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I Could Be the Salad Dressing King


If you love salad, this is not the country for you.

When we gather together with Porteños for the express purpose of eating, we often make a very simple mock Caesar salad with romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, and a dressing that consists of a garlic/salt paste, lemon zest and juice, Dijon mustard, and some olive oil. (In the US, we add croutons, but they’re hard to find here and I can’t be bothered to make them.)

The addition of salad to the meal is generally received with a low level of enthusiasm, at least initially, by the local set. Then, once my Argentine friends taste the green stuff, they invariably start raving…ooohs and aaahs abound. What is the recipe? What is in this salad? This salad is great!?!

Why does this simple concoction garner such attention? Because it actually has dressing on it, something that is nearly impossible to find here. Last night at an asado with friends, a wonderful older Argentinian-Italian man kept muttering to himself, mouth full of romaine, “cheese and lettuce, cheese and lettuce…I would never think to put those together and that they would taste so good! I can’t believe it…cheese and lettuce!”

What does pass for dressing in Argentina? I’m afraid it’s often a bottle of corn oil and a bottle of white or cider vinegar. If that’s not bad enough, the other dressing option is essentially a packet of mayonnaise. Good Lord, it can’t be a surprise that so few like to eat vegetables here!

Photo by Flickr user WordRidden used under a Creative Commons license.

Desperately Seeking Caesar

When we first arrived and were not eating dinner on an Argentinian schedule (i.e., at midnight), we would often stop in to a cafe to eat our evening meal. Several times, we attempted the Caesar Salad.

This was folly though–thus far, it has not been the salad for which we hoped. Here, it often contains ham, or chicken, or chunks of cheddar cheese, or hunks of an unidentified white cheese, or hard boiled egg…all topped with masses of an artfully arranged heavy mayonnaise dressing.

Still craving a more traditional Caesar salad, we decided to make our own while entertaining guests for the first time last night.

Sounds easy, you don’t need a lot of ingredients, but getting romaine lettuce proved to be both expensive (in cab fare) and time consuming. First I checked at my verduleria (local produce seller)–the lettuce there was so limp, I couldn’t believe that they were trying to sell it. I ran to the Disco (local grocery). Same thing–the entire head would fall over in my hand if I tried to pick it up.

I hopped a cab and rode 20 minutes to an open air market in Belgrano. No luck, it was closed. So I started walking around Belgrano until I found a Carrefour, another supermarket, and bought what seemed like every head of lettuce in the place. (The check-out guy gave me the “crazy foreigner” look.) We stripped off a lot of slimy limp outer leaves and, hooray, discovered some yummy, actually crunchy, bright green romaine lettuce on the inside, just waiting to get out.

I’m happy to say that we were able to serve a decent Caesar salad to our first Argentinian dinner guests (not counting Ian, of course).

Our guests were Sara King, who is here in Argentina from Portland visiting the city for a few months, and Ian’s friends, Dani and Guada. (Guadalupe brought us home-baked alfajores–sort of a butter cookie with dulce de leche in the middle–yummy.)

Chinese Hot & Sour Soup


Pictured here was the next dish we made in honor of international spicy cuisine — hot and sour soup. Yummy. As I write about it on this blustery, cold Sunday, I still feel the residual warmth that we received from this Asian comfort food.

Difficult-to-find ingredients, which we were able to locate in Barrio Chino, included: bamboo shoots, tofu (firm), chile oil, Chinese black vinegar, and sesame oil. When we were making this dish, we couldn’t find fresh shiitake mushrooms; sadly, that meant that we had to substitute white button ‘shrooms, which caused a loss of richness to the soup, I am sure.


To the right, you can see Tom drizzling beaten egg into the hot liquid, the last cooking step just before serving. (He was rather unamused about my request that he drizzle backhanded so he wouldn’t block the edibles for my picture! Anything for the blog, right?)

The recipe also called for pork chops, which we obtained from the Avicar, our favorite chain of butchers.

As a complete aside, we’ve always been quite happy with the pork chops from the Avicar. Our standby American meal here in Buenos Aires is pan seared pork chops, fresh homemade applesauce using the Granny Smith variety (at least they have a little flavor), and a real Caesar salad (that means no mayonnaise in the dressing).

Wall O’ Mayonnaise

Here is a picture of the mayonnaise display at the local COTO supermarket. I think it speaks for itself and the Porteño love of all things mayonnaise–after all, it is the perfect sauce that compliments a wide variety of foods…even Caesar salad!