Though the vast plains of Argentina are synonymous with meat – only Uruguay eats more beef per capita – there's more to the cuisine than simply steak. While green vegetables may not play a big part in the traditional diet, indigenous ingredients like corn and squash pop up a lot in stews and savoury porridges… often generously garnished with sausage.
Indeed one such stew, locro, is so bound up with Argentinian identity that the National Day, celebrated on 25th May, is popularly known as Locro Day. Versions of the same dish in Ecuador and Peru tend to be largely vegetarian, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Argentinian locro is almost always a meaty affair, full of brisket, tripe and other cuts too tough to grill.
That said, like many everyday staples, there are no rules with locro; it's made with whatever is to hand on the day, so in place of the usual dried corn, which is hard to come by here, I've used cornmeal, which you can find in the world food aisle of big supermarkets, or polenta, and instead of meat, Feta, the closest thing to the queso fresco found locally.
If you'd prefer to keep it vegan, however, leave the cheese out; it'll still be a very satisfying meal for a cold day. Sweet, starchy and warming, it's delicious with a glass of silky, brambly Argentinian Bonarda.
Recipe: Argentine Locro
A hearty South American stew (Serves 4-6)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 red pepper, cut into strips
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 litre veg stock
- 100g cornmeal or dry polenta
- 400g tin of butter beans, drained
- 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
- 200g tin of sweetcorn, drained
- 1 medium squash, peeled and chopped into roughly 2cm chunks
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 120g Feta, crumbled (optional)
For the topping
- 4 tbsp neutral oil
- 6 spring onions, white and most of green part, sliced
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan or casserole dish over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and pepper and fry until soft and golden.
- Stir in the garlic, tomato puree, herbs and cumin and fry for a minute or so, then add the stock. Bring to a simmer, then pour in the cornmeal, stirring continuously.
- Tip in the beans, chickpeas, sweetcorn and squash. Bring back to a simmer. Turn down the heat, partially cover and cook gently for about 35 minutes until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick.
- Meanwhile, make the topping. Heat the oil in a frying pan, and add the onions. Fry for a couple of minutes until soft, then stir in the paprika and chilli and a pinch of salt. Take off the heat.
- Stir the lemon juice and cheese into the stew and season to taste. Pour the topping 'drizzle' over the top to serve, either on its own, or with bread, rice or quinoa.
Try a ripe, deep coloured, fruit bomb of a wine with explosive black cherry fruit and a fresh finish – Las Piletas Santa Rosa Bonarda is a delicious Argentine red for matching with this hearty stew.