This is the start of a culinary journey through New York, where we will explore the rich variety of gastronomic experiences that the city has to offer, especially in Latin cuisine. I will also share with you some recipes from my home country, Uruguay, adapted to a new style of cooking which can be delicious, healthy, and full of cultural significance. I am ready to cook and eat my way through this city, South American style. And I’d love for you to come along!
Tasting the Big Apple, South-American Style (far, way far South)
My journey in a new country always starts in the kitchen. I honestly cannot say that I’ve settled anywhere until I have tried the restaurants, browsed the supermarkets, got acquainted with the new ingredients and cooked some of the local recipes.
I got to New York almost 6 months ago from Uruguay, one of the smallest and southernmost countries in South America, and there was definitely a lot to take in. For someone who’s lived her entire life in a city with 1.5 million people, NY’s nearly 8M can seem quite daunting. Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, is a quiet city overlooking a river “as wide as a sea”. Its pace is slow and its people enjoy beautiful vistas of the sea from the Rambla, the city’s famous riverside promenade. People of all ages gather there in the summer to enjoy a traditional mate infusion with bizcochos, a pastry specialty made with flour and cow fat or butter, which can be either sweet or savory and is truly delicious.
Uruguay is definitely not the typical Latin culture one immediately pictures upon hearing the word, with those rich, spicy tastes and sultry tropical fruits and flavors. Geographically speaking, it is closer to the South Pole than to the Equator, but is not as extreme as either. So, while we don’t get to enjoy the beauty of white winters, you can also forget all about growing mangoes and papayas. As far as the weather, we have the luxury of dampness, cold and wind, but we’ll never witness a hurricane or have our front doors blocked by snow. As for culinary preferences, there is one thing people love above all: meat. And a side of potatoes. But mostly just massive amounts of meat.
For example, most kids adore Milanesas with a side of french fries. Many grown-ups indulge them just to have an excuse to eat them themselves. Here’s a simple recipe that will get you a real Uruguayan milanesa in practically no time.
1 pound of beef eye round roast or any other lean meat of your choice
1 ½ cup of bread crumbs
1-2 eggs, as necessary
salt and pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, minced (optional)
2 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped (optional)
Have your butcher cut the meat in slices of about a quarter of an inch and tenderize the meat. If you would rather buy a whole piece of beef eye round roast, you can easily cut it by putting it in the freezer for about an hour and then slicing it vertically with a very sharp knife. If you don’t have a tenderizer, you can put a slice of plastic film over each slice and then hit it with the back of a kitchen knife (be careful to cover the sharp end with a kitchen towel before you start pounding!) or a wooden spoon.
Beat the eggs lightly and add a pinch of salt and black pepper. On another container, mix the bread crumbs with the garlic and parsley.
Sprinkle each slice of meat with salt and pepper and then create a work station to make things easier: over your kitchen counter, place the container with the meat slices, the bowl with the eggs, the bowl with the bread crumbs and an empty plate. This is how you make them: take a slice of meat, dip it thoroughly in the egg mixture and then place it in the bowl with the breadcrumbs, making sure you press them so that they cover the meat perfectly. Start piling up those milanesas on the plate as they are ready for the pan.
Heat up a frying pan with about an inch of a good frying oil and test the temperature by throwing a very small bit of breaded meat in the oil. When bubbles start forming around it, you can put the milanesas in, keeping a medium-high heat. Cook each side for about 3 minutes or until golden brown. Drain them well and put them on a plate with a paper towel to soak up excess oil. Be sure to change the oil every 2 or 3 batches of milanesas. Another healthy alternative is to cook them in a pre-heated oven to medium on a greased pan for about ten minutes. You can sprinkle them with some olive oil to make them tastier and crunchier. And you can also make them out of fish filets, chicken breast or even eggplants!
The Spanish (or should I say Uruguayan?) translation for french fries is papas fritas. You can make them yourself for a healthier and tastier treat!! If you want them to cook super fast, just slice them round and thin. Be sure to add a pinch of salt while they’re in the oil to make them crunchier!
Serve your milanesas con papas fritas with a side of bitter greens with this easy honey mustard dressing: 2 table spoons of coarse ground mustard (or “moutarde a la ancienne”), 1 table spoon of honey, 2 table spoons of flax-seed oil (it’s packed with both Omega 3 and Omega 6), a pinch of salt and pepper. Get a couple of lemon wedges on the table to sprinkle over your milanesas, and get ready to enjoy this traditional taste of the far south!