Farm to Table, Recipe: Pan de Yuca (Yucca Bread)

Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest offers a wide range of exotic culinary delights, but little did I know that the strangest recipe that I would encounter there is a dish made using only one ingredient. During a weekend excursion into the Oriente, the Amazonian region of the country, our group stayed in a remote thatch-roofed lodge several hours downriver from any of the nearest towns. Between jungle treks, river boat tours, and being immersed in our natural surroundings, one memorable outing was a visit to an indigenous homestead to witness the production of pan-fried yucca bread.

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The preparation of yucca bread truly is a direct farm-to-table process in this case, and it was fascinating to witness every step of the way. We arrived via motor canoe to visit a local family living along the riverbank, and began with a tour of their food garden. Alongside their house they were cultivating coffee plants, cacao trees, and various fruits and herbs. Our main interest, however, was their yucca plantation.

Having seen plenty of yucca root being sold in markets all across South America, I never anticipated getting to experience the harvesting process for myself. The modest-sized tree that’s selected gets yanked above the soil after which its enormous roots are hacked off with a machete. Peeling the coarse bark-like skin off of the roots was surprisingly effortless as it slipped right off in your hands. Afterwards the smooth and tender white interior of the root was rinsed and prepped for bread-making.

Next we brought the roots into a small open-aired room where we began grating them into a large carved wooden receptacle (batea) with a sharp metal grater (rallador), which was certainly an arm workout. Once all of the roots were grated into a paste, it was gathered and placed into an innovative draining apparatus made from the bark of a cotton tree (mata frio). Once folded into the container, this was hung from a rung in the ceiling and twisted by hand until all of the liquid had been drained out of it.

After repeating this step several times until all of the yucca paste had been dried, what remained was a fine white flour. We then sifted this through a handmade sifter (cernidor) until it was completely uniform throughout. At this point we could begin the cooking process. A small fire had been lit in the corner of the room with some rocks holding up a large stone plate (tiesto) above the embers. Using half of a coconut shell, we placed a scoop of yucca flour directly onto the plate and used a flat wooden paddle to spread it into a circle, and then flattened it down with the round side of the coconut shell. Once several minutes had passed, the yucca bread easily came off the pan and could be flipped over for another few minutes until completion.

The “bread” could then be eaten with both savory and sweet toppings, rolled into a tortilla, or just enjoyed plain as a snack or side to a regular meal. Yucca is a dietary staple for many South Americans, but especially in the Amazon where indigenous people live off the land with only the foods they are able to harvest for themselves. This starchy tuber, also known as cassava, is similar to a fibrous potato and is quite versatile to cook with in a variety of dishes. Carbohydrate-rich yucca is high in dietary fiber and has more protein than other tropical starches like yams, potatoes, and plantains. It contains a mix of vitamins, minerals, and plant-based nutrients including vitamin K and some B vitamins such as folates, thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid, along with important minerals like zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese, and potassium. Phytonutrients such as steroidal saponins and resveratrol also provide health benefits for indigenous communities lacking in wide food variation. Yucca is a uniquely South American food staple and I intend to continue experimenting with its versatility in my own kitchen.

 

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Farm to Table: Pio Pio Chile

During my time spent in the eclectic coastal hub of Valparaíso, Chile, I made a trip out to the Los Pinos neighborhood near Viña del Mar to visit an organic farm that I was interested in volunteering with before making the decision to move to Ecuador. Pio Pio Chile is much more than just a typical WWOOFing experience, however, and is a cultural center for sustainability that strives to raise awareness about the consequences and opportunities of development on the environment and culture within their growing community. The Pio Pio vision is clear:

“Pio Pio is a cultural center and demonstration site that aims to revitalize community by providing an inspiring space for people to come together to collaborate, exchange, and learn about Chilean and world culture and environmental stewardship. We aim to shape our small landscape to exemplify alternatives to the status quo, to demonstrate our vision through real and positive action, to assimilate the orchestra of natural systems, and to be an accessible place to grow a network that promotes music, art, environmental awareness, and social justice.”

Carolina Pizarro is the founder of the operations, and she is an incredibly kind, intelligent, and driven individual who is strongly motivated by the desire to give back to the world with the land that was bestowed upon her by her late father. With a degree in business and having studied various languages across the globe, she eventually honed her interests to focus on permaculture and natural building as well as in-depth studies of intentional communities. She acquired the hectare of land when her father passed in 2009, and in the time since has honored his memory by cultivating what is the current incarnation of Pio Pio.

Making my way out to Los Pinos to visit the farm, I couldn’t help but marvel at the serene natural beauty of the surrounding region. The temperate seaside climate gave way to pine and eucalyptus groves as my bus ascended into the rolling hills, until finally reaching an area where I would walk the rest of the way to Pio Pio. Upon reaching my destination, I was warmly greeted by Carolina and her co-founder, Shelley Su Stenzel, who is a technical specialist in permaculture and earthen building. Both of them and their enthusiastic team of volunteers, neighbors, and friends made me feel right at home, and ready to help with the day’s task: installing a new earthen floor into their straw-bale office and meeting space.

Before getting my hands dirty (mostly feet in this case), I got a tour of the grounds and could see all of their projects in various stages of development. Along with the organic garden, there was a tub, shower, and laundry facility created out of recycled eco-bricks and rough plaster made from clay soil and straw, which uses both solar and wood heat for bathing and washing laundry. There is a dry toilet that functions without water by using materials such as pine needles, sand, ashes, and sawdust to decompose excrement, both saving water and creating enriched fertilizer for the plants and fruit trees on the farm. Near the sporting field there is an outdoor kitchen and designated social space, which is formed inside a circle of eucalyptus trees and comprised of furniture constructed of recycled materials including a dining table, cooking stove, sink, and cabinet for food storage. Additionally there is a grey water system in place that preserves, oxygenates, de-greases, and neutralizes soap and other detergents to allow for the grey water in the kitchen and washing station to be reused in their irrigation systems.

When it was time to get to work in the straw-bale office, I helped Carolina and her team with the sub-surface level of the earthen floor. They had acquired a lot of dirt from excavations and construction projects in the neighborhood, and together we sifted it to get the finest quality that could then be carted into the office and compacted as the base-layer of the floor. Many hours were spent stomping the wetted dirt with our feet until we had created a compact and level floor for the office. The rest of the office was already mostly completed, with load-bearing walls seven straw-bales high and a foundation of recycled tires and packed earth. There is also a living roof created from pinewood beams and asphalt membrane to retain the layers of soil and plants that protect the walls from water and provide insulation for the building.

Though I would have greatly enjoyed staying on and volunteering there myself, I can say in full confidence that anyone lucky enough to be visiting or living in the area would be fortunate to find themselves at Pio Pio. Along with hosting regular workshops and events, Carolina and Shelley have many more projects in store. In the future they intend to continue construction with natural building techniques using adobe, earthbag, wattle and daub, and salvaged materials to install a water well, food gardens, a composting system, and other ecological living projects. Eventually they would like to be able to provide infrastructure in the way of student and traveler lodgings, a formal classroom for workshops and educational exchange, and a community center and gallery. As Carolina puts it in her own words:

“Project Pio Pio was created to reverse the disconnects between man and nature, and nature and culture. Our small piece of land just outside the urban center of Reñaca, Chile, will act as a learning center and demonstration site, bringing together local Chileans and world travelers alike to exchange ideas, skills, and experiences regarding sustainable and ecological living… The world is in need of more spaces to unify community and inspire people to live sustainably, and Project Pio Pio intends to do just that. The outcome of Pio Pio isn’t necessarily the goal in itself but the success lies in the journey and the story behind it all.”

 

Recipe: Bolivian Breakfast Cereal

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It’s a common practice in Peru and Bolivia for vendors to sell bags of puffed grains with assorted nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and coconut flakes labeled as “granola.” Of course traditional granola is a breakfast cereal consisting of crispy rolled oats, but the Andean version provides just enough tasty sustenance to be a satisfying alternative. The puffed grains require less added sugars than your typical toasted granola, and contain much fewer calories per serving. It is often eaten as a trail snack by hikers and weary backpackers, and serves as a wonderful base for the most important meal of the day!

With access to a well-stocked kitchen in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, I had the joy of experimenting and designing a breakfast bowl that packs a healthy punch of protein, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants to start out the day. This dish can easily be made gluten or dairy-free, and it is fun to mix and match ingredients for variety. Limiting the dried fruit and honey will help control the amount of sugar in your diet, while the fresh fruits and antioxidant-rich berries add just enough sweetness that these aren’t necessary. The nuts and seeds provide a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, along with real yogurt that is high in protein and natural probiotics. Finally, the maca root powder is considered an Andean “superfood” which can aid in hormone imbalance, reproductive functions, and increasing energy levels.

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To replicate mine, liberally toss together your preference of the following ingredients:

  • Puffed grains: wheat, quinoa, amaranth
  • Berries: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries
  • Fruit: banana, apple slices
  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts
  • Seeds: chia, flax
  • Coconut flakes
  • Golden raisins
  • Maca powder
  • Plain yogurt
  • Raw honey

Featured Food: Fruits of Bolivia

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Having visited many a produce market in my South American travels, I felt compelled to follow-up my post on the fruits of Peru with a primer on the Bolivian fruit scene. Bolivia’s ecological biodiversity lends itself to inhabit a wide range of unique edible plant life. With so many exotic options, this is in no way a comprehensive list, but will instead explore some of the most common varieties that are sold in the marketplace. My first-hand research included trips to various markets to scope out their fruit supply, then buy a selection to later dissect and sample. As you can imagine, the taste-testing was my favorite portion of this experiment, and there will hopefully be more to come as I continue traveling throughout the Andean region of South America.

As to be expected, Bolivian fruit markets still carry the traditional favorites that would be easily recognizeable from our grocery stores back home. Bananas, apples, pears, and grapes are popular just about anywere in the world. (In order below: kiwi, strawberries, (green) oranges, and a pineapple street vendor.)

Tumbo became one of my favorite fruits in Bolivia due to its strange texture and tart flavor. Shaped like an elongated egg, tumbo’s interior resembles a passion fruit with black seeds covered in slimy orange pulp. Most people don’t consume the fruit raw (though given my penchant for tartness I rather enjoyed it) and it is commonly made into a juice. Once scooping out the seeds, they are blended with sugar and water and strained to create a refreshing and slightly acidic drink which I can report is in fact delicious. Known in English as the “banana passionfruit,” it is part of the passion family and related to a couple of other fruits on today’s list.

Staying within the passion fruit family, maracuya has similar yellow-ish slimy seeds that are encased in a thick, round shell. It is acidic and can be made into a juice, but is also edible once fully ripe and the sweet seeds can be easily sucked down. Alternatively its seeds can be used in jellies, pies, or fruit salads. Maracuya’s main nutrients are calcium, iron, vitamin C and A, and its leaves have been traditionally used in native folk medicine as a sedative.

Granadilla is the final fruit I’ll be covering in the passion family, and is easily mistaken with the maracuya as its exterior shape and size are very similar. Unlike the maracuya, however, it’s internal slimy seeds have a transparent mucous-like covering making them appear gray, instead of yellow-orange. It has a sweeter, less-acidic flavor and once cracked open, can be eaten straight from the shell. Along with vitamins A, C, and, K, it contains phosphorus, iron, and calcium.

Our next fruit discovery is the achachairú, othersise known as Bolivian mangosteen. This tropical fruit is so beloved that it even has its own festival in January. It is a small, bright orange fruit with a white, fleshy interior and large seed. Its semi-acidic, sweet and bitter taste is good for juicing, and also eaten as a raw snack. Once the achachairú’s glossy, tough rind is peeled or scraped off, the edible pulp can be enjoyed. Its nutritional content boasts vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, and folate.

The lima has been described to me as a cross between a lemon and a lime. I must say, it resembled a little bit of both and didn’t necessarily taste like either. In my opinion the flavor was less appealing, and left me with an aftertaste reminiscent of citronella. I haven’t come across too much information about the lima and how it differs from its more common citrus cousins, but at least in Bolivian homes it is most typically consumed as a lemonade-like juice.

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And finally, the tamarillo, also known as the vine or tree tomato. This strange fruit looks like an egg-shaped tomato, and ranges in color from vibrant orange-ish red to deep maroon. Unlike a regular tomato, the skin has a bitter taste, while the inner fruit and edible seeds are sweet and tangy. Tamarillos are used in jellies, desserts, salads, stews, and juices, or can be eaten fresh. They contain calcium, carotene, iron, protein, and vitamin C.

Recipe: Papa a la Huancaína

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One of the most popular vegetarian-friendly meals within Peruvian and Bolivian cuisine is somewhat of an Andean take on potato salad. Papa a la Huancaína is a dish comprised of boiled potatoes doused in a creamy yet spicy sauce (varying by country), which is served on a bed of lettuce alongside sliced tomato, black olives, and hard-boiled eggs. This odd combination of ingredients come together surprisingly well, and since the dish is served as a deconstructed salad, everyone can self-prepare their plate to their own specific preferences.

Huancayo is a city in the Peruvian highlands where the dish originated, but it has since become a popular staple in household cooking around Peru and Bolivia. Salsa Huancaína is a versatile sauce that can be paired with just about anything, though boiled potatoes are the traditional favorite. Having tried papa a la Huancaína in both Peru and Bolivia, there is one distinct difference between the two recipes. Peruvians make their cheesy sauce out of queso fresco, aji amarillo (yellow chili pepper), evaporated milk, onion, garlic, and crushed crackers, while Bolivians add one key ingredient: peanuts. The most delicious version that I encountered was at a Bolivian friends’ home where the family cook was kind enough to share her protein-packed recipe with me. [For the typical Peruvian recipe, please check out Peru Delights]

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Ingredients for sauce

  • 4 dried pods of aji amarillo
  • 3 cups roasted peanuts
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for salad

  • 6 yellow potatoes, boiled and peeled
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 sliced tomato
  • Large lettuce leaves
  • Handful black/Kalamata olives

Preparation

  1. Chop aji amarillo pods and soak in warm water overnight.
  2. The next day, soak peanuts two hours before cooking or until slightly softened.
  3. Sautee onion and garlic in olive oil until browned.
  4. Puree rehydrated aji amarillo with a small amount of water and add to onion.
  5. Cook onion and aji amarillo mixture together for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly over medium heat, add more water if necessary to maintain paste-like consistency.
  6. Combine peanuts with 1 c boiling water and add onion and aji mixture in blender, grind until smooth and creamy.
  7. Return mixture to a sauce pan and cook over low-medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often until sauce is thick and custard-like.
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Serve either hot or cold over boiled potatoes on a bed of lettuce alongside sliced tomato, hard-boiled eggs, and olives.

2015 Hoopie Award Nomination

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Within the last year I’ve discovered a newfound passion for hoopdancing which has had a major impact on all aspects of my life. It has become so much more than simply a fun hobby (though of course it’s that too!), but has inspired me to push my boundaries both physically and mentally, access the elusive mind-body connection in moving meditation, and connect with a thriving community I never even knew existed before. Evolving with my hoop has been therapeutic, and over time has radically transformed my perspective as I rely on my body for what it is capable of doing, rather than the superficiality of what it looks like. As others can connect to themselves through dance or yoga, I’ve been able to accomplish this through a plastic circle. Although I am relatively early in my hooping practice, the bond I’ve cultivated with this flow art form is one that I hope will continue for years to come.

This week I was elated to learn that someone nominated me for a Hoopie Award for a photo that my boyfriend Neil took of me hooping in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Hoopies are the only awards I’m aware of within the hooping world, and I would be absolutely thrilled to win. If you click on the link, I encourage you check out as many of the photos and video nominees as you can, as they are all incredible. I am honored to be considered among this list. [Voting ends on midnight of Friday, January 23rd]

http://www.hooping.org/2015/01/hoopie-awards-2015-voting/

2015-Hoopie-Awards***

Neil and I recently created a video of me hooping among the surreal, technicolor street art of magical Valparaíso, Chile. Since there are copyright restrictions on Youtube, we made two separate videos for viewers both in and outside of the US. We had a ton of fun making these and hope you enjoy the results!

Inside the US:

Outside the US:

Pleasure: Bolivia’s Sweet Side

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A trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia wouldn’t be complete without a visit to La Cancha Mercado, considered to be the largest open-air market in South America and one of the city’s main attractions. The sheer volume of stalls vending within its labyrinthine parameters was overwhelming, yet as always I was mesmerized by all manner of unfamiliar goods and produce. It was with fruit purchased in La Cancha that I was able to put together another fruit feature recently on this blog. Looking for a different angle to cover the traditional Bolivian market scene, I learned more about this country’s collective sweet tooth while perusing the sweets and delicacies sold in La Cancha. Without further ado, I present a list (in no particular order) of the top 5 sweetest confections in the Bolivian marketplace:

1. Gelatin/pudding/flan cups: While these colorful treats are popular all over South America, Bolivians seemed the most fervent in their love of gelatinous desserts. In almost any public square or market setting, you’re sure to come across a variety of options ranging from single-flavor servings to cones piled high with whipped topping.

2. Decorative cakes: Bolivians take their cake-making seriously, and a trip through the cake district of the market is like viewing a display of edible art. If you’re curious how the multi-layered delicacies stack up against each other, many vendors are willing to give out samples of their creations.

3. Colorful hard candies: These saccharine sweet candies attract the eye, but have basically nothing more to them than pure sugar and artificial food coloring. They’re not the most appetizing thing in the market, but certainly fun to look at.

4. Baked pastries: Like any country, Bolivia has an array of popular pastries, cookies, and baked goods that are unique to their culture. Treats covered in coconut, drizzled in honey, or doused in glaze are fairly popular while colorful meringue cookies and dulce de leche stuffed alfajores also hit the spot.

5. Sugar offerings: These are by far the most unique sweet item sold in Bolivian marketplaces, and are not actually meant for consumption. Many people in society pay homage to the goddess Pachamama or “Earth Mother” with burnt offerings in the hopes of gaining luck, health, fortune, and happiness. The offerings, called despacho, typically contain tablets made from sugar (representing the virtues they wish to attract), herbs, dollar bills, confetti, silver or gold leaf, feathers, wool, seeds, shells, gems, incense, or any manner of items relating to their desired outcome. The items are formed into a mandala and then wrapped in paper and burned in a solemn ritual. Please read more about this in my post on the practice of Aymara spiritual traditions.

Eating Out: Home-cooking in Coroico, Bolivia

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Coroico is a tranquil village nestled in the steep jungle valleys of Bolivia known as the Yungas, not far from the metropolis of La Paz. It wasn’t a bad place for a weekend getaway with it’s breathtaking views, comfortable climate, and colorful town holiday in full-swing (see my travel blog for more on the festivities!). During my visit, the proudest vegetarian foodie discovery I made was a tiny family-run operation slightly off the beaten path called Cafe Almendra. To be honest, if I hadn’t learned about the place by word of mouth, I probably never would have had the pleasure of experiencing this hidden gem. Luckily I got the opportunity to pay it forward by giving them free advertising to other travelers in Coroico, and hope anyone in the area that happens across this blog is convinced to seek them out.

Cafe Almendra is run by an adorable family, comprised of a Colombian woman with her Belgian husband and rambunctious children. In speaking with her about their business, I learned that they have been living in Bolivia for eight years now but only opened the restaurant in April (2014), deciding to make a permanent home in Coroico as it is a nice place to raise kids. The menu prominently features plant-based food, since she is a vegetarian, though several meat dishes are available for the omnivores among us. There was also a large selection of handmade wire-wrapped, beaded, and braided jewelry which she crafts herself.

As for the meal itself, it was certainly the best food that I ate during the long holiday weekend. Among several trips there I sampled a quinoa burger on homemade wheat bun with rosemary roasted potatoes, falafel with yogurt and herb sauce, creamy pesto quinoa, and plantain fritters topped with queso fresco. Main courses come with a fresh salad topped with herbs and homemade dressing. I also experimented by ordering a cloudy drink made with amaranth flour (which had a flavor reminiscent of shredded wheat, not in an unpleasant way) and brown sugar added to taste. I thoroughly recommend this lovely establishment, if not for the food, then the jewelry and good atmosphere won me over. *Basic directions are included on the flyer posted above*

People: The Witches’ Market of La Paz

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Although this next topic doesn’t necessarily focus on nutrition per se, in a way it is “health” related and certainly unique to La Paz, Bolivia. The Mercado de las Brujas or Witches’ Market is located on a cobblestone street in the old quarter of La Paz where those who still practice ancient Aymara traditions can come to visit a yatiri, or witch doctor, and purchase their wares. This oddity has unsurprisingly become a tourist attraction, and the shops make a significant portion of their revenue from curious foreigners stopping in for a peek. While the country’s population is overwhelmingly Catholic, remnants of the Aymara spiritual belief system have been passed on to modern society. Many Bolivians continue to pay homage to the goddess Pachamama, or “Earth Mother,” and will honor her with despachos (burnt offerings) and prayers for health, happiness, and prosperity.

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The market as a whole was smaller than I expected, but each shop overflowed with all manner of peculiar items ranging from mystical trinkets and alluring potions to downright macabre sacrificial animals and curse candles. Occult items one may purchase in the market also include: medicinal plants, folk remedies, native herbs and seeds, amulets, totems, talismans, crystals and gemstones, soapstone figurines, sugar offerings representing their desired outcomes, aphrodisiac formulas, perfumes and incenses, beauty powders, naked ceramic couples for sex life and fertility, owl feathers, and dried animals. Desiccated insects, turtles, starfish, frogs, and armadillos were among them, and I later learned that apparently frogs are believed to bring money, especially with a cigarette placed in its mouth, and armadillos prevent thieves from entering a home. By far the most prevalent sacrificial carcass, however, were the countless llama fetuses on display.

While decidedly not vegetarian in practice, llama offerings are a fascinating part of Bolivian culture from an anthropological standpoint. Llama fetuses that are generally the result of natural miscarriages are collected by the witch doctors from the high Andean desert. Their primary purpose is to serve as a cha’lla (offering) in traditional ceremonies where they are buried under the foundation of most Bolivian homes. Doing so is believed to encourage Pachamama to keep construction workers safe and bring luck and prosperity into the new home or business being built. The Witches’ Market is a major supplier of the fetuses, though only poorer Bolivians opt to use them, as the wealthy are expected to sacrifice a living llama if they can afford to do it. The sight of the fetuses in various stages of development from tiny and shriveled to large and furry creatures was somewhat disturbing, and given the nature of this blog  I’ve abstained from including pictures of this part of the market.

The market also serves as a place to acquire spells or spiritual advice from the witches, medicine women, folk doctors, astrologers, fortune-tellers, and sorcerers that circulate the area. Sacred white and black magic is performed to treat ailments, exact revenge, attract wealth, grant success, punish oppressors, and bring about health, love, intelligence, happiness, longevity or protection by calling upon the Aymara spirit world. Copious amounts of pre-mixed potions are available in small bottles of colorful liquid or takeaway boxes for the spell-caster on the go, and black candles morbidly shaped into skulls, coffins, and penises are prescribed for dark magic curses. Another prominent feature is ceramic statues of Ekeko, the chubby Andean god of good fortune and plenty. Bolivians give these statues to each other and cover them with miniature representations of the things they hope to acquire, such as dollar bills, diplomas, or minibuses, and then place a lit cigarette in his mouth for good luck.

While perusing the market I did not come into contact with any witch doctors, who are supposedly identifiable by their dark hats or cloaks and pouches of coca leaves to give fortune readings. These women, believed to be the link between the physical and supernatural worlds, are some of the last known witches in South America. They are seen by Bolivians as the authorities on traditional healing methods and uses for local Andean plants and herbs. The Witches’ Market serves as a means to bring their ancient wisdom and rituals to the urban masses, whereas smaller Bolivian towns are more likely to have a village witch doctor that the community can visit to meet their spiritual needs. While I can in no way endorse these methods of healing practices, it is fascinating to learn more about how society in La Paz has adapted to make a place for them alongside modern medicine.

Featured Food: Choclo and the Maize of the Andes

One of the most iconic and widely-consumed foods from the Andean region of South America is a bountiful variety of maize, or corn. Farmers grow a colorful array ranging between white, yellow, red, purple, and black, with many types having adapted to be grown in the harsh climates and terrains of the Andes. With Peru alone boasting over 50 varieties, more than anywhere else on the continent, it is justifiably a major dietary staple. This post will mainly focus on some of the most popular and recognizable types of maize that I’ve encountered in my South American travels.

Choclo is the jumbo corn that is most commonly eaten throughout Peru and Bolivia. It’s texture is chewier and starchier, with bulbous kernels about five times larger than the sweet yellow and white corn that is familiar to North Americans. It is typically eaten sauteed, boiled, straight off the cob, in soups, stews, baked dishes, and as a common side to ceviche. When I first discovered choclo in Peruvian cuisine, I assumed it was related to hominy but learned that hominy is corn that has been dried and treated with lye, then ground to make grits, cornmeal, or masa flour. I have also seen hominy-treated corn sold in Andean markets, but plain choclo is much more common.

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Maize morado is the beautiful purple and black corn that is renowned from this part of the world. Originating from the Andes, it was traditionally consumed by the Incas and used as dye for its rich coloring. Today it is most often seen in mazamorra corn pudding, and in beverages such as the thick smoothie-like api breakfast drink, and spiced chicha morada juice. The corn’s vivid purple pigment is derived from anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants that could potentially yield health benefits such as blood flow promotion, anti-inflammation, and improvement of blood-glucose levels.

Corn snacks are some of the most popular street foods in South America, with no shortage of options available. Cancha, made from the chulpe corn variety, is a toasted snack that gets a crispy shell and starchy interior instead of popping when cooked. It is ubiquitously served as an appetizer in Peru and Bolivia, and is often complementary in bars as a salty incentive to keep drinking.

A sweeter alternative to the cancha corn nuts are pasankallas, which are giant puffed corn kernels. Much larger and less crunchy than your average popcorn, it is often eaten with a sweet sugar coating or even hot pink food coloring. Since it is more firm than popped corn, the puffed pasankallas will keep for longer and it is not uncommon to come across enormous overflowing bags sold by cholita ladies in Bolivian marketplaces. Palomitas or typical popcorn is also thoroughly appreciated, and confituras is candy corn, or popcorn with honey coating.

As a staple ingredient with countless varieties, the opportunities for incorporating maize into Andean cuisine are endless. Some traditional dishes that can be prepared vegetarian-friendly include the sweet and savory cornmash pastries, humitas or tamales. Soups, stews, and chowders frequently contain either choclo kernels or ground mote cornflour. Api smoothies, chicha morada juice, and a fermented corn beer called chicha de jora are popular corn-based beverages. Finally, one of my favorite traditional dishes is pastel de choclo, or corn pie, which is prepared with onion, spices, olives, hard-boiled egg, and raisins, topped with a sweet corn mixture, and served in an earthenware bowl. Needless to say, my time in South America will continue to include finding new ways and exciting ways of consuming maize.

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