April 5, 2011
My appetite for books is as voracious as the one I have for food–there's nothing I love more than getting into a really good book. My favorite stories are rich in sensory details–they bring me in with the sights, smells and tastes of the story.
Monica, friend and Uruguayan transplant, recommended The Invisible Mountain, by Carolina de Robertis(also an expat from Uruguay). De Robertis' first novel tells the story of three generations of women living in Montevideo at the turn of the twentieth century. For me, the book has shades of Chilean author Isabelle Allende's work–a lyrical and engaging writing style, wrapping the highs and lows of the country's political and economic upheaval of the time around the characters' lives.
I couldn't put it down. And the description of the ordinary, day-to-day things the characters did–eating and drinking–brought the story to life for me. Two lovers meeting on a park bench and sharing a gourd of yerba mate, or eating fancy bizcocho pastry in an elegant salon gives so much presence to the story that I felt like I was in the room listening in on the conversation.
Likewise, in the humble barrio where most of the story takes place, there is a lot of buñuelo eating going on. Buñuelos are fritters–fried dough balls with something added in; a sweet like apple or quince paste, or a savory–chard or seafood. Fritters have a long history in the American South, as well as in South America–but the recipes do vary slightly. It's likely that the snack has its origins in Spain, but fried dough is on the menu of almost every cuisine in the world, and each culture adds its own flavor variation.
Buñuelos are the type of snack shared with family or intimate friends over a coffee or a mate–good problem-solving food. It's not fancy company food, and it's not expensive. It's simple, homemade fare–total comfort food–that can be made, as so many recipes I adore–with the ingredients you already have on hand. LIkewise, they can be adapted, a little of this and a little of that–no need to run out for a single ingredient; just change it up. (Don't have apple? Use banana instead.)
With these apple buñuelos, the apple is shredded, though I found recipes using apples sliced in rounds and battered, or cut in small pieces and mixed in. The shredded version is light, airy, and only vaguely sweet and appley–though I bet the other versions are just as tasty.
Invite a friend over, share a mate and some buñuelos and enjoy some good conversation. Ina book club? Make The Invisible Mountain one of your selections, and bring a plate of buñuelos to share while you talk about it. Both the book and the fritters are something you'll enjoy sinking your teeth into.
Buñuelos de Manzana
This is a very basic recipe. It can be adapted as needed for savory (take out one tablespoon of the sugar) or sweet–you can also add more sugar to taste. Add in whichever filling you like–from banana to quince, some are even filled with pastry cream–the basic batter is very versatile.
Serves four to six (depending on how many disappear into each belly!)
2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons oil
2 Granny Smith apples (or any variety you like) peeled, cored and grated
2-3 cups neutral oil (like canola or vegetable) for frying
confectioner's sugar, for dusting
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, vanilla, and two tablespoons oil. Mix together well, there should be no lumps in the batter. Stir in the shredded apple until well incorporated.
Meanwhile, heat the 2 cups oil over medium heat. During the course of the frying, I had to replenish the oil twice during the frying process, reheating the oil each time. When the oil is hot enough for frying–you can test the heat by dropping a little of the batter into the oil–it should sizzle.
Using a tablespoon or small scoop or ladle, drop some of the batter into the oil, about three or four fritters at a time. Fry until golden on one side, about two minutes or so. Flip the fritters and fry on the other side until that side is also golden brown. The oil needs to eb hot enough for frying, but not so hot that the outside of the fritter gets too brown or fried without the center being cooked.
Remove the cooked fritters with a slotted spoon or spatula to a paper-towel lined plate. Let cool, then dust with confectioner's sugar before serving. Serve with coffee or yerba mate.