Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Grand Tour via Soup: Argentina for Carbonada and Pan de Chapa breads

My Grand Tour has left the Caribbean island of Cuba and docked in Argentina. This 'Carbonada Criolla' dish is from the North West of Argentina and whilst it is more usually referred to as a stew than a soup the soup/stew distinctions can easily get blurred!  I hope you will not be disappointed by this wonderful dish which is packed with South American ingredients such as potatoes, squash, peppers and sweetcorn; and as we are in Argentina it has to include beef. Traditionally cooked inside a hollowed out pumpkin/squash I took the easier option of cooking mine in a heavy casserole pan.
Time Life Recipe Book Image
I have taken my recipe from a rather old Time Life book in the series 'Foods of the World' and this volume is 'Latin American Cooking' that was published in 1970. You can pick up quite a few issues from this series second hand on Amazon. They were well researched and still provided valuable reference for me today.
Time Life : Latin American Cooking
 The flat breads, or pan de chapa, were cooked on a cast iron stove top griddle but would have been even better if cooked outdoors and thus scented with the aroma of bbq smoke. The name simple means 'hotplate bread',
Argentina has very fertile soil and its vast grasslands were quickly utilised by the early Spanish and Italian settlers to produce beef and lamb. Much of the beef production is now being shifted away from grassland to the cheaper method of feedlot production. I struggle to accept this as progress other than in purely economic terms, but farmers must make a living too. In the North West of Argentina the cuisine reflects more of the native Amerindian culture and this carbonada stew is a happy marriage of indigenous vegetables with European introduced beef and the surprise ingredient that I was not expecting, peaches.

Carbonada Criolla - makes a lot!
750g peeled and seeded winter squash cubed*
30g butter
1tbs olive oil
1 large white onion chopped
1 green pepper seeded and coarsely chopped
1 large clove garlic minced
1 small can chopped tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried oregano
500g sweet potato peeled and cubed*
500g white potato (waxy type) peeled and cubed*
200g sweetcorn kernels (fresh or frozen)
1 courgette cubed (if in season)*
2 fresh or canned peaches (if canned 4 half peaches)
400g beef steak such as rump or flat iron cut into large cubes**

*The vegetables should be prepared in quite large cubes say 2-3cm square in order to make a soup with a fairly chunky texture. Some of my vegetables went down into a puree which was fine for a soup and a lot will depend on the varieties that you use.
** I chose a piece of flat iron steak which offers a good balance of tenderness, flavour and cost. Tougher grades of beef such as braising will need to be cooked a little longer for the initial simmer before adding the main vegetables.

  1. Prepare all of the vegetables and cube the meat.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy based large saucepan such as a dutch oven/ le creuset style cast iron casserole pan,
  3. When the oil is hot add the cubes of beef and fry to lightly brown the meat.
  4. Turn the heat down and remove the meat from the pan placing it into a rimmed dish/plate that will catch any meat juices that run out.
  5. Add the butter to the pan and allow it to melt.
  6. Add the chopped onions and green pepper to the pan and gently cook until the vegetables are soft but not browning.
  7. Add the garlic to the pan and cook gently for a couple of minutes more.
  8. Return the cubes of meat and any juices collected in the dish to the pan along with the chopped tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano and add enough water (or beef/chicken/vegetable stock) to cover the meat. Add salt and pepper unless the stock was already well seasoned.
  9. Gently simmer the meat for 15 minutes**.
  10. Add the cubed squash, sweet potatoes and white potatoes to the pan and again add water/stock to cover. Bring up to a simmer, check for seasoning and continue to cook gently until the vegetables are tender. This may take around 20-30 mins.
  11. Add in the cubed courgettes if using and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes.
  12. Finally add in the sweetcorn and peaches and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  13. Check the seasoning again before serving. You may also wish to cut the meat into smaller pieces if the cubes are not fork tender.
This soup/stew can be prepared ahead and reheated, and it also freezes very well. It makes a very welcome autumn or winter main course soup.
The recipe for the Pan de Chapa comes from food blogger Passports and Pamplemousse. It is very like an English muffin recipe. I would recommend using a very heavy based skillet or frying pan to cook these in. The dough is quite soft and I found the cut pieces a little hard to handle when taking them from the proofing tray to the skillet. I also oiled my dough scaper well before using it to divide up the dough into individual breads.
Take care not to deflate the breads when flipping over to cook the other side.
I would say these breads are not quite as dense as a bought English muffin, the crumb texture is more open. If made ahead they can be refreshed briefly in a hot oven or split and toasted. They also freeze well.
For the next stop of the Grand Tour I am going to trace the path of  the British naturalist Charles Darwin whose second voyage around the world in HMS Beagle took him to Argentina in 1832. The ship's crew were undertaking naval survey work around South America and Darwin was researching the geology and natural history of each of the places visited. By 1834 they were sailing north up the coast of Chile and by 1835 onward up to Peru. The ship then sailed west across to the Galapagos islands before travelling further west again to the island of Tahiti.  It is Tahiti where my Grand Tour makes it's next stop and as Darwin's focus in Tahiti was the coral reefs it seems appropriate that the soup for this stop over should include fish. I am in such awe of these early explorer's abilities to find such relatively small islands and to sustain themselves at sea for so long that in recognition of that I am going to be swapping my usual bread accompaniment for a look at Ship's Biscuits (or hard tack).

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Grand Tour via Soup; Cuba for Black Bean Soup with Cuban Bread

                           A Cuban Black Bean Soup garnished with yogurt or pulled pork.
The Grand Tour has now followed the Spanish explorers and arrived in Cuba. I have one book on Cuban food in my cookbook collection and although I have enjoyed reading through the authors notes on all the recipes I have still yet to cook from it! I had set my mind on making black bean soup and she does not give a recipe for this. Perhaps black bean soup is not so typically Cuban, but I saw many a reference to Cuban black beans in various other recipes so at least the beans have authenticity.
The author's family left Cuba following the communist revolution in 1959 and this book is a mix of her looking back on recipes from the old family home in Cuba and recipes that she and her family still make. Following the communist takeover by Fidel Castro many Cubans took exile in the USA, with large numbers settling in Miami, Florida. The recipes I found for 'Cuban bread' all seemed to originate more from bakeries set up by Cuban exiles in Miami than actual bakeries in Cuba. Rationing in Cuba seems to allow a little rather poor quality bread per person but I wonder what the bread was like pre-revolution.
This article in the Guardian on a 'Cuban' bakery in Miami shows the bread being adorned with strips of  palm which I did not have for mine. The recipe I followed which came from the Taste of Cuba  website suggested a piece of thick string was placed down the centre of the loaf but I could see that getting completely  stuck in the dough so I just went for a rather generic scoring of the dough. The loaf came out with a nice thin crisp crust and soft interior but I would not have drawn the comparisons to a french baguette that I saw in many descriptions of Cuban bread. If you are going to have a go at making the loaf  note the recipe requires an overnight starter to be made.
The black bean soup recipe is very basic so I think the most important aspect here is the variety of black beans you use. My favourite black bean in the rather small black turtle bean which is commonly used in latin america (and Cuba!). Both the texture and flavour of the cooked beans are better than some of the larger black kidney beans I have tried, but I think the small shiny black turtle bean are very easily bought now so try to get those.

Black Bean Soup
250g dry black turtle beans which need to be soaked overnight
1 medium onion chopped
1 green pepper seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic minced
2-3 tbs olive oil
vegetable stock/water
ham bone (optional)
1tbs cider vinegar

Optional Garnishes :

Full fat Greek yogurt or sour cream, and chopped red pepper

Left over pulled roast pork/bbq pork or bbq roast chicken (as much as you want)

The night before prepare the beans by washing well and checking for and removing any small pieces of grit or mis-formed/shriveled beans . Then place the washed beans in a bowl and cover with plenty of cold water and leave overnight to soak. The beans will absorb plenty of water and should remain covered in water throughout the overnight soak.

The next day when you are ready to start cooking drain off the soaking water and rinse the beans again in fresh cold water.

In a large deep saucepan heat the olive oil and gently fry the onions, garlic and pepper until starting to soften.

Add in the soaked and drained beans and then add enough vegetable stock and/or water to cover the beans by 2-3 centimetres. If you are using a ham bone add this now too.

Bring the pan to a boil and then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Skim off any foam and then cook at a gentle simmer with the pan lid on. The beans should be checked after 2 hours to see if they are completely tender. If the beans were old it may take 3 hours for them to soften. Add more liquid as needed to keep the beans covered while they cook.

Once cooked (beans will be meltingly tender with no hardness/resistence) remove the ham bone if used and check the seasoning adding more salt if needed.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool a little. Then using a stick blender part puree the soup so you have a thick texture but still with some larger pieces of cooked beans left. If you do not have a stick blender then a liquidiser can be used, just remove some of the soup to the blender goblet, puree and return the pureed beans to the pan. If neither of these options are available then you can use a potato masher to crush the beans in the pan until you get the right consistency. If too thick add extra vegetable stock or water.

Add the vinegar to the soup and reheat, check seasoning again. The soup is now ready to serve.

Optional Garnishing:
If you are using yogurt and chopped pepper then this is just added cold to each bowl as you serve the soup.

If you are adding pulled pork to chicken the cut/tear the meat garnish into small pieces and gently fry in a small non stick pan until heated through and stating to colour. You may need to add a little oil to the pan but try to keep this to a minimum.

Once the meat garnish is heated through and a little crisp/caramelised on the edges immediately serve the soup into bowls and top with the pieces of pork or chicken.
The base soup can be stored in the fridge once cool and it also freezes well so can be made ahead. The chilled soup will set rather solid but loosen up again on gentle warming.

Image result for che guevara image
So the tour now leaves Cuba and heads to Argentina. One of Fidel Castro's key revolutionaries in the overthrowing of the US backed Cuban President Batista, a movement which Castro started in 1953 and finally succeeded with in 1959, was the Argentinian born Marxist Che Guevara. Che Guevara was born in Santa Fe Province in Northern Argentina and studied medicine in Buenos Aires. His image is widely used as a counterculture symbol.

It is also to the north of Argentina where I will be sourcing a recipe for a beef and vegetable stew called Carbonada, but in my case this will be served as a soup along with a griddle bread not dissimilar to english muffins.