Before the Spanish advent, of necessity, Mapuche were largely vegetarian. They had no cattle, goats, sheep or pigs, which were introduced by Europeans. And in their forests the largest edible animal was the smallest deer in the world, the pudu, which is thirteen to seventeen inches tall:
The Mapuche had domesticated
chickens (not surprisingly called Araucanas) which lay blue eggs, and they probably also had domesticated ducks. But they were farmers essentially, largely doing without “red meat,” their staples instead being plants unknown to Europeans of the time: potatoes, corn, and what we North Americans now call ‘beans’ (phaseolus vulgaris … as opposed to the garbanzos and fava beans eaten in sixteenth century Europe). And they also cultivated squash, equally unknown to the contemporary Spanish…. Therefore, arguably, nothing is more natively American than that delicious triad of corn, beans and squash (known as the “three sisters” by native North Americans).
That said, there is–somewhat ironically–a quintessentially Chilean recipe in which the principal ingredients are nothing other than the three pre-Columbian “sisters.” It is called “Porotos Granados,” poroto being the word for ‘bean’ in Chilean Spanish, and ‘granados‘ presumably referring to the grains of corn. This is a recipe I have loved since childhood, which I here would here like to share with you….
As it is now harvest season, the essential ingredients are available in our garden.
These are so-called “shell” beans, as shucked fresh out of the husk. They are often called ‘Cranberry Beans’ in the United States.
Almost any corn will work … a little old and tough–as with these late autumn ears from our garden–will do fine. In fact Chileans use an enormous kind of corn, called “ Diente de Caballo,” or Horse’s Tooth, in traditional recipes, which is nowhere near sweet nor tender by North American corn-on-the-cob standards.
In Chile there are huge squash in the markets of which you buy a chunk for Porotos Granados. Here in the US I have used both acorn and butternut squash with wonderful results. But if I had to choose, I would probably go with butternut….
One last thing remains to be said before my version of this recipe: aboriginal as the triad of essential ingredients might be, Chilean porotos granados include elements of European origin, olive oil and basil being foremost. Onions and garlic as we know them should also be added to that list….
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium squash, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 cups of fresh, shelled cranberry beans
The kernels from 2 or 3 ears of corn (2 cups or so)
3 tablespoons of fresh, chopped basil
salt and pepper
Heat the oil over medium heat in a largish pot. Sauté onions until translucent. Stir in the garlic and sauté a minute or two. Stir in the squash and sauté a few more minutes. Add a quart of water (or more, for something more like a soup). Add beans and basil, and simmer half an hour, or until beans are tender. Add corn, season with salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for five more minutes.
Note: Feel free to alter most of the “measurements” in this dish. I personally never pay real attention.
Also … a traditional garnish which I would NEVER do without is called “color” by chilenos, for reasons you will appreciate if you choose to make it. It’s easy, and I never measure the ingredients. So … take maybe four tablespoons of olive oil and heat over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add several cloves of finely chopped garlic (or as much as your garlic mania dictates) and fry until the garlic flavor has suffused the oil, but certainly not to the point that the garlic is browned. Then add enough good paprika that the oil turns genuinely dark. Stir a few times, and put a spoonful or two of this on your porotos….
Finally, porotos granados reheat wonderfully.