By Sue Muncaster
One of the biggest threats of our fast-paced, fast-food world is the loss of family traditions and heritage foods. I’m just a "gringa," but my husband is the son of a Patagonian sheep rancher—and Estancia Rio Verde, a sleepy hamlet at the southern tip of Chile, has become our second home.
Last spring, Teton Valley residents Kelly and Tom Sullivan opened their home to a handful of friends who, like us, had either been to Chile or wanted to go there, and together we served up a “best of” selection of our favorite foods.
In the Chilean countryside, most food is still prepared by hand, using local, seasonal ingredients. There’s also a joke that Chile’s four major food groups are fat, sugar, salt, and alcohol. Our menu reflected these truisms, but what made the evening special was that even the youngest kids helped prepare the food. Guests came dressed in whatever South American outfit they happened to have, and one couple even surprised us by dancing the tango (actually an Argentine folk dance, but close enough!)
Sweet, tart, and fuerte, this traditional Chilean drink is served in small glasses as an aperitif. Pisco* is a grape brandy—what’s left over after making wine (but slightly less concentrated than grappa, an Italian brandy distilled from fermented grape pomace).
- 1 part fresh squeezed lemon or key lime juice (or a combination of the two)
- 2-3 parts pisco (depending on the time of day)
- 1 part powdered sugar
In a blender or carafe, mix the pisco, juice, and sugar. Fill the container the rest of the way with ice. Shake, blend, or stir well, and let sit 10-20 minutes. This chills the drink and dilutes it a bit. If you are drinking it right away, it’s best to add a little icy water. Strain into glasses. *The Liquor Store next to Albertsons in Jackson carries pisco.
Pastel de Choclo
This meat and corn casserole is usually served for almuerzo, or lunch, the main meal of the day in Chile. It is traditionally cooked and served in individual clay bowls, but a casserole pan works fine. The ingredients may seem bit strange, but the result is a delicious, sweet, and savory combination. Either ground beef or chicken can be used for the meat base. Makes 6-8 servings.
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped
- 1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
- 2 teaspoons black pepper (or to taste)
- 1/4 cup pitted whole black olives
- 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup black raisins
- 1 pound ground beef OR skinless, boneless chicken
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups fresh corn, or 2 10-ounce packages frozen corn, defrosted, drained.
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
1- Sauté the onions, garlic, and spices in the olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan or Dutch oven. When the onions are translucent, after about 5 minutes, add the ground beef or chicken and sauté until cooked through. Add the tomatoes and oregano. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes, or until thickened, stirring occasionally. 2- While this mixture is cooking, oil a 13 x 9 inch baking pan, 2 quart casserole, or 6-8 individual clay bowls. Spread the meat mixture in the bottom of the pan. Spread the sliced eggs evenly over the meat mixture. Arrange the olives in rows, pressing gently into the meat. Sprinkle with the raisins. 3- In a blender or food processor, puree the corn with the raw eggs, basil, and salt. Spread evenly over the mixture in the baking dish. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and firm but moist.
Note: This is a perfect recipe to get the kids involved. Let them arrange the eggs, olives, and raisins—make fun designs or practice counting. Just be sure each serving gets a little bit of everything.
Children in Chile and Argentina are crazy about these milk-caramel-filled cookies sold in every corner bakery. Chileans eat manjar, also known as dulce de leche, like we eat peanut butter. Alfajores are worth the extra effort for a special occasion. Makes 15.
- 3 cups flour
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 cup manjar*
- 1 cup grated coconut
- powdered sugar to sprinkle on top (optional)
1- Sift together flour and sugar. Beat together butter and egg yolk on low speed until well combined. Add dry ingredients and beat for 2-3 minutes until crumbly. Turn out and knead until combined, adding a dash of cold milk if necessary. Form into three balls, cover with plastic, and refrigerate 30 minutes until firm. 2- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Working with one ball at a time, roll out into a 10-inch circle and cut with a 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter. Place circles 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper (optional) and bake approximately 7 minutes—they are done when they look dry. DO NOT brown. Cool. 3- Gently spread a thick layer of manjar onto one cookie and top with another. Roll the sides in grated coconut or sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving—use the kids for this! * Manjar, also know as dulce de leche, can be found in the Mexican foods section of local grocery stores.
A pungent, fresh herb sauce that looks like Mexican salsa but has a unique taste and is not very spicy, it is usually found on the table with bread or barbequed meat. It is worth the extra effort to make sure the veggies are finely chopped. Makes 2 cups.
- 1 cup onions, chopped
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
- 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 2 tablespoons Ahi Chileano, Tabasco, Sriracha, or other garliky hot sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
- 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic
- salt and pepper to taste
Mix and serve in small ramekins with bread and meat.
Party around the world
- Celebrate your heritage, or your travels, with a place-based dinner party.
- Pick a country and assign guests to bring a representative dish or drink.
- Design a menu from your latest trip.
- Play traditional music, learn a dance, or have a slide show.
- Encourage guests to come in costume.
- Follow customs like eating on the floor, removing your shoes, even eating with your hands!
- Decorate the table with nicknacks from your travels.
- Don’t get caught up on the absence of hard-to-find ingredients. Part of the fun is adding your own flair to the melting pot.