fun with your blog. You are doing a great job!

  2. Buon viaggio, thank you so much for your comments! Glad to hear I got it right, I do a lot of research but I always worry a little about inaccuracies so I am always open to comments and to making corrections if needed. It's great to hear from the people who actually live and eat in the countries I write about!

    Thank you also for the note about the red pepper flakes ... I'll fix that recipe so it's a little more accurate. As you may know, "red pepper flakes" here in the US are always the spicy ones.

    Sadly, doesn't let me link directly to my blog, so I have to settle for just listing the name and hoping readers will Google me.

    And I will check out that book ... I always love to add to my cookbook library!

  3. bellissimo blog - saluti da MILANO-ITALIA



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