March 6, 2008
"You have to have it! People who don't have soup don't ever grow up!"
"And they stay little, and don't ever get big!" … (Mafalda looking at her soup)…
"What tranquility would reign today in the world if Marx hadn't eaten his soup!"
Mafalda is Argentina's most loved and well-known comic strip, created in 1964 by Mendoza-born cartoonist Quino. Mafalda is a little girl who famously hates soup, and whose dialogue combines a witty social commentary with concern for humanity and the state of the world. Mafalda is a political cartoon with a sense of humor. She's joined by her parents and friends, who are all typical Argentinos, and through each comic strip, Argentina's culture and opinions unfold.
The first time I read Mafalda, I didn't really get it. How could a little girl be so pessimistic, so sarcastic?
And now that I'm married to an Argentino, well…I find it hilarious, revealing, and a key to understanding the Argentinian psyche. Every Argentinean can relate to Mafalda in some way, find some truth in her wry remarks, and maybe see a little of themselves. Argentina has been pushed, pulled, dragged and shoved every which way politically and economically; through the years facing Communism, corruption, war, financial ruin, instability and inflation. Which would make one slightly pessimistic, but makes one hell of a political cartoon!
My husband grew up on this comic, which was a standard in most Argentinian households, no matter what province you were from. (The comic started in Buenos Aires newspapers, but was later syndicated around the world.)
Quino, the creator of Mafalda, was from Mendoza, a fact many Mendocinos are very proud of.
Bowen, the area of Mendoza where my husband's family lives is a farming community with a large Russian and Ukrainian population. Like Argentineans everywhere, they are great at making the most of very little.
Locals take advantage of what's growing seasonally to vary their cooking, and the sour-tasting herb, Sorrel the sour-tasting herb, grows wild and in abundance. Russians have long been known to eat Sorrel soup (or Schi in Russian), which has many variations that feature Sorrel as the star ingredient.
Sorrel soup can be made with varying amounts of sorrel; you may also use spinach, though the flavor is obviously different. It is sometimes made with vegetable stock, but may also use chicken or beef stock. Some recipes call for cream, others are more like a broth. Some cooks like theirs with ham, bacon, or sausage. ( Basically, the recipe for Schi is up to the chef. )
The Sorrel Soup I've made here includes cream, carrot, fennel (which gives it a sweet, anise-y dimension), sorrel, vegetable stock, and potatoes; things we had on hand. Many cultures pride themselves, culinarily speaking, on making something out of nothing. When not a lot is available, this soup, with it's simple ingredients and many variations, is a great example of that. While some soups may call for a trip to the store, Schi can be made from whatever you have in the house.
And while Mafalda, like many Argentineans, has a bleak outlook on the world, this soup might just change your day around.
It's so good, in fact, that Mafalda might even like it!
Sopa de Sorel
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/4 chopped fennel bulb (or 1/3 cup chopped celery)
1 bay leaf
1 carrot, grated
4-5 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
4 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
2 generous teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
Sorrel–we used about 10 leaves-what's sold in a plastic container of herbs. If you have access to it, use a few handfuls!!
sour cream, for garnish
crumbled bacon, for garnish (optional)
Put the oil in a stock pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion and fennel and pepper to taste. Cook until the onion start to get transparent, but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaf, carrot and potatoes and a scant handful of coarse salt. Pour the vegetable stock and water in, enough to just cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, and stir to combine e the ingredients, then lower the heat. Let simmer until the potatoes are soft and can be mashed with a fork. Stir in the sorrel, mustard and heavy cream and heat through. Remove the soup from the heat and mash potatoes with a hand potato masher. You want a chunky consistency. Serve, piping hot, garnished with sour cream and bacon.