Dee: “Our first venture into the cuisine of Uruguay was also our first new cuisine to sample in South America. We’ve cooked meals based on the cuisines of Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina before, and Uruguay turned out to have some similarities with the latter two. It is very much a meat based cuisine, and Uruguayan beef enjoys a reputation of being of very high quality. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the facilities, or the weather (at the moment anyway) to attempt to recreate a Uruguayan Asado, or barbeque, but we did manage to prepare a giant Chivito sandwich, containing a steak and various other ingredients which are described in more detail below.
The dishes we selected were all great tasting and we’ve certainly been inspired to look into cooking more Uruguayan meals in the future.”
Starter: Tuna Empanadas
Home devised recipe
Dee: “Empanadas are enjoyed throughout Central and South America, and are more commonly filled with meat, but as our main course was going to contain a large amount of meat, I decided instead to go for a version with tuna. I’ve had deep fried empanadas before, but decided to make a baked version instead, as I wanted to lighten them a little. I made a dough from flour, sausage fat, salt, a little butter and a little water, and chilled it before rolling it out and cutting it into the round shapes from which I made the individual pastries. The dough turned out pretty much how I wanted it to be, like a thinner version of shortcrust pastry.
For the filling I used flaked tuna, chopped green pepper, spring onions and a few peas. The flavour was not intense, which was ok, as they were the starter of something much bigger…”
Home devised recipe
Dee: “I haven’t included a recipe link for the National sandwich, or to more accurately describe it, meal-in-a-bun of Uruguay, as there are countless variations possible. Basically it is a soft white bun which is split and filled with steak, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and any number of additional toppings such as olives, gherkins, chopped peppers etc, and finally Salsa Golf, which, although originating in Argentina, is also enjoyed in Uruguay. This is a sauce made from a base of mixed tomato ketchup and mayonnaise, with various additional ingredients added, in our case a little sherry vinegar and the resting juices from the steak.
And if that wasn’t enough, we served our chivito with its traditional accompaniments: a side of the famous Ensaladilla Russa or Russian salad, which arrived in Uruguay via Spanish and Italian immigrants, and fried potatoes.”
To Drink: Yerba Mate
Dee: “Yerba Mate is the national drink of Uruguay, and turned out to be a love it or hate it type of drink. Jay took one sip of it and couldn’t get on with it at all, wheras I was quite fond of it. It’s not easy to describe the taste, as it is a drink in its own right rather than being a type of tea or coffee. It reminded me of green tea but had a much more earthy and almost grassy taste to it. Sugar and/or lime juice can be added to it, but I preferred to drink it as it was. Traditionally it is served in a fashioned gourd and drunk through a specially fashioned straw, called a bombilla, which also acts as a sieve. We didn’t drink ours in this way though, as we didn’t want to pay out for specialised drinking utensils in case we never used them again. As it turned out, it was fine as it was, for me anyway.”
Dee: “What a treat these are. Small sandwiches of delicious sweet shortbread with Dulce de Leche in between them. We’ve had them before, but as soon as we saw that they were enjoyed in Uruguay, we just had to serve them up for dessert. We halved the quantities quoted in the recipe but still only had room for one and a half alfajores each. There just wasn’t very much room left for dessert after the mighty chivito, even after waiting quite a while between the two courses. However, that meant we could enjoy them the next day.
Although Dulce de Leche is available ready-made, it is also possible to make it at home. I do enjoy this, but it’s important to point out that it is definitely a labour of love. It is time consuming and requires constant attention. First, there is repeated rapidly frothing boiling milk to contend with, and after that, prolonged stirring of the mixture to stop it sticking and burning. Finally, some experience is required to know when it is ready. Through perseverance though will come great reward, and after making it for this recipe, I now have enough of it to serve with pancakes and stir into my winter porridge.”
Soundtrack: Jaime Roos - Contrasena
Dee: “This album, from 2000, was an upbeat collection of contemporary Uruguayan folk style songs, with hints of radio friendly pop, rock and jazz. The vocals were accompanied by upfront guitars, occasional piano and complex rhythms, reminiscent in some sections of samba beats.
The production was clean and slick, making it highly suitable as an accompaniment to our meal.”
Next week we’re returning to the Pacific Islands: V for Vanuatu