argentina

Alfajores de Maicena

 

Alfajores are so many things to me that really I need a whole other post to bang on about it. Maybe one day I’ll find the words and write it, but for now all you need to know is that these innocent looking biscuits are, well, not so innocent. They’re close to my heart. We have history. It’s a long story.

They’re made with love and all cliches aside, I swear it’s the ultimate secret ingredient.

Note: this recipe makes Argentinean (speficially, Mendozan) alfajores. Other provinces of Argentina have slightly different variations, as do Chile and Peru. They’re all delicious.

alfajores

Make a meal of it:

200g butter, softened
200g plain flour
300g corn flour (this is the ‘maicena’ part)
1/2 tsp bicarb
2 tsp baking powder
150g caster sugar
3 yolks
1 glug cognac, or whatever’s handy. Rum works fine.
1-2 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsp lemon rind, grated
Dash of milk
Dulce de leche and shreded coconut, for filling.

  • Combine the wet ingredients, including butter, and add to the dry.
  • Mix and knead everything into a firm dough – usually I have to add a dash or two of milk to get the right consistency – but be careful because too sticky and they’ll be impossible to roll.
  • Refrigerate the slab of biscuit dough for 15 minutes or so, then take handfuls and flatten with a rolling pin until about 3mm thick.
  • Cut into circles using a wine or champagne class.
  • Bake till cooked, but not quite golden-brown. Alfajores have a very unique texture (which is what makes them lovely) and if you make them too crisp then they’ll just break when you try to sandwich them together. Don’t panic if they seem a little soft still, after they cool down they tend to crisp up more than you’d expect. I never understood chemistry but the melt-in-your-mouth thing must not be messed with!
  • Once cool, sandwich them oreo-style with dulce de leche and roll in shredded coconut.
  • Like most biscuits, they’re best when left in a tin overnight first.

alfajoresmaicena

Chimichurri

 

Ok, here’s the thing about chimichurri: everyone has an opinion, everyone has a preference, everyone thinks they know ‘authentic’ better than the next yanqui, and absolutely eeerrrybody has time for it. The authors over at Asado Argentina set a few things straight about all the fuss and the myths surrounding this magical green (and sometimes not green) sauce, and I applaud them for doing so. I mean shit, nobody can even decide if it’s a gaucho thing, an Italian immigrant thing, or if it’s from the Basque word “tximitxurri”: a mixture of several things in no particular order. I’m banking on a mix of all three.

What follows is how I like my chimichurri: chopped, not blended; parsley, not coriander; boozy, spicy, and onion-and-tomato-free. I’m not going to tell you it’s the best, or the most traditional, or that I should know because I’ve attended my fair share of weekend asados. All I will say is it went down pretty well at a barbeque the other day despite my mistakenly telling a house full of Brazilans that the sauce is from Argentina, circa World Cup finals week.

giphy-1

Oops.

Also, we discovered that the stuff goes even better with kangaroo than it does with beef… ‘straya mate!

chimichurri

Make a meal of it:

Note: I didn’t write down the quantities of everything, mainly because I was too busy chopping and mixing and taste-testing, but also because you just need to test it yourself till it tastes ‘right’. You basically can’t go wrong, as any combination of the main ingredients is going to end up pretty damn tasty anyway.

Roughly:
2 large bunches parsley, finely chopped.
2 tbsp dried oregano, plus a handful of fresh oregano, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp paprika
3 tsp dried chili flakes
Juice of 3/4 lemon
A few shakes of pepper
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Olive oil and red wine to make it saucy

Start with the parsley, oregano, oil, chili, and garlic to form the base of the sauce, then add the other ingredients to your liking. Personally I think the texture of chimi is part of the appeal, so I won’t blend it, and tomatoes & onions should be saved for the salsa criolla, I think – but each to their own. I really do think the bolognese rule applies here and wine makes all the diference. Make a big batch before a barbeque and freeze individual portions in sandwich bags to jazz up those boring steak and salad weeknights.

 

Dulce de Leche

Dulce de leche.

Doce de leite.

Spanish Caramel.

…Milk Jam, anyone?

dulcedeleche

So, Argentina made the World Cup final and I made dulce de leche to celebrate. As if you even need an excuse for something as brilliant as dulce de leche but hell, the restaurant’s opening at 3am for the game and I’ma need something to jolt my sleepy brain into bilingual bartender mode. For the uninitiated, it’s like caramel but so. much. better. Dulce de leche on a banana is the ultimate combination, but you can use it for topping on just about anything, as a cake filler, or for alfajores. I know I’ll be spooning the leftovers into my porridge, too. Just don’t tell anyone.

This is a very basic recipe and it won’t yield dulce de leche quite as good as the stuff in Argentina but it’s close enough, really. I make it in a batch and what I don’t use in alfajores gets given to friends or kept in a jar in the fridge. For reasons.

Make a meal of it:

3 cans condensed milk (okay, who are we kidding? Two and a half cans.)
2 pinches salt flakes
1 tsp vanilla essence

Bain-marie that bad boy, taking it out to whisk every 20 minutes or so until it turns roughly the colour in the picture. I use a pyrex dish inside a deepish baking tray with some foil over the top. Obviously, longer baking = thicker dulce de leche.  It’ll come out gluggy and lumpy and strange, but just keep whisking and you’ll end up with smooth, sweet deliciousness. I know it all sounds very vague, but you just have to trust this one. It really is that simple.

Piropos Porteños

Working in an Argentinian restaurant is pretty much a dream come true for me – I get to run around serving people empanadas and introducing them to the wonders of dulce de leche, while chatting to inquisitive customers about Argentina, occasionally practicing my Spanish… and they even pay me to do it! 

Between the restaurant, skyping my sisters in San Rafael, and Argentina’s so-far-successful World Cup campaign, it seems like I can’t ignore the signs and I’m getting really itchy to head back over there. For now though, I just have memories to go by. There are so many and I could write about a million scenes – but here are a handful of piropos (pick-up-lines) I received when falling in love with Buenos Aires. For me, part of the appeal is the city’s grime and sleaze – but piropos are less about harassment than they are about wit, humour, and flattery. Culturally speaking they’re worlds apart from your average truck driver’s honk.

l1030507

Piropos Porteños

Tuesday. Abasto to Palermo, 11p.m.

Lavalle Street. Three balding men slouch into green folding chairs, forming a triangle as they set up camp for the evening in an empty parking space. One of the men tops up the others’ glasses with scotch. On a milk crate sits a shabby transistor radio which boradcasts a metallic, crackling commentary of a football game audible from several metres away. “Hey, redhead! If you played with my balls we could reach the World Cup.”

Santa Fé Avenue. A dark and muscular young man stands in a brightly lit, marbled alcove. He pushes the apartment’s intercom repeatedly and swears in frustration. Fully aware he is being observed, the man casually leans his shoulder blades into the marble and crosses one denim-clad leg in front of the other. His eyes rest on the strappy dancing shoes swinging from her hand, which prompt him to growl a famous tango out of tune: “If she forgets me/I wouldn’t care if I lost my life a thousand times/For why would I live?” He steps onto the footpath, blackened and polka dotted with discarded chewing gum. Loud comments reverberate off the concrete. “You’ve killed me, angel! I am dead at your dancing feet! Now can I take you to heaven?”

Wednesday. Barrio Norte to Recoleta, 11a.m.

Corner of Anchorena and Arrenales. An elderly man perches on a faded blue bucket, lit cigarette in hand. He wears a frayed, yellowing singlet and tweed trousers which are worn at the knee. The man’s brogues, however, are impeccably smooth and polished to a near-reflective shine. Beside him on the cracked bitumen is a collection of brushes, mottled rags, and dented tins of shoe polish. “Señorita, why don’t you bring those cute little cheeks over here, and let me take a look at your leather?”

Juncal Street. A rake thin teenager weaves between taxis, his orange scooter spluttering tufts of smoke into the already foul air. With an air of easy arrogance, he throws a u-turn across the narrow, one-way street. The driver of a beaten-up Fiat swerves and only just misses him, raising both hands in a universal gesture of angry disbelief. The boy on the scooter is obviously shaken, but feigns a cool demeanour and rides onto the footpath. “I’d better accompany you home, princesita, because you’re going to cause an accident.”

Pueyrredón Avenue. A group of thirty-somethings in mint green hospital scrubs are seated outside a cafe. They sip diet coke under white umbrellas, the cans leaving rings of perspiration on the table. Some have their faces turned towards mobile phones, while others watch customers entering parisian-style bakeries across the avenue. One elbows his colleague, who then draws the attention of the rest of the group. They begin a slow clap, the pace gradually quickening until they have risen out of their seats, cheering. “Aplauso for the lady in shorts! Today the hospital will fill with broken hearts!”

L1030732

***

Maybe I’ll dig up some more creative writing soon, who knows!

What do you think of piropos? Personally, I find them more playful than offensive, but I know others feel threatened and I am seriously offended when I receive similar treatment back here in Adelaide. I’d love to hear your two centavos!