The Quest for Culinary Serenity, the Battle and How I Prevailed

Posted by on Feb 21, 2011 in Tales From a Faraway Land | 0 comments

Victory belongs to the most persevering
    Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821)

It has been over 2 years of constant seeking to reach this moment. I have searched hundreds of little Chinos (Chinese run grocery stores), dozens of big box supermarkets (Coto, Disco, Jumbo,) and countless little fruit stands run by Bolivians, Peruvians, and Paraguayans…all in the name of procuring the perfect ingredients, to enable me to create the perfect home cooked meal here in Argentina.

And my friends…this day, i have succeeded.

Why Such a Challenge?

Its not that this is the greatest meal I have ever had. Neither is it that I feel that the local cuisine is somehow inferior or not good enough to satisfy much snobbish tastes…its simply that one particular meal that I enjoy greatly, that of rice & beans, with a melt the enamel off your teeth spicy salsa, guacamole, and fresh flour tortillas, has proved to be most difficult to reproduce here.

However, I will not allow myself to be defeated by my adoptive homeland, even as others have been in the past. So thus began my quest to somehow, recreate something that was totally foreign to this land, and be able to make it, on an economic level, and easily enough that it could be done on a regular basis at home. 

Guacamole – Green-Goo has Never Tasted so Good

In a culinary sense, I am in many ways in heaven in Buenos Aires. One of them is because of the ample supply of fresh, delicious Avocados (Or Palta as they are known here). I mostly consume them in raw form on top of just about anything I can think of: Pasta, Lentils, Sandwiches, Eggs, etc…This is a carry over from back home where I never find it necessary to transform this perfectly formed produce into something else.

However only recently did I decide it was worth the effort to concoct the entrancing green-goo known as Guacamole. The ingredient list is not that hard to come by here. Avacados are everywhere, cheap, fresh, and ready to go. Garlic, in a country where 70% of the population have Italian ancestry…ya again not a problem. And finally

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Limes…ya about that.

Limes pose a slight challenge. They are not quite as commonly employed in everyday cooking here as they are the Los Estados. Therefore finding them, at times is a bit challenging. This is only made more difficult when locals sometimes refuse to admit that there is a difference between the two.

For example, when ordering a Corona, if you ask for a slice of lime in it, the staff will always, no matter how clear you make it that you want a lime, and not a lemon, you will still be brought a beautiful, sweating bottle of Corona…with a huge Lemon sticking out of it!

Another common problem is that there seems to be no consensus about what the exact name is for them in Spanish. Sometimes you need to use “Limon” or “Limon Verde” (Green) and just hope they bring you the green ones. Other times the go by “Caipirinha” which is the name of a popular drink in Brazil that is made with sugar, cachaça (alcohol made from sugar cane) ice and limes. I even one time was told that they are called  “Limas” by a small Bolivian woman at her little fruit stand.

But like I said, with a decent effort, you can find them without to much trouble.

*Apparently, Argentina is one of largest producers of limes in the world…Strange since limes here cost a good chunk of change…

Tortillas – Like Your Favorite Security-Blanket Food

Its hard to imagine “Latin” food in the United States without these beautiful little things.  But after you actually look at the different cuisines of Latin American, you discover real fast that these are very Mexican, and that’s it.

Back home I use these guys for just about everything that you do with bread (save for Peanut Butter & Jelly…that would be kind of gross). My favorite is making breakfast burritos with eggs, fresh Mozzarella, and homemade salsa.

My search for these lovely concoctions of flour and water proved initially to be a most daunting challenge. After falsely assuming that I could find them at the larger grocery stores, I finally discovered them for the first time in the wondrous, “exotic-food” Meca that is China-Town. This first batch was amazing because most remarkably they were homemade and packed by a local firm. Along with my service/shopping buddy for the day Gilda, we found them by complete accident. Because as is the custom of Argentine markets (and even more pronounced in China-Town) things are sorted and grouped together rather haphazardly throughout the store, we encountered the tortillas under the refrigerated case that held ready-made Sushi.

After loading up at the market (nothing like carrying 60 tortillas in your service bag while doing 6 hours of service under the hot Buenos Aires sun), I started to notice that the more common markets also had tortillas after all. Termed “Rapiditas” I have now found a few markets that carry them regularly.
(Dont even try though to find ones made from corn…That technology simply does not exist here…save for the one little Mexican lady who will make them for you fresh and deliver them to you through her website…)

Refried Beans – The Tastiest Black Mush on Earth

Now many of you know me as something of a cook. So you might surprised that of all of the things that are within my culinary arsenal, you might be surprised that one thing that has never been included therein, are refried beans.

Lets be honest, the name itself does not inspire the healthiest imagine in my mind. For that reason I have historically tried to avoid them. But after looking into i realized that despite being termed misleadingly in English Re-Fired beans, they are only fried once, and if you use a healthy oil (like olive) they are not so bad.

So to build this “element” I first needed to find me some black bean. Thats not to hard, the big Jumbo has them, as do the larger Cotos, and Discos, and of course China-Town. I even managed once to find a can of “Cheater” re-fried beans at the big Coto. However not only as they of inferior quality than the homemade ones, but they also carry a hefty-price tag of 18 pesos ($4.50 US) a can.

So like many things that I now know how to prepare, my quest to make this “element” began with me really quickly asking someone how to make them. “Ya do this, do that, blah blah, blah…and you will have your refired beans” a friend told me. Being the occasionally cocksure, audacious person that I am, I went ahead with the aforementioned directions in my head as sufficient for making this dish.

My first attempt succeeded in leaving me with a mush of white crunchy paste, and black bean skins completely separated in a bowl. Not exactly the outcome I had expected.

After some more coaching from “Mamma Grizel” (Thanks for that by the way) I decided to try my hand at it again. And this time after a few key strategic changes, I managed to achieve that which I was seeking.

That first batch was the best black mush I have ever had…

Salsa Picante – In Search of Burning Bliss

Most of the difficulty involves acquiring chili peppers with sufficient hotness to excite my severely desensitized spice/pain receptors in my mouth.  

“Im sure they must have something spicy here…” When that statement was first uttered during the first visit to Argentina by a naive Dominick, little did he know how it would take 2 years of hard work to find sought after spice.

In the End…Culinary Bliss of the Finest Order

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