What do volcanoes, Middle European architecture, the Eiffel Tower, wild boars and penguins have in common? Before my South America trip in February, I would never have guessed that Chile was the common denominator. The third and fourth legs of our South American tour took us to Puerto Varas–a popular base for Patagonian tours–and Santiago, respectively. Originally, our first Chile stop was to be in San Carlos de Bariloche in the foothills of the Andes. However, lingering ash clouds from the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle eruption last year forced us to change our plans. Puerto Varas was our alternate destination.
The Chilean portion of our trip lasted no more than a week but my travel companions and I managed to cram in a few adventures. It would be best to just give you the highlights through images accompanied by some notes. The biggest statement I can make about Chile is that I wish I had more time to spend there and I can’t wait to return someday…
…oh, and they have some of the best empanadas I’ve ever tasted. Recipe below.
- Trattoria di Carusso, Puerto Varas. We arrived on Valentine’s Day and our hotel couldn’t secure dinner reservations for us. Instead we walked about town admiring the Bavarian architecture of this lakeside town (result of German colonization in the 19th century), stopping for cocktails and ending up at Trattoria di Carusso. They would be able to seat 6, we were advised but the menu that night would be limited. The house specialty was wild boar roasted in a brick oven. This has been their featured menu item for decades (they raise the wild boar) and while I opted for paella (outstanding) that night, I had a taste of my friend’s roasted boar–cooked to perfection, leaving me regretting my safe selection. Several generations of one family were present the night we visited–a charming lot they were!
- We had one rainy day during our stay in Puerto Varas, forcing the cancellation of a day of fishing for the men. We opted instead to take a ferry ride to the island of Chiloe. More on Chiloe later.
- While this part of Chile was beautiful to see from every angle, Osorno Volcano often stole the spotlight. We enjoyed fantastic views of Osorno from our hotel, from the river, from the lake…and yes, we hiked it, too.
- There was no shortage of magnificent water views at Saltos Rio de Petrohe and Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales. The colors were right out of an artist’s palette.
- The falls, waterfront on Puerto Varas and view from our hotel.
- The final leg of our two week South American vacation was in Santiago. I didn’t really know what to expect but the vistas of the mountains from our hotel alone were worth the visit. We hired a guide to give us a tour of the city–it’s really the best way to become acquainted with Santiago for there is so much to see. From humble empanada stands to fine dining options, both were abundant in Santiago.
- No visit to Santiago would be the same without stopping at Mercado Central. Its claim to fame besides the market rich with fresh seafood, produce and good restaurants–the building itself was designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel). I enjoyed some of the best ceviche on this trip and a few variations from one lunch at Mercado Central.
- On that rainy day when we decided to take a ferry to the island of Chiloe, we saw these guys. After an hour drive from the ferry station to the cove of Puñihuil, we drove up to a huge beach and arranged for a boat to take us to the islets to see Humboldt and Magellan penguins (the penguins migrate here during the summer season).
- The other highlight of this day trip? We had lunch at a small restaurant on the beach before our boat tour. After enjoying empanadas for two weeks from both fancy restaurants and humble stands, I really didn’t expect to be wowed anymore at the end of the trip. But Chile saved the best for last. I ordered a baked beef empanada for lunch and what came out was the size of a dinner plate. Hands down THE BEST empanadas I had on the trip.
I tried to recreate the empanadas from Chiloe shortly after I returned home. The simple filling wasn’t greasy and the pastry was thin and light. With inspiration from a Chilean cookbook that I picked up at the Santiago airport, this is what I ended up with. I tried to stay true to the classic preparation of Empanada de Pino as much as I could. This Chilean version is filled with beef, onions, spices, raisins, olives and eggs. I grew up eating fried empanadas with beef, onions, eggs and raisins but this baked version has become my favorite. Though I skipped the lard (traditional ingredient for preparing both the dough and the filling) and used an America’s Test Kitchen recipe for the dough (a keeper), I’d say that this came very close to tasting like the one I had in Chiloe. The kind Chilean woman who served the original ones to us would be proud.
** Now that I’m done with this series, I will start with a new one: Local Spotlight. From time to time, I will feature some of my favorite spots–towns, restaurants, foods, markets. Stay tuned!
- **For the Dough** (From America's Test Kitchen)
- 3¾ cups (18¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1 /2 teaspoons salt
- 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubs and chilled
- 1¼ cups ice water
- 1 large egg, beaten
- **For the Filling** (Adapted from Secretos de la Cocina Chilena)
- 1½ pounds ground chuck (Traditionally, finely diced chuck steak or chuck roast is used)
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 teaspoons cumin (or to taste, add more for more flavor)
- 3 teaspoons paprika (or to taste, add more for more flavor)
- 3 heaping teaspoons sambal oelek (or any other hot sauce)
- A few tablespoons oil for cooking (in place of lard)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- **Other Ingredients** (the original recipe called for 1 olive, 2 raisins and 1 wedge of egg for each empanada)
- Chopped Olives (black olives are traditional but I would use marinated olives next time)
- Raisins, soaked
- 2 hard boiled eggs, cut in pieces
- To prepare the dough: Using a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and salt about 6-8 times until combined. Add the butter pieces and pulse again (about 16 times) until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal and butter pieces are about the size of peas.
- Transfer the mixture to a large bowl then add ¼ cup of water at a time, stirring it in using a rubber spatula. Press the mixture against the sides of the bowl to form a dough until no small bits of flour remain (you may not need all of the water).
- Turn the dough out on a clean work surface and divide in two. Form each dough into a ball then flatten to a 6-inch disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to 2 days) before using.
- To Prepare the Filling: Saute the beef and onions in all until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the spices, hot sauce, salt and pepper and continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes. Set aside. This can be made a day or two ahead of time.
- To Assemble the Empanadas: Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Roll out one of the refrigerated disks of dough on a lightly floured surface into an 18-inch circle about ⅛ of an inch thick. Cut out 4 to 6-inch disks (I used a bowl) and transfer them to the parchment-lined baking sheet. I got about 7 (6-inch) rounds from each disk--make sure you cut the rounds carefully since you won't be able to re-roll the scraps to make more rounds. Repeat with the remaining disks of dough.
- To fill the Empanadas, add around 1 heaping tbsp of the meat mixture, raisins, olives and egg pieces then fold one edge of the dough over to create a half moon. (Note: to make it easier, stir in the olives and raisins into the meat mixture.) Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork. The empanadas can be refrigerated up to 3 days (or frozen up to 1 month) before baking.
- To Bake the Empanadas, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the tops of the empanadas with the egg and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. If frozen, it may take about 25 minutes. (If using the convection feature of your oven like I did, I baked mine for 21 min at 400 degrees F.