Meal 92: Laos

If a lot of this food looks like what you've eaten at a Thai restaurant, it's no mistake. Much of the population of northern Thailand is ethnically Lao, and many "Thai" restaurants in the US are actually run by Lao families, or Isan, which is a term for people in northern Thailand whose language and culture have Lao roots. In fact, the Center for Lao Studies is encouraging "Lao people laying claim to the food that is rightfully theirs." So if you like green papaya salad, sticky rice, or larb, well, you like Lao food!

(At this point, I should mention that while Lao is the predominant ethnicity, there are several other groups who can be called Laotian, that is, coming from the territory of the country of Laos. Notably, the Hmong are Laotian, but not Lao. I didn't specifically aim for any Hmong or other ethnicities' food in this meal. Also, I by no means mean to imply that all Thai food is of Lao origin, there's a whole universe of amazing food in Thailand that blends influences from all over with local ingenuity and ingredients.)

Lao food is a riot of herbs; just about everything is abundantly flavored with super-fresh greens like cilantro, mint, scallion, basil, and a variety of others that barely have English names — seriously, I bought four bunches of cilantro and probably should have gotten more. It's also got a distinctive fish sauce, padaek, which is almost as thick as ketchup and has a richer complexity than the liquid kind seen in Vietnamese and Thai. Recipes didn't specifically call for it, but padaek turned up enough in my research that I felt emboldened to use it. But the number one distinctive aspect of a Lao table is the sticky rice. Laos is the world leader in per-capita consumption of sticky rice, and it's considered an essential part of the Lao experience. Apparently it can also get pretty spicy, but I toned that down quite a lot so the crowd would enjoy the food.

Joining us for this post-holiday meal were our neighbors Chris, Cam, and Colin; my aunt Marcia and her boyfriend Jeff; Deena; and Laura's parents Eileen and Lyall and her sister Jen.

Bia | Beer

Beerlao is probably Laos's best-known export, and it's really pretty good. I'm not sure if I'd go so far as the newspaper review that deemed it the "Dom Perignon of southeast Asian beers," but it's quite satisfying. The dark version's maltiness was a lovely balance to the sour and fishy flavors of the dishes, and apparently it's gluten-free, which I'm assuming means they brew it entirely with rice and no barley. (The standard lager is apparently about 20% rice, and while less flavorful to my tastebuds, certainly satisfying and easy to drink plenty of.) I implied earlier that Thai restaurants show no explicit hint of Lao influence, but that's not quite true — some of them serve Beerlao, and if you see it, I encourage you to try it as a more flavorful alternative to lighter Thai beers.

Larb gai | Chicken and herb salad | Recipe

Larb, laap, lahb, lab — it's the Hanukkah of southeast Asian cuisine, what with how many ways there are to transliterate it into English. There's also as many types of meats you can make it with: pork, beef (cooked or raw), fish, and beyond. I went with chicken, as it's a milder flavor that creates a platform for all those other flavors to launch from.

Perhaps foolishly, I decided to hand-chop rather than grind the chicken thighs. Maybe there was a slight difference in texture, but after fifteen minutes with the chef's knife (and regretting several times that I'd gotten rid of my cleaver in the move), I was regretting my choice. The rest of the recipe proceeded nicely, and I was glad that I was able to find all the ingredients, because that little bit of toasted sticky rice powder ended up having a huge impact on the texture and flavor, adding both a rich nuttiness and a little bit of grit to contrast the squeaky chicken and crisp herbs.

The only lettuce I could find was really sad and brown, but fortunately I picked up a bunch of shiso (chrysanthemum) leaves on a lark. They probably don't use those as the taco-like vessel for eating larb, but the leaf's haunting mint-basil-esque flavors sure worked well.

Nam khao | Crispy rice salad | Recipe

Holy wow, this is a delicious dish. It's a lot of work, but what a payoff! And it introduced me to a brand new food I never new about: sour sausage, a fermented and uncooked — and bright red — pork product, usually called nam or nem in your better-equipped southeast Asian market. (Before you get all grossed out, remember that salami works on the same uncooked-fermentation principle, just for longer until much of the moisture is lost.)

So, once you've made rice and cooled it (or, if you've got leftover rice on hand, so much the easier — turns out you want jasmine and not sticky rice for this one), you mix it with both shredded and powdered coconut, egg, and a bunch of garlic, make it into balls, and fry it to crispy. Then here's where it gets fun: after those fried balls have cooled, you break them up, so some bits are crispy and others are the soft inside, and mix that with herbs, fish sauce, lemon juice, and crumbles of the aforementioned sour sausage. It's a similarly abundant burst of flavors and textures, but in a different direction from the larb, so even though the two are meaty salads, they're certainly different enough to count for variety on the table.

Khao niao | Sticky rice | Recipe

The name I saw in all the recipes was "sticky rice," but when I got to the store, the closest thing I saw was called "sweet rice." It was also labeled in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Hmong, so as I stood in the aisle of Hong Phat Supermarket, I pulled up a PDF scan of a health-practioner's Hmong-English dictionary to verify that what I saw on the package could also be translated as "sticky rice." (Here's what I bought, though I only got 5 pounds.)

I generally make a rule of not buying cooking equipment I'll use only once, but happily I found the proper steaming basket for a mere 2 bucks at another market, so I made an exception. It did require a bit of adaptation to fit over the steaming water, but it turns out the ring from one of those two-part deep cake pans (the kind with the hole in the middle) worked pretty well. I didn't do the flipping right: rather than a single assertive jostle to get the grains on top closer to the steam, I ended up stirring it around, which was slower and less efficient. I think going for five pounds all at once wasn't the right approach, and with so much rice it probably would have benefitted from an overnight soak rather than the 4 hours I afforded. But hey, it turned out tasty. And abundant.

Jeow mak keua | Eggplant dip | Recipe

While there's an abundance of fresh herbs in the other dishes, there wasn't anything featuring a vegetable proper, so I took a shot at this eggplant dip. I was also interested to see how the combination of sticky rice and dip would work. It's pretty easy to make this dip, just roast everything, let it cool, peel it, throw in that funky padaek fish sauce, and mash. But, whooo-eee! On first taste, it was really pungent, the uncooked fish sauce overpowering everything. Good thing I made this a bit in advance, because like a complex wine, an hour of breathing allowed it to mellow out and become decent, like a bizarro fishy baba ghannoush, eaten in an equally bizarro manner with little clumps of sticky rice. Not sure if this was the pinnacle of Lao cuisine, and it sure ain't pretty, but it was fun to try.

Tom hua pa | Fish soup | Recipe

This one involved a bit of adaptation. While the recipe says it's for fish heads, I made it with chunks of catfish. And the grocery store didn't have the normal button mushrooms that are probably intended, so you see oyster mushrooms here. Finally, instead of arugula, I opted for watercress, which is also what the store had and what I figured was probably more likely to be what you'd get in Laos.

The soup was tasty enough, with the tang of lime, the trinity of lemongrass, ginger and galangal, and the freshness of herbs, but it was missing depth. And then I realized I forgot to add the padaek, the fish sauce! With a little swirl of sauce, the soup took on a vibrancy and richness that made all the difference.

Khao niao ma muang | Sweetened coconut sticky rice with mango | Recipe

An astute reader will note that there's no mango in this photo. I should have read the writing on the wall when both Asian markets I went to had no mangoes for sale, opting for another option such as banana, but I kept plowing ahead until I found a produce stand with five sad mangoes left. They were terrible, overripe and too starchy at the same time, and went straight to the compost bin.

Fortunately, the rest of the dish was tasty enough to stand on its own. It's really nothing more than a sauce of palm sugar dissolved into warm coconut milk, poured over the rice left from the meal. It was surprisingly reminiscent of the sticky toffee pudding I'd made for Christmas dinner two nights before: thick, rich, and addictive, with a caramel-esque flavor from the palm sugar. A satisfying, and filling, end to one of the better meals of the year!

Meal 80: Ireland

I thought this was going to be a meal of corned beef and raisin-studded soda bread. I quickly learned that that would be perhaps the meal of an Irish immigrant in America, but not really one to be found on the Emerald Isle. You’ll see why! The diet of Ireland is a very economical one, based on its damp, gray climate. Potatoes, of course, are the main starch, carrots and cabbage the primary vegetables, and protein coming from milk and pork. You’ll see all of this in the meal.

Big thanks to our friend Sean, who helped with the structure of the meal, and read a few food-related portions of the book he just wrote about his mother’s experience growing up in a large, rural Irish family. Our other guests were Bill, Cathlin, Erin, Brendan, and Tennessee.

Soda bread Recipe

Thanks to the Society for the Prevention of Irish Soda Bread, I learned to disregard all those recipes with raisins and sugar and caraway, buy a fresh box of baking soda, and bake the loaf in a cast-iron dutch oven. I made the brown bread version, which made up for in heartiness and authenticity what it lacked in sweetness or crispness. And of course, it went very well with Kerrygold butter — which it turns out are made just down the road from Sean's family — and Dubliner cheese.

Curry chips

According to Sean, fried potatoes smothered in a mild curry sauce is the snack of choice while drinking out on the town in modern Ireland. And while often the quest for authenticity will send me down winding paths of grinding strange herbs or sprouting seeds or rendering animal parts, in this case, doing it the right way was as easy as tearing open a few packages. With oil-sprayed Irish oven chips and a packet of powdered curry sauce teeming with MSG, I whipped up a totally guilty-pleasure dish that seems a whole lot like Irish poutine in but a few minutes. I can’t wait to go to Dublin some day, get drunk, and eat these again.

Boiled bacon

Boiling bacon is a salt-brined hunk of pork that’s a lot closer to what we think of as ham to that fat-streaked breakfast meat that we call bacon in America, and is the closest thing to a national dish in Ireland. So why do we eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day? Multiple sources say that when Irish immigrants got to the states, beef was far more commonly available, and was often found preserved in corns of salt, hence corned beef. It’s prepared just about the same way as Irish bacon — boiled for a good long while. So eventually it took hold, and now plenty of restaurants in Ireland serve corned beef to match American tourists’ expectations.

So how’s boiled bacon? Kind of what you’d expect for salt-preserved meat boiled for a few hours: sorta salty, not terribly flavorful, but satisfying enough, especially if you helped yourself to some of the fat.

Black and white puddings

If you want more interestingly flavored meats, go for the sausage, or shall we say pudding. Both are made with oats and some spice; the difference is the white pudding is made with fat and random pig bits, while the black is made of the blood. Both were plenty tasty when fried up in a bit of the fat I rendered from the bacon!


Colcannon | Cabbage and mashed potato | Recipe

Colcannon is a dish so famous it’s got a song written about it. It’s real comfort food of mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale, and cream and/or butter mixed in with maybe some scallions. I made two versions, one of cabbage boiled in the salty bacon water with the Kerrygold butter and cream from the farmer’s market, and the other a vegan one of cabbage and coconut oil. Both were quite tasty, and a good foil to that salty meat.

Porter cake

OK, this is actually an Irish food stereotype that is true: they do cook with beer! Sean was kind enough to share with e his grandmother’s closely guarded recipe entitled “My Own Porter Cake.” It’s a dense affair, with a whole lot of raisins and a bottle of Guinness. You’ll forgive me for avoiding the twenty minutes of hand beating the recipe called for, I let my good friend Kitchenaid do that part. I realized about five minutes after putting the cake in the rather low-heat oven that I’d forgotten to add the spices, so I simply put them in the whipped cream I served on the side.

Sean also brought a playlist, so we enjoyed a wide variety of Irish music, from 70's Northern Irish punk bands to the Cranberries and U2. Oh, and we ended the evening 1.5 bottles of Irish whiskey poorer!




Meal 65: Germany

What a convergence -- my 30th birthday, the one-third point for United Noshes, a gorgeous day, an apartment with a backyard...and a cuisine and culture renowned for good cheer around food. While German food rarely makes the rounds of haute cuisine, for those who enjoy meat and beer it's a wonderful, homey way to get a lot of calories. New York City used to have a distinct German immigrant population. Much like Chinatown today, Kleindeutschland in the Lower East Side and other enclaves around town featured whole communities where you'd see more German than English on the walls. Yet today the presence is a lot more subdued, and is hanging on best in the portion of the Upper East Side once known as Germantown. There are many reasons explaining the decline of the German identity, from the General Slocum disaster in which over 1,000 people capsized near shore, to xenophobia during the two World Wars.

About thirty friends and members of the Noshing community passed through in the nine (!) hours the temporary backyard biergarten was open, including three visitors from California! Thanks to all who came for bringing so much beer and wine, too -- it was quite festive!

Aufschnitt | Cold cuts

German food is chock-a-block with preserved meats. To get the party started, I set out a few different kinds. Pictured above is liverwurst; sometimes it's more of a spread but this is the Braunschweiger variety, originating from near Hanover, which is firm enough to slice, and goes great with some onion on a bit of pumpernickel bread. We also had two air-dried ones: Landjäger, from the south, which is like a thin square salami, and smoked bratwurst. To round it out, we enjoyed the rich and appropriately named Butterkäse -- käse means cheese and I'll let you figure out the other part.

Brezeln | Pretzels | Recipe

I've always loved the distinctive flavor of pretzels, that oddly salty nuttiness, most enjoyable a crisp crust and a soft inside. The process was really enjoyable: a quick rise, a supple dough to roll and twist, a quick boil in a baking soda bath to lend the distinctive flavor, and a moderate bake. (In fact, the one modification I'd make to the recipe is to cook at more like 400 or 425, rather than 450, to get it to really bake through -- the crust will darken plenty even at a lower temp thanks to the baking soda.) Since I didn't want to spend my birthday party leashed to the stove, I figured out (with help from my buddy PJ at King Arthur Flour) how to prep and freeze them ahead of time while serving them nice and hot, right in time. I made them the whole way through but pulled them just as the crust was starting to brown, froze them on sheets until mostly hard, and put them in plastic bags and back into the freezer. A few days later, I thawed them for about an hour at room temperature, and put them on a 350 oven for maybe 15 minutes until the house smelled great. Done! I think they turned out even better this way than the original recipe, because the second bake really cooks them through and also lends a pretty thick and crispy crust. However you judge it, I made 65 pretzels and they all disappeared!

If you end up making these pretzels -- and you should! -- make sure you get some good mustards to go with it. We had a straightforward, medium-sharpness yellow mustard, a spicier one, and my favorite, a sweet rich Bavarian. Each brings out a different aspect of the pretzel, and taking your time to decide which mustard is your favorite is a great excuse to eat more pretzel.

Rheinlander Sauerbraten | Sweet and sour pot roast | Recipe


Don't worry, even if the photo were in focus, this dish wouldn't look like much. But whatever soaking three days in a spiced vinegar sauce followed by several hours of stovetop stewing and a dusting of raisins does to make a hunk of beef look unattractive, it sure makes it flavorful. This dish has been enjoyed in Germany for a very long time -- both Julius Caesar and Charlemagne have been credited with its invention -- and the meaty sourness, balanced a bit by the sweetness of gingersnaps and raisins, is still a winner.

Würste | Sausages

While I try to make as much as possible from scratch, I draw the line at sausages. It was surprisingly difficult to find a good variety of German sausages around New York -- Fairway, normally a reliable source of European foods, really came up short. So I headed up to Yorkville on the Upper East Side, an area once well-known as Germantown, to Schaller and Weber. It was tough to choose from their wide variety, but I ended up with delicate Weisswurst, richly spiced and smoked Bauernwurst, and then the famous Bratwurst, which I bought raw, and simmered in beer before grilling. As all the sausages were fully cooked ahead of time, grilling was just for temperature and texture, so I did it with the cover up.

Rotkohl | Stewed red cabbage with apples | Recipe

The classic German stewed cabbage is tender, with a good balance of sweet and sour. While this fulfilled all those elements, it was kind of lacking in depth. The dish was pleasant enough, but didn't really beg to be scarfed down like some versions of these dishes I've found. Not sure what the problem is -- maybe shredding with the Cuisinart made the cabbage too fine, or something?

Berliner Kartoffelsalat | Vinaigrette potato salad | Recipe

Most German potato salads don't have mayonnaise, and I like them for that. This recipe, which makes an unsubstantiated claim of being from Berlin and therefore helped me round out the geography, is pretty clever, using juice from the pickles as the sour base for the vinaigrette. I'd say it was all right, but it probably could have used more vinegar to really make the flavors sing. I also probably overcooked the potatoes a bit, which might have made things mushier than ideal.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte | Black Forest cake | Recipe

I didn't feel like I should be making my own birthday cake, so Laura agreed to do it. She even knew what she'd make, a German chocolate cake. Imagine Laura's surprise when she discovered that such a cake is actually American in origin, invented by a certain Sam German working at a chocolate company! Thank goodness our friend Lisa came to the rescue with this cake, which is so German that it was one of two national submissions to a Europe-wide cake fest. Four layers of deep chocolate, generously separated with buttercream studded with cherries, and then evenly sprinkled with shaved I might have a German-themed birthday party every year just so I have an excuse to get this cake!

We're about to start into a 16-state, 4500+-mile road trip, and our first stop is to the Jersey Shore where we'll do the Greece meal!

Meal 32: Cape Verde

Note: In 2013, the year after we cooked this meal, this country changed its official name in English to Cabo Verde.

For some countries it's tough to nail down which dishes to cook, but Cape Verde, a cluster of islands off the coast of Senegal, offers an unmistakable national dish. The cachupa is a stew based on dried corn and beans, and what goes in beyond that depends on your family history, socioeconomic status, and whether the rains came.

To inventory the sorts of ingredients that typically go in a cachupa is to trace the extent of the Portuguese empire: corn, dry beans, and manioc from South America; plantains from Southeast Asia; kale, cabbage, and sausage from Europe; and yams from Africa. Conveniently enough, the Spanish colonial pantry overlaps substantially, so I was able to find just about all I needed at the strip of Mexican markets on 5th Avenue in Sunset Park. The only ingredient that I was nervous about finding was unground corn with intact germ (e.g., not nitxamalized), and although dozens of searches on Google and a visit to Brooklyn Kitchen didn't turn up anything, I found it in the Goya aisle of the local Met Foods supermarket. You know that song "Jimmy Crack Corn?" Well, this is that sort of corn.

I should also note that the U.S. is home to a long-established Cape Verdean community. Most of them are in New England, the core having made its way here on American whaling ships in the mid-19th century that often picked up crew in Cape Verde.

Tonight's adventuresome guests were Tammy, Raven, Dan, Chrys, Sean, Tennessee, and Lemuel, who brought lots of gorgeous Cape Verdean music — if you like the sounds of classic Brazilian crooners, you're sure to love it too.

Cachupa rica | Corn, bean and meat stew | Recipe

There are many levels of cachupa-making, depending on how well-off you are and how hearty you want to eat. A cachupinha might be little more than corn, beans, and salt pork, while a cachupa rica can be a wonderland of flora and fauna, and that's what I set out to make.

There's dozens of recipes for cachupa rica on the internet, especially if you search the Portuguese web. I chose to use this one as my base, while mixing with a half-dozen other recipes I found. Here's the mods I made:

  • In the spirit of "use what you've got" that is at the core of stewmaking, I substituted the beans I had in the pantry (navy for the stone beans, flageolet for the limas, and cariocas (left over from Brazil!) for kidneys).
  • There's so little agreement on what meat to use, so I didn't take the salt pork as gospel. Instead, I used most of a chicken that I'd butchered earlier in the week at a knife skills class, and also threw in some pork spareribs, both of which I marinated the night before in various fresh herbs from the garden. I also added a fair amount of salt to the stew to compensate, but not enough since most people added more salt!
  • In addition to the tangy, red choriço, I got some linguiça (aka longaniza), a more garlicky sausage, but left out the blood sausage since some folks don't like that.
  • Instead of cabbage, I used kale, since I had a ton on hand.
  • Taking yet another cue from other recipes, I put in some chunks of peeled manioc (aka yucca or cassava) and white sweet potato.
  • The recipe doesn't specify the number of onions; for the quantity described I used about two medium onions and it turned out fine.
  • Finally, with the carcass of that butchered chicken, I made a broth, that I used in place of bouillon.
  • I also made a vegetarian version exactly like the meat-based one but, well, without the meat, with a veggie broth, and a higher proportion of veggies.
What can I say, it was a darn good stew. The corn, boiled straight from dry like recommended rather than soaked overnight, had a nice firm texture. Everything was in good balance, not too much meat or veggie, and with three kinds of beans the texture and color was pretty interesting. Also, thankfully, after so much cooking the last two meals, I really appreciated only having to make one dish for the main course!

Pudim de queijo | Cheese custard | Recipe

In contrast to the messload of ingredients in the stew, this custard is just three ingredients: fresh cheese, sugar, and eggs.(OK, a bit of cheating: the burnt sugar requires a bit of oil to make. The custard, which I ended up baking at 350° for about 45 minutes, turned out lovely, rich, and tastier than you'd expect from such a basic assortment of inputs. And with all the leftover egg whites, I made some chocolate-orange meringues, which have nothing to do with Cape Verde but were tasty all the same.

Doce de papaia | Papaya jam | Recipe

I kept seeing this recipe pop up, so I had to do it. Most recipes implied that you need a fairly unripe papaya, but I couldn't find one so I just made this with a big ol' normally-ripe papaya. We cooked it all throughout dinner, so by the time dessert came around the dish got really red, the sugar got thick and even a bit caramelized, and it was a marvelous topping for the pudim. It's also versatile: we had it on french toast with yogurt for brunch the next day, and it was awesome.

That's it for this little island country. Next weekend we're back on the African mainland, to the heart of it in fact with the Central African Republic. We've been planning the recipes with some pretty knowledgeable sources that we'll tell you all about next time!

Photos by Laura Hadden, who's looking forward to putting papaya jam on everything for the next few weeks.

Week 7: Argentina

It's been said that there's no cuisine in Argentina, only beef. So this week, I did my best to throw together an Argentinean asado, the classic communal barbecue whose tradition began from the gaucho days out on the vast grassy pampas. Accordingly, I felt it imperative to find grass-fed beef, so I schlepped up to the Meat Hook in Williamsburg for the biggest single meat purchase of my life. Thankfully, the rain threatened in the forecast never materialized, so not only was the outdoor cooking not a problem, but we could all hang out on the porch.

Tonight's guests were: Liz (visiting from California), Vicky, Caroline, Ben, Nick, Bex, another Ben, and Gina. The meal is listed in the order served, but I actually had to prepare it in reverse: the dessert took five hours start to finish whereas the sausages cooked in mere minutes.

The grill

My research made it clear that the gas grill just wouldn't work. Apparently the asado is all about indirect, slow cooking, with the smoke and the distinctive glow of wood and/or lump charcoal providing the sear and the flavor. Finding the traditional quebracho (from "quebra hacha" or axe-breaker) wood seemed like a fool's errand on short notice, so I did the next best thing and got both firewood and lump charcoal (which is to say, real pieces of tree and not briquets). I built up a fire in a somewhat dilapidated old barbecue that the previous tenants left behind, and waited quite a while for it to build up and die down. Once it was manageable, I piled the wood and charcoal to one side, making a hotter and a cooler side — see how the fire is on the right here.

Chimichurri | Parsley-garlic sauce | Recipe


You could call it the pesto of Argentina, but this guy would be really angry at you for saying that. A simple yet luscious sauce that I made with parsley from the garden, and didn't make enough of. It got gobbled up. We also made a salsa criolla, which kind of resembles a Mexican salsa but with oil instead of lime. The chimichurri was way more popular.

Chorizo y morcilla | Chorizo and blood sausage

An asado begins with some faster-cooking tasty morsels. such as sausage. (I tried to get sweetbreads too, but neither Meat Hook nor the local butcher had them on hand.) I was pleasantly surprised by how many people enjoyed the blood sausage, especially spread on baguette. Cooked these on the hotter part of the grill, since a) they can take it and b) the rest was occupied by the below. I swear they tasted better than they look here.

Asado de tira | Cross-cut ribs

Grass-fed beef has a beautiful richness of flavor and needs no marinade or spice. Everything I read made it clear that to use anything but salt would be inauthentic. So these ribs, these beautiful, cross-cut, fatty, 1.5-by-24-inch strips, got nothing but some half-coarse salt before hitting the grill. They were so fatty I could barely see the meat when throwing them on, but in time the fat melted and revealed the luscious morsels of rib meat. The outside was salty and crunchy, the inside not rare but not overdone. Topped with a little chimichurri, these were just heavenly.

Secreto de cerdo | Pork skirt steak

I was looking for matambre de cerdo, (matambre = "mata hambre" or hunger-killer) translated as pork flank steak, but this is the closest I got. Couldn't have been much better! According to this account, it's called "secreto" because the butcher used to cut this piece for himself and not share with customers. What a great bit of meat for grilling: thin, fast-cooking, and wonderful with salt and just a squeeze of lemon while cooking. This lasted all of two minutes on the butcher block.

Ensalada | Salad

Between the pork and the main event, we had a simple salad of farmer's market lettuce and cucumber. Gotta have something green to cut the grease, right?

Tapa de nalga | Top round

Ta-da! This 3.5-pound piece of meat took over two hours to cook, spending most of that time off to the side. Wasn't quite done when I took it off the first time, so I threw it on top of what remained of the coals, blowing them to get their last little bits of heat out. A great piece of meat for a party, because different parts are more or less rare so everyone's happy. But no matter your doneness preference, it was rich and flavorful and so purely meaty.

Gelato con dulce de leche | Gelato with sweet caramelized milk syrup | Recipes: gelato; dulce de leche

Caramelization is one of the most wonderful accidents of science. It took like four hours, with skimming skins of milk and a lot of very slow cooking, to make the golden goop for which Argentina is famous. I paired it with Argentinean gelato, which is a little lighter than most frozen desserts: cream to milk is in a two-to-one ratio whereas normal ice cream is the opposite. The ice cream wasn't quite frozen solid and the dulce de leche was too thin, but nobody seemed to care. Rich milky products with sugar are a sure winner. And in this case, the milk was from (wait for it) grass-fed cows from Milk Thistle Farm, so it was extra delicious.

Oh, and on top of all of this there was plenty of excellent Argentinean wine brought by our guests. Rich and spicy malbec and bonarda grapes balanced the primal meat flavors very well. Next stop next week is all the way over to Armenia -- we're heading back to yogurt-land.

Laura and I agree that this was our favorite meal yet for pure flavor excitement. And although we're shocked there's no leftover meat, we do still have a cup of dulce de leche.