Recipes from Paraguay

Now, I know this isn't really a recipe, but I was completely fascinated by "dulce de leche" (sweet milk) upon arrival in Santa Maria de Fe. But, I had to overcome a little bit of prejudice to do so. You see, it is made locally by Trebol. In a previous traffic jam on the way home from Iguazu Falls, a truck from Trebol blocked our bus on purpose. Nobody was going to get around him. I must say my bus driver was frustrated. He got out of the bus, gun in hand, and smashed the rear blinker of that truck with the gun handle. I don't really like to see frustrated, angry people with guns. I can only say that it is better to punch the lights out of a truck instead of a truck driver.

Anyway, dulce de leche was too sweet to hold any grudges. It's sort of like melted caramel that apples are dipped in. It's probably really sweetened condensed milk, boiled to perfection. However, in Paraguay, it is so hassle free. You buy it in a plastic tub and smear it on like peanut butter.

I first had it for dessert with peaches! Love at first bite! In the morning you have it with toast. And one time, when I could find no sugar for my coffee, I gave dulce de leche a swirl. Need I say anything to describe the pleasure? So, like I said, it isn't really a recipe. However, this was my first tasty discovery in Santa Maria de Fe. So simple, so sweet, and oh, so delicioso!

Now as far as real cooking and recipes go, my sources in Paraguay told me that I needed to try vori-vori. You might find it spelled "bori-bori", but my local chef, Maria Gloria, told me the correct way to spell it in Guaraní is with the letter "v". To make a word plural in Guaraní, you double the word. So, if you have vori-vori, you have more than one vori. Clear enough? I didn't think so. The term vori comes from the Spanish word "bolita". Still not clear? Well, it means little ball. So, if you have vori-vori, you have a soup with a lot of little balls.

It's a hearty soup with cornmeal dumpling balls with your choice of beef or chicken. Problem is, with the weather sizzling around 100 degrees, nobody I knew was in the mood to prepare or eat soup. But, thank goodness for a cold front that came in from Antarctica. (I never heard of one of those before.) And, when the weather dropped to an almost downright chilly temperature, I had a bowl of vori-vori at my dinner table.

Maria Gloria's Vori-Vori
Santa Maria de Fe, Paraguay
Maria Gloria as queen of the kitchen - and everything else!
 Ingredients for the Soup Chicken    
  Chicken, 2 pieces per person   4 garlic cloves
  4 medium tomatoes   1/2 teaspoon pepper
  2 onions   1 ½ Tbs oregano
  1 red bell pepper in USA or   salt to taste
  ......3 skinny Paraguayan peppers   ½ cup tomato sauce
  1 carrot   oil of choice

Before your hands touch one ingredient, prepare your terere (a Paraguayan drink sort of like tea. For more info, click here.) so the cooking process is an enjoyable experience for everyone. Sneak drinks as often as possible. And if you are the queen of the kitchen, like Maria Gloria, you should have someone else hold your drink for you while you cook.

Go out to the backyard and select a chicken. How you kill it is your choice, but in Paraguay if you want to do things in the traditional way, you strangle the bird and then boil it so the feathers come off easily. Not into tradition? Go to the store just like you usually do. Take the skin off of the chicken and then fry it up.

Wash all of the vegetables twice if you are cooking for an American. Very finely dice up the onions, drink some terere, dice the peppers, drink more terere, dice the garlic, drink terere again, dice the tomatoes, sip some terere, grate the carrot, and celebrate the end of preparing the vegetables with more terere.

With a small amount of oil in the pot, fry up the tomatoes. Over medium heat, cook them until they turn into a tomato sauce. Next, pile in the rest of the vegetables with a pinch of salt. If the pile was too heavy to lift, drink some more terere for extra strength. Even if it wasn't too heavy to lift, it is still a good time for more terere. It's always a good time for terere.

Boil the vegetables until the liquid is gone. Then, add the fried chicken, the tomato sauce, pepper, oregano and ¼ cup hot water. Boil away the liquid again.

Add eight cups of boiling water. On the internet, the recipe called for chicken broth. Maria Gloria had never heard of such a thing and scoffed at the idea.

Ingredients for those Little Balls    
  1 pound yellow corn flour   1 egg
  1/3 cup grated cheese   Salt to taste
  .....from Paraguay   Choice of oil

Sift the corn flour with a giant sieve into your beautiful earthenware Paraguayan pottery bowl. Just like with the vegetables, wash the cheese twice when preparing food for Americans. Now, if you can't find Paraguayan cheese, Parmesan or Feta cheese will do in its place.

Drop the egg, a dash of salt, ¼ cup oil and the cheese in the mixing bowl. If you have Paraguayan or Feta cheese, crumble it as you drop it in. By now, you are long overdue for another sip of terere.

It is an "add as you go" experience as you mix the corn meal, of course, with even more terere. Add about ¼ cup of oil and ¼ cup of boiling broth. Mix this all together with the corn meal. The trick is not burning your fingers in the process. You'll need to do this a couple of times until the flour is ready for making mini balls of corn meal. And, of course, when cooking for Americans, remember to take off your ring.

The secret for successful corn balls is boiling soup. If the soup is simply warm, but not boiling, the balls will fall apart. So, grab a slab of corn meal and roll it into a small hot dog shape. Following Maria Gloria's example, hold the hot dog on the finger tips of your left hand, pinch off enough dough to make a ball about the size of a quarter, roll it in your left hand, and then plop it in the boiling pot. There is enough dough in the bowl to make around fifty balls. You need to save about a cup of the dough at the end for one final touch. Mix it together with some boiling broth until it resembles corn meal gravy and dump it into the pot. This makes the soup a little creamier. Simmer about five more minutes and you are ready to serve. And, during those five minutes, there is time for more terere.

It's my guess that before you sit down at the table, you and your guests may need to go to the bathroom.

Serves at least 6 people, but prepare more terere.

Copyright 2012 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.