Saturday, July 15, 2006

Honey, you've shrunk the beef

While my daily read still includes newspapers from different continents, I have stopped reading La Nación and Clarín (the two major national publications). Actually, I have given up on all news Argentine. This has nothing to do with the language or my interest in current affairs, I am purely practising self preservation. I have come to the conclusion that local politics and news are damaging to my health, not only mentally but physically.

I certainly do not want to be kept up to date on what else the populist president, Kirchner, who is running this country like his own kiosk, is doing to destroy the future of his people. I remember well the night he declared a ban on beef exportation. We had just dined at Cabaña Las Lilas, the most written about Argentine steakhouse in English language tourist guides...

The casual chic of Cabaña Las Lilas is just about the only thing it has going for it and the mostly American clientele lap it up and declare that it serves the best steaks in Buenos Aires. The Argentines snigger "let the dumb foreigners believe that". It is certainly one of the most expensive parrilla restaurant (grill/barbeque restaurant), 300% more at least, with underwhelming quality. We dined there because a couple of out-of-town friends had read those guidebooks, and with much well intention, wanted to spoil Guillermo and me. Thus, we were invited to bear witness to our friends being ripped off by enterprising marketing.

After this expensive meal of half a cow, we came home to watch late night news. The self made Kirchner had been having problems with the right wing landowners and the hard currency rich cattle farmers; he wanted to squash them under his thumb by harming their lucrative business of beef exportation.

This government gains much needed tax revenues in exports, and the inflows of both public and private funds have trickled down to boost the economy at large. In general, as any economy heats up, the group that sees the least benefits, in the immediate term, is the bottom of the social economical hierachy. In the case of Argentina, even at the worst of times, this group had been able to put a kilo of beef on the dinner table for the family every night– totally unheard of in any other country. However, that was until the lead up to the ban.

As inflation sets in, price of beef and other goods started to rise and people went on the streets, drumbs rolled outside the Congress. Many in this meat eating nation chanted they had nothing to feed their family. Evolution is obviously too slow a process to teach these people to turn to other food groups like their fellow humans in other countries.

Argentina consumes a staggering 58kg of beef per capita per year; with industrialised nations trailing far behind at 21kg. Consumption of other meats and fish by the locals is minsicule, about 8kg per capita per year.

The demonstrations on the streets of Buenos Aires gave Kirchner the perfect excuse to destroy his nemeses. With little regard for the hard work that had gone into opening up markets for export or the longer term social economical benefits for the country through tax revenues and investment generated employments, the President showed Argentina who is boss.

I was sadden beyond words when I found out from independent industry sources, and much later in La Nación and Clarín, that the beef being exported by Argentina was a different breed which had never been distributed in the local market. It was clearly and purely an act of spite by Kirchner. His people, the majority of them too poor and uneducated, did not realise what was their President's real motive. They, and their plight, were his pawns in the game of politics.

When he was found out, Kirchner simply reverted the ban. As a businessman himself, he would have been a little naïve to think the clients of the Argentine beef industry are going to simply return and trust an unreliable supplier. Maybe, how the country fare is not this President's priority.

Since then I have read more about Kirchner and his wife Cristina, they travelled the world on public duties but that didn't stop them dining at Michelin starred restaurants or shopping on Rue Faubourg. They remind me of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos of the Philippines. When Guillermo told me over lunch, the other day, many believe Cristina Kirchner would be the next president, I almost threw up my meal – I am living in Manila of the South!

I have to tune out, too much information. However, to prepare for the salad days ahead of us; I have here a beef salad recipe. I trust we would still be able to afford beef; as they say, you can't teach old dogs new tricks.

600g piece of beef eye fillet
Fried shallots (available from Asian food stores), to serve
6 coriander roots and stems, rinsed and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, dry-roasted and ground
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ cup lime juice
1½ tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1-2 fresh small red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 lebanese cucumber, cut into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
½ mignonette lettuce, washed and leaves torn
½ butter lettuce, washed and leaves torn
125g cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup coriander sprigs
¼ cup thai basil leaves, torn
¼ cup mint leaves, torn

For marinade, process all ingredients in a small food processor or grind in a mortar using a pestle until a coarse paste forms. Place beef in a ceramic or glass dish, add marinade and rub over beef. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Return beef to room temperature before cooking.

Barbecue beef on a flat plate over medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes, turning halfway through cooking, for medium rare, or until cooked to your liking. Remove beef from heat, cover loosely with foil and rest for 10 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, for dressing, combine all ingredients with 2 tablespoons warm water in a small bowl and stir until sugar dissolves.

For salad, combine all ingredients on a platter or in a bowl. Just before serving, pour ¼ cup of the dressing over and toss to combine. Cut beef into thin slices and place on salad. Serve topped with fried shallots, with remaining dressing passed separately.

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