In July, both Argentina and Uruguay have celebrated their respective birthdays on July 9 and July 18th, respectively. Feliz Cumple Vecinos Míos!
So what do Argentines and Uruguayans do to celebrate? Why gather to eat, drink, and be merry, of course. Perhaps some gaucho activities or an asado in the countryside. Isn’t that what any and all countries do for independence day? For starters, keep in mind that it’s cold down here. July is the depths of winter, much like January or February up north. While much of Argentina and Uruguay aren’t buried under four feet of snow, it is quite chilly. Like this morning in Montevideo, where I am staying this week, with thick-as-pea-soup fog hovering around 32F. So naturally, the hankerings are going to be towards stick-to-your-rib, warm-you-up type dishes.
One of the most typical foods prepared at this time of year, which coincides with Independence celebrations, is Carbonada, part of the repertoire of Argentina and Uruguay’s comida criolla, creole food. Of course, there’s always some empanadas and an asado happening too, but our focus is on Carbonada. This dish is prepared throughout the country’s regions particularly in the winter. This sweet-and-savory dish always includes stewed beef; onion; tomatoes; fresh starchy vegetables like corn, squash, or sweet potatoes; and the unusual addition of fruit such as peaches (canned in the colder months), pears, or grapes.
In Argentina, I have even seen Argentineans traditionally prepare carbonada inside a whole pumpkin. The contents are added and the whole pumpkin is baked in the oven or over hot coals. It is, in a word, succulent. As with much of creole cuisine in Latin America, every home and cook have its own variation of this dish with different ingredients. I chose peaches by my friend María likes grapes. The most important component beyond the flavors is the soupy nature. If the liquid disappears, it’s not truly Carbonada so ojo, careful, with that.
I suggest that you experiment with your favorite flavors for your own unique carbonada. This recipe is adapted from my cookbook, Knack South American Cooking, now out in the United States.
And this may be a rhetorical, but don’t forget the Malbec or the Tannat. Puh-lease. Salud che!
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds stewing beef, cut in small cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 cups beef stock
1 cup white wine
3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cubed
4 ears sweet corn, cut into 2-inch slices
2 peaches, fresh or canned, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 pear, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish
Heat half the oil in heavy pot. Add beef and brown. Reserve. In same pot, heat remaining oil and sauté onions until soft. Add the garlic, tomatoes, and pepper; sauté 5 minutes until tomatoes are soft. Mash slightly.
Add the bay leaves, oregano, vinegar, stock, and wine. Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits.
Incorporate reserved meat with potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squash. Cover and simmer on low, about 40 minutes, until vegetables are tender. During the last five minutes of cooking, add in corn cobs and fruit; simmer for 5 minutes.
To serve, ladle into deep bowls with ample room for meat, vegetables, and the delicious broth. Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty country bread.