Chile’s wine industry is internationally known; the food…not so much. So, when I traveled to Santiago for work recently and had a couple of days to spare, I took a cooking class.
I found the class on the internet. It’s run by a company called Uncorked Wine Tours, which, as the name indicates, organizes wine tours. They recently had the brilliant idea to start a cooking workshop.
We met at 10 a.m. outside Santiago’s Mercado Central and set out to get the ingredients for our meal. It was just me, the chef (Matias), and a Canadian couple (Emma and Spencer). We wandered through the stalls as Matias told us about the market’s history and explained how to buy fresh fish (eyes should be clear, gills bright red).
Canadians are so damn polite and friendly. They’re also tall. The local ladies loved Spencer, who stood out by being over six-feet tall and handsome. They wanted their picture taken with him, hollering at him as we walked by. He couldn’t refuse.
We then moved to the fruit and vegetable section. Strawberries were in season and very abundant. Vendors hustled to lure customers to their stalls. Some gave away free samples; others had super low prices; and then there was this guy shouting: “Come see it for yourself, ladies. Mine is big, red, and hard… It’s my strawberry!”
Anyway. We bought some berries and pears and finished our shopping expedition.
A 10-minute taxi ride got us to Uncorked’s kitchen, a beautiful space on the second floor of an old house in downtown Santiago. The setup was simple and elegant: a large wooden table that doubled as a cooking and eating surface at the center of the room. There were aprons for each of us and recipes printed out for our reference, the day’s menu written neatly on a chalkboard. Matias gave a short intro, and we jumped right into work.
We started out by making (and gulping) pisco sours. Pisco is a brandy made from grapes, popular in Chile and Peru. In fact, both countries argue over the origins of the spirit. Ask any Chilean or Peruvian you know. The concoction is simple and delicious: Pisco, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg whites, and a dash of bitters.
We also ate some Chilean-style sopaipillas, fried pastry made with pumpkin and flour, dipped in fresh chili sauce. Not a bad start.
We then made empanadas de pino, Chile’s best-known beef empanada. The flaky pastry shells are filled with minced red meat, black olives, hard-boiled eggs, and raisins. Also very nice.
Oh, I did I mention that everything is paired with local wines? I hadn’t even finished my pisco sour when a glass of Sauvignon Blanc was placed in front of me. Not a bad strategy, people of Uncorked!
This is when things started to go south. Emma and Spencer couldn’t seal their empanada. Matias’s helper, Cristina, had to come to their rescue. I kept commenting on the Sia song playing in the background. And when I turned around, Spencer and Matias were discussing some obscure Scandinavian novel. Meanwhile, Emma and Cristina kept going at the overfilled empanada, Emma saying things in English and Cristina in Spanish.
If you think I’m an unreliable narrator, I don’t blame you.
While the empanadas cooked in the oven, we made poached pears for dessert – poached in red wine, which we drank plenty of as we watched the pears simmer with orange peels, star anise, and cinnamon sticks.
At this point we got on the main course: ceviche. Ceviche is a dish made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juice, such as lime or lemon, and spiced with chilies, onions, cilantro, and other flavors. There are lots of variations, from the shrimp ceviche of Mexico, to the dozens of versions from Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and beyond.
Emma and Spencer had gone on a wine tour with the folks of Uncorked the day before and highly recommended it, so I signed up to visit a couple of wineries in the Aconcagua Valley the following day.
By the end of the class, which lasted until about 4 p.m., we were one happy family. We exchanged numbers with Emma and Spencer and made plans to meet up for dinner later, when we all had a chance to sober up.
In my opinion, ceviche was the star of the meal. That is why I’m sharing the recipe with you. It’s great as an appetizer or main course, and it’s easy to make and to modify to your liking.
- 1 lb. of firm white fish, such as fluke or tilapia
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- ½ medium red onion, finely sliced
- 2 tbsp fresh chilies, such as red jalapeños, seeded and diced
- 1 Hass avocado
- ¼ cup of fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- Salt to taste
- Put some ice in a large bowl and place a smaller bowl inside. You want to prepare your ceviche in a cold bowl.
- Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces.
- Slice the onion thinly and place in a bowl with iced water.
- Chop the chilies, cilantro, and mince the ginger. Set aside.
- Add the fish, salt, and chilies to the cold bowl. Mix well.
- Add the lime juice, onion, and minced ginger. Mix well for a couple of minutes.
- Add the cubed avocado and the cilantro. Mix well but gently to avoid mashing the avocado.
- Serve the ceviche on a chilled plate with some toasted bread or plantain chips and microgreens or salad leaves.