Saturday, June 30, 2007


Tamal is a generic name given to various indigenous latin american dishes generally made with corn flour.
Originally from Mexico, this preparation is now distributed throughout Central America and the Andean region of South America where corn is a large part of the diet. They basically consist of a paste of corn cooked rolled in banana leaves or corn husks. Mexico has the greatest variety with each state having several distinctive types. Although tamales are are found in many countries in Latin America they are thought to date back to prehispanic mesoamerian cultures in what is now Mexico. The name tamal comes from the náhuel word tamalli, which means wrapped.

In Colombia, Ecuador and other Andean nations tamales are a dish similarly made with a dough of cooked corn which surrounds a filling made with pork or chicken accompanied by onion, peas, boiled eggs, sultanas and other ingredients that vary depending on region and family traditions.
One legend say that corn was born when the sun formed grains of gold that fell on the ground: thus they are a symbol of good luck. With corn, the people prepare meals to give thanks for the season and the husks foretell happiness for the children, fertility, and abundance in the kitchen.

Salteñan tamales are traditionally made with the meat from the head of a pig but you can use whatever is available including the same meat that is inside empanadas or jerky. Due to the labour involved in getting the flesh of the head many tamales you buy in stores use other meats. The meat is lovely and rich but not super healthy due to the high fat content. It did give us an opportunity for gratuitous ingredient shots though!

Salteñan Tamales

Half a pig´s head.
1 large onion
1 large potato
200g pork fat
3 eggs
spring onions (green part only)
Pimenton (Sweet Paprika), to taste
Cumin, to taste
course ground chilli, to taste
Dried corn husk leaves

500g Cornmeal for tamales (finer than standard polenta)
100g pork lard
stock as required

First the pig's head must be boiled with a carrot, a capsicum, an onion, bay leaves, and garlic until it is cooked. The cooking time varies depending on the size. Once cooked leave to cool. The cooking liquid makes a rich stock for use in the dough or other dishes. When cool remove the meat from under the skin and outer fat and cut into small pieces.
Separately cut the onion into small dice and saute in the lard until transparent. Add the chopped meat and leave to cook a few minutes, season with pimenton, cumin, chili and salt if required. Cook a further 2 minutes then remove from heat.
The potato is prepared in the same fashion as for empanadas. First cut into small cubes then boil in a small amount of water until tender and then mix with the rest of the mixture.
Boil the eggs and mash with a fork. Cut the spring onion finely and set aside.
Pour filling into a broad dish and cover with mashed egg, the spring onion and leave to cool.
In a bowl combine cornmeal, a pinch of salt and pimentón to give color. Add the lard (melted) and stock as required to form a thick, firm dough.

To form the tamales:
Soften the dried husks in hot water. Select one large or two smaller husks. Moisten the palm of your hand. Place a ball of the dough on your hand and flatten into a disk that covers your palm. In the centre place a spoonful of filling and close the dough disk around it to form a sphere. Place on the husk and roll into a parcel and close both ends firmly with "strings" formed from tearing strips of husk.

Boil in a covered pan with a small amount of water (as for humitas) for about 35 minutes.

Friday, June 29, 2007


Empanadillas are the sister of empanadas in the patisserie. In the north of Argentina they are usually filled with Dulce de Cayote, a jam made from a large round gourd, mixed with walnuts. The pastry uses egg yolks and the finished product are glazed with a egg white icing. None ever go to waste...!

300g flour
3 egg yolks
100mL water
a pinch of salt

your choice of jam: cayote, quince paste or sweet potato paste (dulce de batata)

Glaze (meringue):
3 egg whites
200g ultra fine or icing sugar

Make pastry combining all ingredients in a bowl. Knead lightly to combine only. Roll out to 2-3mm and cut circles 4cm diameter (number 5 cutter).
Place a spoonful of Dulce on wrapper and seal into a hemisphere. mark edges with the tongs of a fork.
Bake in a hot oven until lightly browned (10 mins)
Brush surfaces with meringue and allow to cool.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Empanadas are a key part of Salteñan food. They are famous throughout Argentina. We have even been to a whole fair devoted to judging the best empanadas from about a hundred stalls. They are part of the global street food tradition that extends from Cornish pasties to curry puffs or samosas. Is anything quite as tasty as filling hidden in a pastry case?

Empanadas figure in almost all Latin American cuisines, with origins in the eating habits of the conquistadors. This method of preparation dates back to Galicia in the 10th century and was a part of medieval cooking in Europe. There are recipes for meat, and for seafood, empanadas in "Libro de guisados" by Ruperto de Nola (first published in 1525 in Toledo).

Empandas belong to the broad group called "pasties". They are packets of rolled dough containing an infinite variety of fillings. Their edges are sealed and they are then fried or baked according to the recipe. There is a wide range of pastries used for the outer package but an even greater variety of fillings. However for Latin America and especially Argentina the traditional basic formula is diced meat wrapped in a pastry of wheat flour bound with some form of fat. These days there is a diverse range of fillings deriving from the variety of ingredients found in each region. The pastries also offer a gamut of possibilities.

While the basis is simple attention must be paid to a number of factors determining the quality of the end product: The composition of the pastry and the temperature of the oven (or oil if frying) in which it will be cooked; experts agree the most important factor is the filling - especially the meat as about 80% of empanadas are meat ones. Here the question is not so much the composition of the filling as the method of cutting the meat: hand diced meat is much better than machine ground mince. The juiciness of the meat and thus the empanada depend on this.

Almost every province of Argentina have their typical empandas, and are distinguished by a special ingredient or combination of ingredients. Hard boiled eggs, olives, capsicum and potatoes are among these. There are also differences in the spiciness between different provinces. Size is another factor: Salteñan empanadas are spicy and smaller than the milder ones found in Mendosa. The northwest, especially Salta and Tucuman, is a nucleus where the recipe resembles that which arrived from urban "creole" Peru. In Salta empanadas are often served with "salsa picante" a mildly chili spiced tomato sauce.

Recipe: Salteñan Empanadas a la Color Maïs

500g beef (any thin, about 1cm thick, low fat cut)
1 medium onion
1 medium potato
Lard or oil 50g
3 eggs
Spring onions
Pimentón (paprika)
Ground chilli
500g Type 000 Flour
100g lard (fat from under the skin of the animal)
200mL Boiled water
10g salt
Note: the key to a great filling is everything being carefully cut into fine cubes.
Place the meat in steaks in a pot of boiling water and simmer until changes colour to white (this makes the meat easier to cut into cubes). Drain and cut into fine (1/2cm) cubes.
Meanwhile, cut the onion into fine dice and sweat in fat and a little salt until translucent but not caramelised. Add the previously chopped meat. The potato is also cut into small cubes and then boiled in a separate pan, just covered in water with a little salt, and set aside until the end. Boil the eggs for 9 minutes and then set aside.

Once the meat and onion are cooked add chilli and paprika and cook another 2 minutes. Finally add the cumin and remove from heat.

Incorporate the potato and its cooking liquid into the meat mixture. The addition of the water lends the potato starch that helps to thicken the mixture while keeping it moist. Spread the mix in a wide dish and top with mashed boiled eggs and the finely chopped green portion of the spring onions. Set aside to cool.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and add salt, melted fat and incorporate flour. Finally add the water.
Form into a dough and knead for 5 minutes. Rest for 5 minutes covered.
Roll out to 1-2mm think and cut into rounds using a number 10 cutter (about 8cm). This is much easier if you use a pasta machine (to setting 3). Alternatively balls of mixture can be hand rolled with a pin.

Forming the empanadas:
Place a spoonful of mixture (incorporating meat, egg and spring onion) on pastry round. Enclose mixture and seel edges firmly to form a semi circle. Fold edge over and over to give the rounded pleat edge. If this proves too difficult a pastry wheel or the tongs of a fork also work to seal the edge but don´t look as pretty.

This is easier to understand if you watch the video below.

Bake in a very hot oven until brown - about 10 mins.

You can experiment with the fillings. Some ideas I´ve tried with success are pumpkin and goats cheese and leftover quinoa and charqui stew.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


This is a typical Argentine dish that has variations all over the country. Locro is a particularly typical dish in the north west. The name is thought to derive from the quechua indian word "loqru" or "ruqru" which means "pot" although it refers particularly to a dish with a base of dried corn, beans and pumpkin. It has been declared a national dish and is seen at most cultural events although it has it´s origins in the north west. It is not uncommon to see it cooked in massive crowd sized portions with pots big enough to fit a small child.

After the arrival of the conquistadors the new ingredients of beef, pork and panceta were added. In places the corn is replaced with wheat. In the Missiones region fish is added; while in Salta it usually contains pieces of pork or lamb, tripe, panceta and salted dried bony meat. In less abundant times guaschalocro (orphan locro) is made with fresh corn and smaller quantities of whatever meat is available (especially dried meat). I actually really like this version as it's a little less rich. But both are good especially on a cold day.

The key to a creamy locro is the inclusion of the water used to soak the dried corn in the dish as it contains the dissolved corn starch.
The stew is garnished and spiced by quiquirimichi which is melted fat or oil flavoured with paprika, dried chilli and spring onions (shallots).

Locro Color Maïs
(lucky for us Sol doesn't like tripe either)
Recipe for 9 people

250g Dry white corn
250g white dried beans
125g Panceta
375g Queperi - divided fland steak
375g Alita - strip ribs around 4cm wide with meat attached
125g chorizo
65g salted bones
1.25 kilos pumpkin (unpeeled)
2.5 litres water
1 small onion (finely diced)
1/2 red capsicum (finely diced)

All ingredients should be cut into pieces that can be picked up with a spoon. This is a stew that shouldn´t need a knife or fork to be eaten.
Wash the beans and corn. Place water in pan for cooking the locro and soak corn for 10 hours. Soak beans in another container.
To the soaked corn add the salted bones and panceta and boil. After 2 hours add onion and capsicum and the meat cut into cubes.
In another pan boil the beans until cooked.
When the meat and corn is cooked add the pumpkin that has been peeled and cut into cubes. Once the pumpkin is added the pot needs to be continually stirred to stop the pumpkin from catching. Finally add the beans and chorizo and remove from heat. Let the pot stand covered for 15 minutes before serving.
For the quiquirimchi heat lard and add one spoon each of paprika and salt. At the last minute add finely chopped green part of spring onions. Top portions of locro with this oil for colour and flavour.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Anzac Aflajores

For Anzac day I made Anzac biscuits. Luckily the south of Salta province and it's neighbours are big sugar cane districts so there is a local product that resembles Golden Syrup called Miel de Caña. It's not quite as sweet but they're still pretty tasty and people seem to like them when I make them.
Alfajores are a classic Argentine biscuit you can find all over the place. They are a sandwich of two biscuits, usually with the ubiquitous Dulce de Leche in the middle that is then covered in chocolate. Dulce de Leche is caramelised milk spread and is a major Argentine obsession, but more on that another time.
Around the time of Anzac Day Tom found a great recipe for fat free bananas that consists of frozen bananas that you mush in the blender.
In a cross cultural moment I came up with a desert of Anzac biscuit and banana ice cream sandwiches - the Anzac alfajor.
Thank you to mum for her never fail Anzac biscuit recipe:

1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup dessicated coconut
1 tablespoon golden syrup
125g butter
Disolve 1/2 teaspoon bicarb in 1 tablespoon boiling water and add to syrup and then to dry ingredients.
Bake in a slow oven 20 mins.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Our first class with our Salteñan cooking teacher Sol at Color Mais restaurant was appropriately the oldest of traditional foods. Humitas date back to precolumbian times when indians cooked corn in parcels formed from the husk in covered pits with coals or hot rocks like you see in cooking from pacific islands. With the arrival of the spanish cheese and spicing was added to these tasty parcels.
These days Humita is a paste of corn, onion and capsicum (peppers) spiced with cheese, paprika and basil that is cooked al olla (in a saucepan) down south while up in the north of Argentina it is still cooked wrapped in parcels formed from the husks - en chala.
There are both savoury and sweet variations. The sweet version seen in the north particularly adds sugar and omits basil. It´s an acquired taste in my opinion but a friend from the USA loves it.

6 whole cobs of corn with husks (yellow corn can be used instead of the pretty speckled while corn in the photos)*
2 medium onions
1 red capsicum
Basil to taste (at least half a sydney bunch is good)
200g animal fat (lard) or butter
Criole or Goats cheese to taste (about 200g)
Pimentón = sweet paprika to taste (1 desert spoon)
Chilli flakes (aji molido) to taste (half a spoon)
Salt or sugar

Cut of the tips and bases of the corn in husks freeing the leaves. Carefully remove the husks and set aside.
If you´re a stickler for tradition you can grate the corn. If you've got other things to do but cook one dish for the whole day cut the kernels off and process to a fine mince in a food processor. Add a little milk if the paste is very dry.
Cut the onions and red capsicum into fine dice and saute in the fat in a large pan. Once they are cooked add the minced corn.
Once cooked, after about 5 minutes, flavour with paprika, chili and salt or sugar depending how you want the humitas. Cook another 1-2 mins and remove from heat.
Mix in cheese cut into medium cubes (about 1-1.5cm) and basil.

Making the parcels:
Form 'strings' for fastening with strips of husk tied together.
Select nice big husks if possible and overlap them with the broader bases overlapping about half the length of a husk. Place mixture in the middle and fold the long tips towards the centre overlapping them and covering the paste. Roll up the short edges that are still open to close and fasten with one of the 'strings'.

Place the completed parcels in a saucepan with lid in which you have brought to the boil 2-3cm deep water. Cook in this boiling/steaming environment with lid ajar for 30 mins until the parcels are firmish to touch (like a bread dough). The parcels can also be steamed in a bamboo or other steamer (I recommend this if you have a big enough steamer)

Eat warm preferably with a glass of chilled Torrentes (sweet dry white) from Cafayate.

* the specks of colours, sometimes effecting almost all the kernels, seen in the corn from the mountains around Salta come from the combinations of minerals found in the soils, also the origin of many spectacular landscapes.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


As everyone I know is aware I like cooking. Now that we have a flat in Salta and are taking fun classes at Color Mais Restaurant once a week I can now realize my dream of having a food blog.
The markets here a full of fun and strange things so I thought I'd share some with you.

coca tea is a great digestive not just the precursor of that funky white powder - I promise! I love that this one is labeled "export quality"