Bolivia, is nicknamed the “Tibet of the Americas” because of its high altitude and its landscapes. The country features extremely different geographical zones ranging from majestic mountains to desert plateaus, misty jungles to vast savannahs of the Amazon basin.
The Bolivian population is composed of several ethnic groups and especially two main indigenous groups: the Amerindians, which represents about half of the Bolivian population and the descendants of the Spanish conquistadors. Add to this a small percentage of the population that is made up of descendants of African slaves who were deported in the sixteenth century to work in the Potosi copper mines. What a melting pot in the kitchen!
Those customs and traditions are obviously reflected in Bolivian cuisine. It is a cuisine that, despite a limited number of staple foods, is extremely varied, with a predominance of starch and carbohydrate-rich foods in the highland populations and a preference for fish, vegetables and fruits among people living in the plains.
Certainly less renowned than other South American cuisines, Bolivian cuisine hides a lot of delights. You will find a number of recipes with potatoes, corn and quinoa.
One of the most popular street foods is salteña. Similar to empanada, it is stuffed with meat and tomato. In Bolivia, meat is often accompanied by rice, potatoes and lettuce, and is seasoned with llajhua, a spicy tomato sauce. Papitas, which are prepared with quinoa, are also very popular.
What is quinoa?
Now, let’s talk about this quinoa that looks like a cereal, is consumed like a cereal, but … is not a cereal!
It is actually part of the family of Chenopodiaceae, just like chard, beetroot and spinach. Nicknamed the “Inca rice” or “vegetarian caviar”, quinoa, a plant with small grains that are tasty and rich in protein, has become very popular for the past few years.
What is the origin of quinoa?
The origin of the quinoa culture dates back to 5000 BC. Quinoa was the main food resource of the Incas until the invasion of their territory in the sixteenth century by the Spanish who prohibited the cultivation. This ban nearly caused the quinoa to disappear completely, but some families attached to the traditions managed to maintain some parcels cultivated during all these centuries of prohibition. It was not until the twentieth century, in the 1970s, that the quinoa culture began to recover.
Quinoa that the Bolivians call “the golden seed” was considered sacred by the Incas who called it “the mother seed”. It was one of the staple foods of the pre-Columbian diet.
2013 was the year of quinoa! Indeed, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa”, in recognition of the Andean people’s ancestral practices, which have succeeded in preserving quinoa in its natural state for present and future generations.
Let’s go back to my recipe of the day, these Bolivian papitas stuffed with tuna are actually very simple to make. They are crispy and delicious and they were a huge hit at home!
This recipe is validated by our Bolivian culinary expert, Lizet Flores de Bowen. You can find Lizet on her bilingual food blog Chipa by the Dozen.
- 1 lb quinoa
- 5 eggs
- 5 slices white bread
- ½ cup milk (to soak the bread)
- 16 oz. canned tuna in water , well drained
- 2 lemons
- 1 chili pepper , finely chopped
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- Rinse the quinoa in a very fine strainer until the water is perfectly clear.
Cook for 15 minutes in 2 times its volume of water (about 6 cups/1,5l), covered and do not salt until the end of cooking. Drain and let cool in a colander.
- In a salad bowl, mix the cooked quinoa with 2 whole eggs and the bread slices soaked in milk until obtaining a smooth paste.
- In another bowl, prepare the stuffing by mixing the tuna, the remaining 3 eggs, the lemon zest and juice, the chili pepper, salt and pepper.
- Take a ball of quinoa in the palm of your hand, make a hole in it with your thumb and put some tuna stuffing.
- Add a little quinoa preparation to close the patty, then press on the whole thing to form the shape of a ball, which will be flattened a little before frying.
Fry the papitas in a large bath of hot oil (at about 350F/180C).
- Wait at least 2 minutes before turning them over. The bottom must form a crust and reach a golden brown color to prevent the papitas from breaking when flipping.
- When they are golden brown on both sides, place them on a plate lined with paper towels.