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As you may recall from an earlier post, one of my favorite things about food is the way it gingerly invites me to pack my bags and travel to its land of origin.
So when Project Food Blog Challenge #2 called for an exploration of a classic dish from a culture unfamiliar, I immediately turned to a conversation I had with my friend, Jim, who recently returned from a five-month stay in Bolivia. I, of course, took interest in the food there and he regaled me with a story of Bolivian Silpancho. And he kindly agreed to help me envision the final product, holding me to a high standard of authenticity as I attempted to recreate it. I must thank him for being the potato peeler, egg fryer, dish dryer, and all around pleasant kitchen comrade.
I use ‘comrade’ deliberately, a term that has historically been dragged through the dirt of many a political movement, absorbing dusty particles of connotation that might as well speak to the style of this dish. For Silpancho is a staple in Bolivia, in contrast to its somewhat tumultuous political instability. Jim would like you to know that this dish is, essentially, utilitarian in nature. Though I might try to infuse it with romance and dreams of a trip to this country flanked by the gorgeous Andes Mountains, such ethereal travel will most likely be interrupted by corrupt visa acquisition and my highly imperfect Spanish language skills. But Silpancho will do its job, giving you the energy you need to survive any of it. And boy does that sound like the kind of adventure I’d like to take.
But, then again, this is why I loved making this dish in my very own kitchen. Nothing there could stop me from a Bolivian excursion. And, in fact, I think the product was – if just a little bit – beautiful.
Now, Jim is the kind of guy who infuses conversations with the sort of unassuming educational tone that gives you so much knowledge, but does so without your feeling like a freshman in a lecture hall. So it was no surprise to me that about 3 minutes in to our cooking endeavor, I already learned of the astounding 3,000 potato varietals housed within the borders of Bolivia alone. I settled on these adorable little Yukon Golds.
Potatoes and rice form the foundation for the Silpancho, something you can easily compare to chicken fried steak. And I looked to this recipe from Saveur magazine for Patatas Bravas. These fried potatoes are crunchy on the outside, flavorful on the inside, and line your plate like golden medallions as if you’ve won some sort of price at the state fair. And, really, I’m sure this meal probably would.
A stacked layer of fried food items – fried potatoes, fried meat, fried egg – and there’s really no room for complaining, at least from anyone I know.
The bread crumbs rolled into the ground meat as you flatten it (I used lamb) into disks “the thinness of a crêpe” provide this light, crunchy texture that the yolk of the egg and the creamy rice soften just enough.
The Patatas Bravas call for a brava sauce to be served alongside. The sauce draws its spice from a serrano chile, and is a pleasant surprise when it peeks out from beneath the fried egg. My vision was to create an eggs-in-purgatory-esque top layer. It just seems such a shame to ever leave Italian influence completely behind. So I placed the sauce on top of the lamb, then allowed the egg to rest in its limbo of tomato and spice.
It is important, Jim tells me, to build a perfect bite when eating Silpancho. The parts of the meal are nothing on their own. A lot like all of us, I imagine. But together – the potatoes, rice, lamb, spicy brava sauce, and fried egg – form this creamy, little bit spicy, surprisingly delicious, yet unwavering utilitarian meal. It hits all its bases. And that’s not a bad thing in the slightest.
Care to pack your bags? Vamos.
From Saveur magazine, here.
Bolivian Silpancho (serves 4)
Adapted from Lindsey Sterling and found here.
1 c. white rice
1 small green pepper, diced.
4 yukon gold potatoes (made into Patatas Bravas)
1lb. ground lamb
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
Cook rice in boiling water. Set aside.
Massage salt and pepper into lamb with hands. Separate ground lamb into 4 balls. Put the breadcrumbs in a pile on a cutting board. Flatten each ball and press both sides into breadcrumbs. Roll with a rolling pin on top of breadcrumbs. Flip over patty and roll again. Continue rolling and flipping until the lamb is the thinness of a crêpe. Make a stack of four on a plate.
Drizzle olive oil into saute pan and warm at medium high heat. Cook lamb, one at at time. Flip when brown starts to show through the raw pink. Stack as they’re fully cooked on a fresh plate. At the same time, fry four eggs and leave yolk runny.
Slice Patatas Braves into 1/4 inch rounds and place them around the edge of each plate. Then place a scoop of rice in the center. Put the lamb on top of the rice – the potatoes should be poking out from underneath. Put the brava sauce on top of the lamb, top with diced green pepper, and place the egg on top of the sauce.
Serve with more brava sauce on the side if you like.