Cuyo: Regional Dishes

Flavours of the region

Mendoza…memories from the beginning of the century

Dr. Jorge Ortíz

Mendoza, is a word that immediately reminds Argentineans of their school days. It conjures memories of San Martín, the mayor-governor of Cuyo, who with no economic resources, or soldiers and barely supported by the central government was successful in organizing the region in less than three years. San Martín left Plumerillo marching with 4,000 soldiers and 1500 militias with the crazy idea of crossing the Andes, defeating one of the strongest armies in the planet and setting Perú and Chile free in an enterprise which was unlikely from the beginning.

Who would have considered being part of that quixotic act? Who would have been ready to cope with the hardships and mountain frosts to start such an incredible adventure?

Well, Mendocinos would. The same ones that turned a desert, where it only rains 200 millimeters a year and only 2% of its surface is suitable for cultivation, into one of the most productive provinces of the country.

It is enough to walk along the capital city and watch the streets full of one hundred- year- old plantain trees or get away from the metropolis and see the irrigation ditches where snow runoff  irrigates vines, olives and peaches under a hundred –year- old system of water management, which has been declared a Historic Heritage of Humanity. And thus we understand that the Mendoza province is a magnificent example of the success of men over adversity and natural challenges.

At that uncertain place, far away from the sea and fresh water, which suffers frosts, hail and extreme temperatures, Italian immigrants decided, more than one hundred years ago, with no means or technology, to address the challenge of making wine. Nowadays, their wines receive awards in the most prestigious worldwide contests. Mendoza is one of the world’s wine capitals and well known French, Italian, Spanish and Americans winemakers have settled in its soil setting themselves the goal to make great wines in this unique geography. The road has been long and the achievements many. 

On an autumnal Saturday, bearing those memories in my mind, I took off to San Pablo, a farm at 1,400 meters of altitude. The road along Los Cerrillos would go up and down, and suddenly a panoramic view of the Uco Valley appeared before us. It was a reddish and ocher colored explosion from poplars and vineyards getting ready for the winter. When I woke up the following morning, I found a white landscape typical of the Russian steppe and the snow-covered Andes before me. It was Sunday, surrounded by that immensity and along roads without traces of people; we set off to the Monasterio del Cristo Orante. This is a place where the monks- out of nothing and with nothing- decided to build a prayer site among the mountains and God sent them lonely parishioners that would walk for hours through the mountains to listen to their words. The immensity of the landscape, the silence and the men’s courage impressed me; the sanmartiniana epic can still be sensed in the air.

At noon, we sat at the table with Mendocinos and foreign friends, under the olive trees with branches twisted by the passing of time and in front of the mountains. Three different varieties of olive oil from Maipú, homemade bread baked in the mud oven and empanadas mendocinas (pasties) married with Torrontés or Cabernet were the ideal start. The unmissable Mendocino Parma ham and the smoked wild boar meat from San Rafael did not keep us waiting as I was surprised by the Bonarda de Vistalba chosen to accompany the meal. A trout caught by one of the guests accompanied with local potatoes and an impeccable Chardonnay from Alto Agrelo started the conversation about fishing in Mendoza, about the Laguna del Diamante, the mountain rivers and rafting at Atuel. Then we would listen to the story about a failed climbing of the Aconcagua. Following, rabbit meat from Rivadavia accompanied with carrots and a Viogner from Luján de Cuyo was served while we listened to funny tales told by local winemakers and the inevitable comparisons regarding the wines we were tasting. The Malargue kid with wild rocket accompanied by a Malbec from Vistaflores brought up the subject about skiing in Las Leñas and Penitentes, as well as, the bicycle rides that were the passion of one of the guests. Conversation flows, so does the wine and the afternoon turned magical. The alcayota with nuts marmalade, the grilled quince and a variety of grapes and dry fruits with rosemary ice cream, accompanied by a fizzy wine or a late harvest Malbec or Chardonnay, completed the meal.

Literature took over the table and a friend, to express his opinion on a subject, recited what Calderon de la Barca once said:
 
- What is life? A frenzy
- What is life? An illusion, a shade, a fiction, and the greatest good is little, and the dreams are dreams.

At that point, it did not surprise me that Italians had decided to stay in Mendoza, and that the French who were with us spent long periods there.

Nobody wants to leave and the sunset finds us still sitting at the table. Silently, I said to myself. I am staying. And that was the way it was.

And I do not regret it.
 

Recipes

Chanfaina

Like many of the delicious stews that are made in the country, chanfaina is a preparation made with lamb or goat offal.

Ingredients (4 servings):

1 kg. lamb or goat offal 
4 tbsp. refined grease
2 onions
2 cups broth
1 red pepper
1 tsp. powdered chili pepper
1 tsp. oregano
½ tbp. cumin
2 tbsp. sultanas
4 tbsp. chopped walnuts
300 tbsp. coarse salt

Preparation:

On a platter, cover the giblets with coarse salt, and let them stand overnight at a cold temperature. The next day, wash the giblets and boil in hot water about 30 min. Drain and dry. Set aside.

In a saucepan over low heat, melt grease and saute the onions and chopped peppers. Incorporate the giblets with the broth, and cook until reduced. Add raisins, nuts, cumin, and red pepper. Cook 3 min. Remove and sprinkle with oregano. Serve.

Dulce de Zapallo (Sweet of Pumpkin)

It is a tradition to use the fruits of the region such as pumpkin and quince to make delicious sweets.

Ingredients:

1 kg. pumpkin
750 gr. sugar
1 vanilla pod

Peel the pumpkin with a sharp-bladed knife, remove seeds and cut into cubes. Cook pumpkin cubes with cloves in a tall pot with water for 40 min. Remove, take out the cloves, place in a bowl and refrigerate. 

The next day, take the cubes to the pot, add sugar and an equal part of water, the vanilla pod, and simmer until the cubes soften. Add water if necessary. Having softened the pumpkin, remove from the fire, then crush cubes to form the sweet. Save the sweet in an airtight container and keep cool.

Tomaticán

This is a traditional dish from the region of Cuyo. It is easy to prepare and supports variants such as the use of egg or beef.

Ingredients (4 servings):

500 gr. ripe tomatoes
500 gr. onions
½ cup corn kernels
1 clove of garlic
2 tbsp. oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tbp. oregano

Preparation:

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add oil with cut onions and brown. Add the peeled tomatoes without seeds cut into small cubes. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring, and add the corn kernels.  Season with salt. Remove and sprinkle with oregano.