Natalia’s Bocaditos

Bocaditos translates to “little bites.” My friend Natalia makes this ridiculously easy fifteen-minute dish.



One small tomato
4 large lettuce leaves
Half of one large bell pepper
Half of one medium onion
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 lemon wedges or some lemon juice


Finely chop the tomato, lettuce leaves, pepper, and onion. (Oh man, the bell peppers in Argentina were so huge and juicy, and the produce was so fresh and cheap, sold in verdulerías every few blocks. Sigh.)


Throw everything into a bowl and beat in three eggs.


Stir in the salt and pepper.


And the flour.


The eggs and the juice from the tomatoes should mix with the flour to form a consistency like runny pancake batter.


Heat two tablespoons of oil in a frying pan on medium heat. (In Argentina, everything is fried in heavy quantities of vegetable oil. But I prefer olive oil, for obvious reasons.)

Once the oil is hot, drop in spoonfuls of the vegetable/batter mixture.


Once they are golden brown underneath (after about 2-3 minutes), flip them with a spatula.


Once the bocaditos are cooked on both sides, drain them on paper towels. Continue frying all the mixture, adding another tablespoon of oil when the oil in the pan runs out.


Once cooked, serve the bocaditos over rice and squeeze a little lemon juice over them.

As we say in Argentina, ¡Buen provecho!


And now a little of Natalia’s story.

I met Natalia on my very first night in Argentina. It was twilight, and she was sitting on the front porch of her house, which was perched on the very edge of respectability and safety; another kilometer down the road and it would have been part of the abajo, the part below.

(All dangerous and impoverished neighborhoods in Argentina are down in the river bottoms, and the houses flood every August and September in the springtime. Only the middle class and the wealthy can afford to live on higher ground. The casitas del gobierno, tiny cinderblock two-room houses issued by the government, are usually built right by the river, on the poorest cheapest land.)

But Natalia’s house was nice enough: it was painted pretty pale yellow, and inside it had a real tile floor, not just rough concrete like in the casitas. There was a spacious front room where Natalia ran a kiosco, a little store. The front door was always propped open to the women and children (and sometimes men) who stopped in to buy candy, cooking oil, diapers, maxi pads, and other sundry items that Natalia stocked. I was to learn that this was customary: the fourth or fifth family on any given street in Arentina operated a kiosco out of their front room. The hours of these little businesses were always irregular, but one thing was certain: all kioscos would be closed from about one o’clock to five o’clock, when the entire country shut down so that people could eat, nap, watch fútbol on TV, or whatever else they did during siesta.

The night that we met Natalia sitting on the porch in front of her kiosco, she told us through tears of her current situation. She had a ten-year-old son with a man named Marcelo. Marcelo didn’t value Natalia enough to marry her, and he could always be seen with other women. But even though he was toxic to her, Natalia had been seeing him off and on for the last ten years. The most recent drama was that she had let him back into her house for a few days, and now she was pregnant again with his child.

It seemed so obvious to me that Marcelo wasn’t worth his salt and Natalia didn’t need him, but over the next year and a half I was to learn that her situation was far too common. Too many Argentine women were, paradoxically, the strongest and weakest people I knew. Having babies in their teens, leaning on their own mothers for support, they were determined to “salir adelante,” to come out ahead and give a good life and a good education to their children. They worked tirelessly running kioscos, sewing soccer balls, baking and selling pizzas. With the money they earned, they kept their children fed and clothed and they built their own houses out of cinderblock and concrete, adding on rooms as they could afford them. They were superwomen.

But when it came to men, they were absolutely helpless. From the fathes of their babies, or from new lovers, they bore patiently laziness, drunkenness, battering, and infidelity. But these women would not leave their men; or if they did, it was only temporarily. They were strong and determined in taking care of their children, but in standing up for themselves they were powerless.

As we visited Natalia over the next month, she seemed stronger than the crying, confused woman I had met on the concrete steps that first night. She was full of hope for the new baby to be born. I was optimistic that this baby might be just what she needed to break free from the unhappy cycle she had been in for the last ten years.

After only five weeks in Córdoba, I was sent out to a little town in the country for about five months. When I moved back to my old neighborhood in Córdoba, I was determined to visit Natalia and make sure she was okay. But she wouldn’t open her door to us.

We did, however, run into Marcelo one day in downtown Córdoba. He was arm in arm with another woman, and he pretended not to see us.

From neighborhood gossip I learned that Natalia’s baby was to be born within just a few weeks. The ladies of our church congregation were busy arming a giant gift basket filled with diapers and baby clothes. They would deliver it to Natalia when the baby was born, along with a few freezer meals she could use as she needed them.

Finally the baby arrived. The church ladies couldn’t wait to present Natalia with the gift. But when they went to the yellow house, it was Marcelo who opened the door.

He had moved in a couple months before when he was needing a place to live, it turned out, and he was still living there when Natalia had her baby. In typical Marcelo fashion, he was none too friendly. But the women did manage to ask him how Natalia was doing, and what she had named her baby, before Marcelo shut the door in their faces.

I was anxiously awaiting news of Natalia. After their visit, the ladies of the congregation relayed to me the news that the baby was a boy. And Natalia had given her new son the name Marcelo, after his father.


Tortilla Making

Mark and I are currently serving in a Spanish branch of our church. Most of the members of our congregation are Mexican immigrants; all meetings and worship services are conducted in Spanish. I teach weekly Sunday School for a group of twelve boisterous eight-to-eleven-year-olds and help organize biweekly activities for them at the church.


The other day I was helping my mom clean out some things at her house and she gave me her old tortilla press. I took it home reluctantly. Every time that I’ve tried to make tortillas from scratch I found it to be cumbersome and my tortillas never quite turned out how I wanted them to. I always followed the recipe carefully, but the dough always turned out thick, stiff, and unworkable. Lots of effort with the rolling pin and the tortilla press only gave me sore arm muscles, not perfectly thin tortillas. So I doubted that the tortilla press would get much use, if any.

But then I remembered that our activity with the branch kids that week would be tortilla-making: “¡No se olviden de la actividad esta noche! Trae tu máquina de tortillas!” Don’t forget about the activity tonight—and bring your tortilla-maker! Because of course every household possesses a tortilla-maker, right? Well, as of 24 hours earlier, mine did!

My eight-to-eleven-year-olds combined with the rest of the kids under twelve and we spent the evening making white corn tortillas. The niños took very seriously their work of mixing the masa (dough), forming it into perfectly round discs, and pressing the discs between very fancy plastic sheets (cut-up bread bags and grocery bags) on the tortilla-makers.

My new tortilla-press in action. Thanks, Mom!

My new tortilla press in action. Thanks, Mom!

Above, a traditional wooden tortilla press from México; below, Ericka and Noelia fry up the little beauties.

Above, a traditional wooden tortilla press from México; below, Ericka and Noelia fry up the little beauties.

While the kids prepared the masa, my friends and fellow Sunday School teachers Ericka and Noelia fried the tortillas and supervised production. They showed me that the secret to good tortillas is very moist, soft, pliable dough. I learned that the online recipes I had previously used specified an incorrect water-to-flour ratio; the consistency should actually be much softer and moister than bread dough or pizza dough so that pressing the masa into thin tortillas is almost effortless.

Oh, and tortillas de maíz (corn tortillas) can be a lot easier to form and flatten out than tortillas de harina, or flour tortillas, because of the tough elastic texture of flour dough. So from now on in my homemade-tortilla escapades I’ll just save myself some trouble and make corn tortillas. (The origins of flour tortillas, and their correlation with Sephardic Jewish heritage, is a subject that I’m singularly obsessed with and a post for another day.)

I love these girls!

I love these girls!

The night was a success; great fun was had by kids and adults alike. We all devoured inordinate amounts of hot tortillas smothered in butter and queso méxicano, soft Mexican cheese.

And if anyone asks, my kitchen does possess a tortilla press. Like every household should.