Monday, April 4, 2011

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Paraguay

After having tried lamb hearts and livers during my challenge to cook a Libyan meal, I now turn to Paraguay, also known as "Corazon de America" or the "Heart of America." The country gets this name primarily because of its location, nestled in the Gran Chaco between Argentina and Brazil.  This geography presented some challenges for me, because, as a landlocked country, the cuisine of Paraguay focuses more on meat than seafood.

Over the course of a couple weeks, I struggled to find recipes for a main course in Paraguay.  I found a dish called Pira Caldo, which is a soup made from river fish.  There were two problems.  First, I've made many a fish soup or fish stew, so I wanted to make something different.  Second, I could not find a recipe for Pira Caldo on the Internet.

With fish coming off the menu, I had to turn my attention to dishes that involve meat or other proteins.  With some help, I was able to come up with a main course that I think is reflective of Paraguayan cuisine and the roots of Paraguay itself.  For the main course, I made a meat soup called So'o-Yosopy or "Soyo," which can be a meal itself.


So'o-Yosopy is a dish of the Guarani, a name that is both used to describe the indigenous people who inhabited a substantial part of South America that included Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil, as well as their language. Soyo is considered a dish of people who had scarce or limited resources, like many of the Guarani themselves, which explains the simplicity of the ingredients ... ground meat, onion, pepper, tomato and water.  Over time, however, the dish has become more popular among all Paraguayans.

The key to this dish is to stir it constantly when the soup is boiling (see step four below).  The goal is to blend the meat with the water.  When cooking Soyo, the superstition says that, if anyone who does not enjoy cooking is present in the kitchen, he or she may cause the Soyo to separate and ruin the dish.

Adapted from World Recipes
Serves 2-3 

1 pound of ground beef
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper, seeded and chopped
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cups of cold water
1/4 cup of dried rice
Salt, to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated

1.  Prepare the meat.  Smash meat in a large mortar or process the meat in a food processor until it is almost a paste.

2.  Saute the vegetables.  Heat the oil in a saute pan and add the onions and green pepper.  Saute the ingredients until the onions are softened and translucent.  Add the tomatoes and cook until the mixture thickens and is well blended, which should take about five minutes.  Set aside to cool.. 

3.  Add the meat and water.  Add the beef to a saucepan or small pot. Mix in the sauteed onions, green pepper and tomatoes, along with the four cups of water.  Mix all of the ingredients well.

4.  Cook the soup.  Bring the ingredients to a boil over moderate heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.  Add the rice and continue to cook for about fifteen minutes until the rice is tender.  Continue to stir while the rice is cooking.  At this point, the meat and the liquid should be completely blended.  Season with salt to taste.

*     *     *

I would say that this dish was a success, although not as great of a success as other challenges, such as Ethiopia, Czech Republic, Mongolia or Libya. I was able to make the Soyo and it it to blend well.  However, I wanted to make a side of Sopa Paraguaya, which is basically a cornbread.  The Sopa did not turn out well.  It was not because of the recipe, which was fine.  It was because of me.  I did not add enough cornmeal and the Sopa was more like a soup than a bread.  So, I was left with only the main course, which still satisfies my personal challenge.   When I make So'o-Yosopy again, I will definitely try to make Sopa Paraguaya to accompany the main course.   

As they say in the Guarani language, "Paraguay Rojhaiju" or "Paraguay, I love you." Now, I must prepare myself for a new challenge.  Until next time ...


For more about Soyo, check out Wikipedia.


AmberSiLiz said...

I just made this dish tonight; I got the recipe from a Latin American cookbook by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. I wasn't sure that I had made it correctly until I saw your pic. Ours looked the same : ) I enjoyed the soup, though I used Angus 85/15 instead of sirloin because it was cheaper. I liked it, it was very simple. I ate it with plain, sweet cornbread. Unfortunately, the hubby did not find the dish appetizing : (

Keith Bolek said...

Thank you for visiting my blog and for your comment. I have to say one of the most difficult things I encountered when making this recipe was the lack of pictures. I am glad to hear that your dish turned out well for you, even if your husband did not like it.

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