Friday, January 31, 2014

Salta Style: Empanadas, Humita, and Milanesas from "The North"

Last spring, when I visited Buenos Aires and Mendoza, I thought all the food I sampled were just delicious.  However, I kept hearing that the best empanadas in Argentina were found in the province of Salta. I got my wish to try some Salta style cooking when Allison's Argentine friend Lucas came to visit. He graciously gave me a cooking lesson while making us a wonderful meal. Located in "The North", the cuisine of Salta is influenced by native culture, their neighbors in nearby Bolivia, and Italian, Spanish, and Arab immigrants. The impact of those factors is evident in the spices used: paprika, cumin, chili powder, garlic, and peppers. But what really surprised me was adding nutmeg in the "marinade" for the steak.  I loved the way it played off the cumin and enhanced the flavor of the milanesas.  Besides the milanesas, Lucas made us two other Salta specialties.  Humita is a cheesy corn dish that is often wrapped in corn husks and steamed.  Here it is "from the pot" and contains paprika and a touch of chili powder along with sauteed onions, peppers, and tomatoes. We also had Empanadas Saltenas which are unique since they have finely chopped potatoes in them and a bit cumin. All that's needed to complete this feast is a simple salad of lettuce, tomato, and avocado along with some yellow mustard and lemon slices to serve with the milanesas.  

Salta Style Milanesas

Ingredients for Eight Servings:

2 pounds of very thinly sliced sirloin tip steaks

4 eggs

8 garlic cloves, put through a press

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup very warm (not boiling) water

4 cups unseasoned bread crumbs

Corn oil for frying


Pound the steak with a meat tenderizer tool or something similar so it becomes about 1/4 inch thin. Cut the steak into portion sized pieces and set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and add the garlic, cumin, nutmeg, salt, white pepper, and black pepper.  Add a cup of very warm (not boiling) water and whisk it in.  Submerge the steaks in the egg marinade.  Let them sit for 30 to 40 minutes.  Then pour a good amount of the bread crumbs onto a plate and dredge each piece of steak so it is coated.  Press down on the steak with your hand to insure that the bread crumbs adhere to the meat.  Add more of the bread crumbs to the plate as needed as you continue to coat the steak pieces. Pour an inch of corn oil into a large frying pan and heat it until a piece of bread crumb placed in it sizzles.  Over medium heat, fry both sides of each milanesa until the outside is a golden brown and when you cut into it, the meat is done.  Be careful that the heat does not get up too high so that the crust burns and the meat inside is not done. This takes about seven minutes per side; it's best if the meat is turned over just once to keep the crust on.   When the meat is brown on both sides, take it out of the pan and place on paper towel to get rid of the excess oil.  Then place on a serving platter and serve with lemon slices and yellow mustard on the side.  These are best served right away.  If you don't plan on frying  up all the milanesas at once, Lucas shared that they can be kept in the freezer for up to a week.


Ingredient for Eight Servings:
2 large (32 oz.) cans of corn
(or 8 cups of fresh corn cut off ear of corn)
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium green pepper, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
16 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded or cut into pieces
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Process the corn kernels in a food processor just enough to break them down but not enough to let them get mushy.  Set the corn kernels aside.  In a good sized sauce pan, saute the onions, green pepper, and tomato in the 2 tablespoons of oil.  When they are tender, add the broth and simmer about 5 minutes.  Add the corn and continue to simmer for about 7 more minutes.  Pour in the cream and combine.  Add the mozzarella cheese and stir well until the cheese is melted.  Stir in the parmesan cheese to finish it off.   Transfer the humita into a large bowl or container and serve.

Salta Style Empanadas

Ingredients for about 48 empanadas:
1 pound ground beef
3 eggs, hard boiled
2 large potatoes
1 medium onion very finely diced
1 medium tomato, very finely diced
1/2  red pepper, diced very finely
1/2 green pepper, diced very finely
2 cloves garlic, put through a press
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup sliced green onions
2 packages of premade puff pastry or pie crust dough


If the eggs are not already hard boiled, put them in a pot, cover them with water, and bring the water up to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and run cold water over the eggs.  Set aside.  Place the dough on a floured surface and roll it out a bit.  Use the top of a glass to cut out circles according to the size desired.  Set them aside. Place the ground beef, onion, red pepper, and green pepper in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat until the meat is browned.  Drain off any fat.  Add the tomato and garlic and saute for about another minute. Take off the heat and set aside.  Peel the potatoes and cut them into cubes. Put them in a pot, cover them with water, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cook until tender and a fork pierces them easily.  Drain the potatoes and finely dice each cube. Add the potatoes, paprika, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper to the meat mixture and gently stir to combine. Set aside. Peel the eggs, chop them, and combine with the sliced green onions. Take a dough round, put a teaspoon or so of the meat mixture in the middle, and top it with 1/2 teaspoon of the egg mixture. Dip a finger into water and run it along the inside edge of the dough circle. Fold the circle in half and press the edges together to seal. Lucas flutes the edges by pulling the dough up and over, working from one edge all the way across to the other. The empanadas can either be fried in some corn oil or baked in a 400 degree oven for 12 minutes or until brown.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Red Bean and Ham Soup

There is nothing as comforting or restoring than a steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter day. Savory soup will satisfy even the hungriest appetite, yet still enable a person to stick healthy eating habits.  Filled with vitamin rich vegetables, lean meat, and flavorful broth, it’s a delicious way to fill up without feeling guilty.  The thing that many people don’t realize is - it is so easy to make. I hear the objections right now:  “It takes too long; who can remember to soak beans overnight?”, “Beyond this cooks skill level!”, or “The soup I make is watery and tasteless”. I promise you, that with canned beans and canned broth - this soup is a snap to make. I make this when I have to have something ready really fast. It's one of Roy's favorites and it's equally as good with great northern beans and chicken broth instead of the red beans and beef broth.

Ingredients for Four Servings:

2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 (15 oz.) cans beef broth
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)
1 (15 oz.) can red beans, rinsed and drained
1 (8 oz.) package cubed ham (1 cup)
2 generous tablespoons of tomato paste


The first step of almost every soup recipe calls for slowly cooking diced celery and onion (and often sliced carrots) in a bit of oil until tender.  I like to speed things up a bit by putting these vegetables in a glass bowl, covering it with plastic wrap, and microwaving them on regular power for six minutes. 

After the carrots, celery, and onions are done cooking, transfer them to a large soup pot.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well to combine.

Bring the ingredients in the pot up to a boil.  Turn down the heat to medium and simmer for about ten minutes.

Ladle into bowls and serve.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Quinoa Veggie Soup

     To be honest, I've dragged my heels on jumping on the quinoa band wagon. My health conscious sister's family mentions it as part of their usual fare.  I've seen all the photos and recipes out in the cyber world that talk about what a super food it is - full of protein and fiber.  I tried it a couple of times and just didn't think it tasted all that great.  But then I saw Jennifer's roommate in California cooking up a batch, adding yummy things to it, and actually looking like she enjoyed eating it!  I still had a bag of it in my pantry, so when I found a recipe for Quinoa Vegetable Stew in the cookbook, Soups, Stews, and Chilis by American Test Kitchen, I decided I'd give it another try.  The recipe posted here is a modified version of theirs.  I skipped putting in the potatoes they suggested, but I bought right in to garnishing it with cilantro, salty cheese, and avocado - practically anything would taste great with those on top of it!  This soup is surprisingly good and satisfying.  I have found that when the spices of cumin and coriander are combined, the flavors sing.  As suggest in the cookbook, this is delicious with eggs poached on top of it or chicken added to it if more protein is desired.

Ingredients for four servings:

1 red pepper

1 onion

2 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

1/4 teaspoon pepper

4 garlic cloves, put through a press

3 (14.5 oz.) cans broth (vegetable, chicken, or beef)

1 cup quinoa, well rinsed and drained

1 cup corn, frozen or from can

1 cup frozen peas

1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes or 2 large fresh tomatos

1 avocado

1/4 cup queso fresco or feta cheese, crumbled

Small handful of cilantro leaves, chopped


Wash, seed and dice the red pepper.  Peel and dice the onion.  Saute the pepper and onion in the olive oil over medium low heat until they are tender. Add the paprika, cumin, coriander, pepper, and garlic and saute for 30 seconds.  Then add the broth and bring it up to a boil.

Next, add the quinoa and turn the heat down to medium. Simmer for 10 minutes.  Now add the corn, peas, and tomatoes.  Bring the soup back up to a boil, turn the heat back down to medium, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Chop the cilantro, cube the avocado, and get the cheese crumbles ready.  Sprinkle some of each atop each bowl of soup and enjoy! 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Chicken Soup with Rice is ...Nice!

According to my Google search, January is . . . . National Careers in Cosmetology Month, National Eye Health Care Month, National Fiber Focus Month, National Hobby Month, National Soup Month, Hot Tea Month, Oatmeal Month, and Prune Breakfast Month!  I think the best one to celebrate is soup, especially since it's satisfying yet healthy enough to let one stick to a resolution to eat right.  Roy and I love to have soup for dinner during these chilly days and this simple one is a favorite. He challenged me to put some of our favorite soups up on the blog this month, so here is the first one.  Enjoy!

Simple and Easy Chicken Soup with Rice - Serves 4


1 cup cooked rice - white, brown, or wild
1 medium onion
2 celery stalks
3 good sized carrots
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
2 cooked chicken breasts or a roasted chicken from the store (about 3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 (15 oz.) cans chicken broth ( about 6 cups)


     If you haven't already cooked the rice, do that first.  It can cook while you are putting everything else together and be ready to throw in at the end.  Cook the rice according to package directions, but typically for 1 cup of cooked rice, you stir 1/2 cup uncooked rice into boiling water and cover it.  Reduce the heat to low and let the rice absorb the water.  It will take about 20 minutes for white rice but up to 40 if you are using wild rice.

     Wash, peel, cut off the ends and slice the carrots. It should yield about 3/4 to 1 cup worth.  Wash the celery stalks, cut off the ends, cut down the middle, and then slice. You should have about 3/4 to 1 cup worth as well.  Peel the onion and dice it.  It should also amount to about 3/4 to 1 cup full.

     The next step is to saute the carrots, celery and onions in the olive oil until they are tender.  If I am in a hurry, I put them in a bowl along with the olive oil, cover the bowl and zap them in the microwave on regular power for 6 minutes, Then I put them in the soup pot.  Or, you can just saute them directly in the pan like most people do! 

     While the vegetables are cooking, dice the cooked chicken breasts or take the meat off of a grocery store bought roasted chicken. (To cook chicken breasts or other parts, I just put them in a pan and cover them with water.  I bring the water up to a boil then turn it down to medium low and let them simmer for 20 minutes or until no longer pink inside.  It is nice to throw a peeled carrot, peeled onion, and/or celery stalk in the pot to give the chicken more flavor.)

     When the vegetables are tender, add the cooked chicken, cooked rice, basil, thyme, pepper, and chicken broth to the soup pot.  Bring it up to a boil, then reduce the heat.  The soup can be eaten immediately, but if you let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more, the flavors meld together.

This makes a filling meal, especially with a nice green salad.  Enjoy and stay warm!