Your Next Dinner Party Theme: Chile

by Liz Caskey on March 5, 2010

Since everybody has Chile in their thoughts this week, why not continue to show your support and throw a Chilean theme dinner party over the weekend? Great idea Liz, but, errr…what should I make? Well, let’s do a little primer on Chilean cuisine first and then lay out some menu suggestions.

Chile’s peculiar, string bean like geography forms a powerful trilogy from north to south: mountains, valleys, and the Pacific ocean. The abundance of produce, seafood, meats, cheeses, and fresh products is staggering. The thousands of municipal markets and fishermen’s wharfs turn them overat the speed of light. This range of products also ties into a very mixed culinary heritage (Native Indian, Spanish, German, English, Yugoslav, Arab, French, Italian and most recently, Peruvian and Asian), creating the catalyst for Chile’s elemental, mestizo cuisine. Mestizo colloquially means “to mix to form a unique blend” and often alludes to Chile’s native and European blood.

Personally, I think the definition fits Chile perfectly: the mixture of climates, the mountains and sea, the varied crops, the immigration and culinary influences, and today in a globalized era, prosperity and modernity alongside century-old traditions. Chile’s greatest attribute has been its ability to incorporate these influences, blend flavors, and essentially forge its own unique identity and spirit. At times, the cuisine reminds me of a wild, pure, and untouched part of Europe–perhaps a New World version of it. Just as in those places, the food is straightforward, nurturing, and rustic. The salient quality of Chile’s cuisine is the robust taste of seasonal ingredients little doctoring. It is totally old school by nature.

If you are scratching your head for some ideas, I am gonna step in and help you plan the dinner. Let’s leverage some of the most iconic, tasty dishes, many of which happen to be in season here in Chile. (Drum Roll)

Appetizer: Try a simple lemon-based ceviche made with a mild white fish like sea bass or grouper. Chileans keep their ceviche simple with some finely chopped onions, lemon juice, olive oil, cilantro, some flecks of red pepper, and seasoning. I have also seen avocado chopped up and added (they put avocado on EVERYTHING, sort of like Americans and ketchup, hehe).

Wine Pairing: Citric ceviche begs a zingy Sauvingnon Blanc from San Antonio like Matetic Vineyards EQ. Clean, fresh, and vibrant with saline notes echoing the mighty Pacific nearby.

Main: Pastel de Choclo, a Moorish-accented dish with a base of ground beef is tinged with cumin, paprika, tender golden raisins along with hard-boiled egg and black olives topped by a thick corn topping. Quite possibly Chile’s national dish, it is consumed in the summer when the corn is abundant. Many Chileans keep count of how many “pies” they lovingly eat each summer. Easy to make-ahead and reheat in the over. See recipe below. Serve with ensalada chilena, Chilean Tomato Salad, a classic.

Wine pairing: Coyam from Emiliana Orgánico. A delicious, robust blend of Syrah, Carmenere, Cabernet, Mouvedre, and Petit Verdot. Subtle yet firm it has an earthiness that works well with the flavors.

Dessert: Buy some fresh fruit from Chile! Peaches, blueberries, grapes. Serve them on a platter or on the side of sinfully sweet scoop of Dulce de Leche ice cream from Haagen Daaz. Chileans love a local form of dulce de leche called manjar. It often appears as ice cream, in cakes, or on an unassuming spoon.

Wine Pairing: If you’re still drinking, at this point, stick with the above-mentioned good stuff or hit the espresso for the drive home. Salud!

Recipe Pastel de Choclo (adapted for US kitchens, thanks to my Mom for this one!):

6-8 ears fresh corn, cut from cob

1/2 tube/box/roll frozen creamed white corn

8 leaves fresh basil, minced

3 T butter

Salt & pepper to taste

1/2 cup whole milk

2-3 T vegetable oil

2 onions, diced

2 1/4 lbs ground round

1 t cumin

1 t paprika

4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in quarters

2 oz can sliced black olives

3/4 golden raisins

2 chicken breasts, par-cooked and sliced

2 t sugar

1. In a saucepan, combine the fresh corn, creamed corn, basil, butter, salt, and pepper. Stirring constantly, cook over low heat. Add milk and cook until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat and set aside. Using an immersion blender, purée slightly. Do not overblend. Texture should be creamy yet with whole kernels.

Note: the fresh corn in the US is vastly different than the corn in Chile which is large, yellow, coarse, pulpy and savory in taste. Many cooks grate the corn to achieve the above texture but it works well with a mixture of creamed and fresh.

2. In a skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until transparent. Incorporate the cumin and paprika; fry for 1 minute. Add the meat and cook thoroughly. Reserve.

3. Place reserved meat in a large ovenproof casserole dish. Top meat with hard-boiled eggs, black olives, raisins, and par-cooked chicken.

4. Cover meat filling with corn mixture. Smooth top and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400F for 30-35 minutes, or until golden and bubbling. Let sit 10 minutes before serving or be prepared to scald your tastebuds (not kidding).

Buen Provecho!! Post pics of your Chile Dinner Party on our Facebook Page.


Todd Trzaskos March 6, 2010 at 4:03 pm

We love the pastel and often use it as a main dish when we have people to dinner, but have not had it in a while. Agreed, creamed corn is the key up here in the US.
Each time we’ve come home from visiting Chile, my wife has demanded that some of the pisco in our bags be displaced for the stoneware so that the pastel comes out just right. Usually some empanadas or ensalada palta before hand.
We hope all is well, and are trying to stay on top of what’s happening down there. Keep up your good work.

Michael Cox March 30, 2010 at 1:27 pm

love the blog…. just to let you know that when I first saw your suggestion of ‘supporting Chile’ by makin the pastel de choclo I wanted to try it at home. My wife Lynne was keen too and she cooked it the other day – delicious. We toasted Chile with an excellent carmenere – viva Chile, mierda… all best Michael

Liz Caskey March 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Thanks for reading! Yes, pastel de choclo is a master piece (and labor of love and patience). Carmenere seems to be a match in heaven although I did give it a go with a Chardonnay from the Limarí and that worked well given the corn-y component. Take care!

Paul smith July 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Great information I have Tweeted this, I will keep a eye on your other posts.

Liz Caskey July 26, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Thanks for reading Paul. Sure, share the love with the twittersphere. Very appreciated. Best, Liz

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