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Bountiful Chile

by Marina Polvay
Stretching from burning desert to glacial peaks, the features of Chile are best characterized by enormous variety. Chile is a narrow strip of terra firma that stretches along the Pacific Ocean for over 3,000 miles on the West Coast of South America. It is a bountiful country, and a country of great contrasts.

The base of the country is dramatic, beautiful Antarctica, while in the north lies Atacama, the world's driest desert. With nearly continuous coastal hills, a wide Central Valley, and the dramatic backdrop of the Andes, the topography of central Chile provides a pacific version of the Mediterranean climate.

Archeological evidence indicates that people lived in Chile 12,000 years ago, leaving evidence of their existence in the southern and central parts of Chile. In the 15th century Northern and Central Chile were invaded by the Incas from Peru, who incorporated the indigenous tribes into their extensive Empire. The invaders also attempted unsuccessfully to conquer southern Chile where the Araucanian Indians lived, but the Araucanians were fierce fighters and the Incas retreated back to Peru.

The Spanish conquered Chile in 1536, when forces under Diego de Almagro invaded the region as far south as the Maule River. In 1540, Pizarro granted Pedro de Valdivia permission to conquer and colonize Chile. Valdivia founded Santiago, the capital of Chile, in 1541.

The Spanish settlers grew a wide variety of grains, vegetables and fruit and also raised livestock and made dried beef and hides, which were shipped to Peru. However, by the end of the 16th century, there were only 5,000 Spanish settlers in the entire country.

Today, Chile has a population of slightly more than 13 million inhabitants, who are descendants of the indigenous peoples, the Spaniards, Basques, French and other immigrants from Europe.

Chile is also a paradise for the adventuresome, with Skiing in the Andes, mountain climbing, rafting, or trekking in the world's driest desert. Chile is also is the only Latin American country with established standards for "Eco-Tourism."

But, for all visitors, Chile offers excitement and beauty. There are quaint villages, colorful vineyards, geysers, thermal springs and virgin beaches, cooled by the pristine waves of the Pacific Ocean.

In Patagonia, Chile's southernmost region, one can find the Straits of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego, all offering awesome views. The Southern Region is also dotted with lakes and volcanoes, vast forests and glaciers.

Santiago, the capital of Chile, is a modern bustling metropolis with marvelous restaurants, a multitude of great shopping centers, art galleries, nightclubs, parks and significant cultural events.

During lunch hour and at night, the native Santiagoans stop at their favorite cart for Empanadas, meat turnovers, or Sopaipillas with Pebre sauce or deep fried shrimp and scallops.

Only 40 miles from Santiago are the main ski resorts with chalets and hotels, and where Llamas graze. The romantic city of Valparaiso, the main port of Chile, is also only 75 miles from Santiago.

One thousand kilometers (625 miles) south of Santiago is the town of Puerto Monti. Sailing from here every Saturday, Skorpios II takes passengers to the San Rafael Glacier. Skorpios II once was a rustic ship, which sailed the same route and even further south, for fishing and to net huge glacier chunks for the amusement of sturdy passengers and fishermen.

Today Skorpios II offers passengers fine accommodations, good service, great food and hospitality. The ship glides along the fjords among the tall icebergs and passes the San Rafael Glacier. It is always an awesome experience, which is customarily toasted by 12 year old whiskey that is chilled by chunks of 30,000 year-old ice from the glacier.

Chilean Food

On the journey back, the ship ties up at a weathered dock and the passengers are treated to "Curanto," which is the native dish from Easter Island. To prepare this dish, a hole in the ground is lined with hot stones. Shellfish, chopped pork, vegetables and fish are wrapped in leaves and covered with bread dough and potato sacks. Then the earth is piled over the sacks and the dish is let to steam for hours. Dishes are washed down with fine Chilean wines and "Chicha," freshly fermented grape juice or "Borgona," a drink made from red wine, strawberries and peaches.

In the South, mainland Chile is flanked by dozens of islands, forming a chain of archipelagos that extend down to Cape Horn. Another part of Chile is Isla de Pascua (Easter Island), where enormous stone statues dominate the landscape. The statues have been puzzling archeologists and historians for years.

Chile has its own version of "haute cuisine," unparalleled in South America. The cuisine of Chile, which includes some Arabic and Jewish dishes, is a melange of culinary achievements from Spain, France, Germany, with some originating as far away as Cathay and the South Seas Islands. The common denominator is the mind-boggling variety of fish and seafood. The famous Chilean King crabs and golden crabs, abalone, oysters, scallops, clams, prawns, and the spiney clawless lobsters caught off San Fernandez Island, (also known as "Robinson Crusoe" Island), are all delicacies from the Pacific Ocean.

Salmon farming is growing and Chile has become the largest shipper of salmon, after Norway. There is also sea bass, turbot and sea trout.

In Central Chile, orchards, berry and vegetable fields stretch for hundreds of miles. The fruit and vegetables from Chile have garnered world fame and plane loads of magnificent cherries, peaches, apples, asparagus, spinach and zucchini are flown to the United States and Canada daily.

Four hundred and fifty years of winemaking experience are reflected in the quality of Chilean wines. Noble varieties arrived in the 1830's, when a Frenchman imported 40,000 vines into Chile. The first cuttings took root at Quinta Normal, laying the foundation for Chilean wines' future success. Lured by Chile's quality soils and unbeatable climate, some of France's most experienced oenologists, together with local experts, have developed Chile's modern wine industry. By the 1860s, there were winery operations for Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. A century later many of those vineyards remain in the same families' hands, providing the Chilean wine industry with a sense of continuity and tradition as great as the French domains.

It was at 1873's prestigious Vienna Exposition that Chilean vintages won their first international awards. The triumph was followed by other great notices, and Chilean viticulture prospered.

Chile's vintages are characterized by tradition as the industry itself is characterized by change. In 1979, Spain's distinguished Miguel Torres bought vineyards near Curico, on the southern edge of the viticulturally oriented Central Valley.

The Rothschild family of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux became partners with Los Vascos (The Basques) Estate, which is yielding some of Chile's finest wines. The beautifully situated vineyard, nestled in the Rapel Valley, was the Rothschild's first ever foray into an international venture.

Central Chile's climate is perfect for viticulture. From Santiago, world-class vineyards stretch 150 miles south down the perfectly situated Central Valley. Summers in the Central Valley are as hot as those in the north of Spain. There is rapid cooling, which sends temperatures dropping by as much as 28 degrees in a day. And water is essential free, as the Andean snowmelt irrigates wide green fields, orchards and the abundant vineyards that produce Chile's great wines.

Chile is an enchanting country, which offers visitors unique vistas and travel experiences unmatched in South America.

Chilean Recipes

3 green bell peppers, seeded and quartered
l c. parsley chopped
8 onions, peeled and chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
10 boiling potatoes, peeled and coarsely sliced
2 to 3 heads cabbage, with leaves separated
3 Ibs. pork loin, cubed
3 lbs. pork sausage, sliced
2 chickens cut into 8 pieces each
20 large mussels
20 sea scallops
40 clams
20 large prawns
15 blue crabs or soft shell crabs, and any other seafood available
2 quarts white wine
Salt to taste

Use a very large pot. Spread half the peppers in the bottom of the pot, sprinkle with parsley and salt, follow with onions, garlic, potatoes, and a bit of salt. Spread the rest of the peppers in the pot, a layer of cabbage leaves, and follow with pork loin, sausage, chicken pieces and some salt. Follow with seafood and cover with cabbage leaves. Be sure to salt each layer separately. Pour wine over the layers. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 25 to 35 minutes until cabbage is tender. If needed, add water to the "Pulmay."
This serves 10 to 12.
Note: I/2 the amount can be made and it will serve 6 to 8.

1 Lobster (1 1/2 to 2 lbs.) 6 large mussels 12 large shrimp 4 small Blue Crabs or soft shell crabs 12 Sea scallops 2 qts. water 1 large Spanish onion, sliced julienne 1 green & 1 red bell pepper, sliced julienne 3 T olive oil 1 - 16 oz. can stewed tomatoes Salt & cayenne pepper to taste

Cook the shellfish in the 2 quarts water for just a few minutes. Drain, reserve liquid and reserve shellfish. In a skillet sauté onions and peppers in olive oil until just limp. Add salt & pepper to taste.

2 T butter, melted
1 c. breadcrumbs
2/3 c. milk
1/4 lb. Monterey Jack (type) cheese, grated
Salt and Cayenne pepper, to taste

In medium pot; Melt butter, add breadcrumbs and milk, cook, stirring until well blended. Add cheese and seasonings; stir until blended and thickened. Add to the shellfish, stir and simmer until thickened.

4 large ripe plums, halved & pitted
1/2 t. almond extract
1/2 c. powdered sugar
8 oz. softened cream cheese at room temperature

Place plums, almond extract & sugar into food processor. Process until smooth. Add cream cheese. Keep processing until well blended. Chill well before serving.

3 large ripe peaches
1/4 c. ground almonds
3 T sugar (more if desired)
2 egg yolks
1/8 tsp. almond extract
6 small slices pound cake
1 c. whipped cream, sweetened

Cut peaches in half, peel and remove the pits. In a bowl mix ground almonds, sugar, yolks and extract. Fill peach halves with almond mixture. Butter a baking dish, place peaches into the dish. Bake in 350° F oven for 20 minutes. Place pound cake slices on a serving platter. Place a peach half on each slice of pound cake. Top with whipped cream and serve.

SOPAlPlLLAS (Pumpkin Croquets) with PEBRE SAUCE
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1T baking powder
1 c. cooked pumpkin purée
1 egg
2 T butter at room temperature
1/4 t. salt
Oil for frying

In a bowl, mix flour and baking powder. Add pumpkin purée, egg, butter and salt.

Shape into a ball without kneading. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/2 inch thickness. Cut with a cookie cutter and prick with a fork.

Fry in hot oil until golden brown, drain on paper towel. Serve with the Pebre sauce (see below). Or a strawberry or raspberry syrup, or sprinkled with powdered sugar.

EMPANADAS DEL HORNO, Baked Meat Turnovers
4 c. all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 egg yolk
1 whole egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups warm milk
1 cup melted shortening

For Filling:
2 T oil
1 t. paprika
4 onions, finely chopped
1/2 t. each chili powder, cumin and oregano
Salt to taste
1 lb. ground beef
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
20 black olives and 40 large raisins

Prepare the dough: Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Add 2 eggs and all the yolks, milk and shortening. Mix to make a stiff dough; divide into 20 pieces and roll each thinly into a circle.

Stuffing: In frying pan, heat oil with paprika and sauté onions until soft. Add chili powder, oregano, cumin and salt. Add meat and mix with onions; cook until meat is no longer pink.

Prepare Empanadas: Place spoonful of stuffing on half of each dough circle; add slices of egg, raisins and olives. Fold dough over filling, wet the edge with milk, fold over again and seal. Bake in a 400° F oven until lightly browned.
Serve hot.
Makes 20 Empanadas.

CALDlLLO DEL CONGRlO, Poached salmon
1/4 c. Spanish olive oil
2 Spanish onions sliced very thin - julienne
1 t. paprika
3 large tomatoes, chopped
2 T parsley, minced
Salt & pepper to taste
1 c. dry white wine
1 c. water
1/2 c. milk
2 1/2 lb. salmon fillet with skin removed
1 egg yolk beaten with 3 T milk
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese grated

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add onions and paprika. Stir well and cook until onions are slightly browned. Add the tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir well.

Add wine, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add water and milk. Place salmon fillet into the skillet, sprinkle with salt and cook until the salmon feels firm to the touch.

Just before serving, pour yolk beaten with milk over the salmon. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cut into 8 pieces and serve with the sauce that formed around the fish.

Serves 8

PEBRE SAUCE Coriander Green Sauce
1 to 2 chilies (depending on how hot you want the sauce to be)
3 cloves garlic
2 c. fresh coriander, minced
5 scallions, minced
1 t. dry oregano
2 T olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 c. water if needed

Place all the ingredients including 1/4 cup water in a blender and process until smooth. Add more water only if the sauce is too thick. Chill and serve with Sopaipillas. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Pisco Sour - Chile's National Drink
Pisco is Chile's national drink, and considering how delicious it is, it's amazing that it remains obscure throughout most of the world. Pisco is a grape brandy distilled from Muscat grapes. I visited Chile's largest maker of Pisco, the Capel distillery, in Elqui Valley, far to the north of Chile. Elqui is a narrow valley hemmed in by steep, arid, cacti covered mountains (actually the foothills of the Andes). Fed by the Elqui river, the floor of the valley is lush with irrigated vineyards. It's about as close to the middle of nowhere as I've ever been.

Pisco Capel, which is responsible for about 80% of Chile's Pisco production, is a modern facility with underground ageing rooms. There are several mixed drinks based on Pisco, but the original and most popular is Pisco Sour. The recipe is simple:

1 jigger of Pisco
juice of 1/3 of a lemon
Powdered sugar to taste
1/8 - 1/4 of one egg white
A dash of Angostura bitters, if desired
Combine in a shaker or blender. If in a blender, use less egg whites. Serve over crushed ice in a tall chilled glass.

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