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Papayas: the culinary jewels from Elqui Valley

I invite you to visit the Elqui Valley in northern Chile, traveling under a star-filled sky and traces of ancient civilizations. At this oasis you can taste the Chilean papaya, a unique culinary treasure and enjoy this fruit with recipes and wine pairings.

By Ania Smolec / July 01, 2016
Wine Journalist

The long arms of the majestic Andes embrace the Elqui Valley, located about 500 km north of Santiago. Following the torrent of Elqui River, an oasis is located, splashing an ocher and desert landscape, where you can admire astronomical observatories, vineyards and Chilean pisco distilleries, copper mines and orchards of native Chilean papayas.

The contrast between the huge rock formations and the lush valley floor is overwhelming. The main town of the valley is the coastal pearl La Serena which means “calm”. In this city you can relax while walking along the seashore. It is the second oldest city in Chile, founded in 1544 by Juan Bohón, assistant of the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia.

La-Serena

La Serena | CC JorgeMolinaz

In the early eighteenth century, the city became a fortress to defend itself against pirates. Its greatest economic boom and development was experienced in the twenties of the last century. Today La Serena is a popular tourist destination. Compared to other cities in the Chilean coast, it has retained its austere colonial style with a slightly nostalgic atmosphere.

The Elqui Valley and La Serena invite you to enjoy a temperate climate and beautiful beaches on the Pacific coast. On the north, the region borders Atacama and on the south, it borders the so-called Central Valley. The sky over La Serena is often gray. This phenomenon, known as camanchaca, means clouds at morning and goes into the narrow Elqui Valley, but at noon the sun always appears in the sky. The inner zone of the region is renowned for having the most transparent skies of the world. Therefore several international astronomical centers have chosen this place to watch the stars.

papayas

It is also a very important Chilean wine growing region. Grape growing here are mainly sweet and aromatic grapes, such as Muscat, which is the basis of pisco, a Chilean distilled characterized by its pure, fruity and floral flavors. As you climb along its winding paths among beautiful towns like Paihuano, Monte Grande and Alcohuaz, you can spot their vineyards, which seem impressionists green splotches on the walls of the mountains.

The cuisine of the region is full of contrasts: on one hand, is marked by the coastal area with its fish and seafood (crab, scallops and shrimp). On the other hand, by the influence of mountain popular recipes, like slowly cooked pork ribs, served with rustic potatoes. On the road between La Serena and Vicuña (a picturesque village located on the foothills of the Andes and the cradle of the Chilean poet and Nobel Gabriela Mistral) you can buy rich goat cheese and churrascas (bread cooked over coals). But also a delicious and original fruit: the papaya.

Papayas queso fettaChilean papaya (Carica, is its scientific name) is not the same fruit that you can find elsewhere, such as in the Caribbean. This species is unique in this area. It is a yellow fruit (when is ready to harvest) and its flesh is delicate, juicy and fluffy. But be careful! Papaya cannot be eaten raw, but after a process that brings out the best of it.

The best way is to cook it with its juice. After this, it can be preserved in a can or be served as dessert, with a drop of yogurt or cream. This dessert is a real heaven in your mouth, especially when it is served with Frontera Late Harvest.

In the bouquet of this fruit are sweet, floral and tropical notes. The same aromas are often found in some white wines, such as Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc. Taking advantage of this aromatic compatibility, you can prepare an appetizer of papaya with this crisp white.

Another fantastic preparation is to cook papayas and fill them with feta cheese (the saltiness of the cheese is a counterpoint to the sweet taste of the fruit). You can also offer a cheese board and match it with a papaya jam (replacing the quince sweet) and serve it with Frontera Specialties Authentic Blanco.

Several main dishes may also contain papaya, as baked pork tenderloin with spices, papayas and wine. Here I recommend a more complex white wine like Casillero del Diablo Viognier. And if you like to try this fruit with fish, I want to present a proposal for a rich salmon recipe. In this case my ideal pairing is with Casillero del Diablo Shiraz RoséThis recipe combines several Chilean products and is one of my favorites for summer days.

Salmon with papaya sauce

salmon con salsa de papayaIngredients for 4 people

  • 4 fillets of raw salmon
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper

For the sauce

  • 2 cooked or canned papayas
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 of fresh chopped coriander
  • 1 chopped tomato
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation

  1. In a bowl mix all the ingredients of the sauce. Cover with a transparent foil and let it stand for one hour in the refrigerator.
  2. Prepare the salmon on the grill. Fry on butter for 3 minutes each side. Season it with salt and pepper.
  3. Serve the fish with a baked potato and the sauce made from native papaya.

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