Afew minutes into a conversation with chef Maria Julia Martini, and the topic veers to football. The magic of Lionel Messi’s footwork and speed is thanks to the country’s protein-rich diet, claims the Argentine chef at Café, Hyatt Regency Delhi. “Argentine food means beef, beef and a little more beef. Then there’s pork, lamb and fish,” says the economics graduate who decided to trade a corporate lifestyle for a chef’s hat. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What defines Argentine cuisine?
Argentina was settled by European immigrants mostly. There was not much of an indigenous population, except in the Inca and Mayan pockets. So the cuisine is a mix of all the immigrant influences— mostly Italian, German, Spanish. There’s also Lebanese, Syrian and, via Spain, some Arabic influences. We eat a lot of pastas and pizzas and breads like the Italians.
Seasoned: Chef Maria Julia Martini
What are the most popular dishes?
A whole lot of roasted/grilled/barbecued meats. Fish and vegetables too. The gauchos (cowboys) on the Pampas couldn’t be bothered to cook elaborate meals. After a day’s work, they would sit around a fire and grill some beef (asado). As it cooked, everyone sliced off chunks and ate it there together. Till today, it’s mostly the men who cook the meats and people socialize over barbecues.
Then there’s bife a caballo (a steak topped with an egg), churrasco (grilled steak) and milanesa (breaded and deep-fried beef). Locros (soups) are very important. Empanadas (small meat pies) are another favourite. They are eaten as snack as well as main course.
Is there an iconic Argentine dessert?
We don’t have much of a sweet tooth, unlike Indians. But one sweet which everyone eats every day and in every way possible is the dulce de leche. It’s a thick caramelized milk sauce. Lots of milk and sugar with a little vanilla and baking soda cooked over slow fire for 30-45 minutes. It’s like melted toffee. We have it on toasted bread, on cookies, in coffee, as icing on cakes, in layers between a cake, on ice creams, as a dip for fruits. We can eat it as many times as you care to give us.
For the dough
25ml corn oil
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp milk)
For the filling
1/2 a roasted chicken, diced
100g red bell pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
For the salsa
100g each of onion, tomato, red bell pepper, diced very fine
1 tsp each of garlic and parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
Olive oil to drizzle
Mix all the ingredients for the dough (except the egg wash) and lightly knead to make a lumpy dough. Roll it out into a sheet, a little thicker than a pasta dough. Cut out discs of about 4-inch diameter.
For the filling, sauté the onions and bell peppers. Add salt, pepper and cumin. Add roasted chicken and cook for a few minutes. Keep aside to cool.
Put a spoonful of filling in the middle of each disc. Fold and seal the edges to form a semi-circular patty. If needed, brush the edges with a bit of water before closing. Mark the edges with a fork and brush with egg wash. Bake for 10 minutes in an oven at 180 degrees Celsius.
For the salsa, combine all the ingredients. Serve with hot empanadas.