There’s a lot more to Peru than Cuzco, Machu Picchu and the curious Nazca desert. Peru is a sleeper when it comes to cuisine. This country was also an early genius in the 6th century, when she started using 20th century food preservation techniques.
When different countries blend cultures, their food changes permanently. Peru’s future changed forever in 1532, when Francisco Pizarro and his Spanish warriors invaded Peru for her gold. “How, indeed, can we explain the continued isolation and obscurity of Peru’s traditional dishes that comprise the last great cuisine undiscovered by a world gone made for new tastes?” Raymond Sokolov, renowned food historian, asks this question in his book, Why we Eat What we Eat.
Located on South America’s west coast, Peru enjoys three splendid climates, namely her mountain highlands, lush tropical rain forest and a most fortunate coastal area, one with rich farmlands and abundant shores. Thanks to two converging Pacific currents lush plankton attracts 700 luscious types of fish and 400 different kinds of shellfish.
The primary economic activity in Peru is farming. More than one-third of the workforce is engaged in this, and it requires careful terracing on the many hillsides. The most successful crops are sugarcane, cotton, corn, grapes, olives, quinoa and vegetables. However, harvests have not kept pace, and it’s necessary to import grain, vegetable oils, dairy products and meat.
There’s over 2000 kinds of indigenous and cultivated potatoes in this land, and the Incas invented many uses for them, including a time measurement system, and a time units system based on how long it took potatoes to cook. To greater extremes, they place raw slices on broken bones, carry them around to prevent rheumatism and eat them with other foods to prevent indigestion.
The country’s preservation genius stems from their ability to harness Peru’s cold, damp nights and sunny dry days to bring about freeze-drying for their potatoes. They did this back in the 16th century. First, they’d spread potatoes under a cloth and set them out to freeze at night. The next morning, they’d trampled them to remove moisture. Later in the day, the sun dried the potatoes enough to make them safe for storage. The potatoes not only lasted longer, their flavor was pleasingly different. Today, this ancient freeze-dry procedure is used with olives, a crop they inherited from Spain. We freeze-dry coffee today.
Food authorities other than Sokolov claim Peruvian cuisine is the most sophisticated food in Latin America today. Many Europeans make their home in cosmopolitan Lima, and it was here Peruvian Criollo or Creole cuisine developed. It became a delicious mix of the Spanish Mediterranean mixed with local produce, fresh seafood and distinctive chili peppers.
Yellow is a dominant in Peruvian cooking along with layered flavoring. The first yellow chili pepper, the Aji Amarillo, called Cusqueno once dried, is the principle condiment in traditional dishes. In the recipe at the end, the dish, Papas la Huancaina, shows a typical of Peruvian potato-based dish, simple, subtle yet distinctive.
· Arroz con Mariscos, variety of shellfish cooked with rice in shimp stock and finished with fresh coriander.
· Cerviche, most popular using corvine bass, scallops, abalone or large prawns. Served marinated with butter with Seville orange or local, bitter lemon juice. Add red onion, garlic, coriander and raw chilis, garnish with lettuce, sweet potatoes and starchy Andean corn.
· Chita al Vapor, steamed grunt fish, a holdover from Peru’s Oriental influence
· Cusharqui, long-lasting, cured meat of the “Sheep of the Andes,” Peru’s llama
· Cuy, guinea pig roasted or stewed and served with garlic and aji peppers
· Escabeche: fried fish and pickled onions served with corn-on-the-cob, olives and hard-boiled eggs
· Pallilo, a yellow spice used as bright, yellow food coloring
· Peruvian Entrada (often street food) is ox hearts marinated in vinegar, skewered over charcoal and brushed with hot sauce or chili and ground annatto seeds.
· Picarones, anise-sweetened deep-fried pastries made from pumpkin dough.
· Pisco sour, a drink made from a potent grape brandy, lemon and egg
· Tamales are wrapped in banana leaves and given a slightly sweet edge with meats, boiled peanuts and olives. Tamale casserole is contains above, plus a corn porridge, it solidifies then is sliced.
Papas al la Huancaina
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/8 tsp. Cayenne pepper
1 medium onion
8 medium potatoes
3 cups Spanish cheese, such as queso fresco
1 (or more) medium –hot yellow peppers, minced
1 tsp. Palillo, or ½ tsp tumeric
1 ½ cup heavy cream
2/3 cup olive oil
· Combine lemon juice, cayenne, salt and pepper in bowl. Add onion, separated into rings, and set aside at room temperature.
· Boil potatoes in their skins until tender. Drain, peel and keep warm.
· In blender, mix cheese, peppers, palillo and cream until smooth. Head oil in heavy pan, pour in cheese mixture, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is smooth.
· Line a platter with lettuce leaves. Arrange potatoes on platter, pour sauce over them. Arrange eggs and olives around potatoes. Top with drained onion rings.