Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Hearty Winter Soups and Stews of Argentina

A bowl of steaming locro (courtesy of Stevage/WikiMedia Commons)

It may seem odd to be writing about winter stews in April, but even though those in the Northern Hemisphere are shedding coats and shopping for spring vegetables, the people of the Southern Hemisphere are winding down their summer vacations and bracing for the cool autumn and winter weather ahead. In Argentina, one of the great joys of this time of year is the reappearance of traditional hearty soups and stews on restaurant menus and on home cooks' tables. Variety abounds, with choices such as Carbonada Criolla, a delicious, slightly sweet stew made with Argentine beef, tomatoes and peaches or apricots and baked in a pumpkin shell; Lentejas, a smoky stew from Spain made from lentils, potatoes and smoked, spicy sausages; the Argentine version of Mondongo, a tripe stew originally from Africa and prepared with beans and red sausage; or Locro, a type of thick corn chowder made with white or red beans, pork, beef and pumpkin.          

Carbonada Criolla baked in a South American pumpkin known as a zapallo (photo courtesy of http://recetariococina.com/)

Although many of these stews have their roots in other countries, Argentines have created their own regional recipes. Every area (and, in fact, every home and restaurant) in Argentina has its own version of each stew, influenced by the availability of local ingredients and the culinary traditions of indigenous populations as well as the cooking styles of European immigrants. The country has a distinct pattern of immigration, with the Spanish, German, Welsh, Italian, English and French all establishing footholds in various provinces. Within certain parameters, the recipes are flexible; the most important thing is to use the freshest, highest quality ingredients that are available. For example, with Carbonada Criolla (criolla means traditional or typical of an area), ingredients may include beef and/or pork and/or sausages, tomatoes, several types of squash and/or pumpkin, peaches and/or apricots and/or raisins, carrots, potatoes and/or yams, etc. You get the picture: use the recipe as a framework, be creative and use high quality meat and local seasonal vegetables. Slow cooking is essential as the flavors need time to develop.

     A casserole of lentejas, perfect for a winter day (photo courtesy of  http://dietas.tv/cazuela-de-lentejas/)

Locro (probably from the Quechua word "ruqru" or "luqru"), the Argentina version of corn chowder, is a particular favorite of both locals and visitors. Locro was prepared for centuries by the Andean indigenous tribes of South America, especially in Ecuador, and slowly migrated to the mountainous regions of Argentina, then to the lowlands. It is probably the most authentic pre-Spanish dish of all the criolla foods since its basic ingredients are native to South America (corn, beans, squash) and its various recipes have had little European influence. It is considered by many to be the national dish of Argentina and is often served on national holidays. Besides the main vegetables, locro may contain fresh or dried meat, sausages, tripe, tomatoes, or onion and is often served with a spicy sauce called quiquirimichi on the side.

Mondongo or Tripe Stew (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Although mondongo has African roots and developed mostly in the Caribbean areas of Latin America such as Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, as well as southern parts of Brazil, Argentines have adopted the soup and made it into a thicker stew, adding local ingredients and often using other offal as well as tripe, potatoes, sausages, corn, beans and white wine. All of the stews are hearty and delicious and are usually served with a robust, fruity Argentine red wine such as Malbec and a crusty loaf of bread to sop up every last drop of luscious, warming broth.        

Argentine Locro

1 kg dried white corn kernels (use fresh yellow corn if you can’t find white)

1 kg white beans

1 kg of meat with bones

½ kg of cubed stewing meat

½ kg cubed pork (if you have bones, ad them as well, and remove them later)

¼ kg bacon, cut into small cubes

5 fresh sausages. Usually 2 or 3 spicy (such as spicy Italien) and 2 or 3 regular pork sausages

2 large carrots, cubed

1 small squash, peeled and cubed

2 cloves garlic

3 medium potatoes

3 medium sweet potatoes or yams

½ small cabbage


½ cup olive oil

¼ onion, chopped fine

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp ground hot chilies

1 tbsp paprika

Chives, chopped

The night before, put corn (if you are using dried corn) and beans in water to soak in a huge pot. The following day, take out half of the beans and corn. Add all the meats and sausages into the pot with the other half of beans and corn. Bring to a boil and let simmer until the liquids have thickened, and the meat is super tender. Figure somewhere between 6 – 10 hours. Six is ok, but 8 or 10 is even better.

Once you have about two hours left, add the rest of the beans and corn. You will notice that the other beans that were already in the pot will have started to fall apart. This is fine, and is supposed to happen. You can also add the rest of the ingredients now. Cover and let simmer for the last two hours, stirring occasionally.

During this time, you can make the sauce for the locro. Sautee onion in olive oil. Add garlic. Sautee until onions are clear. Add hot chillies and paprika, sautee for another minute. Remove from heat and add chopped chives on top. Serve in a bowl, for each person to add to their locro.

This is a very hearty meal, and should be enough for 10-12 people. If you don’t have a big enough pot, you can make a half recipe.

Recipe courtesy of ExposeBuenosAires 

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