If you think the Americans are the world's biggest beef eaters, think again. Argentineans and Uruguayans lead the way, consuming around 132 pounds of beef per person per year. Meanwhile, Americans eat about 95 pounds of beef a year; Australians, 86 pounds; and Brazilians, 79 pounds. Most Argentinean beef is produced for internal markets, whereas Uruguay exports most of what it produces.
In Argentina, where I live, beef is a point of national pride. It's a key component of the traditional cuisine that began in the 19th century, when there were thousands of cattle in the Pampas region, and beef became a staple in the diets of our version of cowboys, called gauchos.
You may have heard about superior quality of Argentinean beef. I'm trying to be impartial, but it really is the best. But why? The most important differentiating feature between beef from South America and the rest of the world is our soil and mild weather. Together, they make great conditions for animals to pasture freely on the prairie — grass-fed beef is still the norm here.
Grass-fed beef not only has quality advantages over feed-lot systems; it seems to be better for your health too. Beef from pastures is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and contains higher proportion of healthy omega 3 fatty acids when compared to that from feed lots. Beef from pastures also is the richest natural dietary source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is believed to have anti-cancer properties.
When it comes time to cook, Argentineans like to keep things simple. Asado, beef grilled on an open fire pit, is Argentina's signature dish and it's a must whenever we gather with friends and family. Parrillada is a mixed-grill platter that usually includes sausages and organ meats—also called "offal" in English—like kidneys, sweetbreads, intestines and blood sausage.
We typically don't add much seasoning to grilled beef besides a little chimichurri (an Argentinean herb-dressing) drizzled after cooking. Beef is also served in many other ways like milanesas (deep-fried breaded beef) and empanadas (turnovers).
It is said that Argentineans make use of every body part of the cow—and that's pretty close to the truth! Besides the organ meats of parrilladas, other traditional dishes use beef tongue (lengua a la vinagreta, meaning: "tongue in vinaigrette"), stomach lining (guiso de mondongo: "stomach lining stew"), liver (higado con cebolla: "liver and onions") and brain (ravioles de seso: "brain-stuffed ravioli"). This commitment to using as much of a cow as possible is also why Argentinean leather goods are recognized around the world for their quality.
Not all people like organ meats (like me, for instance). Because these dishes usually require more time for preparation (especially to ensure food safety) and slow cooking, modern Argentineans—just like modern Americans—tend to choose more simple options. But, we must not forget that organ meats are a low-cost source of protein and other nutrients like iron, zinc, phosphorus, copper and B vitamins. The Argentinean Food Guidelines (Guias Alimentarias para la Población Argentina) recommend choosing between kidney, liver, tongue and stomach lining. The other organs are higher in fat and cholesterol.
To get a taste in America for how South Americans eat, look for a good "parrilla"—an Argentinean restaurant. Or, cook some U.S. grass-fed beef the Argentinean way. Here is an easy recipe I created for the Eat Well Argentina app (Eat Well Argentina is part of Eat Well Global, a collection of nutritionist-led guides to eating well around the globe.)
Milanesa Sandwich with Chimichurri Mayo and Garden Salad
Recipe by Romina Barritta de Defranchi, DTR
Makes 4 servings
4 thin veal steaks (1/5-inch thick, approx. 1¼ total pounds)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp. amaranth seeds
4 Tbsp. sunflower seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
4 mini baguettes or other rolls
1 bunch of dandelion greens (radicheta), washed, drained and trimmed
1 carrot, sliced thin (a potato peeler works great)
1 plum tomato, sliced
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. vinegar
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, thinly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400° F.
- Trim all the visible fat from the meat and season with salt and pepper. In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs. In another shallow bowl, mix breadcrumbs with seeds. Dip steak in egg mixture, then coat with the crumb mixture. Place the steaks in an oiled oven pan and cook in the oven for about 5 to 7 minutes per side.
- Meanwhile, prepare the salad by placing all the ingredients on a large bowl and toss together. To make the chimichurri mayonnaise, whisk all the ingredients on a small bowl.
- Assemble your sandwiches: Cut the baguettes, spread the chimichurri mayonnaise, put the milanesas in the sandwich. Serve with salad on the side.
- For the milanesas, you can use breakfast beef steaks or thinly cut eye of round.
- The breadcrumb mix can be seasoned with your favorite dried or fresh herbs like parsley and other kinds of seeds like sesame or poppy seeds.
- If you don’t have dandelion greens (radicheta), replace it with arugula or with your favorite green.
- Save any leftover chimichurri—experiment with trying it on all kinds of things!