Cheeseburger with Spicy Llajua Sauce
Apologies for the delay of burger, this is what happens when you’re trying to go too fast and not doing research ahead of time. So here we are at Bolivia or the Plurinational State of Bolivia as those of us in the know like to call it J. I was fascinated by Bolivia as a child, mainly because I wanted to be an archeologist and I had read in National Geographic that there were forests in Bolivia that modern man had not yet fully explored. I thought it would be really cool to be the first to discover the hidden secrets of the jungle. Alas, life took me a different direction and given my dislike of bugs and things that go bump in the night, that’s probably for the best. But enough about me – Bolivia is in the heart of South America. It’s a landlocked country surrounded by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Chili and Peru.
People first settled in large numbers around 600 AD, the Tiwanaku hung out for a while, then there was some quiet time, then the Inca settled in, after that the Spanish colonists took over and finally the modern Bolivian state was formed in 1825.
With all of that rich history, I was expecting to find really interesting food traditions. What I found was a lot of contradictory information about Bolivian food. Either it’s really boring or the best in the world. General consensus is that it isn’t spicy, except llajua sauce, which everyone seems to agree is the national side dish and can be quite spicy. Which, to me is like saying Americans don’t like tomato flavors except for ketchup which they use on everything…well, on we go. My cousin’s wife suggested I try quinoa – so I did and, frankly, yuck. Quinoa is a seed pod that you cook like rice. The problem I had with it is that it had almost no flavor except a vaguely plant-like flavor that wasn’t exciting. I’ll stick with Bhutanese red rice myself. So rather than torture myself on the starch, I decided to go with a basic burger bun.
Since the llajua is the national dish that got the most press, I knew we need to have some of that and this is where the delay came. There are many different recipes for llajua, all of them include tomatoes, peppers and salt. Beyond that there are different spices and herbs that you can add. One that intrigued me was huacataya. Huacataya is from an Andean marigold. It is described as like cilantro but without the soapy taste. Since I don’t like the soapiness of cilantro I thought I should try it. Well, it’s hard to find the herb on its own, there are some pastes out there, but not just the dried herb. But I persevered and found a place to order it. Well, my packet arrived on Friday and started whipping up llajua. My goal was to figure out what we could substitute so that you guys wouldn’t have to search all over the internet or wander your local Latin market endlessly. The thing is, the flavor of huacataya is subtle, really subtle. I used three times as much as the recipe that came with the packet suggested and still had trouble pulling out a distinctive flavor. The taste is earthy with a little bit of bitterness. The recipe below gives you those same overtones, but the flavor isn’t exact. It is the closest I could come after many failed attempts, but the reality is the main flavors of the sauce are tomato and pepper – after that, add the herbs that you like and call it a day.
Our end result here is a simple savory burger seasoned with cumin and oregano with a spicy tomato/jalapeno sauce – clean bright flavors, even better when cooked on the grill. It’s incredibly easy to make and you can easily adjust the sauce for different spice preferences.
1 pound ground beef 80% lean
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
kosher salt and pepper
Manchego cheese (or cheddar if you prefer) sliced
Four burger buns
In a large bowl, combine the meat and spices. Form four patties and grill to desired doneness. Add the cheese about two minutes before burgers are done and cover until cheese is melted.
Place patty on each bun and spoon 1-2 tablespoons of Llajua sauce on top. Serve with extra sauce on the side. The extra Llajua also makes a good salsa and is yummy with tortilla chips.
3 ripe tomatoes roughly chopped
3 jalapenos seeded and roughly chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried parsley
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly combined into a slightly chunky sauce. This can be refrigerated until ready to use.
©Copyright 2011 Linda Monach