Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A Stretch or Coincidence: Tequi... I Mean Agave Lime Yogurt and Pope Francis I

About six hours ago, I sat in my office reformatting documents, a part of my focus diverted to the goings on in Vatican City where white smoke was billowing out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel; the 155 cardinals of the Papal Conclave had elected the Catholic Church's newest pope (#266). As I worked with anticipation of the announcement (in Latin, of course) of who had just been chosen, I had by my side a bowl of Snowville Creamery's 6% butterfat plain yogurt, with which I had earlier concocted an experimental flavour combination as explained below. My intent this evening was to focus on this flavour but as I began to work on this post, I received a text from Marlaine who asked if I would be blogging about Argentinian food in honour of the new pope, Pope Francis I (Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio). Despite my initial reply back, I took on the challenge of trying to find some way to make a connection between Pope Francis and food. A lot of this may seem like a stretch. I think it's more a matter of strange coincidence.

Before I continue, let me just say that it turns out that @Foodimentary had apparently already beaten me to establishing the aforementioned connection [in case the link is broken, he directed folks to this site.] Well, through my brief search for a connection, what I found has spun into quite an interesting story. Among the first sites to pop up were those which stated the importance of Argentina as a global producer, noted the many European influences on Argentinian cuisine, and even described the cuisine as "an attitude both serious and entertaining."

And then I returned to my Snowville yogurt, and found out that Argentina has its own slew of yogurt producers (you can also learn about factors that influence different types of yogurt here). Moreover, folks such the author of Asado Argentina are making their own yogurt because it's rather difficult to find "non super sweet natural yogurt." Luckily for me in this area of the U.S., this kind of yogurt is available in many local stores in the Columbus area, including here in Granville. For the recipe I alluded to above, I used an entire 3 c container of Snowville's plain yogurt. While I'm thinking about it, in addition to their plain yogurts (2% and 6% butterfat), Snowville has also released low fat vanilla and low fat gingagmon (ginger and cinnamon), as well as more recently "dessert yogurts" in the form of rich lemon-ginger, rich coffee cardamon and rich turmeric mace. (Check out Snowville's Facebook page for the most up to date distribution info.)

Upon searching for Argentina recipes where yogurt might be incorporated, I found only this one which quite interestingly called for honey and lemon juice. I write "quite interestingly" given that for the flavour combo I noted above, I combined agave nectar and lime. A similar granulated sugar substitute to honey, agave nectar is made from the agave plant, the same plant used to make its fermented form, tequila. Of course, true tequila (of which no less than 51% is agave nectar) is produced in the city of Tequila and the surrounding areas in the municipality of Jalisco, Mexico, as well as to a limited extent elsewhere throughout the country. More info on this "essence of Mexico" may also be found here. Despite the fact that tequila is specifically Mexican, both agave nectar and tequila have a place in this discussion of Argentina as suggested by this post by blogger Argentina explorer and to a more direct extent expressed in this 1995 New York Times article, "the Tequila Effect" of which has also been viewed from an Argentinian lens. And on a foodie level, there does happen to exist a Mexican restaurant called Tequila in Buenos Aires. Having said all of that, I added a total of 1/3 c of agave nectar. For those who aren't huge fans of the tang of plain yogurt or the refreshing acidity of lime  Now before I get berated by those who question the use of agave nectar that I would even suggest using it (clearly the author of this article is not a fan), I'm going to put it out there that you could surely replace agave nectar with any other kind of sweetener; I just happened to have some in my pantry and with moderation would rather use it and not buy any more later versus waste it. Indeed, and as these more balanced articles suggest (1, 2), less agave nectar is needed to achieve the same sweetness that one could expect from a higher quantity of table sugar. And really whatever your choice, at the end of the day, I again emphasise moderation is key.

When you think of tequila, what's the first thing you think about? Other than perhaps salt, I expect your answer to be lime (surely because tequila and lime go well together when cooking such dishes as mahimahi tacos, right?). Especially if you thought my connection between agave and the Argentinian pope was weak, perhaps you can give me more credit for recognising the many applications of lime within the context of Argentina's culinary repertoire. From Gazpacho de Mesopotmaia as presented in Argentina Cooks! to the staple of any Argentinian parilla (i.e. Chimichurri Sauce) to the fact that Argentina is the third largest producer of limes behind none other than Mexico (and India at number 1), the lime is important to Argentinian gastronomy, as well as the gastronomies of this region. For good measure, I'll throw it out there too that a well rated youth hostel called Lime House exists in Argentina and in this month of March where foods purposefully coloured green are made in honour of St Patrick's Day, a lime based dish such as this fits in the timeline of Pope Francis I's election. For my yogurt concoction, I added the zest of one large lime and the juice of half of that lime. In terms of process, I stirred in the lime ingredients first and then sweetened the yogurt to taste with the agave nectar.

I first thought of trying to figure out what lime yogurt might taste like after Beth suggested one of her sons was a fan of the flavour, and wanted to use agave nectar as my sweetener. And thus the above recipe was created. Despite all the stretching I've done with this post, I still find it rather coincidental that the timing of me actually going through with this experiment crossed paths with today's earlier news from halfway around the world. On another level, it seems that in their own unique ways Snowville yogurt (and its production), agave nectar (and its place in our kitchens and relationship to our health and well being, as well as retrospectively the impacts of the Tequila Effect) and limes (though more specifically their refreshing bite often used to wake up the senses) suggest a need for reflection and progress, and a look to the future not only in terms of these three ingredients, but as I've pieced it together here, the future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis I at its helm. Like a lime which has a year-round growing season, the Church is in need of a model for compassion, empathy and equality, a cultivator of growth, ever-vigilant and attune to the nuances and needs of a diverse world, both inside and outside of the garden. Only time will tell how fruitful the Church will be with this pope, a pope of firsts.

In the meantime and on a much less religious note, I have no idea if the cardinals were eating any yogurt earlier today (now that would be a coincidental connection) but as I sign off, today has certainly prompted me to try my hand and stomach at Argentinian cuisine in the near future (anyone care to join me?). For the photos of this small album, click here.

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