Recipe File: Tortas Fritas

While roaming the vast Argentine pampa, the gauchos of yore maintained a nomadic way of life that afforded limited access to foodstuffs. Many a gaucho subsisted on a diet restricted to grilled beef and mate. On occasion, the gauchos would fry up tortas fritas, a simple dough that consisted of ingredients that were readily on hand: flour, lard, water and salt. Although very traditional recipes stick to these most basic of ingredients, many modern versions of tortas fritas often substitute butter for lard and/or include eggs, milk or a leavening agent like baking powder.

As one of Argentina’s comidas criollastraditional foods that evolved from the union of European cuisine with native ingredients and influencestortas fritas boast a long tradition derived from the simple lifestyle lead by the Argentine cowboys. Today, tortas fritas and mate are regarded as an unbeatable combination, particularly on a drizzly, chilly day that demands a simple, comforting treat that’s quick to prepare. It’s said that the custom of drinking mate with tortas fritas on a rainy day can be traced back to the gauchos who, when camped together out on the pampa, would gather rainwater to prepare the dough.

Torta Frita Closeup by katiemetz, on Flickr
I recall that shortly after I first moved to Argentina, we experienced three consecutive days of driving wind and rain from a fierce storm. Housebound one afternoon as a result of the nasty weather, my fiancé’s grandmother announced that we were going to prepare tortas fritas and mate to combat our growing sense of cabin fever. In no time flat, the tortas fritas emerged golden and puffy from the oil, and I was charged with sprinkling some sugar over the tops. After a few rounds of mate and quite possibly one too many tortas fritas, the matriarch good-naturedly declared my conversion from yanqui (American) to Argentine complete.

The Conversion Is Complete by katiemetz, on Flickr
Even if you don’t have an Argentine grandmother to help you out, try your hand at making tortas fritas one soggy afternoon. Rest assured that coffee or hot chocolate makes a great accompaniment if there’s no yerba in the cupboard for mate.

Tortas Fritas
Yields 12 servings

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
approx. 2/3 c. warm water
vegetable oil for frying
granulated sugar to sprinkle on top

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt with a wooden spoon. Form a well in the center and add the melted butter; mix to combine. Slowly add the warm water and mix until the dough comes together (you may not need to use the entire amount of waterthe dough should be moist but not mushy).

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead for a few minutes until the dough feels smooth and uniform. Divide the dough into 12 pieces, and form the dough into balls about the size of a large walnut. Allow the balls of dough to rest on a lightly floured surface, covered, for 15 minutes.

To shape the tortas fritas, flatten the ball of dough with your palm, and create a disc about 1/8 inch thick using the heel of your hand. Cut a small x in the center of the dough with a sharp knife.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet or pot. The oil must be very hot to ensure quick frying and minimal absorption of grease. If the oil isn’t hot enough, the tortas fritas will turn out greasy and heavy.

Drop two to three pieces of dough into the hot oil (depending on the size of the skillet), and fry on one side until golden brown (approximately 45 to 60 seconds). With a pair of tongs, flip the tortas fritas over and continue frying on the other side until golden brown (roughly the same amount of time).

Remove the tortas fritas from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with sugar and serve hot.

This recipe was originally published by me on the website Hispanic Kitchen.

Tortas Fritas and Mate

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Recipe File: Humita en Olla

Thick, creamy and subtly sweet with just a hint of spice, humita, a traditional dish from Northwest Argentina, definitely qualifies as comfort food. Made with grated corn, onion, tomato and red bell pepper, humita may be prepared in one of two ways: en olla (stewed) or en chala (wrapped in corn husks and boiled). Unlike many of the Argentine recipes that I have featured previously, which can be traced to contributions by the nation’s Spanish and Italian immigrants, the origins of humita are rooted in the indigenous cuisine of the northern provinces.

As with many traditional dishes, numerous variations abound for the recipe for humita en olla. One of the classic versions from the provinces of Tucumán and Catamarca tends to incorporate grated squash. The catamarqueños (residents of Catamarca) typically prepare humita along with other traditional specialties during Holy Week (Semana Santa) festivities. The recipe presented here leans toward the version prepared in the provinces of Salta and Jujuy.

A simple yet satisfying dish, humita en olla doesn’t contain much in the way of exotic ingredients, but it does require patience to make, as the preparation is somewhat labor intensive. Shucking and grating 15 ears of corn is no small task! So, invite some friends over to help, and reap the rewards together as you sit down to a hearty bowl of humita en olla.

Humita en Olla by katiemetz, on Flickr
Humita en Olla | Creamy Stewed Corn

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. ají molido (or substitute crushed red pepper but use a smaller quantity)
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
15 ears of corn with large kernels
1 tsp. sugar
salt and pepper to taste
7 oz. queso cremoso (or substitute mozzarella cheese), cubed
6 fresh basil leaves

Select 15 ears of corn. For the best results, use the freshest corn possible with large, plump kernels. Shuck the corn and carefully remove all the silks. On the largest holes of a box grater, grate the corn into a large bowl. Scrape the corncobs with a butter knife to remove the remaining milky liquid from the kernels.

Heat the vegetable oil and butter in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot. Sauté the onion and bell pepper until soft and lightly browned. Add the paprika, ají molido and tomato, lightly sautéing the ingredients. Add the corn, sugar, salt and pepper.

Cook the corn mixture over low heat for thirty minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and scraping the bottom of the pot (every 5 to 10 minutes). The humita will stick and burn if not watched carefully. Add the basil and cheese and readjust the seasoning as needed. Cook for approximately thirty more minutes, continuing to stir every few minutes. The humita is finished cooking when it is thick and creamy (the consistency will be similar to that of thick oatmeal).

Serve piping hot with crusty bread and a simple salad. The humita tastes even better the next day!

This recipe was originally published by me on the website Hispanic Kitchen. Read More......
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