Apr 172019

On this date in 1853 president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento of Argentina asked Michel Aimé Pouget, a French soil expert, to bring new vines to Argentina to invigorate the nation’s wine industry. The day is now celebrated as Día Mundial del Malbec or Worldwide Malbec Day, with official events in over 60 countries. Pouget experimented with the adaptation of French varietals to Argentina’s diverse soils and ecozones and determined that Malbec grew well, especially in the up lands of Mendoza by the Andes. A decade later, France underwent a Phylloxera Plague that affected the Rhône region devastating ages old vineyards. Meanwhile, stocks in the Americas were resistant, and Argentine Malbec vines flourished. Malbec became the dominant varietal wine in Argentina, whereas in France Malbec grapes are used in blends to make Bordeaux wines.

Until the 1990s, Argentina was more interested in quantity rather than quality, and “Argentine wine” was synonymous with “cheap rotgut.” But, in the 1990s, the Argentine government teamed up with French vintners to elevate the quality of indigenous varietals. Argentina’s most highly rated Malbec wines originate from Mendoza’s high altitude wine regions of Luján de Cuyo and the Uco Valley. These districts are located in the foothills of the Andes mountains between 800 m and 1500 m elevation (2,800 to 5,000 feet). Argentine vintner Nicolás Catena Zapata has been widely credited for elevating the status of Argentine Malbec and the Mendoza region through serious experimentation into the effects of high altitude.

The grape clusters of Argentine Malbec are different from its French relatives, having smaller berries in tighter, smaller clusters. This suggests that the cuttings brought over by Pouget and later French immigrants were a unique clone that may have gone extinct in France due to frost and the phylloxera epidemic. Argentine Malbec wine is characterized by its deep color and intense fruity flavors with a velvety texture. While it doesn’t have the tannic structure of a French Malbec, being more plush in texture, Argentine Malbecs have shown aging potential similar to their French counterparts. Increasingly Argentine Malbecs take home top prizes in European competitions.

In 2011, Wines of Argentina, responsible for promoting Argentine wines around the world, established April 17th as Malbec World Day. Lis Clément, their Head of Marketing and Communications at the time, founded this day because she was convinced this celebration would help position Malbec as one of Argentina’s wine gems. Nowadays, more than 60 cities around the world (coordinated by the Foreign Affairs Office of Argentina) host events around Malbec, Argentine food and lifestyle. Each year, a theme is created to link Malbec and Argentine culture. This framework allows every celebration to be creative and adapt to each country’s culture.  Although Malbec originated in France it is fair to say that Argentina is its new home.

When I lived in Argentina, any night out with friends involved a bottle (or two or three) of Malbec. In fact, in Buenos Aires “wine” and “Malbec” are virtual synonyms. Empanadas were a common accompaniment. I have mentioned Argentine empanadas before, and given recipes, but this time I will give you a version from Mendoza – Malbec country. They are a little spicier than other empanadas and contain boiled eggs (and sometimes abundant onions).

Empanadas Mendocinas



3 cups flour
1 egg yolk
½ cup lard, chopped in small pieces
¾ cup to 1 cup warm milk
½ tsp salt

Beef filling

1 lb ground beef
3 cups diced white onions
½ cup lard
2 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano
½ tbsp ground cumin
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
3 hard boiled eggs, sliced
¼ cup sliced green olives
salt and pepper to taste

1 egg, white and yolk separated and lightly whisked


Empanada dough

Sift the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add the lard and pulse until you have a mix that resembles coarse sand. Add the egg yolk and a small amount of milk. Pulse and continue adding milk until small dough clumps start to form. Turn the dough out on to a board and knead into a ball. Divide in two, wrap in foil and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Beef filling

Combine the ground beef, paprika, red pepper, cumin, salt and pepper in a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together.  Melt the lard in a large frying pan, add the onions and salt, and cook until the onions are soft. Add the meat mixture to the onions and cook on medium heat until the meat is browned, stirring frequently. Let the meat mixture or picadillo cool down, and then mix in the chopped green onions and chopped oregano.


On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough into thin sheets and cut out round disc shapes for empanadas using a small plate as a guide. Add a spoonful of the meat mixture on the center of each empanada disc, add a slice of egg and some sliced olive.  Brush the edges of the empanada discs with the egg whites. Fold the empanada discs and seal the edges gently with your fingers, twist and fold the edges of the empanadas with your fingers, as a final step use a fork to press down and finish sealing the empanadas. (Getting this part right takes practice – and watching professionals). Lightly brush the top of the empanadas with the egg yolk and let them rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or until ready to bake.

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until golden on top. Serve warm.

Jul 172013


Today is the birthday of Joaquín Salvador Lavado, better known by his pen name Quino. For the first time when I celebrate a birthday I can use the present tense because Quino is still alive. [True when I wrote this in 2013 — but he died in 2020.] Feliz cumpleaños compañero Argentino! Quino is an Argentine cartoonist perhaps best known for his strip  Mafalda which ran from 1964 to 1973. Quino is not very well known in the English-speaking world even though Mafalda was translated into English. Quino claimed at one point that he thought it was because the underlying humor was Latin and did not play well in other cultures.

Quino was born in Guaymallén, Mendoza Province, to immigrant Spanish parents from Andalusia. From the time he was born, he was called Quino in order to distinguish him from his uncle Joaquín Tejón, a painter and commercial artist who inspired Quino at a young age. It was only when he was enrolled in primary school that he discovered his legal name was Joaquin.  A certain amount of the childhood angst and humor of his cartoon children reflects his primary school experiences.  For example he writes, “I was so anxious in the first three months that I had bad grades. But I finished the year with pretty good grades, although I was never number one and that made me angry,” echoing the sort of thing his character Felipe would say.

The Argentine traditional school system that Quino went through has two levels: primary and secondary.  Primary teaches general subjects and runs for 7 years.  Secondary education is specialized. At roughly age 13 you must choose what area you wish to focus on, and this decision affects career choices from that point on.  Quino chose the Escuela de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts) in Mendoza, which he entered in 1945.  It was in this year that the first issue of the magazine “Rico Tipo” appeared in Buenos Aires. To get published in that magazine became Quino’s dream (which he eventually accomplished). Quino left Escuela de Bellas Artes in 1949 without finishing.  As he puts it, he was “tired of drawing vases and plaster.” Instead he embarked on a career as a graphic humorist.

In 1950 Quino sold his first piece to a silk shop in Mendoza, but had no further commercial success there.  So in 1951 he took a trip to Buenos Aires where he knocked on doors for 3 weeks without anyone taking any interest.  From 1953 to 1954 Quino was called to compulsory military service.  He counted the days until he was released, hating every minute of it, and claiming that if he were not released soon he would kill someone.  But he said that the experience had two rewarding consequences.  First, he met boys from all over the country and from all classes, which he felt broadened his horizons.  Second, he felt that being in the army so disrupted his life that he was able to contemplate completely transforming his life and his art work.

On release from the army in 1954 Quino settled in Buenos Aires in squalid conditions, sharing a small, dingy room with four other men.  However, he got a break when the magazine, “Eso Es” (“This Is”), bought a full page spread of his work, and then published a page of his weekly.  After that, Quino’s work appeared in a diverse variety of periodicals, such as “Vea y Lea,” “Leoplán,” “Damas y Damitas,” “TV Guía,” “Usted,” “Che,” “Panorama,” “Atlántida,” “Adan,” and “Democracia.”  From then until now, Quino’s art has been published without disruption in countless newspapers and magazines throughout Latin America and Europe.

Quino’s daily newspaper strip Mafalda was his most successful cartooning venture. Mafalda ran from 1964 to 1973. I have included samples of the strip here (in English and Spanish).  They give the general idea. Mafalda is a young girl who is reminiscent of some Western characters – wise, precocious, sometimes hapless, and usually the victim of ill fate. The strip has been translated into more than 30 languages, although it has always been more popular in Latin America than elsewhere.  Mafalda has also appeared in several animated shorts, and in 1976 UNICEF asked Quino to illustrate its literature for the Convention on the Rights of the Child using Mafalda. Subsequently Mafalda was used as spokesperson for a number of children’s rights campaigns. After Mafalda, Quino’s work broadened to deal more with the foibles of adult life, including marriage, work, technology, and authority. He continues to work in that vein. (Click on these images to enlarge).



quino6  quino5

Charles Schultz wrote of Quino, “The kind of ideas that he works with are one of the most difficult, and I am amazed at their variety and depth. Also, he knows how to draw, and to draw in a funny way. I think that he is a giant.”

Since it is winter here in Argentina I have chosen a favorite home style winter Argentine dish to honor Quino: puchero.  It is not flippant to say that the basic recipe for puchero is “boil up some meat and bones in a pot to make a stock, then add vegetables and simmer some more.”  But, of course, every region (and every cook) has favorite ingredients based on locally available meat and vegetables.  Lamb based puchero is very common in the south where sheep are plentiful, but no one would eat it in Buenos Aires.  Some pucheros feature mixed meats whilst others focus on one.  Here’s a recipe of sorts that I have pulled from my own head based on what I like, and based on the kinds of things I tend to throw into the pot. There are a few ingredients I can get, such as zapallito (a kind of squash), which are unavailable elsewhere.  So use your imagination.  I give quantities here as a guide, not as rigid rules. Bear in mind that this is not a slow cooked stew of the European kind.  This is very rapidly cooked and requires the tenderest of beef (preferably from Argentina!). Some kind of bread as an accompaniment is essential.  Crusty Italian rolls or loaves are usual.

There are certain fairly inflexible principles involved in making and serving puchero:

1. The ingredients are all cooked together, but then the broth is strained off to make a soup, and then the meat is served in one dish, and the vegetables in another.
2. Herbs are limited, with no strong flavors.  Parsley is the commonest.  Oregano and bay leaf can be used.
3. No green vegetables are ever used.
4. The whole thing is supposed to be eaten in its entirety in one day.  Should there be any leftovers they cannot be served again in the same way.  They must be transformed somehow.
5. Salt, vinegar, and oil are the normal table accompaniments, but you may also add condiments such as mustard for the beef.  Argentinos do not use pepper at the table.

Naturally I give directions here in metric only.

Puchero de mi cocina


1kg lean, tender beef cut into 8 pieces
1 onion peeled and quartered
1 tied bunch parsley
1 green bell pepper cut into large pieces
2 zapallitos halved (you can use about 2 cups of winter squash)
4 carrots peeled and halved
2 small sweet potatoes peeled and halved
1 whole corn cob cut into bite sized rounds
1 large leek (white only) trimmed and halved
200g very small pasta


Bring 3 liters of salted water to the boil in a large pot.

Add the beef, onion, and parsley.

Maintain a fast boil for about 30 to 40 minutes. After 15 minutes add the rest of the vegetables (not the pasta).

Check the beef after 30 minutes for tenderness. Cook longer if necessary.

Strain off the broth into a new pot and bring it back to a rapid boil.

Put the beef on one plate, and the vegetables on another, and keep warm. Discard the parsley.

Cook the pasta in the broth and serve immediately.

Next serve the meat and vegetables.

Serves 4 (in Argentina)