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
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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

Uzbekistan

Dominated by the Qizilqum desert, Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s most populous country.  About 80 percent of the country is flat desert, with mountain ranges rising in the far southeast and northeast.  The world’s largest open-pit gold mine is at Muruntau in the Qizilqum desert.
The oldest cities of Uzbekistan are more than 2,750 years old, and the most famous of them – Samarkand, is one of the oldest cities in the world.
Uzbekistan, along with Liechtenstein, is one of the only two doubly landlocked countries in the world.
Tashkent, the capital, has a metro station featuring chandeliers, marble pillars and ceilings, granite, and engraved metal. It has been called one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.  Along with Tashkent, some of the key highlights of Uzbekistan include The Ark at Bukhara (a royal town within a town dating back to the 5th century), the turquoise-tiled Kalta Minor Minaret, the desert citadels of Khorezm and Samarkand’s Registan Square, one of the world’s great architectural feats.
Under Soviet rule there was intensive production of cotton and grain leading to overuse of agrochemicals and depleted water supplies.  The land has been left degraded and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry.  Since it’s independence in 1991 the country is seeking to gradually lessen it’s dependency on cotton, while developing mineral and petroleum reserves.
Bread and noodles are of significant importance in the cuisine of Uzbekistan, thanks to much grain farming.  Mutton is the most popular meat choice due to a large sheep population.  Recipes I came across include Plov (pilaf of rice, meat, carrots & onions), shorpa (soup of mutton & vegetables), dimlama (stew) and manty (dumplings).  I opted to cook Samsas (savoury filled pastry, similar to samosas).
Rating: 7/10 – even though I thought I’d filled them well, I might be tempted to make less and fill them more!
Makes 8 small samsas
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
225g ground meat (I used ground lamb, but you can use a mixture of beef & lamb)
1 medium sized onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp salt
1 sheet of ready rolled puff pastry dough
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon olive oil
In a medium frying pan, cook the onion and garlic with 1 tablespoon of olive oil on a low heat until the onion is soft.
Add the ground meat to the frying pan, and cook the meat until browned about 5 minutes and take it off the heat.
Add the coriander, salt, ground cumin, and rub the cumin seeds between your fingers.
Let the meat & spices cool for 30 minutes (or more) before forming the samsas.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll the puff pastry so it is slightly thinner and cut into 8 equally sized pieces.
Mix the egg yolk with a few drops of water in a bowl.
Divide the meat into 8 portions.
Put one portion of the meat onto half of each piece of pastry. Brush the edges with the beaten egg mix.
Fold the dough in half and push the ends of the dough together to close the pastry.
Coat the tops of the pastry with beaten egg mix.
Cook for about 25-30 minutes until the dough is brown.
Let them cool a little and serve warm.

Cape Verde

Situated off the west coast of Africa, Cape Verde is made up of 10 volcanic islands and 5 islets.  It was discovered by the Portuguese mariners in 1456.  Half of the population live on the largest island, Santiago.  The combined area of all the islands is 1,557 square miles.  It forms part of the Macronesia group of islands, which also includes the Canaries and the Azores.  Cape Verde’s best beaches are found on the islands of Boa Vista and Sal.  Although Sao Pedro on São Vicente is also worth a visit.

Cape Verde is home to the Mediterranean monk seal, the northern bald ibis, the green sea turtle, and the hawksbill turtle, all of which sadly, are endangered.

Mussolini the Italian dictator bought the rights to build an airport on Sal, Cape Verde as he needed to refuel his aircraft on the flights between Europe and South America. Portugal bought the airport back off him in 1945.

Corn is the staple food of Cape Verde. The national dish, cachupa, is a stew of hominy, beans, and whatever meat or vegetables may be available.  Other recipes I came across were Buzio (fish stew), Bol de cus-cus (corn & sugar cake) , Cado de Peixe ou Caiderado (vegetables cooked with fish) and Canjo (soup). I decided to cook Gufong (fried pastry) and served them with a chocolate sauce.

Rating: 6/10

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 cup semolina flour
1 cup plain flour
Pinch of salt
Pinch of baking powder
Vegetable oil for frying

In a saucepan combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil.
Once it is boiling add in the semolina flour until it is well mixed then add the plain flour.
Add a dash of salt and baking powder and continue mixing until everything is well combined.
Let the mixture cool.
Once the mixture is cool, take a small piece of the dough and roll them into small finger sized logs on a floured surface.
Heat up your oil in a frying pan or you can use a deep fryer
Cook until golden brown.
Drain on a paper towel
Serve warm with coffee or tea and if you would like drizzle some chocolate syrup and powdered sugar to taste.