One of my favourite things about travelling is eating. Heck, I even have ‘eating pants’! Over the last few years, I have learned that there is so much more to cooking than just filling your belly – food is an insight into a culture, community, and family that reflects generations’ of history and passion. The League of Kitchens understands this important link between community and cuisine and they have developed a series of workshops to bring authentic international foods into the heart of New York City. And so, I decided to give an authentic Argentinian cooking class a try… but was I up to scratch?
Authentic Argentinian Cooking: Meeting Mirta
One Sunday morning, I navigated to terrible weekend NYC transport system all the way to Forest Hills in Queens. Walking from the station, I passed synagogues, churches, parks and schools, all representing the multicultural community that makes up this neighbourhood. Later, I learned that over 900 languages are spoken here!
When I knocked on Mirta’s door, I was immediately welcomed with (literally) open arms. Mirta is a vibrant lady whose strength and passionate personality shines through from the first moment that you meet her. Her joy for cooking is both obvious and infectious.
Stepping into her apartment is like walking into a mini-Argentina. Giant Argentinian artworks cover the walls, folk music gently plays and a delicious smell already wafts from the kitchen where Mirta’s daughter is toasting bread. On the table was a delicious spread of meats, breads and cheeses, all Argentinian, which had been purchased from nearby Argentinian speciality stories. Sadly no wine though!
Soon, the other five students arrive and we all introduced ourselves and started to chat about why we are taking the class, our favourite foods, and our backgrounds. One of the things I enjoy most about these type of classes are the other people that you meet. So many interesting stories!
How to drink mate like a pro
I seemed to be the only person in the room who had no idea what mate is. Step one to drinking mate like a pro…pretend you know what it is and nod wisely and enthusiastically.
So what it mate? Mate is a caffeine-rich drink which is prepared by steeping mate leaves in hot water. It is a bit bitter so people normally add sugar. The dried mate leaves are placed into a special cup which is called a porongo. You then put one hand over the top and tip it upside, shaking it a few times to mix up the leaves. Rest it at a 45-degree angle to create a little gap inside the cup then put it back on the table.
The host then pours some hot water in the shallow end of the cup, drinking the liquid through the bombilla (straw). They then refill the hot water and pass it in a clockwise direction. After each person, the cup is refilled by the host and doesn’t move on to the next guest until each one is satisfied. This process can sometimes take hours!
Hot tip: Do not touch the bombilla! Only newbies do that and you want to look like a pro!
The cooking begins!
This cooking class is unlike any other class I have taken before. It is very informal and reminds me of cooking with my grandmother. Mirta takes the lead and we are her sous chefs, learning the history and techniques to perfect every element of a dish as we all work together to prepare our meal. This leaves ample time for chatting and learning more about the food, Argentina, and the other students.
Throughout the day, we learned how to source products, prepare and cook Asado de Tira con Chimichurri (Grilled Short Ribs with Chimichurri), Milanesa de Pollo con Mayonesa (Breaded Chicken Cutlets with Homemade Mayonaise), Chorizo y Morcilla (Grilled Spiced Sausage and Blood Sausage), Humitas (Corn Pudding), and Alfajores de Maizena (Sandwich Cookies filled with Dulce de Leche).
I was really glad we made the chimichurri, a spicy dressing/sauce/marinade, early in the day because we all kept snacking on it as we were cooking. I’m definitely going to keep some in my fridge to have on toast or to season meat. It is so easy to make and goes with everything. Delicious!
The alfajores were a bit tricky to make. The dough has to be the perfect texture and rolled to the perfect thinness – everything had to get Mirta’s approval before we could start cutting! It was really fun to make them and we had a little production line going by the end and Mirta was happy with our progress – top students!!
The best bit… eating!
The class went a lot longer than originally planned (about an hour over time), but this was because we were having such a great time chatting that we forgot about the schedule! We sat down to eat around 6.30pm and shared more stories over dinner, snapping photos for each other and admiring our culinary skills.
It is hard to say what my favourite thing was that we prepared. After every mouthful, I would say ‘Oh, that chicken is delicious, that is my favourite….mmmmm! The ribs!!! No, they are the best. Wait…. that carrot mayo!’ It is tough to decide on a favourite dish when they are all amazing!
The overall experience
Overall, I loved my cooking class with Mirta. It was a bit less hands-on cooking than a formal cooking school where you each prepare a full menu, but it was a completely different experience. The day was fun and you learn so much more about people and culture than you would at a typical cooking class. Think of it as a day cooking with friends and family rather than a formal lesson.
The only downside of the course is the terrible transport to get there! It seems like the subway doesn’t like to work on Sundays so it took me two hours each way in travel time – I left home at 11 am and didn’t get home until 10.30pm! I’m not a local in NYC, but if the subway is better on a Saturday, then maybe the classes could be moved to a Saturday instead? If not, it is definitely still worth the trek out there!
The League of Kitchens was created by Lisa Gross, the daughter of a Korean immigrant and a Jewish New Yorker with a passion for cooking and cultural exchange. They offer a range of cooking workshops, each led by an immigrant in their own home, to help build cross-cultural understanding and connections through the medium of food.
To book, either visit the League of Kitchens website or Visit.Org. After doing this class, I discovered that they are also listed on Visit.Org – another great reason why I am an Ambassador with them… great (eco) minds think alike!
Thank you to League of Kitchens for hosting me. If you book using the Visit.Org link, I will receive a small commission. The opinions expressed in this article are my own and have not been influenced in any way.