Yesterday, I met a friend and we were discussing about our experiences with Peruvian cuisine and then I decided to write about the delicious cuisine. When most of us think of Peru we think of the ancient ruins and high mountain vistas. But speaking of cuisine, Peru is the hope diamond of Latin America and home to dishes and flavours you won’t find anywhere else. As a matter of fact, there are more Peruvian cuisine restaurants outside Peru than ever before and the number is growing. I would say that Peruvian cuisine is a blend of flavours from Europe, Africa and East Asia.
Traditional Peruvian cuisine can be divided between three geographic locations – Seaside, Mountain and rainforest. The four staples of Peruvian cuisine are corn, potato and other tubers, Amaranthaceous (quinoa, kaniwa) and legumes (beans and lupins). It all began with the Spanish explorers and subsequent discovery of the new continent, the explorers initiated Columbian exchange which saw them take home foods unheard of in the old world, such as potato, tomato and maize. The life in Europe was never the same since then. Peruvian cooking is a balance of hot and cold, acidic and starchy, robust and delicate. That’s because Peruvian food is all about spices and big flavours, some clean and crisp, others deep and heavy. Every sip of a pisco sour tamed the citrus and Chile assault of a ceviche, a fish so fresh it almost crunches between your teeth.
Potato is the king
Long before quinoa, Peruvian had brought the world a staple food in the form of this humble root vegetable. The adaptability and fast growth rate of potato made it instantly popular in European countries. It would be almost unimaginable how people there would survive the difficult episodes in history without it. As a birthplace of potato, Peru’s institute on potato – Peruano de la papa estimates there are more than 3,000 varieties grown on home soil. They come in all shapes and colours and more importantly they are genetically unmodified.
Ceviche, Ceviche, Ceviche
Ceviche is undoubtedly the favourite dish of many in Peruvian cuisine and is often the meal of choice for many locals. The costal sensation is made with freshly caught seafood steeped in onion, chilli and most importantly, lemon juice or lime juice, resulting in the fish appearing as “cooked”. Like any household delicacy around the world, every family has its secret recipe for it.
Corn is everywhere
Corn is another significant produce and export from Peru besides potato. It boasts a great amount of varieties in different hues, with purple maze morado being the most expensive. Corn can be eaten as a snack or in a meal. For instance, choclo, a variety distinctive for its large kernels can be toasted in oil for making the crispy snack cancha or consumed directly after sun dried. Corn juice is used to produce chicha, the national beverage with and without alcohol.
Similar to Chinese food
Peruvian cuisine has been constantly shaped by the external influences from Spanish conquistador to Asian immigrants arriving from the 19th century. There is a large community of Chinese population, which gave rise to Chifa cuisine, a Chinese – Peruvian hybrid food featured prominently in cities like Lima. Dishes like Lomo Saltado, a stir-fried beef steak with onion, tomato and French fries, demonstrate such cross-cultural blend of cuisine.
Peruvian fast food
South American cuisine is incomplete without street food and salchipapas is the dish you’ll find at every nook and corner in the city. It is self-explanatory, consisting of sausage and potato fries, served with tomato ketchup and mayonnaise on the side.
Peruvian cuisine is all natural
Ever so grateful to the natural surrounding they live in, the highland people can make the most of the condition. Pachamanca is a perfect example for this. In the native language “pacha” means earth while “manca” can be translated as pot. An earth oven is created to cook spice marinated meat and potato. The food is covered with hot stones on the ground. It is one of this dishes that make you wonder how simple good food is.
Peruvian cuisine evolution
Like food everywhere today, there is a new style of Peruvian cuisine emerging and is often called Nueva comida meaning new style of food. With young chefs digging deep to find more exotic ingredients, the possibilities are endless. So, the evolution of the nation’s food continues, into the territories of modernist cooking that’s simultaneously old and new.
Peruvian stuffed Rocoto peppers
Rocoto pepper 8 nos.
Sugar ½ cup
Vegetable oil 2 tbsp
Chilli paste 4 tbsp
Sirloin, beef 400 gm
Bay leaves 2 leaves
Red onion, diced 2 lb
Peanut, crushed 2 tbsp
Oregano, dried ½ tsp
Black olives 5-6 no
Hard boiled eggs 2 no.
Parsley leaves, chopped 1 tbsp
Black raisin 2 tbsp
Condensed milk 100 ml
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Cut the rocoto pepper horizontally to scoop out the seeds, keep the top aside.
Place the rocoto pepper in a pan and fill with water, add sugar and bring to boil.
Turn off the heat and discard the water, add more fresh water and repeat this step three times, drain the water and cool the rocotos, keep aside.
In a heavy bottom sauce pan, heat oil and add chilli paste, beef and bay leaves and add diced onion, ¼ tsp sugar, salt and pepper.
Add peanuts, oregano leaves, hard boiled eggs, parsley, raisins, salt and pepper, cook for 15 minutes till beef is cooked.
Fill the rocotos with this mixture and arrange in a baking pan.
In a bowl, whisk one egg with milk, Salt and pepper and pour over rocotos.
Beat two eggs until very thick and put a tablespoon over each rocoto.
Then cover with the reserved tops.
Bake in 350-degree Fahrenheit for 15 minutes and serve hot.
Note: Rocoto peppers are very hot so you can replace them with bell peppers.
* Chef Tarun Kapoor,
Culinary Mastermind, USA. He may be contacted at [email protected]
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