Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Beef Empanadas with Olives - Seco’s Latin Cuisine - A Closer Look - Essay


"...green olives that juice-up Seco’s beef empanadas yanked my mind back to the time I was lost in an olive grove in Spain.."

Beef Empanadas with Olives - Seco's Latina Cuisine - A Closer Look

Athenians fancy themselves recipients of the olive tree, a gift from Athena they claim, while pointing to olive trees on the Acropolis.  A strange goddess, to be sure, sashaying around in her helmet.  It’s fitting to put the myth of the olive gift in perspective.

Mortals had been cultivating the fruit since at least 3000 BC in the eastern Mediterranean regions of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel, with cultivation eventually spreading into southern Europe, northern Africa, and Spain.  I personally observed some of the world’s oldest and largest olive trees in Crete.  The mythology simply points to the fact that olive cultivation was brought into Attica and other parts of mainland Greece from elsewhere.  Thereafter, the Greeks brought olive cultivation into Spain.

That clarified, the green olives that juice-up Seco’s beef empanadas yanked my mind back to the time I was lost in an olive grove in Spain and feared being shot by a landowner who thought I was a trespasser instead of a goose in a rent car.  I order Seco’s beef empanadas with green olives practically every time I go to Seco’s, seduced by a quality I associate with the Mediterranean, which I’m incapable of describing but know it when I see it, in the same manner one knows that fish cooked in olives, capers and white wine, which Seco’s serves, has distant Mediterranean roots.

Obsessed with the olives, I called Seco Moran of Seco’s Latin Cuisine to get more information.  As proprietor and chef, Seco is indisputably a busy man, but he took time to talk to me.  Hesitantly, for only a second, was I a food critic, he wondered.  I most certainly was not a critic, I replied, I was one of his customers, and sometimes I write.  It’s fun.  I got the impression Seco found critics annoying, even if he was too gracious to say it.  Last Thursday night, I continued, I did not have his beef empanadas, instead I ate “Parrilla Seco,” a platter of grilled beef, shrimp, sausage, onion and peppers.  I was bothering him however because I wanted to know more about the olives.

He uses Spanish Manzanillas olives, Seco told me.  His empanadas, Seco qualified, are traditional Argentinian empanadas.  Empanadas in Argentina are made with green olives.

Seco was born in El Salvador.  Where?  In the city of San Miguel.

I recommend you drink a glass of Malbec with Seco’s beef empanadas.  Malbecs are produced in the Mendoza Valley of Argentina.  But before that, down one of Seco’s margaritas.

One week before I ate “Parrilla Seco,” I told Seco, I was in Seco’s enjoying my margarita, beef empanada and Malbec and watched him temporarily leave his kitchen to greet members of a family who had once owned the house which is now his restaurant, and take a photograph with them.  Seco recalled members of that family visiting him once before, back in 2006, not long after he acquired the real estate.  There was a photograph then.

Exactly a week before that, Donnie and I ate at Seco’s after which we discovered he had left his wallet at home, so while Donnie rushed back to Montrose to fetch his wallet, I chatted with Seco’s waitress Maria who is from Venezuela.  I’m always interested in hearing about Venezuela, particularly the beauty of Lake Maracaibo.  I have Venezuelan friends whose families’ assets were redistributed by Chavez and the jackasses who destroyed that economy.

It’s very important to him to know his customers, Seco announced as we ended our discussion.  Please be sure to notify him the next time I’m in his restaurant.  OK.

How interesting to think that Europeans brought beef to the Americas, which gave Salvadorans parrillas, regrettably the arrival of cattle coincided with the Spanish conquest, utterly complete by 1525.  Naturally olives traveled in the same direction, from Europe to South America.  So did smallpox.  The tomato and the potato on the other hand went in the opposite direction.  Empanadas originated in Spain, they existed in the medieval era and were known during the time of the Moorish invasion.

On Seco’s menu are items of Salvadoran origin.  Curious about Salvadoran cuisine, I questioned Senor Gonzales who was installing my new kitchen cabinets, and who is from El Salvador.  He left there in 1994.  One would imagine military dictatorships and civil war devastated that economy, in the toilet.  His parents came with him, he said, but his sister remained in El Salvador.  On the topic of Salvadoran food, Senor Gonzales stressed the importance of pupusa to Salvadorans.  Seco’s serves pupusa filled with shredded pork and cheese, cheese of course from Europe to El Salvador.

I was quite eager to know about Salvadoran beer.  Senor Gonzales said he no longer drinks, but when he did, he drank “Pilsener” and “Regia” and “Suprema.”  “Suprema” is on Seco’s menu.  Next time I go to Seco’s, perhaps next week, I’m going to order a beer from El Salvador.  And I’m going to notify Seco that I’m in his restaurant.

Image: “Parrilla Seco,” Margarita and Malbec - Virginia Billeaud Anderson

Seco’s Latin Cuisine
2536 Nottingham
Houston, TX 77005 | Kirby-West U
713.942.0001
Secoslatincuisine.com

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