From the category archives:
Did you know that most of the asparagus and much of the quinoa in the US comes from Peru? Try this recipe for Lemon Quinoa with Asparagus and Feta from CookThink to bring the two together. You’ll need 2 cups of quinoa, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 shallot, minced, 3 pounds of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, 8 ounces of feta, crumbled, and the juice of 1 lemon. First, cook the quinoa. Then saute the shallot in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. After about five minutes, add the asparagus and thyme and cook for another eight to ten minutes, stirring frequently. Add a tablespoon of water halfway through to steam the asparagus. Remove from the heat and add quinoa, feta, lemon juice, and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. This is a healthy side dish and can also be served as a salad. Quinoa is a super food, and asparagus has its own list of health benefits. The lemon juice and feta also add taste and texture to this dish.
Rocoto is the hottest of the traditional Peruvian chile peppers. It is usually red, but can also be green or yellow. The main difference between rocoto and other popular peppers like aji amarillo is its round shape. Most of the other common Peruvian chiles are long and thin. Remove the small black seeds to decrease the heat slightly before cooking with rocoto, and be careful not to touch your eyes until you have washed your hands. The closest substitutes are jalopenos, anchos and serrano chiles, but rocoto has a very distinct taste and heat. Jarred rocoto and Rocoto Paste are available online from Mama Tina’s Peruvian Foods and in select grocery stores. The paste is a great way to add some authentic flavor and heat to Peruvian dishes.
Aji Limo is the name for miniature Peruvian Peppers. They range in color from yellow to orange to red, and are extremely hot. They are most often used in ceviches and tiraditos. Removing the seeds takes away some of the heat in any pepper, and aji limo seeds should be removed for either of these dishes. Ceviche is a seafood dish that is cooked without heat. The fish is placed in a lime marinade, and the acidity “cooks” the fish and turns it white. The dish is garnished with a generous portion of red onions and Aji Limon. You’ll find ceviches made from just fish, shrimp, or a mixture of seafood. If you’re adventurous and love variety, try a mixed ceviche with octopus, calamari, shrimp, fish, and/or scallops. It is usually served with yucca on corn on the side. Tiradito is very similar to ceviche but is cut into thin trips as opposed to bite-sized pieces, and is served without onions.
Native peppers are an essential part of Peruvian cuisine. In my next few posts I’ll be explaining some of the different Peruvian peppers are what they are used for. Aji amarillo is the most important pepper in Peru. Its flavor is best described as a fruity heat. It is not as hot as a jalopeno, and has a more complex taste. Its skin is a yellowish orange, hence the name “amarillo,” which means yellow in Spanish. It can be used as a garnish in dishes like Lomo Saltado, which is one of the most popular dishes in Peru, and is an important ingredient in many Peruvian recipes. It is also used in paste form, which is an easy way to add authentic flavor to dishes like Papa a la Huancaina. Lastly, it can be used to make dipping sauces, which Peruvians refer to simply as “aji.” Follow this link to buy aji amarillo paste online.
Today many Americans will celebrate Cinco de Mayo, with Mexican food and tequila drinks. Americans often assume that Peruvian food must be similar to Mexican food, since they are both South American. However, each country within South America has its own culture and cuisine. In fact, Mexican food is very different from Peruvian food. Mexican menus usually consist of burritos, tacos, enchiladas and nachos, along with some traditional meat entrees and appetizers. In Peru, along with the blending of ancient native traditions and Spanish culture, you’ll also find a mixture of Chinese and Japanese influences.
This is due to the large number of Asian immigrants that came to Peru during the 18th century. This fusion of flavors resulted in the creation of dishes like Lomo Saltado, strips of steak stir-fried in soy sauce with tomatoes and onions, served over white rice and french fries. Another big difference between Mexican and Peruvian food is the abundance of potatoes you’ll find on Peruvian menus. Whether its fries with Lomo Saltado, or boiled potatoes in dishes like Papa a la Huancaina, potatoes are a vital part of Peruvian cuisine. This is because over 4,000 varieties of potatoes grow in Peru. So don’t expect to find burritos in a Peruvian restaurant, but do expect a large variety of traditional dishes.
So we’ve talked about how important potatoes are to the Culture of Peru and Peruvian food, but how about a specific example of a great Peruvian potato dish? Aji de Gallina is a classic Peruvian comfort food, and the kind of dish you could expect to be served at a Peruvian’s dinner table. The most traditional way to make it is with hen, which is where it gets the “gallina” name, but it is just as good with chicken. If you buy a rotisserie chicken and shred it you can make Aji de Gallina in minutes. The most important ingredient is Aji Amarillo paste, which is available from Mama Tina’s online. Other than that, evaporated milk, some white bread or saltine crackers, walnuts, and a few basic spices is all is takes for an authentic Peruvian meal. Once all of these ingredients are mixed in a blender and the nuts are completely ground, spread the sauce and chicken mixture over boiled potatoes. Garnish with hard boiled eggs and Peruvian olives, with white rice on the side if desired. Google Aji de Gallina for different recipes, choose your favorite, and enjoy a Peruvian meal tonight.
We recently wrote about the new Potato Park in Cusco, which was established to educate tourists about the importance of potatoes in Peruvian culture and cuisine, and to give them a closer look at the everyday lives of Peruvian farmers. The Potato Park’s other goal is to preserve the amazing array of potatoes that exist in Peru – over 4,000 – by uniting farmers’ efforts. Their newest plan is to send 1,500 samples of different potatoes to the Arctic Circle, thousands of miles away. Why? Because that is the location of the Svalbard International Seed Vault. The vault is in such a cold area that even without generators the contents inside would never defrost. The vault’s purpose is to preserve samples of the most important crops in the world, so that the threat of climate change and other environmental factors will never permanently wipe out a vital food source and weaken the biodiversity of amazing places like Peru.
Some Peruvian foods get their names from the areas they come from, like Papa a la Huancaina, which originated in Huancayo. Causa, the popular molded mashed potato dish that usually features shrimp or chicken salad, gets its name from the time period it was created in. During the War of the Pacific between Peru and Chile in the 1880s, Peruvian women used the abundance of potatoes to make this simple yet satisfying dish for their beloved soldiers. It was their way of showing support “por la causa,” for the cause. Next time you sit down to enjoy the hearty mixture of golden mashed potato puree and creamy shrimp or chicken, you’ll have a story to tell.
Peru is home to a diverse group of plants and animals, with almost every environment on earth existing within its borders. From the desert to the beaches, the rainforest to the mountains, some of the world’s most interesting sights and untouched natural beauty can be found there. A recent New York Times article discussed rare cacao beans found in the forests of Peru. The beans were discovered by a Peruvian man who had little knowledge of cacao at the time, but after submitting them to the United States Department of Agriculture, he found that they are one of the rarest and most expensive varieties. The seeds grow in football shaped pods that hang from trees. These beans are a mixture of purple and white, which is what makes them so special. White cacao beans are rare, and chocolate made from 100% white beans is very expensive. (The white beans turn brown during the roasting process, and are unrelated to white chocolate.) The white beans have no bitter taste, which allows for a very smooth chocolate taste. Experts say white beans are a mutation that results from trees remaining untouched for hundreds of years. These Peruvian beans are now being used exported and used to make chocolate in Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the U.S.