Peru

Peru is located in western South America and shares borders with Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile. It is made up of three geographical regions – Coastal plains, sierra highlands (the Andes) and selva (Amazon rainforest). Peru’s 31.2 million population is multiethnic including Amerindians, Europeans, Africans and Asians. There are 15 uncontacted Amerindian tribes in Peru.

I visited Peru in 2002 and spent a month travelling around the country. One of my highlights was trekking Colca Canyon, which is one of the deepest in the world and more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. I also loved Cusco, the beautiful Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa and the peaceful town of Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

Some interesting facts
Peru was officially declared the world’s biggest producer of cocaine in 2013 by the United Nations. Peru’s cocaine industry takes in about US$1 billion per year in under-the-table money and employs some 200,000 Peruvians
Approximately 65 million guinea pigs are consumed in Peru every year
Peru is home to the highest sand dune in the world – Cerro Blanco is located in the Sechura Desert near the Nazca Lines and measures 3,860 feet from base to summit
Chicama in North Peru is the longest ocean wave for surfing in the world at 1.25 miles
Peruvian friends and family traditionally give each other gifts of yellow underpants on New Year’s Eve for good luck
The ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham the American explorer and now receives 1.5 million tourists every year

The four traditional staples of Peruvian cuisine are corn, potatoes, other tubers (Quinoa, Kañiwa and kiwicha) and legumes (beans and lupins). Chilli peppers and tomatoes are also commonly used. Recipes I considered for the challenge include Lomo saltado (sliced sirloin steak with chilli served with chips & rice), Cebiche (spicy raw fish marinated), Papa a la Huancaína (potatoes with a spicy, creamy sauce), Chupe de pescado (fish soup), Butifarras (Peruvian ham sandwich), Carapulcra (meat stew with potatoes, chilli and peanut), Cuy chactado (fried guinea pig), Rocoto relleno (stuffed chillies) and Picarones (fried doughnuts). I opted for a very popular dish in Peru – Pollo a la Brasa (Peruvian-flavoured rotisserie chicken) which we enjoyed with chips and rice.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4

Prep time: 15 minutes + marinating 6 hours – overnight
Cook time: 1hr – 1hr 15 minutes

1.2kg free range chicken
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tsp fresh mint
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
1/4 cup beer (any ale will do)
splash of vinegar

Combine all the ingredients, except the chicken in a blender and pulse until you have a paste, add more beer if it’s too thick
Thoroughly rub the paste all over the chicken, inside and out, rubbing it carefully under the skin but don’t break the skin
Place the chicken in a sealable bag and let it marinate in the fridge for 6 hours or overnight
When ready to cook, heat your rotisserie BBQ grill (ideally using wood or coal, but gas is ok if that’s what you have) and cook the chicken for 1 hr
Alternatively you can use the oven – place it on top of a rack in a preheated oven to 190C for around 1hr 15 minutes
Remove it from the grill or oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before carving
Serve your chicken with chips and rice

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Bolivia

Bolivia is the largest landlocked country in the Americas with the Andean mountain range taking up one third of its territory. Bolivia is named after Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan military and political leader who played a key role in the independence of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Bolivia. He was also officially the first president of Bolivia. Bolivia wasn’t always a landlocked country. It lost 420 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline to Chile in the War of the Pacific and it still maintains a standing navy in preparation for the day it reclaims it back.

A few facts:
Bolivia is the main exporter of Brazil nuts, producing 70% of the world’s supply
La Paz, Bolivia, was the first South American city to get an electricity supply and it was powered by llama dung
North Yungas Road, Bolivia, also known as the “Road of Death”, built by Paraguayan prisoners in the 1930s, is often cited as the most dangerous road in the world and has claimed thousands of lives
At 3,650m above sea level, La Paz is unofficially the highest capital city in the world (the official capital is Sucre but the seat of government is in La Paz)
The Guembe Biocenter in Santa Cruz, Bolivia is home to the world’s largest butterfly sanctuary
One of Bolivia’s oldest silver mines Cerro Rico (Rich Hill), has claimed the lives of an estimated 8 million people in the past 500 years. It is known as the “Mountain that eats men” and is still mined with picks and shovels today.

The traditional staples of Bolivian cuisine are corn, potatoes, and beans. These ingredients have been combined with a number of staples brought by the Spanish, such as rice, wheat, beef, pork, and chicken. Some recipes I considered were Picante de pollo (Spicy Chicken), Silpancho (Thin Sliced Breaded Beef), Chanka de Pollo (Incan Chicken Soup), Arroz con Queso (Rice with Cheese), Mondongo (Pork or Beef Stew), Bunuelos (sweet or savoury fried pastry), Pastel de Choclo (Corn Quiche) and Choripan (chorizo sandwich). However I opted for a very popular snack in Bolivia – Salteñas (Baked savoury pastry). It was quite a tricky recipe with a number of steps, and unfortunately the liquid oozed out of the pastry during the cooking which made it rather soggy. Also we found the flavour a little too sweet for our savoury loving palates!

Rating: 5/10

Makes 3 large or 4 medium Salteñas
Prep time: 45 mins + cooling time
Cook time: 15 – 25 minutes

For the filling
150g cooked chicken, chopped
1 small potato
1 spring onion
1/2 onion
1/8 cup frozen peas
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
1 tbsp sugar
dash vinegar
1/8 cup butter
1/2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 packet of gelatin

For the pastry
4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter
about 1 cup of warm water

Dice the potato and add it to a pot of boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes, you don’t want the potatoes to be soft or they will fall apart in the broth, they will still cook a bit longer once they are added to the rest of the ingredients. After 5 minutes, drain the potatoes and set aside
Melt the butter in a pan, add the spices (cumin, oregano, salt and pepper) and cook for 5 minutes
Add the onion and spring onion and cook for a few minutes
Add the vinegar, sugar, parsley, potatoes and green peas and mix everything together well, add the chicken and the chicken broth as well and let it cook all together over medium heat for 5 minutes until the mixture is heated throughout
Add the gelatin to the mixture and then transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool completely in the fridge
Alternatively you can pour 3 individual portions in to plastic bags sat inside ramekins in the freezer, as this will make it easier to place into the pastry. Only remove them from the freezer once fully frozen

To make the pastry
In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl Lightly beat the egg and in a small saucepan melt the butter
Add all this to the flour mix with some warm water (approx 1 cup) and mix well until it forms a dough
Let the dough rest (covered in a towel so that it does not dry out) for about 10 minutes
Afterwards, divide the dough into smaller pieces and roll out, flouring as needed, into approximately 15cm diameter circles around a 1/4 cm thick
Take a frozen mold of saltena filling from the freezer or a large scoop of the gelatine set filling and place it in the middle of the dough
Wet the edges of the pastry and close together sealing the filling inside well, pinching and twisting the edges to ensure a strong seal. This is a very important step as how well you close the saltenas will determine whether or not they open in the oven later when you are baking them
Add the finished salteñas to a parchment lined baking sheet
Preheat your oven to 240C degrees, line a baking sheet with tinfoil, and grease with non stick spray
Once the oven is at its maximum temperature, add the saltenas to the baking sheet, brush with a beaten egg (for shine) and place in the oven until the salteñas are browned (approx 15 minutes) if the tops are browning too quickly, place another sheet of tinfoil overtop and continue cooking. You want to be sure that the filling is completely heated through
Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before tucking in

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Ingredients for Salteñas
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Making the filling for Salteñas
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Salteñas
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Salteñas
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Salteñas
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La Paz, Bolivia
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Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
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North Yungas Road, Bolivia

Paraguay

Paraguay is a landlocked country between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. Due to it’s central location, it is sometimes referred to as Corazón de Sudamérica, “Heart of South America”.

Some interesting facts:
In Paraguay, pistol duelling is still legal as long as both parties are registered blood donors
Paraguay is the only country in the world whose national flag has different emblems on each side. The country’s Coat of Arms is on the front and its Treasury Seal is on the back with its motto, ‘Paz y Justica’ (Peace and Justice)
Following the Paraguayan War (1864–1870), the country lost 60-70% of its population through war and disease, and about 140,000 square kilometers (a quarter of its territory), to Argentina and Brazil, including the popular tourist site – Iguazu Falls
Paraguay is home to the world’s largest rodent called the Capybara, which is basically a giant guinea pig

Staple foods in Paraguay are meat, corn, manioc, milk, cheese and fish. Common recipes include Chipa (Paraguayan cheese bread) which are found everywhere, Tapa de cuadril (Rump steak), Mbeju (starch cake), Guiso popó (stew made with chicken, rice, sweet peppers and garlic), Pira caldo (fish broth), Bori Bori (thick soup with dumplings, cheese, cornmeal and sometimes chicken) and Crema (custard dessert). I made Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread), which was delicious when we first had it and even better for second helpings a day later!

Rating: 10/10

Serves: Makes 6 large slices
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

350 ml cottage cheese
1 cup of mature cheddar or a combination of your favorite kinds of cheese
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 eggs
1/8 cup of oil
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup white maiz flour (I used ‘Pan’ brand)

Preheat the oven to 190C
Combine all the ingredients and pour into a well greased round pan
Bake for 40-45 minutes
Serve warm or room temperature

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Ingredients for Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Making Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
rio-paraguay
Rio Paraguay
capybara
Capybara

Argentina

Argentina occupies almost the whole of the southern part of the South American continent, sharing land borders with Chile across the Andes to the west, and extends from Bolivia to Cape Horn. It is the second largest country in South America, after Brazil, and boasts some of the Andes highest mountains. Areas such as San Miguel de Tucuman and Mendoza are subject to earthquakes and violent windstorms. Cerro Aconcagua is the Western Hemisphere’s tallest mountain, while Laguna del Carbon is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1816, the United Provinces of the Rio Plata declared their independence from Spain. After Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay went their separate ways, the area that remained became Argentina. The country’s population and culture were heavily shaped by immigrants from throughout Europe, with Italy and Spain providing the largest number of newcomers from 1860 to 1930. Up until the mid 20th century, much of Argentina’s history was dominated by periods of internal political conflict between Federalists and Unitarians and between civilian and military factions.

Juan Domingo Peron served as President from 1946-1955. He created a political movement known as Peronism where he nationalised strategic industries and services, improved wages and working conditions, paid the full external debt and achieved nearly full employment. The economy, however, began to decline in 1950 because of over expenditure. His highly popular wife, Eva Peron, played a central political role. She pushed congress to enact women’s suffrage in 1947, and developed an unprecedented social assistance to the most vulnerable sectors of society. However, her declining health did not allow her to run for vice-presidency in 1951, and she died of cancer the following year. Peron went into exile in 1955 for 18 years. In 1973 he won the election with his third wife Isabel as vice-president, he died in July 1974 and was succeeded by his wife.

Buenos Aires is the large cosmopolitan capital, with the Plaza de Mayor being the central area, lined with stately 19th-century buildings including Casa Rosada, the iconic balconied presidential palace. Iguazu National Park covers an area of subtropical rainforest in Argentina’s Misiones province, on the border with Brazil. The renowned Iguazu Falls encompass many separate cascades, including the iconic Garganta del Diablo or “Devils Throat”. The surrounding park features diverse wildlife including coatis, jaguars and toucans, plus trails and viewing platforms.

Tango is possibly Argentina’s greatest contribution to the outside world, a steamy dance that’s been described as making love in the vertical position! Football remains one of the most popular Argentinian sports, around 90% of the population would consider themselves as fans of a club. One of the most famous teams is La Boca whose home ground is in Buenos Aires, but there are several very good teams within the country. Tennis is also quite popular and Argentina has produced some of the best names in the sport – Guillermo Vilas in the 70’s and 80’s, Sabatini in the 90’s and today, the likes of David Nalbandian and Guillermo Coria, nicknamed El Mayo (The Magician in Spanish).

Steak is synonymous with Argentina and they are the fourth largest consumer of meat in the world, after Australia, the US and Israel. Asado is the name for the Argentine BBQ, meaning both the technique and the social event. An asado usually consists of beef alongside various other meats, which are cooked on a grill, called a parrilla, or an open fire. Some popular recipes I came across include Locro (meat, bean and vegetable stew), Choripán (chorizo sandwich), Empanadas (little pies), Sandwiches de miga (thin white bread with filling such as ham and cheese), Dulce de leche (their national spread used to fill cakes and pancakes) and Hojaldre (pastry covered with meringue). I made Asado de tira (BBQ short ribs) with chimichurri sauce, which we cooked on an open BBQ with hot coals. Despite buying the best ribs I could from the butchers, there were parts of the meat that were beautifully flavoured but other parts were a bit gristly.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10-15 minutes

900g beef short ribs
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

Chimicurri sauce
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp dried oregano
25ml extra-virgin olive oil
12ml cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp chilli flakes

Take the beef ribs out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature
Light the coals on your BBQ (not gas) and leave them until they are covered with grey ash
Season the ribs very liberally all over with salt and freshly ground pepper
Place the ribs directly over coals and cook, turning frequently, until charred on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes total.
Insert a thermometer into thickest part of steak and they’re done when they register 125°F
Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes
Serve with the chimichurri sauce

Chimicurri sauce
Place parsley, garlic, and oregano in to a mini food processor and pulse until finely chopped
Transfer to a bowl and whisk in oil, vinegar, salt, and red pepper flakes

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Ingredients for Asado de tira (BBQ short ribs)
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Beef ribs
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Cooking Asado de tira (BBQ short ribs)
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sado de tira (BBQ short ribs) with chimichurri sauce
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Ingredients for Chimichurri sauce
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Chimichurri sauce
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Iguazu Falls
casa-rosada-buenos-aires
Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires
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Argentinian Tango dancers

Colombia

Colombia is situated at the northern tip of South America. With very diverse geography it boasts lush rainforests, Andean peaks, savannahs and coffee plantations. Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil which is approximately 7 times bigger. About 10% of the species of the Earth live in Colombia, including over 1,900 species of bird, 10% of the world’s mammals species and 14% of the amphibian species. The Malpelo fauna and flora sanctuary is a marine park off the coast of Colombia, a Unesco world heritage site since 2006, it is widely recognised as one of the best dive sites in the world with sightings of a wide variety of sharks.

After decades of civil war, Colombia has been making significant improvements to security which have made it more safely accessible for travellers. Bogota, the now vibrant and artistic capital, is experiencing a rebirth and Cartagena old town offers a taste of colonial life. For the more adventurous trek through rainforests and mountains to the ruins of Cuidad Perdida (lost city), go white water rafting in San Gil or take a mud bath inside the crater of Volcan de Lodo El Totumo.

The cuisine of Colombia takes influence from the indigenous ‘Chibcha’ people, along with Spanish, African, Arab and some Asian cuisines. Dishes include Arroz con coco (rice with coconut), Almojábana (bread rolls), Sudado de Pollo (chicken stew), Lechona Tolimense (whole pork stuffed with rice, peas, potatoes and spices), Arepas de Queso (corn cakes served with cheese) and Crema de Mazorca (corn soup). I decided to make Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork) from the Valle del Cauca region of Colombia, which we had with roasted potatoes. It had a crispy texture and nice flavour.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes + 3 hours or overnight marinating
Cook time: 6 minutes

2 pork loin steaks without bone
Salt
Pepper
1 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp spring onions, finely chopped
3 tbsp onions, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tbsp paella seasoning
2 eggs
1/2 cup bread crumbs
3 tbsp vegetable oil

Put the pork steaks between sheets of clingfilm and pound them until each piece is about ¼” thick (or ask the butcher to do this for you!)
Place the pork steaks in a large plastic bag and add the onions, spring onions garlic and cumin powder, shaking the bag gently to be sure the meat is covered. Let pork marinate for at least 3 hours or overnight
Place flour, salt, pepper and paella seasoning on a plate and mix
Beat the eggs and put on a second plate
On a third plate place the bread crumbs
Remove the pork from the marinade and pat dry with kitchen towels
One at the time coat the pork with the flour mixture, dip in the eggs and coat with bread crumbs (you can double dip them in the egg and breadcrumbs for an extra crisp texture)
In a large non-stick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, put the pork steaks in and fry about 3 minutes per side or until golden
Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen towels
Serve with your preferred type of potatoes and vegetables or salad

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Ingredients for Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets) (Although there is saffron in the photo, I used paella seasoning)

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Marinating the pork

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Making Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets)

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Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets)

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Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets)

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Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets)

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Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets) with roast potatoes

Catedral Primada on Plaza Bolívar, Bogota
Catedral Primada, Plaza Bolivar, Bogota

Cartagena street
Colonial street in Cartagena

Ciudad Perdida Colombia
Ciudad Perdida, Colombia

Taking a mud bath in Volcan de Lodo El Totumo, Colombia
Mud bath in Volcan de Lodo El Totumo

Venezuela

Venezuela, located in northern South America has a 1,700 mile coastline and is the 33rd largest country in the world. It is rich in natural resources such as petroleum, natural gas, iron ore and gold. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, surpassing Saudi Arabia with 297.6 billion barrels in 2013. More than 60% of Venezuela’s international reserves is in gold, most of which, is located in London.

A few facts
Venezuela has more Miss Universes and more Miss Worlds than any other country. Venezuelan beauties have won the Miss Universe title 7 times, Miss World 6 times, Miss International 6 times, and Miss Earth 2 times till date.
Venezuela’s name comes from the Italian word “Veneziola” that literally means “piccola Venezia” (little Venice)
Lake Maracaibo which is connected to the Gulf of Venezuela at the northern end is the largest lake in South America and one of the oldest on earth (20-40 million years old)
The Monument to the Virgen de la Paz en Trujillo, Venezuela is the world’s highest statue of the Virgin Mary
The Angel Falls or Kerepakupai Meru means “waterfall of the deepest place” and is the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, with a height of 979 metres (3,212 ft) and a plunge of 807 metres (2,648 ft).

Staple foods in Venezuela include corn, rice, plantain, yams, beans and several meats. Recipes I came across were Cachitos (ham croissants), Pabellón criollo (shredded beef with rice, beans and plantains) , Arepas (corn cakes) , Mandocas (corn fritters) , Pasticho (Venezuelan lasagne), Bien me sabe (coconut cake), Pisca Andina (chicken stew) and Tajadas (fried plantains). I opted to make Butter cookies which came out a little thinner than I’d hoped, but were tasty nonetheless.

Rating: 8/10

Makes 12
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

170g butter
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Clarify the butter by placing it in a small pan over low heat, until melted
Let it simmer until the foam goes to the top of the melted butter
Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for about 5 minutes
Skim the foam from the top and discard. Pour it into a bowl using a fine mesh strainer
With an electric mixer, beat the butter for about 3 minutes
Add the sugar, vanilla and beat until well blended
Add the flour, and continue beating for 2 minutes
Form the dough into a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes (don’t leave it any longer or it will become too hard)
Preheat the oven to 350 F
Roll 2 tablespoons of dough between your palms into balls and place the balls on a large greased baking sheet about 1/2-inch apart
Slightly flatten the balls using your hands
Bake the cookies until golden on top, about 20 minutes
Let them cool for about 5 minutes on the baking sheet
Dust the cookies with icing sugar

Ecuador

Ecuador or “the Republic of the Equator” is in northwest South America and includes the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, 500 miles west of the mainland. It is known for its rich ecology, hosting many endemic plants and animals. There are 18 main islands in the Galápagos home to many unique species, most famous are the giant tortoises after which the islands are named (‘galapago’ means tortoise in Spanish), the marine iguana lizard and the Galapagos penguin, one of the smallest penguins in the world.

A few other interesting facts:
According to the CIA factbook because the earth is not a perfect sphere and has an equatorial bulge, the highest point on the planet closest to the sun is Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, not Mount Everest, which is merely the highest peak above sea level. It is 1.5 miles higher than Everest.
Quito is the highest capital on Earth at 2,850m above sea level
The Galapagos Islands and the city of Quito were the first 2 sites on the list of Unesco World Heritage sites
Ecuador is the leading exporter of Bananas accounting for approximately 29%
Oil accounts for over half of Ecuador’s export earnings

Some popular Ecuadorian dishes include Locro de Papas (potato soup), Llapingachos (Potato cakes served with eggs, avocado, chorizo), Seco de Chivo (goat stew), Hornado (roast pig), Encocado de Camarones (prawns in coconut milk) and Patacone (fried green plantains stuffed in pancake). I made Cebiche Guayaquileño (raw prawns cured with lemon) which had a wonderfully sweet and zingy flavour. Lovely on a hot summer’s day!

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes

200g raw prawns with shells and no heads
2 cups of water
1 bay leaf
1 clove of garlic
1 spring onion, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 large tomato, deseeded and diced
1/2 small red onion, sliced in half moons
Juice of 1/2 lemon for the onions
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1& 1/2 lemons
1/3 cup of prawn stock (see below for preparation) or 1/2 fish stock cube
1/4 cup ketchup
fresh coriander, chopped

In a pan combine the water, bay leaf, garlic, spring onions and prawns. Turn the heat to medium and cook the prawns until you see them beginning to turn pink, about 3 minutes
Turn off the heat and remove the prawns from the water. Keep this water
Peel and devein the prawns saving the prawns shells.
(I used raw prawns that didn’t have shells on so I added 1/2 fish stock cube to the water instead of the shells)
Put the prawn shells back in the water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and strain the prawn stock
In a small bowl, combine the onions with juice of 1/2 lemon and a pinch of salt. Marinate for 15 minutes
In medium bowl combine the diced tomatoes, prawns, onions, ketchup, lemon and orange juices and 1/3 cup of prawn stock
Mix all the ingredients and adjust seasonings as necessary. Add the chopped cilantro and stir it into the ceviche
Chill for about an hour in the fridge and serve

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Ingredients for Cebiche Guayaquileño
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Cebiche Guayaquileño
Quito Ecuador
Quito Ecuador
Chimborazo Ecuador
Chimborazo Ecuador
Sunset in the Galapagos
Sunset in the Galapagos
Marine iguana lizard Galapagos
Marine iguanas Galapagos
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Cebiche Guayaquileño

Brazil

Brazil, the world’s fifth largest country and the largest in South America. With a coastline of 4,655 miles it borders all other South American countries except Ecuador and Chile.
The Amazon rain forest is the world’s largest, recognised as having the greatest biological diversity in the world, containing one-fifth of the world’s freshwater reserves and producing one-third of the earth’s oxygen. About sixty percent of the Amazon lies in Brazil.

Some interesting facts:
Brazil has been the largest producer of coffee for the last 150 years
92% of all new sold cars in Brazil use ethanol as fuel, which is produced from sugar cane
Voting is mandatory in Brazil
Brazil has the third largest prison population in the world behind China and the US
Brazil is the only country in the world that has the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn running through it
Rio de Janeiro was once the capital of Portugal
Sex change surgeries are free under Brazil’s public health system since 2008 and almost 20% of Rio de Janeiro’s males are gay or bisexual

Rio de Janeiro will be the first South American city to host the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. The 2016 Summer Olympics will take place from the 5th – 21st August. More than 10,500 athletes from 206 countries, including first timers Kosovo and South Sudan are due to take part. The games will feature 28 Olympic sports with 306 sets of medals, across 38 different venues.

Brazilian cuisine varies greatly by region, developed from indigenous, European, and African influences. Recipes I came across include Moqueca (seafood stew), Feijoada (black beans stewed with pork), Salgadinhos (salty snacks), Pastel (filled pastry), Pão de queijo (cheese puffs), Galinhada (chicken and rice stew) and Churrasco (barbequed meat) . Having not cooked many sweet dishes during this challenge, I opted to make Brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolate bonbons), the national truffle of Brazil. There were a fair few tasting volunteers for these little sweet treats!

Rating: 9/10

Serves: Makes 20 – 28 (depending on size)
Prep time: 25 mins
Cook time: 5 mins

1 (397g or 14oz) can sweet condensed milk
4 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
30g butter, plus a little more for rolling balls
pinch of salt
Good quality chocolate sprinkles

In a small sauce pan mix the sweet condensed milk, the cocoa powder, the salt and the butter
Bring the sauce pan to the stove and heat it over medium-low heat
Cook it, mixing constantly (this is important, otherwise it will burn!) until it thickens, about 5 minutes
Run your wooden spoon (or spatula) through the middle of the mixture. If it takes a while for the mixture to move, then your brigadeiro is ready
Let it cool to room temperature
In a plate or bowl, spread your sprinkles
Once cool, grease your hands with butter and roll the brigadeiros into little balls. Use half a tablespoon as measurement, but you can make your balls as big or small as you’d like!
Roll the brigadeiro balls into the sprinkles and place them in paper/foil candy cups
Enjoy!

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Ingredients for Brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolate bonbons)
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Brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolate bonbons)
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Brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolate bonbons)
Rio De Janeiro2
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Amazon rainforest
Amazon rainforest
Sancho Bay in Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, Tripadvisor worlds' best beach in 2014
Sancho Bay in Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, TripAdvisor world’s best beach in 2014

 

Chile

I’m lucky enough to have been to Chile and it really is one of the most stunning countries in the world with a remarkable variety of climates and landscapes. It stretches for 4,000 km down the west coast of South America between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, but averages only 175 km wide. Chilean territory also includes the Pacific islands of Juan Fernández, Salas y Gómez, Desventuradas, and Easter Island in Oceania. Chile claims about 1,250,000 square km of Antarctica, although all claims are suspended under the Antarctic Treaty. 80% of Chile is covered by mountains.
The diverse climate of Chile ranges from the world’s driest desert in the north—the Atacama Desert—through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, humid subtropical in Easter Island, to an oceanic climate, including alpine tundra and glaciers in the east and south.

Some facts about this extremely diverse nation:
The Atacama Desert is the driest place in the world. It witnessed the longest record of 40 years without rain.
The world’s southernmost city “Puerto Williams” is in Chile.
Chile has the second largest volcano chain in the world after Indonesia and Ojos del Salado Volcano, located on the border of Chile and Argentina, is the highest active volcano in the world.
Escondida is the largest copper mine in the world and Chile produces a third of the world’s copper.
It ranks 5th in the world for wine production, at 1,832,000 tonnes per annum.
Gabriela Mistral was the first Latin American to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945.
Chile’s national bird, the Andean condor is the largest flying bird in the world by combined measurement of weight and wingspan. It has a maximum wingspan of 3.3 m.
The largest bunch of grapes ever grown was by Bozzolo Y Perut Ltda of Santiago, Chile weighing 9.4 kg (20 lb 11½oz).

Having had first hand experience, there are so many attractions for the visitor. My highlights would include the breathtaking Torres del Paine National Park, meandering up the steep hills in Valparaiso, the peace and tranquility watching El Tatio Geysers in the Atacama desert at sun break and sipping wine whilst watching the beautiful sunset at La Serena beach.

Chilean cuisine takes influence from traditional Spanish, as well as the indigenous Mapuche culture. Recipes in Chile are notable for the variety of flavours and ingredients, with the country’s diverse geography and climate. There are many regional specialities including asado (barbequed meat) in the north, Pastel de choclo (layered pie with meat and corn) from the central valley and Mapuche chicken in the south. Other popular recipes include cazuela (stew with fish, meat or poultry), Chicharrón de papa (meat and fat from llama and lamb, boiled and then fried) and Leche asada (baked milk dessert with caramel). I decided to make empanadas, as I remember enjoying them very much when I was in Chile. They can be filled with a variety of ingredients, but traditionally they are filled with minced beef & onions. The recipe I found also included raisins, olives & hard boiled egg in the filling, which I’m not a fan of, so I opted to leave these out. The pastry was very simple to make and easy to work with. I will definitely be experimenting with different fillings.

Rating: 9/10

Makes 10 – 12
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 1 hour 10 mins

For the dough:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup warm water
2 tsp table salt
1 lb all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
3 oz melted butter

For the beef filling:
2 tbsp of oil
2 lb good quality minced beef
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dry oregano
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
1/2 tsp of cumin
1/2 cup water
1 large onion chopped
1 tbsp all-purpose flour

Optional other filling ingredients:
20 black olives, chopped
40 raisins
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

To make the dough:
Mix together the milk, water and salt and stir until salt is completely dissolved
In a large bowl combine the flour and egg yolks, and mix using a knife
Add butter and gradually add the milk & water mix to form a dough
Knead dough for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic
At this point you can put it in clingfilm in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

To make the filling:
In a large frying pan, heat oil at medium to high heat
Fry the meat for 3 minutes without mixing
Turn over and brown for another couple of minutes
Add paprika, oregano, salt, pepper and cumin, and mix well
Add water and chopped onion
Cover and cook for 30 minutes on low heat
Add flour and mix well, modifying the seasoning if you like
Turn off heat, leave to cool and refrigerate

To assemble:
Preheat oven to 175c
Separate dough into 10 – 12 portions and cover with a clean kitchen cloth
Working each portion individually, shape into a ball and with a rolling pin smooth out the dough to about the size of a side plate (8 inches)
Fill each with 2 tablespoons of beef (you can also add a few raisins, chopped olives & chopped hard boiled egg if you like them)
Make sure to release trapped air before closing. Lightly brush the edges with milk, press firmly and fold. Brush the top of the empanadas with egg before putting them in the oven.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until browned, keeping a close eye on them. If they bubble up or swell, poke with a toothpick, so that they don’t come undone or open up.
Serve hot

 

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Torres del Paine
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El Tatio geysers, Atacama desert
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Maoi statues, Easter Island

Guyana

Guyana situated on the northern mainland of South America is the only English speaking country in the continent.  It gained independence in 1966 and officially became a republic within the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1970.
It is a member of the Caribbean community (CARICOM), which has it’s headquarters in Guyana’s capital, Georgetown.
Guyana means “land of many waters”.  80% of the country is made up of rainforest.  Kaieteur Falls is the world’s widest single drop waterfall, located on the Potaro River in the Kaieteur National Park and is about four times higher than the Niagara Falls.

90% of the population lives in a narrow coastal strip, which makes up approximately 10% of the nation’s total land area.

In 1973,  Jim Jones, founder of ’The People’s Temple’, leased some land in the Guyanese jungle and set up the Jonestown compound.  Hundreds of People’s Temple members flew to Guyana and moved in to the compound.  It was meant to be utopia, but it was overcrowded and cabins were segregated by gender, meaning married couples were forced to live apart.  It was run like a prison encircled with armed guards.  On Nov 18th 1978,  Jim Jones congregated the group and urged them to commit ‘revolutionary’ suicide.  Cyanide and valium were mixed with a flavoured powder to make the lethal drink.  The Jonestown massacre resulted in the deaths of 912 people, 276 were children.  Jones himself died from a single gunshot wound to the head – it is unclear if he did this himself.
The cuisine of Guyana is diverse, taking influence from Africa, Creole, Indian, Portugese and Chinese among others.  Popular dishes are curry, cookup rice (rice & peas), Pepperpot (Guyanese spicy stew) and black cake.  I decided to make Roti (flatbreads).
Rating: 10/10

As Mum & Dad were joining us for dinner, I served the Rotis alongside the South African sosaties, Lebanese tabbouleh and salad & raita.  Overall the meal was rated 9/10.

Makes 6 rotis
Prep time: 10 minutes + 45 minutes standing time for dough
Cook time: 40 minutes

1 cup self raising flour
2 cups plain flour
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup oil
1/4 cup melted butter

Mix flours, salt and water to form a soft dough. Knead until smooth and let sit for 15 mins.
Roll dough into a rectangular shape about 1/8 inch in thickness.
Place oil and butter together in a bowl. Spread oil and butter mixture liberally over the dough, making sure entire surface of dough is oiled.
Starting from the longer side, roll up the dough tightly.
Slice into six pieces. Scrunch the oily ends of the dough together (like making a pork ball) and then tuck them in so you end up with a round ball.
Place on a tray with the joined side down.
Let them sit for at least half hour.
Place a crepe or omlette pan over a medium heat.
While the pan heats up roll out the dough to a flat, thin circle, one at a time.
Place the dough into the ungreased pan and cook for 1 minute, then flip.
Liberally brush the oil mixture on the roti and after 30 seconds, flip again.
Now brush the other side of the roti with the oil mixture and flip again.
Cook for an additonal minute, then take off the heat and place in a covered bowl.

Shake in covered bowl vigoruously.
This will make the roti fluffy and should reveal the layers.
Continue this process until all the roti is cooked.

Uruguay

Uruguay is situated on the east coast of South America, sharing borders with Brazil and Argentina.
Often called the Switzerland of South America for it’s stable democracy and social benefits such as free education.
Uruguay is ranked first in Latin America for democracy, peace, lack of corruption and quality of living.  It boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world with 98.1% for adults.  The Economist named Uruguay “country of the year” in 2013.  It is regarded as one of the most liberal nations in the world and most socially developed.  In December 2013, Uruguay became the world’s first country to legalise the marijuana trade.
Uruguay is the only country that keeps track of 100 per cent of its cattle, of which, apparently there are 3 to every person!
The Uruguay national football team has won the FIFA World Cup on two occasions – at the inaugural tournament in 1930 and again in 1950.  It has also won gold for football at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, which are the only gold medals they have ever won so far.
“Liberta o Murte” is Uruguay’s motto – “freedom or death”.
Thanks to it’s relatively temperate climate and stretches of beaches, it attracts many tourists each year.  Highlights include Montevideo, it’s culturally rich capital city, idyllic fishing villages such as Cabo Polonio, gaucho cowboys and tasty Parillas (steakhouses).
Beef is a major part of Uruguayan cuisine with Asado being very popular (a BBQ of different types of beef).  Also empanada (a meat filled turnover), Ñoquis (gnocchi which is traditionally eaten on the 29th of each month as years ago they only had flour & potatoes left at the end of the month!)

I opted to cook ‘Chivito’, Uruguay’s national sandwich!

Rating: 9/10.  It would’ve been a 10/10 if I had chosen a better bun like ciabatta.  It is important that you buy quality ingredients for this recipe.  Don’t scrimp on the steak, bacon or mozzarella!
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
2 burger buns or ciabatta (or your preferred type of bread roll)
2 beef fillet steaks
2 pieces of bacon
2 slices of deli ham
2 tomato slices
2 slices of mozzarella cheese
2 eggs
1-2 tablespoons butter
Lettuce
Mayonnaise
Ketchup
Salt and pepper to taste

Place a large skillet over medium heat and cook the bacon slices until crispy. Set aside on paper towels to cool.
Drain the excess bacon fat out of the skillet.
Sprinkle each steak with coarse salt, and use a mallet to pound the steaks. Heat the skillet over medium high heat until hot, and place steaks on the skillet.
Cook for about 1 and a half minutes per side, or until desired doneness.
Set aside on paper towels to rest.
Wipe the skillet clean. Melt the butter over medium heat, and fry eggs sunnyside up until desired doneness.
Preheat the grill.
Assemble sandwiches: Spread the inside of buns with ketchup and mayonnaise.
Place lettuce slices over bottom half of buns.
Top with a slice of beef, 2 bacon slices, a slice of ham, a slice of tomato, and a slice of mozzarella.
Place sandwiches (uncovered) under the grill briefly (keeping a close eye on them) to melt the cheese.
Remove from the grill and add the fried egg over the cheese, then top with the other half of the bun.
Serve immediately.

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Ingredients
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Cooking the steak
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Seared steak
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Chivito
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Chivito
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Chivito
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Asador cooking Asado
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Uruguayan beach

Suriname

Suriname is the smallest country in South America, bordered by Guyana, French Guiana and Brazil.  It has a population of c.542,000, most of whom live on the country’s north coast, in and around the capital and largest city, Paramaribo. In 2002, the historic inner city of Paramaribo was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral in Paramaribo is the biggest wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere and is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paramaribo.  It is 59.1m long, 14.6m high, 16.5m wide and reaches 44m high in the tower up to the bronze cross.

Tropical rainforests make up about 80% of Suriname´s total landscape.  One of the top tourist attractions, from April to August, is watching the giant leatherback turtles lay their eggs on the beach at Galibi Nature Reserve.
Suriname is a member of the Carribbean Community (CARICOM), officially a Dutch speaking country and is the only territory outside Europe where Dutch is spoken by the majority of the population.
Through the services of ‘Cynthia rent a house’, a 4 star, 1 bed apartment within a luxury resort, 20 min drive from Paramaribo, will cost €500 per month for long term rental.

The current president Desi Bouterse is a controversial figure.  In 2007 he was put on trial for allegedly ordering the killing of 15 political opponents as military ruler in 1982.  The case was put on hold when parliament passed a law giving him & his co-defendents blanket immunity for human rights violations committed during military rule.  In 1999, he was convicted in the Netherlands to 11 years imprisonment for cocaine trafficking, but he remains free in Suriname.

The cuisine of Suriname is a combination of many international cuisines including East Indian, African, Indonesian, Chinese, Dutch, Jewish, Portuguese and Amerindian.  I came across Pastei (creole-style chicken pot pie), Bami goreng (fried noodles) & Roti (flat bread).  However, within the Surinamese community, in both Surinam and The Netherlands, Pom is the most popular and best known festive dish.  It was introduced by the Portuguese-Jewish plantation owners as the Portuguese potato (“pomme de terre”) oven dish. Because the potato did not grow in Suriname and had to be imported it was replaced with the root of the tayer plant – pomtajer.  I used potato in my ‘Pom’ as I didn’t fancy my chances of finding pomtayer in the supermarket and because Bern is obsessed with potatoes!  I found many variations of the recipe in my research so this is my take on ‘Pom’.
Rating: 8/10

 

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
For 2 people
3 med sized potatoes, peeled and grated (remove most of the excess water with a tea towel)
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 tbsp brown sugar 1
/2 tsp nutmeg
Pinch turmeric
Salt & ground white pepper
1 tsp chicken stock powder or cube
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp chopped parsley
250g chicken chopped in to bite size pieces
50g butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes

 

Melt 30g of butter in a pan and saute the onion on a med-low heat for 5 minutes, then set aside.
Add a little oil to the pan and add the chicken on a med heat. After a few minutes, add a pinch of salt, white pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, tsp chicken stock powder, half the lime juice and cook for a further few mins.
Add the onion back into the pan and stir.
Add the chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup water, mix well and let it simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the grated potato in a bowl with the rest of the lime juice, orange juice, sugar, parsley, a pinch of nutmeg and turmeric and mix well.
Preheat oven to 180c / 350f.
Butter 2 small oven proof dishes or 1 medium sized dish (enough for 2 large portions).
Spread each dish with a layer of the potato mix, using about half.
Let the chicken & tomato mix cool a little, then put a layer of chicken into each dish on top of the spuds.
Drain any excess liquid from the remaining potatoes and then spread the rest over the chicken.
Dot with the remaining butter and bake for 1 hour, until golden brown.