January 14, 2012: Chilean cooking

This morning, C. and I headed across town and rode up Ascensor Artillería, to meet the teacher for our Chilean cooking class (run by Chilean Cuisine). This class had been on my radar since the beginning of my trip, and I’d finally written to them to schedule a class about a month ago. By sheer luck, my scheduled class turned out to be the same day that C. was in town, and the class had one free spot, so it all worked out rather well.

I ran into my German friend S., who works for the hostel that orchestrates the cooking classes. Then, we were collected by the teacher to head to our classroom for the day: a large space with a dining table and a full kitchen, and tall windows that let in light from the bright, cloudy sky. There were six students, all of us English speakers of various stripes. For each of us to use, there was a cutting board, three wondrously sharp knives, an apron with the Chilean flag, and a colorful chef’s hat, laid out on the table. Our teacher gave a brief introduction, and then we collectively decided which dishes to cook. We settled on ceviche, cheese empanadas, and pastel de choclo, which we would cook alongside a few meal staples like pisco sours and pebre (salsa).

We walked down the hill to buy ingredients at the mercado. The teacher warned us that it was a dangerous area, and that we should hold our things close or not bring them at all. Our group did get hassled by a few shady characters, two of whom actually grabbed at ladies in our group. This was exceedingly strange to me, because this was not some murky alleyway I’d never seen before: it was an area of the city where I had walked many times before, in which I had never had a speck of trouble from anyone. I guess what the teacher meant by “dangerous” was “dangerous for loud groups of obvious tourists,” whereas I am normally unobtrusive and can pass as not-a-tourist or at least as an alert tourist.

Building with a little ship's-prow above its door.

We took the ascensor back up to our classroom, where we started by chopping up vast flocks of vegetables for our various dishes. I was in charge of the red and green bell peppers; it was actually the first time in my life I’d ever chopped bell peppers, since I don’t usually eat them. After we were done with the chopping, we migrated over to the kitchen, where we cracked a few eggs. We separated out the whites to use in the pisco sours, and put the yolks into a vast bowl in which we were constructing the dough for the empanadas.

Empanada makings.

We took turns kneading and then rolling out the dough for the empanadas, and then cut out little circles of dough to use for each one. Then, we rolled each circle out into an oval, put a little pile of cheese cubes on it, and tamped it closed. The teacher took charge of frying these, while we turned our attention to other things. This experience was the thing I ended up being most excited about, actually: I feel as though I’ll be able to make them at home with moderate ease, and I’m looking forward to experimenting more with them (different fillings, baked vs. fried, etc.).

We prepared some pisco sours: a normal batch and a batch with merkén (a Mapuche spice) in them. I sipped that as I watched the final few things being assembled, e.g. one fella was grinding corn in a food processor for the pastel de choclo, while somebody else would go stir the ceviche.

Pastel de choclo, ready to go in the oven.

Now quite hungry, we settled down for the giant meal. We had: pebre, a mildly spicy salsa eaten with wheat bread; white-fish ceviche, with a nice tang; my old favorite ensalada chilena; the cheese empanadas, which turned out crisp and amazing; pastel de choclo, which is a savory pie with beef, chicken, and sweetened corn; and a dessert of grapes and melon.

I really liked the empanadas.
Y finalmente, pastel de choclo.

After a digestif liquor, we thanked our teacher and headed out the door. On the way out, the teacher handed me a little Chilean flag pin. We had gotten along well with the other students, so C. and I decided to go get a drink with two of them, a middle-aged doctor and a woman in her 30s. We wandered down into el centro, where we had a pitcher of wine with fruit, which seems to be a common Chilean menu item — this time, it was white wine blended with peach. Afterward, we wandered further into the city and stopped at another place, where our classmates conversed loudly about politics.

Owl street art.

The woman suggested that we could head to her hotel, as it apparently had a nice view, so we took a colectivo there and hung out on the hotel patio for a while. It was perched in the hills, so it did indeed provide a good vista of the darkening ocean and hills.

Decorative interior of our classmate's hotel.

C. and I were a little tired, so we opted to grab a cab back to V.’s, instead of joining the others for dinner. Nonetheless, it was a long, pleasant, and abundantly foodful day.

4 thoughts on “January 14, 2012: Chilean cooking

  1. Please make me empanadas. Now, while you’re in the airport doing nothing.

    I love those owls. The ceviche looks good and I don’t even trust ceviche. I had a bit of Jenni’s in Rio Dulce and it was quite good. When I grow up I’m going to marry cilantro.

    You write a great deal about pisco sours but I don’t remember what’s in them. Is it alcohol?

    I’m tracking your progress as you head home. It looks like you’re in DF now. What a long journey. My poor, tired, couch puppy.

    1. I will make you empanadas muy soon, muy. If you buy me ingredients. I must practice. I want to fill them with tomatoes and many other joyful things.

      Pisco sours are Chile’s “official drink.” They contain pisco (which is a special Chilean/S.American grape brandy), lime juice, sugar, and usually egg white.

  2. Beautiful-the empanadas et al., the owl art, the hotel interior! I wonder-how did you settle on what to make? I like the image of “vast flocks of vegetables”. Roaming the plains, perhaps? I HATE bell peppers and Jason uses them alot and I still haven’t gotten a taste for them. But I don’t have to do the cooking, so it’s a decent trade-off.

    1. It seemed like we chose the most typical Chilean dishes — they had a few different options for each course, but some of them were more generic.

      You hate bell peppers too?! We must be sisters. That warms my heart, actually, our shared hate.

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