As mentioned in my last post, I was out exploring the wilds of South America last month. While Spring was knock on your doors up here in the Northern Hemisphere, I was welcoming Fall in the Southern Hemisphere. My journey took me to the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina, a region steeped in ranching and agriculture as much as mountaineering. I was pleased to learn that the culture is also in tune with sustainable living, growing, and eating practices. This was most evident in the national park of Torres del Paine and specifically Hotel Las Torres in southern Chile.
Started by the son of Croatian immigrants, this farm-to-table hotel at the base of the world famous Torres del Paines, is part of an 8,000 acre family owned-ranch bordering the national park. After much success in the cattle business, the family decided to decrease their animal holdings and refocus their attentions on the climbers and hikers drawn to the area by creating the hotel, an eco-camp, and a series of refugios (mountain hostels) at the base of the mountains. I had the amazing good fortune to stay at their world class hotel complete with a garden room view over looking their organic garden, hiking trails right out the back door, and the most spectacular local, farm-to-table dinning I have ever experienced!
Because the southern portion of Chile is quite narrow, the mountains and the Pacific Ocean are within a half days drive of each other. This close proximity helps to define the sea and turf type offerings on the hotel's simple yet elegant menus. Dinners often started with an appetizer of ceviche or mussels, followed by a beef or lamb and vegetable stew or grilled fish, and finished with ice cream made from fresh milk, cream, and wild calafate berries (similar to our wild blueberries). A weekly traditional Chilean BBQ of slow cooked lamb from the family's herd, allowed guests to mingle with hotel chefs and baqueanos (also called gauchos or Chilean cowboys).
Perhaps my favorite dish of this mountain culture was their simple yet richly flavored vegetable and meat or lentil stews. The blend of sweet from local dried fruits and spice from traditional Chilean peppers grown on-site in their organic garden and green houses, was an absolute party in my mouth! For an exclusive taste of this incredible place and culture, here is an example of a similar recipe to those found at Hotel Las Torres. Hope you enjoy it!
Patagonian Mountain Stew ~ recipe adapted from www.nakedcuisine.com
1 Tablespoon grass-fed butter or olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 pound grass-fed beef or lamb stew meat, cut into chunks
3/4 cup red wine
15 oz can of diced tomatoes or 1 cup fresh tomatoes, diced
1/3 cup unsulfured dried apricots, diced
1 small winter squash, seeded, peeled, and cut into chunks
3 medium potatoes cut into chunks
1 cup tomato sauce
6 cups of beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
1/2 cup dried lentils
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper
In a Dutch oven or other heavy gauge stew pot, over medium heat, heat butter or oil. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add stew meat if using and brown on all sides. Pour in wine, tomatoes, dried apricots, winter squash, potatoes, tomato sauce, and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and add a lid. Cook for 1 hour. Mean while in a medium sauce pan, bring 1 1/2 cups water and dried lentils to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until lentils are soft. Drain off remaining water and add lentils to larger stew pot. Sprinkle in paprika and cayenne. Let simmer 10 minutes more. Taste for seasoning with more spices and/or salt, pepper. Enjoy with your favorite crusty bread and grass-fed butter or over warm cooked quinoa.