Location: South America
Population: 7.2 million
Geography: Tropical, with a landscape of plains and some low hills
Language: Guarani, Spanish
Signature flavours: Corn, cheese, onion, chicken, beef, anise, yerba mate
As inadequate as my Spanish is, I did my research in Spanish for this assignment. We are quickly learning that when we look for recipes in the local language (whenever possible, and of course, it isn’t always), we find more, and more authentic, content.
Chipa came up again and again, as did sopa and yerba mate, a regional favourite. I moved away from sopa at first because chipa has a corn/cheese profile, and so does sopa, but I quickly learned that there would be no building a Paraguayan menu without a lot of corn and cheese, so why not.
Chipa de Almidón: Cheesy bread made from cassava flour, commonly sold as street snacks and enjoyed in various forms all over Paraguay.
Prep and cooking time: 90 min
Vori Vori: A chicken-based vegetable soup (I used soy chicken and a homemade vegetable stock) chock full of cheesy corn dumplings. The name is derived from the Guarani approximation of the Spanish word bolitas, “little balls,” referring to the dumplings.
Prep and cooking time: 2 hours
Sopa Paraguaya: Literally “Paraguayan soup” this dish is a complete misnomer. This thick cornbread is rich, cheesy, and filling.
Prep and cooking time: 40 min
Kamby Arró: Sweet, cinnamon-y rice pudding. I used coconut-based condensed milk in place of the regular sort.
Prep and cooking time: 45 min
Mate Cocido con Leche: Yerba mate toasted with white sugar, then boiled, strained, and served with milk.
Prep and cooking time: 10 min
The Shopping List
I found corn flour, cassava flour, and queso fresco at Perola, a grocery store in the Kensington Market neighbourhood that sells all things Latin America (yerba mate, left over from our Uruguay assignment, came from there originally too). Coconut condensed milk came from Loblaws. Everything else was from our local supermarket.
The chipa recipe, from the adorably-named Chipa by the Dozen blog, included pictures of perfectly rounded and twisted chipa, and I worried that mine would be a lumpy mess, but the cassava flour made for a soft, highly moldable dough that obediently leapt into shapes with very little coaxing from me.
While the chipa rose for an hour, I worked on a vegetable stock (tomato, onion, celery, leeks, red pepper, and garlic, all pre-roasted in olive oil, then boiled together for over an hour) for the vori vori. It turned out full of flavour, and once it was all set, I rolled corn-and-cheese dough into bolitas and chucked them in to the hot broth.
The sopa was easy to throw together, and I got that baking while I made the rice pudding. The pudding gave me a little trouble with timing (the rice wasn’t quite cooked through when the milk had boiled off and I had to add more), but ultimately finished at the same time as everything else. I made the tea last since it was so quick and I wanted it steaming hot for our dinner.
I served the chipa in a basket covered in a tea towel so I could reveal them dramatically to my bread-loving husband. They looked so beautiful and I was so proud of them. They had a crisp exterior and a doughy interior, with a great, cheesy flavour. We dipped them into the vori vori, which itself was delicious. The broth was excellent and hearty, and the soy chicken I threw in stayed firm and flavourful. The bolitas were so pillowy and there were plenty of them to go around.
It’s no mystery why sopa is enjoyed all over Paraguay. If you mix corn flour, egg, onions, and cheese together, you get comfort food. Eric and I both enjoyed two slices (and more for breakfast the next day).
Eric LOVES rice pudding (during dinner, he confided that it might be his all-time favourite dessert). I only like it, but we agreed that the kamby arró was a very nice dish — cinnamon-y, sticky and sweet, and the coconut condensed milk leant it a great nutty flavour that made it all the better.
The mate was really good. Highly sweetened is really the only way I enjoy mate, since I find it quite bitter, so this was perfect — sweet and milky with just the right undercurrent of grassy mate-ness.
This was one of my favourite assignments to date. I really enjoyed taking my time to make my own broth, slowly knead the chipa dough (I get the same pleasure from kneading a dough as petting a fluffy animal). With so many assignments under our belts now, it is possible to get caught up in the blogginess and start to get away from the joy that first inspired us to get started on this journey, especially for me, I think, as the writer and photo editor. The Paraguay assignment recaptured that joy, and I feel excited to continue my Wooden Spoon Wandering in a couple of weeks.
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.