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?

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.

Chicken Empanada

Makes 20

Ingredients

For the dough

500g flour

25ml corn oil

25g butter

15g yeast

15g sugar

10g salt

225ml water

Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp milk)

For the filling

1/2 a roasted chicken, diced

100g red bell pepper

100g onion

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

Method

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.

amrita.r@livemint.com

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