Plenty of us have vaguely traumatic childhood memories of being told to eat our greens or risk going to bed hungry (or maybe that’s just me). Our parents, doing everything in their power to get us to finish just a few bites of veg, shaking their heads in resignation as we scarfed down another over-processed chicken nugget. If Brussels sprouts had taken center stage on our dinner plates – gasp! – imagine the scandal.
Fast forward to 2018. We’ve learned to appreciate the value of eating seasonally, incorporating a variety of ingredients into our diet and turning to local producers to reduce our impact on the planet. Celebrating those fruits and vegetables that have perhaps fallen out of favor, rescuing them from a sad life at the back of the produce section at the grocery store. We’ve come a long way, baby.
Local initiative M.E.S.A. de Estación kicks off the winter edition of its seasonal extravaganza tomorrow, inviting 64 restaurants from around Argentina to create special menus around four star ingredients: beans, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, and grapefruit.
M.E.S.A., which signifies Menús de Estación con Sabores de Argentina, is organized by A.C.E.L.G.A – aka the cool kids behind Masticar, among other things – and promotes consumption of seasonal produce while raising awareness about the different origins, nutritional value, harvest schedule, and methods of preparation and cooking.
For one week, restaurants in Buenos Aires, Rosario, Mendoza, and San Martín de los Andes prepare special menus based around the season’s star ingredients, infusing their creativity and personal touch into the final product. It’s a fantastic excuse to give your own kitchen a rest, get out of the house, and enjoy a flavorful meal that reminds you to reconnect with what you can pick up at your local verdulería.
Before we share with you our top picks for this winter’s edition, let’s review the protagonists.
Alright, so “beans” doesn’t really sound sexy or innovative, does it? Maybe that’s because we’re so hyped up on Chef’s Table and overly-saturated #foodporn photos on Instagram that we’ve forgotten that sometimes simple can be sublime.
The majority of beans grown in Argentina are exported, which often results in sub-par porotos making their way to your neighborhood market. Locals only consume around 200 grams annually, half of that being lentils, so this is a perfect chance to become reacquainted with the workhorses that are legumes.
Argentina es uno de los 10 principales productores y exportadores de porotos del mundo. Estas legumbres se cultivan en las provincias del NOA, principalmente en Salta y Jujuy (también en el norte de Córdoba y Santiago del Estero). Es en los meses fríos cuando están listos para cosechar. Por eso los elegimos para ser protagonistas de #MESAdeInvierno de 2018. . . . #porotos #poroto #frijoles #beans #alubias #porotosnegros #porotosrojos #porotoscranberry #pallar #porotosmung #mung #porotosmanteca #adzuki #porotosadzuki #caupi #porotoscaupi
And why not? They’re low in fat, high in protein and fiber, and last an age in your pantry. They’re also cheap and available at pretty much every dietética around. File under: no brainer.
These green guys are related to cabbage, cauliflower, and radishes and in Argentina are grown in several regions, depending on climate. Santiago del Estero’s harvest is around the wintertime, while Mar del Plata and Tucumán’s are more summer-focused. Now it’s time for a fun fact: Brussels sprouts grow on long branches that can reach up to 120 centimeters in length.
Also, if you think the only way to prepare them is by boiling them to death, never talk to me again.
I am such a sucker for the artichoke. What’s not to love? It’s ornamental, bizarre af, and requires so much work to eat that you can only imagine the first people who attempted to consume it must have had a hell of a time achieving the final product. Artichokes are originally from northeastern Africa; the plants need more than a year to grow and then only provide a few short seasons of production. Though they can often be found locally between May and October, the peak months in terms of quality are August and September.
¿Cómo te gusta preparar los alcauciles? Los griegos y romanos comen este producto desde tiempos ancestrales y algunas de esas recetas todavía se hacen en la actualidad, como los alcauciles a la griega (fritos) o la versión romana, “alla giudia”. #MESAdeInvierno . . #alcaucil #alcauciles #alcachofa #alcachofas #artichoke #carciofi
Italian immigrants first brought artichokes to Argentina and chose to plant them outside of La Plata given the area’s similarity to conditions in France, Spain, and Italy. Currently, this region is considered the artichoke powerhouse of Argentina, with about 900 hectares allocated to its cultivation. One final fun fact: the artichoke is the base of classic aperitivo Cynar, which tastes fantastic when served with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.
Citrus is crazy OG originating more than 20 million (how can that be right?) years ago in Southeast Asia. Oddly enough, grapefruits are the only members of this family not to come from that part of the world; most theories point to Barbados and the Caribbean in general as the pomelo‘s home.
Pink grapefruits are ideal sources of lycopene and beta carotene; the dark rosy color is a by-product of the high temperatures where it’s grown. In Argentina, grapefruits have found their groove in Salta, Jujuy, Catamarca, and Tucumán, as well as Misiones, Corrientes, Entre Ríos, Formosa, and Chaco. Closer to home, the area of San Pedro, in the province of Buenos Aires, has a few crops as well.
Alright, now that you’re educated and can slay anyone in a produce-themed trivia night, let’s get to the good stuff. Where should you go to chow down on your very own M.E.S.A de Estación menu? It’s clearly too difficult to recommend them all, so get started with this top three.
Consider this the perfect excuse to dress up a little and visit one of Argentina’s top-rated restaurants. Run by Chef Santiago Matías, i Latina fuses Caribbean flavors with sophisticated techniquesand innovative styles. You’ll be treated to an eight-course feast, featuring some mouth-watering gems like quail with Oaxacan mole, corn tortilla and aduki beans and beef marinated in Colombian coffee and served with Brussels sprouts and artichoke. If you’re looking to impress, this is the place to go.
i Latina – Murillo 725 – Tel. 4857-9095
As usual, Dabbang finds a way to infuse global flavors with different textures and ingredients that, were you to try at home, would fail miserably. The vibe of this little canteen on Av. Scalabrini Ortiz is always effortlessly cool and the food never disappoints. This winter, you’ll be able to tuck into grilled artichoke with labneh and tomate de árbol ketchup, and buttery bean curry with fenugreek and roti. Brb, I just drooled all over my keyboard as I typed that out.
Gran Dabbang – Av. Scalabrini Ortiz 1543 – Tel. 4832-1186
Tucked inside downtown’s classic Hotel Panamericano, don’t confuse Tomo I with a place only your buttoned-up, too-traditional grandmother would like. The space overlooks the hectic, maniacal Av. 9 de Julio, but inside you’re cocooned in a nest of perfect lighting, impeccable service, and world-class cuisine.
Chef Federico Fialayre is without a doubt one of Argentina’s best, and this season he’s prepared an artichoke terrine, quail with Brussels sprouts purée, caramelized onions, and mushrooms, and for dessert you’ll lighten things up with a grapefruit-Cynar sorbet.
Tomo I – Carlos Pellegrini 521, Entrepiso – Tel. 4326-6695
Of course, this is by no means a complete guide to all of the good stuff that will be happening across the city – and country – this week. Be sure to look for more information on Facebook, Instagram, and M.E.S.A.’s website so you can plan where you’ll be dining from here on out.
This really is one of Argentina’s great food initiatives and to support it means that things will only continue to grow and evolve. Buen provecho!