A get-together is the only reason the family of María Elena Lorenzin needs to celebrate Argentinian-style. María Elena, who is originally from the San Juan province at the base of the Andes, has lived in Adelaide for 26 years. Her first visit in 1969, with her Australian husband, saw her return to South America after a few months. Her children were born in Peru, Argentina and Brazil, and it was only in the 1980s, after a family holiday, that they moved permanently to Australia.
It is a combination of María Elena’s travels and her own Spanish, Lebanese and Argentinian background that result in a wide range of food influences. Sharing food is an exciting and rewarding way to maintain culinary traditions while connecting with her extended family including her daughters-in-law, from El Salvador and Japan, and her three grandchildren. She likens cooking to writing a story: both are creative experiences that take a mix of memories, colours and aromas and give birth to something new.
The parrillada (barbecue) is a labour of love and while María Elena might be the host, everyone is involved in the food preparation. Son, Federico, jokingly says that his mother is the chef and he is the cook and project manager. While most of the meat is sourced locally in Adelaide, María Elena buys the morcilla (black pudding) and chorizo – produced by Spanish Sydney butcher Rodriguez Bros – from Melbourne’s Casa Iberica Deli, claiming that the morcilla is superior to that even made in Argentina.
Although lunch won’t start until mid-afternoon, there’s a lot to do. Argentinian beef is considered among the best in the world, as is Australian, so the simple, traditional preparations that allow the quality of the meat to shine, translate well. The other dishes, such as the matambre (stuffed flank) and empanadas require extra effort.
María Elena uses her aunt’s empanada recipe, a family favourite, and the meat filling is laden with San Juan’s most prolific vegetable: the onion. María Elena has tweaked her aunt’s recipe and now always adds spelt flour, upon discovering they make the pastries firmer after running out of wheat flour one day. A pasta machine is used to roll out the dough, while daughter Giovanna fills and crimps. Each empanada is topped with some chopped egg and a single olive before being sealed and ready for the oven. In Argentina, the olive stone is left in to allow people to keep track of the number of empanadas they’ve consumed.
When the heat of the coals has faded, it’s time for María Elena to hand over the reins to Federico. As he rubs salt into the meats, she’s nearby to keep an eye on progress and there’s plenty of discussion about the barbecue’s heat and what should be cooked first. It’s only once all the food is on the table that the pace slows. Eating takes over and ‘lunch’ soon turns into afternoon tea and dinner.
Photography Anson Smart
As seen in Feast magazine, Sept 2011, Issue 1. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.