Nice to meet ya, Argentina

Perhaps this is unfair to the good people of Argentina, but when I think of that fair country to the south, I think of beef. Delicious beef, almost mythically good. I’ve never been to Argentina to see if the beef there is actually as good as they say, but someday, I intend to. Until then, we had to make do with grass fed beef from Trader Joe’s and some homemade chimichurri. It worked out pretty well.

Obviously, Argentina was our destination tonight, and obviously we were going to cook some kind of steak. But, in attempt to be kind to our arteries, we also made some nice quinoa croquettes. The menu was:

Filet Mignon with Chimichurri (The recipe is for skirt steak, but I couldn’t find any at Trader Joe’s and figured that since it was just Mike and me, I might as well go with a nice steak, since we hardly ever eat red meat.)

Milanesa de Quinoa

Of the two, the quinoa croquettes were the more technical (though never underestimate the difficulty of cooking a perfect steak). They weren’t hard, just required a bit of prep time. In total, they took about an hour, including cooking.

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When I was researching this dish, I was interested to learn that much of Argentinian cooking takes its roots from Italian cuisine, since when I think of Argentina I tend to think more of the Spanish conquest. However, as Wikipedia tells me, Argentina has been a destination for many an immigrant over the years, with a large portion coming from Italy. So, as a result, you have more Italian food like milanesas – traditionally, breaded and fried meat (think veal parimigiana) but in this case, breaded quinoa patties.

Quinoa, of course, is a typical grain of South America. Just a few years ago, it would have been rather out of place in my kitchen, but it’s now becoming a staple. Rich in protein, nutty, and easy to make (I cook mine in chicken stock), I generally incorporate it into salads or with lentils. The milanesas gave the quinoa the spotlight, which was well deserved.

This dish included portobello mushrooms. As you know, I hate mushrooms. Hate, hate, hate. I have tried them (yes, Dad, more than once, most recently when we cooked Spain) and I continue to hate them. So, for this recipe, I cut those buggers up nice and tiny, thinking that this way I wouldn’t know that I was eating them. And it worked!

Basically, this dish comes together like any other fried cake. A little egg and flour to bind, some onions, garlic, and carrots for extra flavor and crunch, a dredge in panko, a few minutes in oil, and voila. My tips: make sure the quinoa and veggie mix are cool before you put in the (pre-beaten) egg – you don’t want to cook the egg. Also, keep an eye on the amount of oil and the heat of the pan to ensure even cooking on each side. I’d say about 3 minutes on each and you are good.

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I thought these were really tasty. As I mentioned, I couldn’t tell I was eating mushrooms (none of that spongy, slimy texture going on), but I am sure the portobellos added some flavor. They were nice and crunchy on the outside (the breadcrumbs are optional, but I wouldn’t leave them out), with good flavor throughout. I thought the nuttiness of the quinoa really stood out. These could definitely be a meal unto themselves – just add a salad and you’ve got a healthy, relatively quick and easy dinner.

The steak and chimichurri required much less prep work. Michael was my sous chef today and made the chimichurri, blending all the ingredients together in the Cuisinart.

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His feedback was that it was easy and quick, required only one fresh ingredient (the parsley) but did use a lot of oil. It was tasty, with a nice punch of garlic that was moderated by the oil and the parsley. It was good on the steak, but I think it would also be great on chicken or seafood, if you are into that kind of thing (I am not).

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As for the steak, it was steak. As I said, I used filet mignon, instead of skirt steak. If you were making this for a bigger group of people (and you will definitely have enough chimichurri to do so) using a cheaper cut would be a better option. It’d be a great summertime meal – the bright notes of the chimichurri would go well with steak fresh off the grill.

Since I don’t cook a lot of steak and tend to end up a little more done than I prefer, I turned to the handy internet for assistance and found this how-to. I highly recommend it. My steaks turned out pretty great (maybe a minute over). They had a nice crust from searing in the pan and good flavor throughout.

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All in all, I would say this meal was a success. While Quinn refused to even try a bite (she ate tomatoes for dinner), Michael and I were happy to kick back with a glass of Argentinian wine and tuck in.

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