Monday, February 16, 2015

What We Eat!

Eggplant Parmesean with pasta and a green salad.

My children have asked us, "What do you eat?" So, I thought I would take some time to actually document some of that for you.  We don't eat what would be classified as a "normal American" diet, but you have to understand that we didn't eat that way even when we lived in the States!  We tend to cook from scratch, using the freshest ingredients that we can find.

 Finding fresh fruits and vegetables is somewhat of an issue in the Patagonia.  Here in El Calafate we are a long ways away from any of the agricultural areas.  All groceries are shipped in from hundreds of miles aways.  Our normal staple of vegetables includes carrots, bell peppers (both red and green), potatoes, onions, butternut squash, and a little round zucchini type squash.  At times we have also found fresh chard, cauliflower and eggplant.  Apples, oranges, and lemons are staple fruits.  We can also get pears almost all year around, which has really surprised us.  They have to ripen a while, but they are great for cooking.  During the summer we have peaches, nectarines, and plums.  When we get the fruit it is typically pretty green, so we have to let it sit in a paper sack for a few days to ripen.

Argentina is known for its beef, but for the normal person, beef is pretty expensive here. The locals claim that the best cuts of beef are sold for export and that drives up the cost of beef in Argentina. A higher quality grade of hamburger costs about $3.50 US per pound.  It's still not great but at least it doesn't contain a lot of gristle like the cheapest hamburger.  A good cut of roast runs about $6.25/lbs.  A whole chicken costs about $3.25.  We have eaten a whole lot more chicken here than beef.  This does put a crimp on one of traditional Argentinian forms of cooking.  Cooking on the "parilla" or grill is something that people do to celebrate.   We have had grilled chicken many times.  We have had grilled beef as the main course twice because it is just so expensive.  The restaurants here serve local lamb, and we still haven't made it to eat out at restaurant.  We can not get pork here.  We have been told that you can get in Buenos Aires, but we have never seen it here.

There are some other things that are different about cooking in Argentina.  The sugar is a little coarser and works a little differently in baked items like brownies or lemon bars.  We cannot get brown sugar or molasses so we work around, that for chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chips are hard to come by.  More than once, I've just chipped up a bar of chocolate. I don't know what they do to the salt.  The first time we saw Sister Rogers heavily salt a salad we thought she was crazy!  No, the salt just seems weaker somehow.  We are not the only ones that have noticed that. Even the other Latin American missionaries have said that they use more salt here.  

Milanesa with Cauliflower/Potato/Carrot Mash and a green salad.
Argentina has a strong Italian influence in its cooking.  One sister in Rio Gallegos taught Hermana Merkley how to make gnocchi from scratch.  One of the more common meals here is milanesa.  A milanesa is typically a breaded and fried piece of thin meat.  It can be either beef or pounded chicken breast.  Milanesa a la Napolitana can include tomato sauce, cheese and a fried egg. Although, the an eggplant milanesa, pictured above is not unheard of or that uncommon.  When we make milanesa we typically do a much smaller piece of meat and add more to it.  In the meal below, we added a green salad (finding good lettuce is a summer luxury!) and we made Jacob's suggested potato/cauliflower/carrot mash (Dutch stamppot?) to go with it.  We eat way more vegetables than the Argentinians!

Empanadas with roasted butternut squash and potatoes.
Empanadas are are an Argentinan staple.  The most common kinds are beef, chicken or ham and cheese, but there are many variations to that theme.  In Salta, a province in northern Argentina, they add potatoes to make the empanadas heartier.  Eggs are also a frequent addition.  We have even tried apple empanadas.  With a flaky crust, those are almost as good as apple pie! Our empanadas have a different take than the Argentinian variety because we add carrots, zuchini, tomato, and whatever other vegetables we have on hand.  We also do a roast of diced potatoes and butternut squash with olive oil.  This wasn't really my whole dinner.  I just forgot to take the picture until I had eaten half of it!

One thing that we eat that they don't eat much of in Argentina are beans.  You can buy dried beans in the store but, other than lentils, most people don't eat them.  We use garbonzo beans, black beans, and navy beans.  We made a white chicken chile for the missionaries that they mostly enjoyed.  I think the elder from Buenos Aires just thought it was weird.  The elder from Panama couldn't get enough!  The Argentinans don't do spicy, but here in the Patagonia there are more Chileans and Bolivians so there is a market for spicy.  We can't get chiles here but we can get red pepper flakes.  The white chicken chile still wasn't very spicy so we will have to work on that.

Chicken Pot Pie

One common dish here is a torte of chard, ham, and cheese.  You can buy pre-made crusts for the torte.  We decided to try to make a chicken pot pie using the crust.  It turned out really well.  We tried serving it to company and we were told, "Hmm, very flavorful."  Diplomatic, yes.  I real complement, I'm not sure!

Butternut Squash Soup
One of our favorite dishes has become this butternut squash soup.  We buy chorizo, a type of sausage somewhat like a keilbasa, and cook it on low our crockpot for about 8 to 10 hours.  This renders out the gristle and makes for a really nice flavorful sausage that we use to many dishes.  Here we combine red pepper, onion, garlic, corn, cream or homemade yogurt, and butternut squash with the chorizo to make a really nice soup!

Dulce de Leche

No discussion of food in Argentina would be complete without talking about dulce de leche.  For those of you who do not know, dulce de leche is similar to a thick carmel sauce, but the chemical reactions are different so that dulce de leche is smoother and maybe a litter sweeter.  When you walk into the store there is half an aisle dedicated to dulce de leche.  They use dulce de leche on almost everything sweet.  A birthday cake will have a dulce de leche as the layer between two cakes.  The bakeries have cones of dulce de leche dipped in chocolate.  The pièce de résistance of dulce de leche in our experience had to be a flan.  An older couple invited us for lunch, and for dessert she had prepared a flan.  I have to admit that I have eaten flan before, it was popular in Spain, and I'm not a big fan.  When she brought out the dessert, each serving had a huge scoop of whipped cream and another huge scoop of dulce de leche. Best flan I have ever eaten.  I decided that anything covered in enough dulce de leche is wonderful!

Just as a side note on the dulce de leche.  This is the cheap store brand.  The most common grocery store (nearly a monopoly) in the Patagonia is called La Anónima.  The name comes from the term Sociedad Anónima or S.A. which is equivalent to Inc. in English.  The best translation for the name of the store would probably be "The Corporation."   I try not to think about it too hard, but buying your food from a monopoly called "The Corporation" seems like something out of a creepy science fiction story.

Oatmeal with peaches, homemade yogurt and cinnamon.
The meal that we are the most un-Argentinan is breakfast.  We eat a pretty boring breakfast.  Pretty much every day we eat oatmeal, with some kind of fruit cut into it (we can get peaches right now, yum!) a scoop of yogurt and cinnamon.  We have finally found a brand of cinammon that tastes like cinnamon and not bark.  We buy Quaker oats because it is the cleanest.  We still pick out hulls everyday.  I'm not sure what the difference is in the processing between the US and Argentina but we still get oat hulls with every breakfast.

Making yogurt.  Scalded milk in jam jars in a warm water bath in our warmed crock pot.
Yogurt is another staple of Argentinean society.  When you walk into the grocery store there is a cooler 20 ft long full of yogurt.  There is only one problem.  There are basically two flavors, vanilla and strawberry, and it is all sweetened!  It is not just a little sweet, it is really sweet.  We are really grateful to Sister Rogers for giving us a crockpot.  We use it for many things, but it really helps with the yogurt.  I scald whole milk, and put it into cleaned out jam jars.  The jars go into a warm water bath in the warmed, but not too hot, crockpot crock.

That gets put into a box with our towels and the whole thing gets wrapped and covered over night.  The cardboard box just helps with the insulation so it doesn't cool down too fast.  I have found that it takes some experience to get the temperatures just right so we don't get super tart yogurt.  At the same time there seems to be more leeway than the 100 F that the internet suggests!

By morning, we have three jars of creamy, unsweetened yogurt! As you can see, fresh out of the jar it isn't supper thick, but after curing in the fridge they seem to thicken a little more.  We don't wait for the first jar to cure.  It just gets eaten that morning!  The three jars typically last us about a week.

As you may be able to tell, we do spend quite a bit of time shopping, cooking and eating.  We feed the young missionaries, and we invite branch members to our house to try "American" cooking. At least we eat well!


  1. Fancy photos! How long did it take you to pose all of that food?? haha ;) Sounds and looks yummy!

    1. Actually, I took the pictures over a couple of weeks. I just snapped the picture before we ate. Well, except for the empanadas. I kind of forgot that I was supposed to take a picture before starting to eat! The only thing I actually posed was the dulce de leche today. (But, I ate the cookie with dulce de leche anyway!)