Chilean Cuisine — Apio y Palta: Celery and Avocado Salad

Chilean food traditions have developed from a combination of locally available food sources and the native cultures’ use of them, as well as Spanish influence dating from the time of the conquistadors in the sixteenth century.  So far, that makes Chilean food origins sound pretty much like the rest of the Americas south of Texas; Chile’s unique geography and relationship with the sea set it apart however.

Chile quick facts:

  • Capital: Santiago
  • Population: 17,772,871 (2014 estimate)
  • Notable Chileans: Pablo Neruda, Marcelo Rios, Arturo Vidal, Gus Fring

Chile’s lands stretch over 2,500 miles down the Pacific coast of South America, and with the country’s long, narrow shape, there is no point in Chile that is more than about 200 miles from the coastline.  The climate varies widely over that distance, which runs in an almost direct north-south line.  To put that distance in perspective, the latitudes of Chile’s northern and southern tips correspond approximately to the northern latitudes of Acapulco, Mexico and Ketchikan, Alaska, respectively.  As a result of this coastal proximity, nearly all Chileans have access to inexpensive, abundant seafood.  Shellfish are popular, and local varieties include the Chilean razor clam, Mesodesma donacium (similar to the Pacific razor clam found on our Washington coast):

Image from Wikimedia Commons

an abalone-like sea snail variety known locally as loco:

Image from Wikimedia Commons

…and the southern king crab centolla:

Image from Wikimedia Commons

With a fertile cental valley region, Chilean agriculture gives local cooks access to a variety of produce.  Local fruits like cherimoya and lúcuma and staples like corn, potatoes, and quinoa are featured in one form or another in most meals.  A variety of the avocado, called palta in Chilean Spanish, garnishes many stews and entrees in Chile, and is a featured player in the popular salad apio y palta (“celery and avocado,” recipe follows).

Immigration from the late nineteenth century to the present, notably from the British, Germans, and Italians, has left its stamp on Chilean culture and food.  Italian immigrants created one of the national dishes machas a la parmesana, roasted razor clams on the half-shell with Parmesan cheese.  From the British comes the tradition of onces, Chilean tea time, where sandwiches, pastries, and hearty snacks are served.  One of the snacks likely to be enjoyed during onces is kuchen, German cake introduced by immigrants from the 1850s onward.

Apio y palta is a very simple dish.  Diced avocado and celery is dressed with a simple vinaigrette of lemon juice and olive oil in its most basic form, like the version featured on the recipe database The Latin Kitchen.  Different versions we found might add a pinch of cumin, paprika, or cayenne pepper; or maybe some chopped scallions or onions, but the salad is surprisingly homogenous among Chilean cooks.  We embellished ours with some chopped green onions and acilantro leaves, and found that apio y palta really needs no further adornments.

Apio y Palta

adapted from Three Generations of Chilean Cuisine by Mirtha Umaña-Murray and from The South American Table: The Flavor and Soul of Authentic Home Cooking from Patagonia to Rio de Janeiro by Maria Baez Kijac

SERVES 2 TO 4

  • 2 ripe but not mushy avocados, diced
  • 5 ribs celery, diced
  • 3 green onions and one small handful cilantro leaves, minced
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • about 3 Tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Prepare yourself for the easiest recipe on The World Cup of Food:

Step one was to combine all ingredients in a large bowl:

apioypalta

Step two was to eat the salad.

We would never in a million years have combined celery and avocado, but the creamy avocado and the crunchy celery are perfect for each other.  The lemon and olive oil dressing serves only to highlight the main ingredients, resulting in a light-tasting, fresh, crunchy delight.  Apio y palta was the perfect side for our otherwise rich Chilean meal.

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