Did you know that Chile is one of the most fertile growing regions in the world? That the food industry in Chile is committed to growing the freshest, healthiest, brightest, tastiest produce? Or that Chile is a major producer of clementines and avocados? And they make amazing olive oil and wine? Hmm, or how about that because they are in the Southern Hemishpere, that their growing season is opposite that of the United States, so that, especially in the cooler American climates, we can get fruits and vegetables that are “out of season” for us? And, even better, especially for those of us on the East Coast, getting foods from Chile actually has a smaller carbon footprint than getting the same products from the West Coast, because these products are shipped via boat in extremely large quantities, versus only a small amount that can come on each truckload that has to drive all the way across the country?
I didn’t either, until I had the privilege of being invited to dinner with the Full Belly Sisters. Foods From Chile is trying to spread the word about the abundance of goodness that comes from their country, and they asked bloggers and chefs all over our country to host various launch events to kickoff their campaign to bring knowledge to the masses. So when Justine from Full Belly Sisters invited me to the #NowInSeason dinner she was hosting at her home, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity… despite the long drive in tri-state area traffic. But this pregnant lady doesn’t get out much, and when you entice me with good food, well, I am like a college kid lured to a club meeting with the promise of pizza. After teasing you on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with photos from that night, I now get to tell you all about it. And if any of the food looks fabulous to you (trust me, it was), I will give you the links to the recipes on the Full Belly Sisters’ blog.
We were welcomed with a table filled with some of the abundance of the South American nation – bright orange clementines, salty almonds, and olive oil with a sprinkling of merken with some bread for dipping. The olive oil was earthy and fruity, and the merken, a popular Chilean seasoning made from fires, smoked chiles, added a bit of heat at the finish. Justine also made a refreshing Clementine Lime Water, which was not only delicious, it was also beautiful on the table.
Our first course was an Endive Salad with Goat Cheese, Chilean Raspberries & Clementines, and drizzled with that lovely Chilean olive oil, finished with a sprinkling of parsley (cilantro can also be used). The raspberries were bright and juicy, since they are in season now in Chile, and the crunch of the endive was balance with the creaminess of the goat cheese. And oh, how I do love salads with fruit and cheese, especially goat cheese. While I might have finished it with a small sprinkle of sea salt and a grind of fresh pepper (but that could be my pregnancy tastebuds that always seem to want more salt and pepper on everything), this is definitely a salad to be recreated at home.
We then moved on to a chilled Chilean Avocado Soup, made with coconut water, shallots, cilantro, and lime, and garnished with chopped walnuts and chives. This soup was so creamy and silky with a little bite from the acid of the lime and the slight heat of cayenne pepper, and would be wonderful any time of year. Now I know I have mentioned in the past that I am not a huge fan of raw onion, so I would cur down on the shallot a bit, myself, and I am curious to experiment with using coconut milk in place of the water, so see if it kicks up that coconut flavor a bit.
Now for the main course, I know you are all probably expecting Chilean Sea Bass, but no, we had Chilean Salmon. The salmon was crusted with almonds, bread crumbs, and more of the Chilean olive oil and Merken, and was served atop a bed of black rise lightly flavored with a squeeze of clementines, with a fruit salsa of raspberries, clementines, grapes, onions, and green pepper. Nothing tops dessert for me, in general (more on that to come), but this salmon was the highlight of the evening for me. The almond crust added a salty crust to the soft flesh of the salmon, and the fruity acid in the salsa was a fresh contract to the richness of the fish. The black rise was delicious, and a nice change of pace from the usual brown or white rice, with the little bit of brightness from the clementine juice. This is a recipe I will make (though maybe changing up the bread crumbs to make it gluten-free), and it is versatile enough to be served with many different sides.
I was already getting full at this point, but there was no way I was turning down dessert. In fact, there was no way I was turning down a second helping of dessert. The Cherry Berry Crisp was made from fresh blueberries and raspberries from Chile, and was topped with a butter brown sugary crumble. Seriously, there are no words. This was heavenly. And during the fall and winter, when fruity desserts tend to focus on pumpkin and apple and pear, the bright flavor of the berries was a nice change of pace, but the rich crumble topping with the warm spice of cinnamon make this a perfect dessert even during the cold weather months. Add a scoop of ice cream – perfection! And I am thinking this would easily be made gluten-free, or, if that is not a concern of yours, you could certainly sub the small amount of flour with whole wheat flour.
We also got to sample some wines from Chile. Well, I got to sample. The other ladies got to have a few glasses. *Jealous* I am leaving this to the end because I am totally not the wine expert, and I did only get a couple sips of each wine. But I can tell you what we had and give you a couple of comment. The Tobino Pinot Noir, 2009, was unexpected to me, as it had a little more bite that most Pinots I have had, though I am told that it began to soften as it sat exposed to the air over time. The MontGras Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, had a lovely, light grapefruit aroma and flavor, and was very smooth. FInally, the Ventisquero Quelat Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, to me was more lemony and less “sweet” than the previous Sauvingnon Blanc. All were quite good, and I would have loved to have more of each.
As if all of this wonderful food and fabulous recipes weren’t enough, Foods From Chile provided each of the guests with a swag bag filled with a number of Chilean products. I am very excited to use the Sabor Merken and Las Doscientas Olive Oil to recreate some of these dishes, and create some new ones. I am also looking forward to sampling the Tamaya Chilean Blueberry Juice, Robinson Crusoe Mussels in Olive Oil, and, I think most especially, the Huerto Azul Fig Chutney with Merken (I am thinking a lovely baked brie appetizer, or some fancy pants grilled cheese). Finally, I am going to keep The Hubby’s hands off of the Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon, so that I can join him in drinking it to celebrate the birth of the new little one in March.
So I once again want to thank Justine and Flannery of Full Belly Sisters, and, especially, Foods From Chile, for this wonderful dinner. A fun and delicious time was had by all. And I strongly encourage everyone to seek out some of the Chilean products, try some of these recipes, and check out their website, or follow Foods From Chile on Facebook and Twitter for more delicious recipes.