I love cooking! Food plays a big part in my life. I am the type of girl who plans my day around my meals. What am I going to make for dinner? Where am I going to eat for lunch? When I travel, I make food bucket lists, plotting out all of the restaurants I want to try. After my Week One – Buenos Aires post, my good friend Kathryn from San Francisco suggested we take a cooking class. She said it is a fun activity, a great way to experience the culture, and a skill you can apply back home. I began researching Argentine cooking classes and found several options including Tierra Negra Cooking Classes, Cecilia D’Imperio, and Cook Abroad. Eventually, I stumbled upon Norma Soued’s Argentinean Cooking Class through The Travel Chica’s blog. The location, menu, and the price that Argentine Cooking Class offers fit exactly what I was looking for. After reaching out to the Norma, she was quick to respond and offered a winter discount. Score! I begged Drew to come with me and we signed up for the following weekend.
On a chilly Saturday morning, Drew and I arrived in Belgrano, a northern neighborhood of Buenos Aires, for our Argentinian cooking class. Those who know me understand I am not a morning person so, of course we were running late but we were able to hop into a cab and managed to make it on time. We arrived at a well maintained 70’s style apartment building and were ushered upstairs by our host. We were greeted by Norma, a sweet woman in her mid-50’s who told us her phycology practice pays the bills but sharing in Argentinean cooking classes two times week is her passion. We were introduced to Maud, our cooking classmate originally from France and currently living in Buenos Aires. She has been working in the city for almost a year as an apartment finder for expats.
We sat down and started class with a glass of water and briefly reviewed the recipes we were to prepare. The menu included carne (beef) empanadas, traditional lentil stew, and alfajores, a lemon sugar cookie with dulce de leche filling. We washed our hands and headed into the kitchen. Norma told us we would be working on the lentil stew and the empanada filling at the same time since they shared many of the same ingredients. Norma had prepped in advanced some of the menu items including soaking the lentils, chopping the chorizo for the stew, dicing the white onions and measuring out the raisins. Drew started chopping red and green peppers and I sliced green onions, squash, and hard boiled eggs. Maud sautéed all the onions and peppers in one pan. Once they were soft/sweating, Maud added half the mixture into the pot of cooking lentils and then the squash and chorizo. We cooked the ground beef in the original pan and finished by throwing in the raisins and hard-boiled eggs.
We let the carne mixture cool while the lentil stew cooked. We moved into the study to start making the alfajores cookie dough. Norma explained the different ingredients and we measure out the dry and wet ingredients into separate bowls. Drew was in charge of mixing and I slowly added the dry ingredients. When the dough was set, Norma brought out the carne empanada filling and chilled empanada wrappers. Norma walked us through the process of filling the wrappers, sealing and braiding the edges, and then we attempted to recreate the same process. After we finished all the empanadas, we brushed the outside with an egg wash which gives that distinct empanada shell. We moved back into the kitchen and put the empanadas in the oven.
While the empanadas cooked and the lentil stew slowly simmered, we took out the alfajores dough from the fridge. Norma split the dough in half, floured the surface and rolled out the dough to a quarter inch thick. We took turns cutting the cookie dough and placing it on a cookie sheet. While the cookies cooked in the oven, Norma brought us back to the study. She explained that the cookie we made would be for the next class and the cookies we would fill were made by the previous class. We spread sweet and sticky dulce de leche onto a cookie and placed another cookie on top. To finish, we rolled the alfajores in grated coconut.
After our cooking lesson, we sat down in the living room for our feast. We tried two Argentinean wines, Malbec and Torrontes. Malbec is one of my favorite red wines! Norma and her assistant brought out the lentil stew and poured everyone a bowl. The stew was hot, thick, hardy and perfect for our chilly afternoon. It was so tasty that I had a second bowl. After the stew, we tried our empanadas, which were hot, flakey, and rich. Norma said she liked to dip her empanadas in chimichurri, a dry seasoning mixed with olive oil and red wine vinegar. It helped cut some of the richness and added extra spice and flavor.
After having too many empanadas, Norma brought out her Mate (MAH-tay) cups and thermos. Yerba Mate is a highly caffeinated tea containing several vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. Mate is social activity in Argentina. According to Guyraki “The first step of the ceremony is the preparation of the gourd. Typically, the cebador (mate server) prepares mate for a friend or a group of friends. The cebador drinks the first one or two gourd-fulls, testing the waters to ensure that only a smooth running mate is shared. Then the gourd is refilled with water and passed counter-clockwise with the bombilla (straw-filter) facing the recipient. Each person drinks the entire gourd: "you share the vessel, not the liquid." The recipient of the gourd has as much time as needed to finish the gourd-full. After the last few sips of the mate are gone, the gourd is returned with the bombilla facing the cebador. The gourd is refilled with hot water and follows around the circle, continuing in this fashion until the mate is. If someone has had enough mate, they simply say gracias (thank you) to indicate that they are finished.”
At first, I didn’t really like the taste of Mate. It was bitter and grassy tasting but it grew on me after the second cup. Mate was especially good with the fresh alfajores! What I do like about mate is that it has similar amount of caffeine to coffee, but it doesn’t make me feel jittery or upset my stomach. Since our class, Drew and I have each gotten our own Mate cups from the San Telmo market.
Overall, cooking Argentinian food was fun and a wonderful experience. If you ever visit Buenos Aires, I would highly recommend booking a cooking class with Norma. She is friendly, speaks English well, the class is affordable and the food is delicious! Not only did I enjoy cooking each dish, but I also loved learning about the culture and traditions of Argentina. I am looking forward to making all of the dishes again for my friends and family!
Have you ever taken a cooking class while traveling? What is your favorite international dish to cook?
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