Meal 35: Chile

Chile has gone through a nutritional upheaval in the past half century. Whereas a few decades ago malnourishment was a worry, now their obesity levels are in the same league as the US. With flaky pastries and tasty breads, it's easy to see where the temptation lies.

For this long Memorial Day weekend, we shook things up by heading up to the Catskills. Our friend Sarah-Doe spent much of her childhood in this big, rambling structure, a former grain mill that her family converted into a home and woodworking shop, set between two streams that form part of the headwaters of the Delaware River.

photo by Kirsty Bennett

Given that we were farther from the ocean than just about any point in Chile, and the concerns of transporting fish for hours by car, we decided to pass up Chile's robust seafood opportunities and stick to safer foods. Our friends around the table were Kirsty, Saskia, Adam, Raven, Dan, Sarah-Doe, Michael, and Julia. A huge thanks to all the kitchen help, especially Kirsty for her major efforts particularly on pastry. And of course an enormous abrazo to Sarah-Doe for hosting us all!


Pisco sour | Brandy cocktail | Recipe

Chile and Peru have fought over many things, including territory and pisco. Peru claims that since the town of Pisco is in Peru, only their grape brandy may go by that name. Chile renamed a town as Pisco Elqui to nullify that argument. In any event, both countries produce a pretty similar product, but they whip it up in a cocktail somewhat differently. In Peru, a pisco sour is made with egg whites; in Chile, it appears it is not. The recipe we found had the further improvement of champagne, and it made for a powerful and refreshing potion.

Mote con huesillos | Dried peach and wheat drink | Recipe

Speaking of refreshing, this beverage, which looks like it's come straight from a different planet, is a great summertime cooler. Dried peaches are soaked in water with cinnamon overnight, then boiled with sugar, and the whole thing has some cooked grain added to it like a bizarro bubble tea. (It's supposed to be a form of dehusked whole wheat grains, but pearled barley made for a decent substitute.) We all agreed it tasted better than feared, though for those of us not used to chewing our way through a drink, it was a bit of a challenge.

Marraquetas | Double rolls | Recipe

This looks a lot like a butt, yet it had a great texture and tasted fantastice. For whatever reason this is the shape that Chileans expect their bread to be in, to the extent that specialized machines are manufactured to help bakers achieve it. Luckily I remembered to bring up some sourdough starter, which the recipe said was optional; I have no idea if that's really authentic, but gosh it helped! We tore our way through this double batch of bread, alternating between butter, pebre (see below), and butter and pebre in combination.

Pebre | Chilean salsa | Description

Apparently this comes from the Catalan word for bell pepper, but since I forgot to print out the recipe I didn't know what ingredients to buy and didn't get any peppers, sweet or otherwise. It ended up being a non-spicy salsa of tomato, chopped onion, and cilantro, and whaddya know it was still a great topping for the bread.

Porotos granados | Fresh cranberry bean stew | Recipe

There's a saying in Chile, tan Chileno como los porotos, meaning "As Chilean as beans." Although bean consumption has dropped dramatically in recent years, this dish of fresh cranberry beans with squash and corn is still a signature dish of the country's culinary repertoire. It also very well represents three foods that were enjoyed in the country long before the conquistadores arrived, and just so happens to be completely vegan. If you care to make this, I wish you luck in finding fresh cranberry beans; I was shocked and pleased to see them at Fairway.

Ensalada chilena | Tomato and onion salad | Recipe

This salad of onions, tomato, and cilantro might seem like no great shakes, but notice the technique of pouring boiling salted water on the onions to remove the sharpness. It really works!

Empanadas de pino | Ground beef empanadas | Recipe

The second half of this meal was brought to you by a really beautiful hunk of leaf lard I bought from the farmers market a while back, just sitting in my freezer for such an occasion. It makes for rich and supple pastry that, of course, gets crispy and flaky like none other. The filling was mostly meaty and savory, but with tang from the olive and a burst of sweet from raisins. Yum!


Torta de mil hojas con manjar | Thousand-layer caramel cake | Recipe (translated to English)

For dessert, we enjoyed what was seems to have been invented by a stoned teenager locked in a patisserie: layers of pie crust with dulce de leche and nuts. Rather than the very tedious, stir-for-many-hours method of making classic Chilean manjar (that's what they call their dulce de leche, which omits the vanilla that the Argentines use), I opted for the much easier and more common method of simmering cans of condensed milk. I cooked the for two hours, and lo and behold they got that brown hue, though they probably could have gone for maybe an hour longer for a richer flavor. But there was plenty of richness from the individually baked layers of pastry dough, in which we used lard instead of butter for extra crispiness. Wow. The only thing better than this cake was the leftovers the next day, when the caramel had soaked about halfway through, leading to a broader spectrum of textures.

This coming weekend we're tackling China, which is shaping up to be quite the adventure!

Photos by Laura Hadden, who's looking forward to more noshing in the countryside.