Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Yerba Maté

I honor of Uruguay's world cup victory, I decided to break out my bombilla, and treat myself to some hot, bracing yerba maté. Yerba maté is a tea-like infusion of the pulverized leaves of a South American tree of the genus Ilex, a close relative of the holly tree. This infusion is a popular beverage in southern South America (Argentina, southern Brazil, and the "Axis of 'Guay"). It is commonly drunk from a gourd (maté), using a bombilla, a metal straw with a strainer at the tip which is inserted into the gourd. Yerba maté contains caffeine and other alkaloids, so it has a stimulant effect. Traditionally, the beverage is consumed in communal style, the leaves are placed in the gourd, then hot water is poured over the leaves. The consumer drinks the beverage, then passes the gourd to the designated pourer, who refills the gourd for the next consumer. The first "fill" of the mug is extremely strong and bitter, and care must be taken not to drink any of the "sediment" of finely-ground leaves that may rest on the gourd's bottom. Each additional refill of the gourd results in a weaker infusion, and the beverage actually has a pleasant flavor by the third or fourth "fill" (one has to grit one's teeth and put up with the stuff before this). Of course, those not used to drinking the stuff can brew it as if it were tea (when pressed for time, I'll throw some of the stuff in the coffee pot, and brew a thermos-full).

Rather than a gourd, my maté is an embossed-leather wrapped wooden cup, advertising Pajarito brand yerba maté from Paraguay. Other brands I have tried are Argentina's Cruz de Malta, and the pictured brand, Canarias, from Uruguay:

Locally, yerba maté can be purchased in the C-Town supermarket in Tarrytown, which has a wide variety of South American products (including cuy). Another source for yerba maté (and the best source for bombillas and matés in Westchester) is the Panaderia Uruguaya Las Gemelas, a Uruguayan bakery in Port Chester, which also makes very good empanadas and pastries (their tres leches cake and dulce de leche-filled pastries are top-notch). Also on Westchester Avenue in Port Chester, one can find Inca y Gaucho, a Peruvian/Uruguayan restaurant (and possible future post topic).

UPDATE: For the sake of accuracy, please note that the Canarias company seems to be headquartered in Uruguay, but the actual product in the bag pictured above is Brazilian. The label, however, is in Spanish.

Monday, June 14, 2010

They've Got These Pies...

Last week, I stopped into the Down Under Bakery, on Prospect Park West for a taste of Antipodean cuisine. The cornerstone of DUB's menu is the New Zealand pie, which also seems to be a cornerstone of New Zealand cuisine.

Down Under Bakery does a brisk takeout business, and provides pies for other venues (I had my first DUB pie, a Thai curry pie, at The Bell House in Gowanus). The storefront operation has a small, spare dining room- strictly no frills here. Service was good, but I was the only customer on the premises at the time. The steak and cheese pie was good, a well-prepared, simple item- I imagine it would be a perfect complement to a nice, fat pint of beer (I had to settle for a delicious ginger tea). A spinach and feta roll was a good chaser for the pie. Foolishly, I decided to forgo dessert, though reading a description of the Lamington makes me regret my folly. Next time, this mistake will not be repeated.

All told, Down Under Bakery makes for an interesting snack/light meal alternative, though I must confess that it won't knock the local pizzeria off it's premier position in the "quick but good" food pantheon.

Note: The breakfast pie featured on the DUB menu seems to be a nod to American tastes- I have been led to believe that the traditional breakfast in New Zealand consists of black pudding and akvavit.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Forager's Diary

This weekend was a banner one for foraging- early-ripening mulberries are plentiful, and I am keeping at least some of them from falling on, and staining, parked cars by greedily stuffing my mouth with them. Lamb's quarters plants grown in profusion in my neighborhood, and they are comparable in taste to Swiss chard (I merely parboiled some cuttings, then sauteed them with garlic and bacon). I have also located a nice patch of purslane, which I tend to consume raw, without accompaniment- it has a succulent texture, and a pleasantly sour flavor. Known as verdolagas in Spanish, purslane is prized in Mexican cuisine, often stewed with pork. Since it's a prolific weed, I forsee trying the verdolagas stew recipe... if I can prevent myself from scarfing down the purslane as soon as I wash it. Here's a link to a site with a vegetarian verdolagas recipe, with the added bonus of a song about la verdolaga.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Culinary Confession

Bless me, James Beard, for I have sinned- it has been six weeks since my last culinary confession. Last week, I ate dirt pudding... a concoction that a friend of mine, who was running an afterschool program for seven-year-olds, had whipped up after teaching the little urchins about soil. To make the dirt pudding, she mashed up an Entemann's Bakery chocolate-chocolate cake with store-bought chocolate pudding (she prefers to use Kozy Shack brand), chocolate chips, and Cocoa Pebbles cereal. For a added element of "grossness" guaranteed to appeal to any seven-year-old, she garnished the dirt pudding with Gummi Worms.

As can be expected, the resulting soil simulating salmagundi was trashy, but tasty. If I ever make it at home, I'll be sure to wash it down with a copious amount of White Russians.