In most parts of the world, no one bats an eyelash when recipes call for heaping tablespoons of solid fat, whether it be butter, ghee (clarified butter used in Indian cuisine), or lard. I had a friend in high school who used to bring chickpea patties smothered in ghee for lunch, and the sight of solid fat going straight into her mouth was so revolting to me that I can still remember it nearly 15 years later.
Photo by: Homesick Texan
Now I'm an olive oil kind of girl. I buy it bulk at Costco, and even if I'm supposed to be using a higher temperature oil for stir frying, I most always use olive oil. Despite learning that canola oil is an equally good cooking oil, I've maintained my loyalties to olive oil. Why? I'm not really sure except to say that I've been brainwashed into thinking olive oil is the only oil to use.
Recently, however, I've been realizing that I need to just get over my American vanity and step into the realm of cooking with solid fats. If most of the world cooks this way, then I'm thinking something is probably wrong with the way we Americans dissect our food down to the kind of fat it should be cooked in. I already know things taste better cooked in butter or lard, and perhaps that's why my homemade tlacoyos never tasted that good.
On our trip to Buenos Aires, I took a cooking class where I learned how to make empanadas. Most of the group was American, and when the teacher started spooning lard into the pastry dough, we collectively shrieked. Then, someone asks, "So how much lard should we put in there?" (We Americans like to know exactly how much fat we're ingesting, no?)
"Oh, you know. Just enough to make the dough soft," she replies.
Beef empanadas made with a generous helping of lard
At that moment, between the shrieks and looks of disgust, I started to feel sympathy towards the misunderstood lard. I like to maintain as healthy a diet as the next person, but do I want to be that person that disregards hundreds of years of traditional cooking based on a cultural prejudice? It's not always about the calories.
So, to be true to the art of cooking and, well, living, I'm going to start keeping lard in the fridge and won't feel bad about it. If someone asks what's inside those delicious empanadas, I'm going to proudly tell them I used lard. And that cake? Two sticks of butter, thank you very much.