Location: South America
Population: 3.4 million
Geography: A country of plains, rivers, and fertile coastland
Signature flavours: Beef, dairy, yerba mate, egg, pasta, dulce de leche, quince
Uruguay, like its South American neighbour to the west, Argentina, is a land of many cows, and as a result, many beef recipes. Because WSW is a pescatarian blog (due to my dietary restrictions — Eric would have gladly made a beefy Uruguayan feast), Eric was faced with the challenge of a beef-free menu. He took his recipes from some great online locations after a bit of a slow start finding sources.
Chivito Uruguayo: This quintessential Uruguayan sandwich includes a prime cut of beef (soy burger for us), ham (soy ham), bacon (seitan bacon), a fried egg, cheese, tomato, roasted red pepper, onion, lettuce, and mayonnaise. White literally meaning “little goat,” this Uruguayan staple dish contains no goats of any size.
Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Papas Escarchadas: The Uruguayan fully loaded potato — a boiled potato filled with spiced cream cheese, and topped with olives and roasted peppers.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Ojitos Uruguayos: Sugar cookies baked with a topping of quince jam.
Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Mate Charrua: Yerba mate tea, steeped and served in a hollowed-out gourd, or “mate.”
Prep and cooking time: 5 min
The Shopping List
The veggie burgers and ham were both found at the fancypants Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens. The “bacon” was from King’s Cafe. The yerba tea and hardware, along with the quince jam, Eric bought at Perola Supermarket. The rest of the ingredients came from Bulk Barn and our local store.
Knowing he had to vegetarian-ize a very meaty sandwich, Eric looked for the best in meat alternatives. Sol veggie burgers came recommended by the internet, Yves does a decent veggie ham, and seitan from King’s Cafe in Kensington Market was a must for the bacon alternative. The chivito was juicy, hearty, and layered with flavours and textures. Eric gave it a 3/5 for difficulty only because of how involved it was to put together. In fact, he found his Uruguay assignment a leisurely task in comparison to the usual chop-fry-stir-strain-bake-mix-cry situation.
The potato was a great side for the chivito. The spiced cream cheese contained thyme, paprika, pepper and salt, and the roasted red peppers added a little sweetness to an otherwise savoury dish.
The ojitos (“eyes”) were a huge hit. We had to force ourselves not to eat the entire tray. These thumbprint cookies were sweet and crumbly, a nice soft sugar cookie, but what made them really fantastic was the dollop of quince jam on top. Uruguay is among the world’s top growers of quinces, a yellow fruit native to the Middle East. The jam tasted somewhat similar to apple butter, which is not surprising since quinces are in the apple and pear family. Neither of us had ever tried quince before, and now we can add it to our jam roster.
Yerba mate comes with a fair bit of ritual (purists have all sorts of rules, such as: NEVER TOUCH THE STRAW WITH YOUR FILTHY PAWS; also NO SUGAR, YOU ANIMAL; also NO RE-STEEPING OR ELSE; and 146 other commandments). Eric bought both the painted gourd and the metal filtered straw called a bombilla that Uruguayans use to enjoy their favourite tea. Mate has a pleasant grassy, slightly bitter flavour. Uruguayans, Eric told me, often sit and share mate throughout the day, and they never say “thank you” until they are done drinking for the day. I kept forgetting, though, and thanked him every time he passed me the mate.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.