Well . . . it's certainly been a long time. I had an intense couple months of fieldwork, which was followed by an intensive month of writing and my first academic conference. All this went well, but I'm afraid let this blog slide. While I haven't been blogging in the last months, I have not stopped cooking, and think I'll just spend the next few posts catching you all up on what I've been eating. The last post that I had planned is actually from when my parents were visiting Paraguay. We did a lot of cooking and eating, not unlike when they would visit me in Boston.
1. One of Asunción's must visit restaurants is Bar San Roque. It is actually Asuncion's oldest restaurant and has been open more than 100 years. We (re)discovered it when I was little and my sister was going through a phase of obsessively repeating words she thought sounded cool. We were deciding where to go for dinner, someone had suggested Bar San Roque, and Alice started an endless chant of "Bar San Roque, Bar San Roque . . . " until my parents relented. While she didn't actually want to go there, we have her craziness to thank for discovering one of our favorite restaurants in the whole world. The menu has some German influence, but San Roque has some of the best traditional Paraguayan food in Asuncion (of course the best traditional food is home cooked and in the countryside). Pictured here are the only things that a first time visitor should even consider ordering: Asado a la olla ( beef short ribs that have been boiled and then browned in there own rendered fat), and Bife Koguã (steaks cooked in a sauce with tomatoes, green and red peppers, onions, and cilantro, topped off with poached eggs). They make a good chipa guazú (a sort of corn and cheese soufflé), milanesa de surubí (breaded fried fillets of a delicious local river fish), and bife de lomito con cebollas (pan-grilled tenderloin with grilled onions). If you make it to Bar San Roque, you should definitely not pass up a style of Pilsen Chopp (draft of the excellent local pilsner-style beer). For some reason, the beer taste better here than anywhere else in town (ask for a manija grande de chopp).
2. We also went to a german festival at the local German club. After living in northeast Wisconsin for four years during college, I can't say I was impressed with the food. But it was cool to see them making split pea soup in these huge cauldrons.
3. One night when we didn't feel like going out I made a quick lima bean soup. I browned some bacon and a left over pork bone I had in the freezer (I believe it was left over from the tofu with pork and long beans), added some diced turnips and potatoes, onions and garlic, and deglazed with some sherry, covered with water and closed the pressure cooker. After maybe 15 minutes i added the fresh (but starchy paraguayan) lima beans, and softened them for another 15 minutes. I believe the green was fresh thyme. It was really delicious
4. I also had some chicken livers left over from something, and had been wanting to make chopped liver since I saw Ina Garten make it. I thought it was really good, but extremely rich. It was also one of the first meals I prepared with the awesome gift my parents gifted me: a food processor. I'll write more about the processor later, but I've got to say, it's been really useful. I've never been a food processor person, since until now I haven't undertaken many cooking tasks that a blender can't handle. But since I'm making so much from scratch here (e.g. tahini, falafel) it has come in really handy.
5. A different night we used purchases from the agroshopping and the mercado 4 (the largest public market in Asuncion) to make Surubí en papillote, with miso and shimeji mushrooms. Next to the fish is my mothers excellent asparagus risotto. Cooking fish in parchment paper is easy and delicious, and the result is light and very flavorful. I believe in addition to miso, mushrooms, and fish, these parchments had bean sprouts, carrots, green onion, ginger, pepper, and the white wine pictured here. I'm afraid I can't remember the name of the wine, but I would give it my highest recommendation. This particular bottle had sat for who knows how many years in probably the worst place imaginable for wine storage: above the refrigerator in the kitchen, where the heat irregularly ejected by the fridge and the stove did its best to spoil it. Then, it was moved outdoors and stored alternatively next to the stove and the grill for the better part of this year. By the time we actually opened it, the cork was as dry and crumbly, and we opened it only for lack of anything else to drink. Despite having been through wine hell, it was actually pretty good. A little too sweet, perhaps, but not bad.
6. The best meal we had was sun-dried tomato and mascarpone ravioli with tomato braised shortribs and sausages. I made the filling out of ground sun-dried tomatoes, mascarpone and sardo cheese, roasted red pepper, and rosemary. My mother made the sauce (I never get it to turn out as good) and probably the best pasta I've ever had in my life. The ravioli turned out perfect, they were pillowy and light with just the right texture.
7. The timing of my parents visit coincided with my Birthday. We had a big barbeque with all my relatives, and David made this really beautiful and excellent cake for me. It was just the kind of cake I like, not too sweet. He's actually much better at baking than I am.
8.Here is a very traditional lunch of puchero con bori bori. I promise that I am still working on a whole series of posts that will turn dinner bell into the go-to website for Paraguayan recipes, but until then, I'll post pictures and descriptions of some of the outstanding meals we have. It's actually kind of ironic. I've always hated when I'm looking for a really obscure recipe and I find a website that describes, pictures, or otherwise mentions some dish but gives no effort a providing a recipe. Now I am guilty of it myself. But I've decided this website and a potential Paraguayan cookbook are going to be my side project while I do my Fulbright year here. At any rate, puchero (in Paraguay) is basically a beef bone soup (made with neck bones, oxtail, and or short ribs) with boiled vegetables (at home we usually had carrots, potatoes, squash, and cabbage). Here you can see some of the meet and boiled vegetables served with a watercress salad (a traditional accompaniment) and the broth served with bori bori, which are dumplings made from cornmeal and cheese.
9. Another fruit that was in season around this time was "grosella" (to the right in the picture) It took me a while to figure out what this was. In the stands of the supermarket and farmers market they always looked really pretty, and I had tried and liked grosella juice before. But I couldn't imagine what it was or how it was used. But, guessing it would be juicy and taste sort of like a berry, I went ahead and bought some, assuming that I could identify on the internet. but when I examined and sampled one, I discovered that it was basically a flower bud and tasted as much, dry and kind of sour. Furthermore, my internet sleuthing was thwarted by the fact that "grosella" actually means current in standard Spanish and I couldn't find anything that seemed close to what I purchased. Finally, on a website talking about an agricultural diversification development project in Paraguay I found the scientific name, did a second search for that, and discovered that the fruit in question was actually quite familiar to me. It was the calyx of the roselle flower most commonly used to make the Mexican refreshment agua de jamaica, sometimes served hot as "hibiscus tea" in the U.S.
I knew that it was a member of the hibiscus family, but having only seen the flowers dried, I imagined that they looked more like this.
At any rate, I ended up substituting the hibiscus flowers for the cranberries in a recipe for cranberry sauce with kumquats (which were also in season and abundant). I think the sauce turned out ok, and it was meant to be served with
9. Roast ducks. But I think these particular ducks had sat in our grocer's freezer for a bit too long. While the duck itself tasted fine, the sauce definitely tasted 'off' after I added the duck pan drippings that had been de-glazed with some red wine. After having gone through all the trouble of identifying the roselle flowers and then making the sauce, I was kind of annoyed--I think especially because this was mine and my mom's birthday lunch. But then, I'm not sure if I like kumquats either. They seem like such a good citrusy idea, but in reallity, they are all pith and are kind of bitter. Maybe I just needed to add a lot more sugar. The nurse who comes to help take care of my grandmother nearly fainted when we told her how much the ducks cost, and she said she could get us live ones for much cheaper next time. I'll probably take her up on it.