When I first arrived in Chile, the most ubiquitous food I found was the (fried) empanada. Delicious and delightful as these treats were, I despaired of finding healthy Chilean food. Paso a paso, I discovered many delightful dishes. A couple of weeks ago, I learned how to make a few of my favorite recipes! (including, of course, one heavenly baked empanada)
I had happened upon Chilean Cuisine during a walking tour of Valpo with my friend, Jamie, back in February. It was advertised as a 5 hour experience, including a trip to the local market to buy all the makings, plenty of pisco and wine along the way. How could I lose? Two of my favorite things in the world – cooking and wine – all in one afternoon! Having talked up my interest so keenly, my friends Janne and Steen (of the homemade break-making class) offered to accompany me.
Our “chef” Veronic hailed from Canada, so no worries on understanding cooking instructions. The school originated with an Australian who previously owned a B&B, but had so many guests requesting to learn to cook Chilean food that he sold the B&B and opened a cooking school instead. They can have classes of 12-25 people, but outside tourist season, we were lucky enough to have the kitchen to ourselves.
Our adventure began in a café, where we met Veronic to decide upon the day’s menu. Some items were standard, such as the pebre (like pico de gallo, but spicier), empanada, pisco sour (oh, we’re going to actually make this drink!) and fresh fruit with honey to conclude the meal. We had options for the appetizer and main course.
For the appetizer, we could make some artichoke concoction, Machas Parmesan (shellfish in cream and butter) or Ceviche. Of course we chose ceviche. 😉 For the main course, we could choose from Pastel de Choclo (a Chilean type of shepherd’s pie, with mashed corn on top instead of mashed potatoes), Charquican or something else which now escapes my memory. We chose the Charquican, and opted to make both the meat and vegetarian versions. For the empanada de pino, usually made with meat, we opted to go vegetarian as well. We used eggplant instead!
We boarded a micro and headed off to the day. Our first stop was the fish market. After choosing a whole fish, we paid and proceeded a few steps further to have our fish cleaned. According to our chef, there is usually someone co-located with the fish sellers, who for a few extra pesos, will clean the fish for you. Before heading out, Janne asked if perhaps we could purchase a few machas, just so we could learn how to clean and de-shell them. Our guide obliged, and once again, I was shocked by the price of food in Chile. For just about $1.50, we purchased 8 mollusks.
Our next stop was fruits and veggies. We bought everything needed for the day except the lemons that we used. For those of us already well-versed in the various aspects of the feria, this was less exciting. But for tourists just coming through for a few days, I can imagine what an experience this would be. The market in Valpo is more crowded than the feria in Viña, with heaps of cats making themselves at home. We finished up with meat and cheese before hopping on another micro.
At the school, Veronic gave us aprons and knives and put us to work. We did get to make some tea before starting. 😉 We chopped, and chopped, and chopped some more! Beginning with the pebre and moving through the menu, she kept us organized and on task.
A word on pebre – this is by far one of my favorite foods in Chile. Yes, it is very much like pico de gallo in that it is heavy on the tomatoes, light on the onion and includes cilantro. It has both garlic and hot peppers, which accounts for the spiciness. In restaurants, it is also the thing that comes out first at many a Chilean table. Instead of bread and butter, they serve bread and pebre. So heavenly!
We began by peeling tomatoes (because that’s what we do in Chile!) and then chopped everything into very tiny pieces. This is another important aspect – the pieces are very, very small. It makes it easier to spread while it keeps the chunky quality that is often missing from more standard American salsas. Perhaps this is the combination of pebre that I love so much – spicier and still chunky but cut finely enough to be able to spread on bread.
We continued with the machas, making a few Machas Parmesan. And we shredded our fish for the ceviche. We stirred all the vegetables for our Charquican, and I was amazed yet again (as I am with Porotos Granados) how such a delicious combination of flavors can come together without cream or meat.
The empanadas stole the day. We made our dough from scratch, using white wine and egg yolk. We kneaded the dough, added our eggplant/veggie filling and formed everything neatly before putting them in the oven. The smell was amazing! Though Veronic told us many people take their empanadas home (as the entire meal is quite a lot of food), we decided that we needed to leave room so that we could enjoy them hot and fresh from the oven.
Veronic taught us the different “codes” for empanadas, because different types of folds indicated what could be found within the empanada. There is a certain fold for cheese, for pino, for shellfish, etc.
To top it all off? Pisco sour, of course! We combined pisco (a liquor common in Peru and Chile – the origins of the pisco sour remain in heavy dispute between the two countries, though history tends to favor this as a Peruvian drink first – shhh! don’t tell the Chileans I said that) with sugar water, egg white and ice in a shaker. We shook and shook until we could hear that the ice had gone down to small chunks. All that shaking creates the froth that is typical of pisco sour.
Finally, time to enjoy our hard work. It was all delicious. We enjoyed our food, pisco and wine as the afternoon came to a close. Veronic promised to send us all the recipes via email.
The best part of the whole afternoon? Everything we did was easy and repeatable. None of the ingredients were exotic. Even the spices were simple. We only used salt, cumin and merkén. (Merkén traces its origins to the indigenous peoples of southern Chile, the Mapuche) None of the procedures was difficult. If you could chop vegetables and knead dough, you could make all of these items in your own kitchen that same day.
I have made pebre twice already. Despite the effort involved with chopping, it’s so delicious I cannot help but keep it on hand. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to avocado on the dinner table. Such a great experience, and so happy to be cooking Chilean food that I love. Enjoy the pictures! And be jealous, very, very jealous. 😉