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September 29, 2011

Empanadas y Alfajores

On somewhat of a whim, I decided to attend ekoparty, a security conference in Buenos Aires. And since it takes awhile to get down to Argentina from California, I decided to add on a week of vacation to explore, practice some Castellano (well, Spanish), and catch a futbol game. I know, I know... I lead a hard life.

A refurbished oil factory, the incredible venue of ekoparty.
Ekoparty was an excellent conference. The translators were good (useful for the rare non-Spanish understanding attendees, like me) and most of the talks were pretty interesting. They also did an incredible job decking the venue out to fit a Cold Waresque theme. A huge kudos to the organizers, particularly Federico Kirchbaum, who made sure Chris and I were taken care of and fed very well during our stay. He even invited us to an asado at La Brigada after the conference, which was THE most amazing meal of meat I've ever had. I think I've found a new contender to the, "What's your last meal?" game, and its name is mollejah.

After ekoparty, the first item on my last-minute-planned-vacation agenda was to take a cooking class. Taking a cooking class is becoming a vacation trend of mine. A class makes it easy to meet new people, gives you immediate access to a friendly local person willing to share tips and stories you'll never read in a LonelyPlanet, and food is something everyone in the world knows and loves. Plus, you leave with recipes to recreate some tasty memories once you're back home.

I emailed a few places in the weeks coming up to my trip and heard back from Norma of http://www.argentinecookingclasses.com, who offers a class in how to make empanadas, guiso de lentejas, and alfajores. Norma doesn't have any chef pedigree or formal training, but she loves to cook and teach, and that sounded pretty good to me. She holds the class from her apartment in Belgrano, a barrio of Buenos Aires, which is where I headed last Saturday morning to meet Norma and the five other ladies taking the class.

Norma
After introductions, we all headed to the kitchen to chop, simmer, and stir. We started with our main dishes, beef empanadas and guiso de lentejas (lentil stew). Both dishes start with a base of sauteed onions, green and red peppers, and garlic. We set aside some of this for our empanada filling and left the rest for our guiso. To the guiso, we added chorizo, jambon, carrots, stock, cooked lentils, and tomato sauce, then let that simmer away in the corner and shifted attention to the empanadas.



For the empanada filling, we added beef, spices, and tomato sauce (to make them "juicy"). Once cooked, we took it off the stove top to cool, and once cooled, we added chopped olives, boiled eggs, and black raisins. Norma gave us a dough recipe to make, but we used ready made dough that was pre-cut into perfect empanada-sized circles. I doubt I'll be able to find this shape easily in the U.S., but the dough seemed to be the same as frozen pie crust dough, which could just as easily be rolled out and recut.

Pinch, turn, continue...
I made this one!
Norma showed us the pinch-and-turn empanada folding technique. Some of the women struggled with this step and made some pretty sad looking empanadas, but I was a natural - finally, I've found my calling! We brushed the empanadas with a thin egg glaze to make them bronze and popped them in the oven.

Beef empanadas, straight from the oven.
Lastly, we made alfajores, a traditional Argentinian cookie sandwich filled with dulce de leche. Having already been a few days in Buenos Aires by this point, I was familiar with the cookie. They're sold everywhere, ranging from cheap convenience store varieties to the more delicately packaged, chocolate dipped Havannas to freshly baked and bagged cookies of different sizes in pastelerias and restaurants. The cookie part is similar to a lemon shortbread and the filling is dulce de leche. Thick, rich, gorgeous dulce de leche.

Bake your cookies, let them cool completely, sandwich them up, and then roll them in some shredded coconut. I dare you to try and eat only one...

No skimping on the dulce de leche filling with these alfajores!
Finishing touches to our alfajores.
After all of our efforts, we sat down to trade stories and enjoy our hard work, accompanied by a salad and Argentinian Malbec. Norma gave each of us an alfajore cookie cutter as a parting gift and we left with full bellies and a few cookies to enjoy for later.

Drooling yet? I was after just flipping through all of these pictures again, so I ran out to buy some dulce de leche from the Carrefour around the corner and plan to put my cookie cutter and recipe to good use. If you're in or around Mountain View when I get back next week, look out for the girl with the bad Spanish walking around with a tray of these sweet Argentinian treats.
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