03. Growing up in Australia, I never realised as a kid how multicultural our food-scene is. Most kids knew how to use chopsticks from a young age, and confidently ordered nasi goreng, sushi, or pad thai from restaurants. Thus, I grew up flitting between various European and Asian cuisines, craving variety and relishing all of the novel flavours I could find, which became fewer and fewer as time went by. One cuisine that we don’t get much here, however, is South American. Mexican, yes, but that’s North American, not South, and they’re very different. Trust me. So when I met my Chilean boyfriend Rodrigo, I was also introduced to new and exciting tastes from that part of the world, and I fell in love with the food instantly. Bolivia is a landlocked country with a strong indigenous culture that pervades its cuisine. I’ve visited a few countries in South America, but never Bolivia, and I would love to visit one day to see the Amazon rainforest, the mountains, the lakes etc. South America is amazing, guys, everyone should go.
Silpancho is a dish from Cochabamba, with an adobo-spiced breaded veal steak, with tomato, onion, lemon and coriander salsa, potatoes and a fried egg. Adobo spice in this context is made from chilli, sesame seeds, cumin, garlic and vinegar. This dish was definitely a winner. It had all of the components I like from the European schnitzel, but the vinegary adobo and lemony, fresh, crunchy salsa cut through the fat and made it so much more delicious. In Latin America they prepare onion in a pretty revolutionary way for salads: by “buffering” it. This entails dicing fresh onion, then covering it in a lot of salt and boiling water. Never fear, saltphobes, the salt will be washed off later, and a lot is necessary for the chemical process, so don’t be stingy. After 5-10 minutes the onion is drained and rinsed in cool water, and you’re left with crunchy sweet onion, without the burning smelly sensations (or onion-breath). And now we come to the egg, oh the egg. It’s pretty common in South America to just put a fried egg on top of everything, and it’s a practice I fully support. Restaurants often offer meals “a lo pobre”, literally “to the poor”, which just means with chips, fried onion and a fried egg. I’m not sure of the connotations or insinuations of “to the poor”, but I definitely didn’t feel unfortunate eating silpancho.
Palta rellena with red quinoa and peach salad
Palta rellena literally means stuffed avocado, and it’s essentially a shrimp salad with coriander, lime and tomato in the hollow of half an avocado. South America is pretty obsessed with avocados, which is one of the many reasons I think more culinary interchange should be happening with Australia; we’re like kindred spirits! Quinoa, despite representing the burgeoning hipster movement, is an ancient grain from the Andes, and has been consumed for centuries by the indigenous people. Although I’ve had other types of quinoa before, this was my first time trying red quinoa, and it’s pretty great for salads – it doesn’t get mushy and has a nice nutty flavour. The salad also had lettuce, red onion, tomato, peach and black beans with a lemony dressing. Altogether a pretty light and delicious meal.
Fritanga is a spicy pork and egg stew, with onions, tomatoes, garlic, herbs and cumin. When I say spicy, I mean it. Recipes call for 1/2 a cup of cayenne pepper. Have you ever had a pinch of cayenne pepper? It’s crazy hot. I chickened out and only put about 1/8 of a cup in, and I’m glad I did because we were snotting and crying enough as it was. Having said that, I do get an endorphin rush from spicy food, so I didn’t mind too much, and it tasted great. The egg component of the stew was actually eggs cracked into it at the last minute of cooking and then stirred in quickly to smoothly thicken the stew. I haven’t really seen that technique before, always thickening my stews with cornflour and/or reduction, but I think it’s a neat idea. I served it with baked potatoes, a tomato salsa and stewed white hominy corn. South America has a lot of corn, including many varieties that are impossible to find here, such as white corn or corn with really enormous kernels. Hominy is just corn kernels (usually big ones) that have been immersed in an alkali liquid, originally for preservation. It was tasty, but I think I’d prefer fresh sweet corn on the cob any day.
Pastel de quinoa with salteñas and salads
Yes, that’s right, quinoa again. What am I, a hipster? Pastel de quinoa just means “quinoa pie”, and I used the more common variety of white quinoa for this one. The baked pie also had onions, tomatoes, chilli, garlic, grated carrot, egg and assorted spices, with some cheese on top. It was pretty tasty. Salteñas are a type of baked meat-filled pastry, like an empanada, commonly eaten for breakfast. One thing that I’ve found in my research is that most regions across the world have a protein-filled pastry. Throughout Asia there are dumplings/momos/spring rolls/samosas, Eastern Europe has pelmeni/pierogi, Western Europe has pasties/ravioli/tortilini/filo pastries/dumplings/pies, Africa has madombi/sambusas and America has empanadas/salteñas. Even Australia has meat pies, sausage rolls and the notorious chiko rolls (poor, dear Australia). I’m not sure why this theme is so pervasive, it might be something to do with the convenience of having a dry pastry containing and protecting the moist meat. It’s also pretty delicious to have carbs, umami and fat in one dish. It might also be that it’s hard work to make them all from scratch, and that fact symbolises love and occasion, and so has stuck within the celebratory traditions of different cultures. All I know is: it’s a pretty great formula. My salteñas had shredded chicken, black olives, potato, onion, peas, cumin, paprika, hard boiled eggs, raisins and aji amarillo paste in a homemade eggy pastry. The aji amarillo is a yellow pepper/chilli native to South America, and gives dishes a mild sweet flavour and strong yellow colour. I’m used to baked Chilean empanadas with minced beef, but the chicken was a really nice variation, and the spices were super tasty. I’d definitely make them again.