Vegetarian recipes in Chile: charquicán de cochayuyo

Nothing says “winter” like a steaming plate of this traditional Andean dish of pumpkin, potato and seaweed, topped with a fried egg.

An ancient recipe dating to the Quechua and Aymara peoples of northern Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, charquicán has meat right in the name: charqui in Quechua and Aymara refers to dehydrated meat from llama, alpaca, and later, horse. Most restaurants today serve up this Andean classic with ground beef, but there is a delicious vegetarian substitute for the dried meat of yore: seaweed.

The chewy, tubular cochayuyo seaweed can be found up and down Chile’s coast, and is renowned for its curative properties and superb consistency. Like charquicán, cochayuyo can trace its nomenclature to Quechua: qhucha yuyu, or “plant from the sea.” Boiling a handful will lend a savory, meaty taste to a vegetarian broth or soup stock, and its addition in charquicán is a faithful rendering of the consistency that the first Andean chefs originally intended.
All of the following ingredients are easily available at any supermarket in Chile, but head to your local feria – outdoor market – for the freshest and cheapest produce. Cochayuyo can occasionally present a challenge, especially in the far south. We recommend the brown cochayuyo for its milder flavor and more tender texture, but many people swear by the black variety. Taste around and make your pick.
Substitutes outside Chile
The huge, blue-skinned and orange-fleshed zapallo so commonly found throughout Chile can be hard to track down abroad. Try substituting a sweet squash, like butternut or buttercup. Seaweed substitutions vary by region – for example, in the United Kingdom, chopped samphire lends the same firm texture with a little extra sodium, so make sure to adjust the added salt accordingly. In a pinch, smoked, extra-firm tofu could also serve as a modern stand-in.
Charquicán de cochayuyo
Serves: 4 people
4 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
½ lb (¼ kg) pumpkin, cubed
6 lengths of cochayuyo
10 leaves of chard (or spinach), finely chopped in strips
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, chopped
1(to 4) garlic cloves, minced
1½ tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1½ tsp. salt
Optional: 4 eggs (1 per serving)
Soak the cochayuyo in 2 cups of warm water the night before. The next day, the softened seaweed will be much easier to chop into 1” (2.5 cm) strips. Reserve water.
In a large pot, bring to a boil the 2 cups of water used to soak the cochayuyo. Add potato, carrot, pumpkin, salt and let simmer for 25-35 minutes, until potatoes are cooked.
Meanwhile, sauté the onions until transparent – about 10 minutes – and then add the cochayuyo, chard, garlic, oregano and cumin.
When the potatoes are cooked, mash the potato-carrot-pumpkin mixture together, before adding the cochayuyo-chard mixture. Gently mix all the ingredients and serve immediately.
If desired, top each dish with a fried egg. Serve with fresh bread, your favorite pebre recipe, and a nice glass of Chilean red wine – like Carmenere – to beat the chill.
By Jacqueline Seitz