First off, I apologize to my Spanish-only speaking audience for writing this in English. Me disculpo por escribir este articulo solo en ingles. Prometo traducirlo pronto.
To celebrate Chile's Independence Day (on September 18th), El dieciocho de Septiembre, I've decided to write about and highlight some of Chile's healthiest dishes. And this, of course, is not to say that you can't enjoy the Chilean goodies typically eaten on this day (just scroll down to #10!). So here's my list of the 10 healthiest Chilean Foods. Mi intencion no es 'fregarles' la onda. Pueden comer todas las empanadas que quieran! Solo es un reconocimiento de la cocina saludable tracicional Chilena. Feliz 18!
1. Porotos Granados Summer Beans
This summer bean soup is among the healthiest Chilean dishes because it’s made with beans which are high in fibre and protein, high in minerals and antioxidants, and low in fat. This dish is also meat and wheat-free making it a good choice for vegetarians and those on gluten-free diets. Porotos Granados is a bean soup made with white beans (or pinto), squash, corn, and basil. If you haven’t already done so you can check out my recipe here.
2. Cazuela Beef Soup
Many countries in Latin America have their own cazuela version. In Chile, cazuela consists of a piece of beef, pumpkin, potato, small piece of corn, green beans, cilantro, and sometimes carrots- and of course onion, garlic, as well as cumin and oil. The reason why cazuela made my list is because it’s a nutritious meal. The cut of beef traditionally used tends to be on the fattier side; however, you can prepare it with a leaner cut like roast beef or sirloin for a lower fat version. Fat content aside, beef is rich in vitamin B12- important for central nervous system function and red blood cell formation. It is also a good source of heme iron. Heme iron is found in meat and is better absorbed by the body compared to non-heme iron, the vegetarian version. Cazuela’s carbohydrate content can add up quite quickly, especially if you have seconds! So for a person watching their blood sugars, I would suggest having half a potato, a small piece of corn, and pumpkin as usual (pumpkin is much lower in carbs). Photo: The cazuela featured in the photo was made by my mother-in-law (who left this earth last year) in Chile a few years ago.
3. Palta Reina Stuffed Avocado
Palta Reina is a meal-like appetizer or starter consisting of half an avocado stuffed with tuna or chicken. In Chilean Spanish- as well as Peruvian, Argentinean and Uruguayan- palta is avocado. Reina means queen, so “avocado queen”. Sometimes it goes by the name Palta Rellena, “stuffed avocado”. And no, this is not a food trend.It’s been around for ages. Avocado is a Chilean staple. It’s eaten on bread at breakfast, in sandwiches and salads at lunch (and even on hot dogs!), and again, on bread in the evening. But moving along, Palta Reina is super nutritious. Avocados, like olive oil, are high in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs). It is well-documented that these fats help lower cholesterol, as well as increase HDL “good” cholesterol. As for the meat portion of this dish, both tuna and chicken breast are very low fat and high in protein. Mind you, the chicken/tuna portion is first combined with mayo. A small amount of mayo (say, 1 teaspoon) is totally fine. So go ahead and use some mayo, but for an even healthier version, make it with plain Greek yogurt. One portion of Palta Reina (half avocado) uses about one quarter of a chicken breast or half can of tuna. So each portion has around 15-20 grams of protein, around 250-300 calories, 6 grams of fibre and very little carbs. Photo: These Palta Reinas were made on very small avocados so each half would probably contain 200 calories at most.
4. Paila Marina Seafood Soup
If you know anything about Chile’s geography you probably know it has a very long coast line. Along with all that ocean is some very nice seafood. Like, delicious! One of those dishes is Paila Marina, a seafood and fish soup. The specific shellfish and fish used depend on their availability but typically include mussels, clams (several types), and white fish or congrio (a type of eel which is commonly eaten deep fried and is absolutely delicious, but not making my list here). The reason this seafood soup is nutritious is because it’s rich in vitamins and minerals. Clams and mussels are loaded with vitamin B12 (more so than beef), iron, and zinc. They’re also a great source of protein and contain very little fat. To sum it up, a bowl of Paila Marina is high protein, low carb and fairly low fat. Keep in mind that seafood is high in sodium, so it you are on a salt restricted diet, this soup is a no-no. Photo: I'm pretty sure I borrowed it from my sister.
5. Sandwich de Ave Palta Avocado Chicken Sandwich
You can’t visit Chile without having a sandwich. Now, although the Ave Palta sandwich is one of the healthier ones, you gotta try a chacarero (below), a beef sandwich. The Ave Palta sandwich is basically a chicken and avocado sandwich. The reason it made my list is because it’s made with chicken- a lean meat- and nutrition powerhouse avocado. Did you know that half an avocado has over 6 grams of fibre? So even if you have your Ave Palta on white bread, you’re still getting fibre. Have it on whole grain and you’re up to about 10 grams of fibre. That’s more than a third of the daily fibre requirements for women. An Ave Palta made with 3 ounces chicken breast, and half avocado on 2 slices whole wheat bread has around 500 calories (assuming your bread has 100 calories per slice), 30 grams protein, and about 16 grams of fat (mostly good fats). If you think 500 calories is a lot, then let’s not talk about the last chacarero you had! Photo: The top photo is a simplistic version of an Ave Palta and the bottom picture is a chacarero.
6. Ensalada Chilena Chilean Tomato Salad
Ensalada Chilena is a tomato salad with added thinly sliced onion, a bit of oil and salt. This is a very typical summer salad. At less than 30 calories, 1 medium tomato contains around 25% of our daily requirements of vitamins A and C. The vitamin A in tomatoes is a type of carotene called lycopene. Lycopene is a potent antioxidant which has been shown to be protective against breast, colon, lung, skin and prostate cancers. The concentration of lycopene varies among tomatoes; however, redder tomatoes appear to have the highest. Lycopene’s absorption is enhanced with fat. So make sure to add a little olive oil to your Ensalada Chilena and, along with your antioxidant-rich onions, you have yourself a health-enhancing salad! Photo: I took this photo in a vegetarian restaurant in Santiago in 2008. Ensalada Chilena and Porotos Granados.
7. Pebre Chilean Hot Sauce
I love pebre! If you haven’t yet tried it you’ll love it too! Pebre is a condiment typically served at a table with fresh bread before a meal. You can make it by hand if you’re good at chopping finely (not me!) or you can use a food processor. Pebre is made of tomato, cilantro, parsley, banana pepper, onion, garlic, oil and salt. In other words, super healthy ingredients. Like Ensalada Chilena, pebre is full of antioxidant-rich ingredients. I’m sure most of you know that garlic is really good for you. Studies have found that garlic can help reduce total cholesterol while increasing HDL “good” cholesterol. Garlic is also a blood thinner and has blood pressure lowering effects. But please speak with your doctor before taking garlic supplements if you are taking blood thinners or blood pressure medication. Otherwise, there is usually no concern with eating fresh garlic. Garlic is also anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal. So great to eat lots of garlic when you’re sick. Pebre also has parsley which contains minerals like calcium and magnesium, and is generally very cleansing. Cilantro has traditionally been used as a digestive aid and has also been suggested to have antimicrobial and anti-anxiety properties. So perhaps the nice, warm, fresh pan amasado (fresh bread) that you dip into the pebre is not as healing as the pebre itself, but that’s okay. You gotta be balanced! One last note: I strongly encourage using olive oil instead of vegetable oil and don’t be so generous with the salt. Photo: The photo was at my in-laws' house in Chile. The salad is the starter. The pebre is in the middle.
8. Mote con huesillo Summer Peach & Wheat Drink/Snack
Where is that Mote con Huesillo stand when you’ve been walking around the streets of downtown Santiago for hours, drenched in sweat, in January? Mote con Huesillo is a refreshing half drink, half snack. The huesillo portion of it is dried peach and the mote is wheat kernels (you can also use barley). So far, you have a high-fibre snack. The only issue with this drink is the added sugar. If you’re a visitor to Chile, definitely try a good, traditional Mote con Huesillo. If you prepare it often at home, cut back on the sugar for a healthier version. Since it’s high in fibre, it’s a great snack. It’s even a great breakfast if you have the lower sugar version (probably better than most breakfast cereals anyway, sugar-reduced or not!).
Photo: My son in 2009 drinking Mote con Huesillos. Photo borrowed from my mother. The other is a photo of dried peaches I've had in my fridge for a year. Time to make Mote con Huesillo!
9. Pan con Palta Avocado Toast
Pan con Palta, or avocado toast, is a staple in Chile, what most people have for breakfast. It's Chile's bacon and eggs or peanut butter and jam. Again, NOT a food trend. Central Chile's Mediterranean climate results in an abundance of amazing produce, including avocados (and wine of course!). With rising food prices, however, avocados are not accessible to the entire population and may not necessarily be a staple food in many households. It's not like they're dirt cheap. Just thought I'd make that clear. Regardless, having avocado on toast in the morning is a great way to start the day. It means starting your day with blood sugar-regulating fibre, cholesterol lowering fats, blood pressure-lowering potassium, muscle-relaxing magnesium, and neurotransmitter-enhancing vitamin B-6. That's a lot of benefits for a slice of toast! Make it even healthier by choosing a high-fibre bread.
10. Empanada (Honourable Mention)
What do you call a Chilean national independence celebration without empanadas? Non-existent! Although empanadas are an honourable mention and not actually among the healthiest foods, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy one or two…or three. Chilean Independence, el dieciocho, is all about having fun, seeing friends, dancing cueca, drinking wine and eating empanadas. As long as you don’t turn your celebration into a month-long one, you’re good to go! And don’t forget that there are plenty of nutritious side dishes like Ensalada Chilena and Pebre to accompany your empanada. Photo: Typical meat Empanada. This particular one was left-over from the weekend fonda.