Thursday, May 28, 2009

At the Tostaduria

A year or so ago I started missing some items not in my local supermarket:  caraway seeds (for rye bread), gluten flour (to help my multigrain breads), tomatillos (for Mexican salsa verde) and okra (for gumbo).  With help from members of the International Association of Chile I discovered tostadurias:  stores specializing in spices, herbs, grains, legumes, fruits, nuts, condiments, and so on.  They didn’t have tomatillos or okra – I’m still trying La Vega for those – but they seem to have most everything that one might want in dry and preserved foods. 
My favorite, and the one where I eventually found caraway seeds (comino aleman or kumen) is Susana Kuschnir Silva’s in La Vega, Santiago's large public market.
Photo, front to back, left to right:
Dried tomatoes
Peruvian chili pepper (Ají panca)
Spanish chili[1] (Ají guindilla)
Toasted sesame seeds
Green peppercorns
White sesame seeds
Brown rice
Dried mushrooms (callampas secas)
Toasted Chilean hazelnut (Avellano chileno)
Susana, here surrounded by vanillas, vinegars, soy sauce, mustards, chocolates, agar-agar, jams, oyster sauce, etc., speaks English and has great patience if you need help figuring out how to ask for dried blueberries, or bittersweet chocolate.  

There are also Worchester sauce (salsa inglesa), sweet chili sauce, Nutela, Lúcuma paste, peanut butter, mustards and catsups.

And front to back, left to right:

Raw peanuts
Wheat mote [2]
Instant oatmeal
Goat-horn chili (ají cacho de cabra)
Cacao hulls
Chilean palm (Jubaea chilensis) fruit
Vegetarian “meat” (soy protein)
Garbanzo beans
Orange lentils
Green beans
White beans

She also has:  quinoa, couscous, bulgur, oats, corn, barley, flax, gluten, dried cherries, dried blueberries, raisins, prunes, dry figs, dry peaches, black and yellow mustard seeds, shelled walnuts, almonds, merken, thyme, sage, chocolate covered orange peel, candied peanuts, anchovies, and of course, caraway seeds.  And much more.
It is all weighed to the gram, (by the young lady at right) sealed in plastic bags and priced fairly (and inexpensively, if you are accustomed to supermarket prices.)
Susana Kuschnir Silva
Artesanos 801, Recoleta, Santiago
Tel. 735-2810 or 737-7821


Click on map to enlarge

And if you find tomatillos or okra--bamiyah in Arabic, and something similar among Palestinian-Chileans—let me know.

[1] Chile (Capsicum spp.) varieties are notoriously variable, and their names are even more so.  I have no idea if ají guninilla has an English name, but guindilla is Iberian Spanish for chili pepper, hence “Spanish Chili.”
[2] Wheat kernels, cooked in alkaline water, stripped of hulls and dried.  

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Eating Chilean Mussels

After a somewhat discouraging look at Chilean farmed salmon last month, it has been a pleasure to discover Chile’s other aquaculture: mussels--delicious, clean, nutritious, environmentally sustainable and socially responsible seafood.

Mussels have been part of human diet for about as long as we have been humanearly Homo sapiens at Pinnacle Point near South Africa's Mossel Bay on the Indian Ocean were harvesting and eating mussels 164,000 years ago (+/-12,000 years).[1]  Closer to (my) home, archaeological sites on the Chilean Island, Chiloé, provide evidence that by 6,000 years ago blue mussles (choritos, Mytilus sp.), giant mussels (choros zapatos, or maltones, Choromytilus chorus) and ribbed mussels (cholgas, Aulacomya ater) were part of the diet of early Chileans [2], just as they are today.

Marine mussels (there are also freshwater mussels) inhabit the tidal zones of temperate oceans around the world, many on rocky shores exposed to breaking waves.  When covered with water they feed by filtering plankton from the surrounding sea, and when exposed by low tides their shells close tightly maintaining liquid within.  Reproduction occurs in the spring when males release clouds of sperm and females release eggs into the surrounding water.  The offspring pass through several free floating larval stages before settling, then attach to a firm object with byssal threads—their “beards.” [3]
Mussel cultivation in Chile has his its roots in the 1940s, when over-exploitation of both cholgas and choros zapatos in the area between Valdivia and Chiloé let to experiments in collecting mussel larva for replenishing natural beds.  By the 1960s these efforts resulted in Chile’s first farmed mussels and by 1982 production had expanded to commercial scale with production of over 1,600 metric tons.[4]  By 2003 production had increased to 60,000 tons, of which 85% was exported, 90% to Europe[5]
The cultivation process begins with the collection of “seed” mussels on stationary nets where they attach themselves.  By midsummer they are ready to be transferred to ropes suspended vertically in “long line” cultivation systems, where they remain to “fatten” for 12 to 24 months, before being harvested.

Artisanal mussel production (photo Germán Henriquez)

Processed mussels, largely for export, are frozen or canned, but in Chile fresh mussels are available in supermarkets, fish markets and local ferias, below for 800 CLP/kg ($.65/lb).

So, are you ready?  Begin by buying a kilogram or so of choritos [6], which will yield about 200 gm of mussel meat.  Refrigerate them (don’t put them in water) until you are ready to cook—2 or three days should be okay.  Then scrub with a stiff brush or scouring pad and scrape off any attached barnacles with a knife.
Discard any that don’t close (or at least move) when tapped or that are broken. 

For your first meal I suggest you serve them simply—steamed as a first course  with Chilean salsa verde.  Bring an inch or so of water to a boil in a pot large enough to hold the mussels.  Dump in the mussels, cover the pot, and cook for about 10 minutes; almost all will open, but any that don’t need not be discarded if they look okay. Serve on the half shell.  For the salsa verde, mince onion, parsley and a touch of green chile and add abundant lemon juice and a little oil.  Pick up a half-shell, add a bit of sauce, and eat.  A crisp, cold sauvignon blanc will be a great complement.
You will find that they have a nice marine taste, without being strong or “fishy” and that the salsa verde provides a nice tang.
And while eating them, you can consider their virtues: 
  • Nutritional--100 gm. cooked mussels have about 170 calories, 24 gm. of protein and 4.5 grams of fat, including .5 gm of omega-3 fatty acids; pretty good on all counts.[7]  And being low on the food chain, they accumulate very low quantities of organochlorine contaminants.  Nutritionally they are excellent.
  • Environmental—Farmed mussels require no feed, and as filter feeders, leave the sea water cleaner than they find it.  Some sea floor sedimentation occurs below farm sites, but at low levels. The industry web site, AMICHILE, notes that mussel farming..
…is largely innocuous and produces minimal impact if adequately maintained, as dictated by industry norms and the rules which regulate it, but we are concerned about some difficulties in maintaining a clean environment, fundamentally the visual impact produced by our cultivation, our use of low-technology flotation systems and the existence of dirty beaches.[8] 
Long-line mussel cultivation in Chiloé

          Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood watch says:.
Farmed mussels are an excellent choice because they are farmed in an environmentally responsible way. …As with other related species – scallops, oysters and clams – farming methods for mussels are environmentally sound. Mussels do not rely on fishmeal or fish oil as part of their diet. Diseases are rare, so antibiotics and chemicals are not necessary, and the aquaculture operations often benefit the surrounding marine habitat. [9]
  • Economic--Mussel cultivation employs 6,500 workers and had exports in 2003 of $25.7 million.
  • Social—The industry has a reputation for social responsibility.  I encountered no criticism of its safety record or relations with employees, and it seems to be a force for good in the communities, manly in Chiloé and the adjacent mainland, where it operates.
     The industry vision, explained in their website,
…has centered on the development of a industry that is sustainable and responsible--to its workers, consumers, the environment, and the social milieu in which it grows--an industry prepared to satisfy the growing world demand for food, especially protein, produced under the highest standards of sanitation and quality.
We consider the association [AMICHILE] an effective tool for the achievement of these common objectives, and for consolidating the interests and concerns of  producers and the challenges that they face and will face this vigorous industry.”[10]
Finally, you can consider how you will prepare them next time.  Two of my favorites are mussels and sausages with rice (photo), and mussels provincial (recipe card) but every culture seems to have mussel recipes.  A few are available at and, and even today’s New York Times has a Southeast Asian Mussel Salad.

[1] Early Humans Wore Makeup, Ate Mussels. Associated Press, Oct. 17, 2007.  On line at
[2] Legoupil, Dominique. Recolectores De Moluscos Tempranos En El Sureste De La Isla De Chiloé: Una Primera Mirada (Early Shell Gatherers In The Southeastern Part Of Chiloé Island: Preliminary Results) Magallania v.33 n.1 Punta Arenas ago. 2005.  On line at
[4] Asociación Gremial de Mitilicultores de Chile, AMICHILE, on line at
[5] Yokota, Eugenio.  The Mussel Farming in Chile, July 3-5 2005. On line at
[6] In cholgas and choros zapatos females have dark-colored flesh, with a somewhat stronger taste; try choritos first.
[7] Mollusks, mussel, blue, cooked,  Mytilus edulis L. (data for M. chilenis not available)
on line at; Exler J, Wehrauch JL. Provisional table on the content of omega-3 fatty acids and other fat components in selected foods. U.S.D.A., Human Nutrition Information Service, HNS/PT-103, 1988 on line at

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Eating Chilean Papayas

This week when I went to the local feria (farmers market) I saw these beautiful Chilean papayas.  I knew what they were because I had bought some preserved in glass jars in La Serena, north of Santiago a few hundred miles.

But I had never seen them fresh. Naturally I bought some:  these three were a little less that $1.00 (900 CLP/kg.)   They were firm to the touch and had a lovely aroma, but I didn’t know what to do with them.  

I discovered that they were mountain Papayas (Carica candamarcensis, or perhaps Caricacea pubescens, or Vasconcellea pubescens) and that there was some confusion about them.  Most sources (but not all) knew that they were not the same as the tropical papaya (Carica papaya) and most (but not all) knew that they should be cooked before eating because of their high levels of papain, an enzyme that digests proteins…. or perhaps just because they are hard. 
The most authoritative source I discovered was from Perdue University Horticulture Department:

The mountain papaya (C. candamarcencis Hook. f.), is native to Andean regions from Venezuela to Chile at altitudes between 6,000 and 10,000 ft (1,800-3,000 m). The plant is stout and tall but bears a small, yellow, conical, 5-angled fruit of sweet flavor. It is cultivated in climates too cold for the papaya, including northern Chile where it thrives mainly in and around the towns of Coquimbo and La Serena at near-sea-level. The fruit (borne all year) is too rich in papain for eating raw but is popular cooked, and is canned for domestic consumption and for export. The plant grows on mountains in Ceylon and South India; does well at 1800 ft (549 m) in Puerto Rico. Its high resistance to papaya viruses is of great interest to plant breeders there and elsewhere.[1]

But what to do with them?  Almost all the recipes I found started with papaya preserves, not the fresh fruit, but I found a few references that led me in the right direction.[2]  So I peeled them, simmered them in water, let them cool and took out the seeds, and cooked them some more with sugar.
This is what they looked like cooked, and ready to be seeded.

And this is the finished product.  The commercial version is below.



And here’s my recipe.

How are they?  Very good: firm, acid, and sweet with a taste somewhere between peach and mango.  And the syrup is great.

[1] Morton, J. 1987. Papaya. p. 336–346. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL. Quoted in NewCROPTM - The New Crop Resource Online Program” article on papaya.  On line at
[2] See “Conservas de papayas,” Cocinando con Martita on line at

Monday, May 11, 2009

Almuerzo on the Aluminé

Fly fishing in Patagonia is trout fishing heaven… one of those when-I-win-the-lottery dreams for US fishermen.  But when you marry a Chilena (something I recommend highly) and move to Chile, it suddenly becomes possible. 
About a month ago I got a call asking if I would like to go fly-fishing in Aluminé, Argentina, a long day’s drive over the Andes, 800 km, from Santiago.   Although it pressed my retired professor’s budget, I said yes and late in April I found myself on the Rio Aluniné with four Chileans, another Gringo and three Argentinean guides. 

The fishing, strictly catch-and-release, is done from Catarafts, holding two fishermen and a guide. The fishermen cast to the banks, usually 40 to 60 feet away, with fly lines that have fast-sinking tip sections.[i] On the end is a clear leader attached to a streamer fly with a barbless hook. 

The fishing was great and the fish were strong and beautiful—all returned gently to the river to live out their lives, and perhaps thrill another fisherman.

As great as the fishing was, there was more to the experience:  food!   Each day at around 2:00 we stopped for almuerzo, “lunch,” but more like Sunday dinner.  The first guide to arrive built a drift wood fire, and as the others arrived, they set up a table, broke out the tablecloth, plates, silverware, wine glasses, the wine and good whiskey.

Starters, sometimes prepared by our guides’ wives and sometimes by professional chefs, were diverse and delicious. Depending on the day there were: cheese and herb tarts (right); empanadas; eggplant, onions and peppers cooked like ratatouille; strips of kidneys in wine; mushrooms in cream; or stacks of filled crêpes like those below.

To ease the muscles after a morning of steady casting there was a little whiskey (the bottle lasted a week), a Quilmes beer or a Gancia aperitif:  Gancia (Argentine-Italian vermouth), lemon juice and sparkling water… or in our case, Sprite.

By then the first coals were ready to scrape from the fire to under the grill, and the meat was put on:  in this case asado de tira, short ribs.  Other days were filete, strip loin, or roast pork.

Nico starts the ribs.


The wine was Chilean, a tradition with this group.  In this case a fine Castillo de Molina, Cabernet Sauvignon reserva went with the asado, beet salad and ensalada rusa of potatoes and carrots.

On other days there were chicken breasts stuffed with peppers and onions and served with a mustard sauce and Waldorf salad Argentine.

Katy grills the chicken, it’s  really good.

And on the final day, something “light” (raviolis in cream sauce) since we would all be celebrating with a chivo asado (BBQ goat) that evening.

Katy, Javi and Nico prepare the raviolis

And there were desserts… flan, cakes, puddings, but I was too full to take pictures.

Since this is a food blog and not a fishing blog, I have spared you lots of fishing pictures, but here’s one of Nico fishing one day after lunch to whet the appetites of any fly-fishers who may be reading.

[i] 130 to 200 grain shooting heads, with 24 foot sink-tips, 0X-1X tippets, mostly on 9’, 6 wt. rods.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Eating flax seed (linaza) in Chile

I bake bread.  I started in graduate school when I found the baking process gave me lots of excuses for study breaks, and at the end of the day, hot bread…  a tangible product from my day’s efforts—something that could not be said for a day at the books.

Flax seeds

Forty years later I still bake bread, mostly multigrain sourdough, so when I moved to Chile (sourdough starter squirreled away in my luggage), I started looking around for flours and grains.  In the local Jumbo supermarket I found a reasonable assortment:  whole wheat flour; rye flour; polenta and chuchoca (a fine corn meal); quinoa seeds and flour; sesame, sunflower and poppy seeds, and linaza—both flour and seeds.  I bought the seeds.  They give bread a nice nutty flavor and a little crunch.  
But what are they?  Although flax seeds and flour must be common in US health food stores, I had never encountered either—they don’t show up in central Illinois supermarkets. 
 A little research via Wikipedia in Spanish  and English  and I discovered that linaza was flaxseed or linseed; that lino was flax (Linum usitatissimum), the plant form which linen is made;  and that the seed is the source of linseed oil, as well as being the darling of the health food set for it’s concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and water soluble fiber.
But what was it doing in a Chilean supermarket?  And more surprising, what was it dong in the local feria, the farmers market? 
As it turns out, linaza was a common garden crop of the Mapuche, the Indans of South Central Chile, who ate the seeds and used the fiber.  The earliest mention that I found of is in El Cautiverio Feliz, Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán’s account of his captivity by the Mapuche (which I blogged about earlier) in 1629 which suggests a fairly early adoption of this European crop. Two hundred plus years later, In Araucana I sus Habitantes, Ignacio Domeyko (1846)  wote:
The Chilean Indian is an agriculturalist, an agriculturalist by character, by the physical nature of his country, by his nature and his customs.  … Next to his house he has orchards and gardens of wheat, barley, garbanzos, potatoes, flax and cabbages; all well cultivated and fenced. [1]
Agricultura, volume 2 (1867) by Claudio Gay provides a little more detail:

The Indians of the Araucania also cultivate flax in great abundance as food.  With the toasted flour of the seeds they make an oily paste, well kneaded in the hands and then, reduced into small balls that are dried and eaten as bread with the name of meldun.  They also mix it with their toasted barley flour to give it better flavor and make it more nutritious; finally the use it in various other ways and it even enters into the composition of their chicha [beer]. [2] .
And in his dictated autobiography Mapuche chief, Pascual Coña, added the following:

To the north, it [flax] grows everywhere spontaneously.  It is also cultivated, its seed, linaza is oily; it is sometimes mixed with toasted flour.  The indigenous women make their brooms from its stems, and in the old days the fibers were twisted to make nets. [3]
But how did linaza get from the Mapuche to the Jumbo? We can only guess: Linaza was popular with the Mapuche, especially as murke, a blend of linaza and toasted wheat flour.  Toasted flour, as well as other Mapuche foods, entered the diet of the rural Chilean, often mestizos with Mapuche ancestors.  And when they came to the city, they brought their food habits with them. Toasted flour,  with or without linaza, is popular in Chile, especially as ulpo, a drink of toasted flour mixed with water or milk.  And, according to the vendor at the local farmers market, today people buy linaza mostly for “la digestión­”— love that fiber!
But how did linaza get to the Mapuche in the first place? 

Flax has a long history in the old world.  Probably domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, the earliest evidence I discovered for its use comes from a linen fabric fragment in an Israeli cave dating to 6,500 BC.  Linen remains from 3,000 BC come from Swiss lake-dweller sites and it was also used in ancient Egypt.[4] Linseed oil and use of the seeds as food and medicine are reported for the ancient Greeks and Romans, and Charlemagne, who was evidently quite a fan, required the incorporation of the seeds into French diet.[5]  In the 13th century English Franciscan, Bartholomew wrote:
Flax is needful to divers uses. For therefore is made clothing to wear, and sails to sail, and nets to fish, and to hunt, and thread to sew, ropes to bind, and strings to shoot, bonds to bind lines to mete and to measure, and sheets to rest in, and sacks, bags and purses to put, and to keep things in.  And so none herb is so needful, to so many divers uses to mankind, as is the flax.[6].
And, use of linseed oil in paints has been common since the 1400s and perhaps earlier. [7] 
By the time of the Spanish occupation of Chile, flax was an important source of oil and fiber, and was evidently cultivated widely.  We can only guess about what led the Mapuche to adopt the seeds as food, since they were not commonly eaten by the Spanish. But the Mapuche ate small native seeds such as quinoa; madi (Madia sativa),and mango (Bromus mango), and I imagine that someone with imagination saw flax seeds going to waste and harvested some. At any rate, by the 17th century flax was cultivated in Mapuche gardens, and today it is in the Jumbo.
And why?  Presumably because we like what it does:  linaza, rich in soluble fiber, absorbs water and aids in the transit of food through (and out of) the body. 

And, because of what some studies say  its Omega-3 fatty acids do for our hearts: 
Dietary omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Both epidemiologic and interventional studies have demonstrated beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids on many [aspects of heart disease]. …Much of the evidence comes from studies with fish oil and fish; to a lesser extent, data relate to plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids. …Sources of plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, and soybean oil. Because of the remarkable cardioprotective effects of omega-3 fatty acids, consumption of food sources that provide omega-3 fatty acids--especially the longer-chain fatty acids… from marine sources--should be increased in the diet to decrease CVD risk significantly.[8] 
Those marine sources, especially salmon, are the surest source of protective Omega-3s, but if you have been following this blog, you know that Chile’s plentiful and inexpensive farmed salmon has some drawbacks.  Flax seed, on the other hand, does not.[9]

So, how can you add flax to your diet? .

  • Add it to any baked goods: bread, cookies, pancakes, waffles, muffins, etc. 
  • Make murke and drink ulpo
  • Sprinkle on breakfast cereal or fruit.
  • Add to smoothies or yogurt
  • Mix with water and take it like medicine (ugg!)
  • Add to meatloaf, casseroles, lasagna, etc.
  • Google “flax seed recipes” for a lot more suggestions

And remember—a little dab will do you.  Two tablespoons of flax meal provides over 100% of recommendations of Omega-3s and 20% of dietary fiber.


[1] Domeykmo, Iganicio.  1846.  Araucanía I sus habitantes: Diario del viaje al país de los salvajes indios araucanos.  Santiago: Imprenta Chilena.  p.  52 On line at
[2] Gay, Claudio.  Agricultura. Tomo 2. 1867. Chile: Museo de Historia Natural de Santiago. P. 137. On line at

[3] Wilhelm de Moesbach, Ernesto. 1936 Vida y costumbres de los  indigenas araucanas  en  la segunda mitad del siglo xix (presentadas en la autobiografia  del  indigena  Pascual Coña). Santiago de Chile: Imprenta Universitario Estado 63.  On line at
[4] A Short History of Flax. Anne Liese's Fibers and Stuff on line at
[6] Steele,  Robert., 2008 Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus. Forgotten Books  p.75 
[7] History Of Oil Paint, Cyberlipid Center, Resource Site For Lipid Studies  on line at
[8] Psota, TL; Gebauer, SK; & Kris-Etherton, P.  Dietary omega-3 fatty acid intake and cardiovascular risk. Am J Cardiol. 2006 Aug 21;98(4A):3i-18i. Epub 2006 May 30. abstract on line at
[8] Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil, Herbs at a Glance, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Mdicicne, National Institutes of Health, on line at