Take it slowly
Many years ago I spent a very cold night outside, up in the high Altiplano of Argentina. My ride had dropped me in the tiny hamlet of Humahuaca, where I discovered three fellow hitch-hikers — a Peruvian guy and two Argentinians — heading north on the same road. We decided our best chances were to band up in twos and made a pact to meet up at the next signposted town and stay the night there.
The Peruvian and I scored the first ride and, about an hour up the valley, we came to a new road sign with a name on it. As per the plan, we hopped out. But there was no town, just the beginnings of a building site — foundations and the base of some rock walls, a few 44 gallon drums and a pile of old goat skins. We called out loud hellos and holas into the gathering darkness, but nobody replied.
As the light fell, the cold seeped in. At 3500m, this high plateau is known in Quechua as the Puna, or the cold lands. The days are fiercely hot and the nights beyond bitter. The two Argentine boys arrived and, once they had got over their disbelief, we set to making a fire. The four of us spent the night in the tightest huddle we could make, drinking tea and taking turns to be on the outside.
I thought about home and my mother’s cooking a lot that night, remembering all the comforting dishes she would cook us in winter, and the way their lip-smacking aromas created a wonderful sense of welcome. In the lull of such soothing reminiscences, the night slowly inched by and the dawn finally arrived. Nearby, the creek was covered in a 20cm-thick ice crust and all around us the 44 gallon drums that had been filled with water on our arrival were rock-solid ice.
A group of workers arrived to continue their building project. Shaking their heads and laughing in disbelief, all they could say was: “Dieciocho a bajo, y todos ustedes estan vivos!” (“Minus 18 and you are all alive!”)
Some things you don’t forget. When the cold sets in, I find myself turning to the heart-warming dishes my mother always made. My trusty slow cooker is a lifesaver as a shortcut in the preparation process — everything goes in at once before I head to work. When I get home, cold, tired and often late, the house smells delicious and dinner has, quite simply, cooked itself.
This week I’m sharing three classic slowcooked dishes to see you through the last few weeks of winter. They are all big recipes so you can freeze the leftovers for another day or enjoy them in a pie, lasagne or moussaka later in the week.
A WELCOMING WINTER TABLE
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