Around the World in Twelve Plates – Peru
August has flown by in a heartbeat. I’m trying to savour these last summer moments and already dreading the cold days of winter. Fortunately we have a bit of a buffer season and I am hoping we have a nice, long drawn out Autumn with sunny, crisp days and cold nights. Just enough to throw another quilt on the bed. Until then, I’m loving the warm weather and the wonderful selection of fresh local produce available at the markets. When Gabby announced that this month’s Around the World in Twelve Plates country was Peru there was one dish that immediately sprung to mind. One dish that I have remembered for almost 21 years from my very first mulit-course dinner as a newlywed. One of our groomsmen had so thoughtfully given us a gift certificate for a local Peruvian restaurant and offered to babysit our son for the night. This wasn’t just any restaurant in the city of Saskatoon, it was ‘Hole in the Wall’ restaurant, located along the surrounding rural backroads. This was back before the days of GPS navigation and Google maps, so we actually needed a paper map! Surprisingly we made it there on time with few complications and were treated to a feast of foods that were entirely new to us. I can remember the meal like it was yesterday. Cheese Stuffed Dates to start, followed by THE DISH; Papa a la Huancaina. I couldn’t get over how delicious this one simple dish was. Boiled potatoes covered in a spicy cheese sauce usually served with black olives and boiled eggs. It turns out, Peruvians (especially those in the Andean village of Huancayo) love to cover everything in Huancaina sauce and for very good reason. The combination of spicy Aji Amarillo Peppers (another much loved component of Peruvian cuisine), and Queso Fresco is magical.
Potatoes are a staple food in Peru. This tuberous starchy delight is native to South America, though it’s not known what area of the continent it originated from, though the oldest records of domesticated potatoes are from around 10, 000 years ago. It would have taken a lot of time, patience, and innovation to cultivate these wild potatoes as they are naturally very toxic. There are over 3800 kinds of potatoes that grow in Peru…I think I’ve found my next travel destination!
For the main course of our dinner we were treated to tequila roasted Cornish game hens, yet another dish I would like to somehow recreate here at home at a later date. Our dessert was a simple bowl of fresh strawberries covered in a sweet minty ‘gremolata’. It was a meal worth remembering. Another seasonal ingredient I wanted to incorporate into my Peruvian feast was corn. Though more Meso-American in origin, corn (maize) cultivation in Peru became evident around 6700 years ago. It became one of the four traditional staples of Peruvian cuisine along with potatoes, Amaranthaceaes/grains such as quinoa and legumes. Our Alberta grown sweet Taber corn is at it’s peak right now and I couldn’t wait to use it in these Green Tamales. The husks were still very fresh and pliable, something to look for when you have to fold them into tight little packages. Even though I took the time to strain out a lot of the sweet corn milk, the tamale texture was not quite present in the finished product. I’m wondering if adding a bit of quinoa would help hold it together a bit more while at the same time incorporating another traditional Peruvian food staple. The prawns were not part of the original recipe but I thought they would go really well with the spicy Aji Amarillo paste and sweet corn. As suspected, they were a delicious addition!
Tamalitos Verdes (Green Tamales)
Recipe from Qué Vida Rica Makes 8 tamales
- 6 cobs fresh corn with intact green husks
- 2 cups cilantro leaves
- 1 cup fresh arugula (or spinach)
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 cup Peruvian yellow pepper (Aji amarillo) paste
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 8 large prawns; cleaned and split in half lenthwise
- Fresh corn husks; as needed
- Shuck the corn by grabbing each side of the husks and pulling downward along the cob. Make sure to keep at least one on the larger side. Set husks aside.
- Cut corn from the cob.
- Blend the corn, cilantro and arugula/spinach. If the corn gives off too much liquid, place in a clean dish towel and twist to drain the corn milk. Transfer the processed corn to a container.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the onion, sauté it while stirring so it becomes soft but not too brown.
- Add the processed yellow pepper and garlic and sauté it for a few more minutes.
- Add processed corn and mix to combine everything. Season with salt and pepper, stir with a wooden spoon for about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, wash the cornhusks. To assemble the tamales, overlap two cornhusks, add 2 tablespoons of the dough right in the center, top with two prawn halves. Fold the cornhusks to make the tamales and tie in the center with a piece of string or a strip made from the cornhusk.
- Add a layer of cornhusks to the bottom of a large pot. Place the tamales on top. Add 2 cups of water, cover with more cornhusks, cover with lid and bring to a boil.
- Steam the tamales for about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
These Green Tamales are called ‘tamalitos verdes’ because fresh husks are used instead of rehydrated dried husks. The fresh cilantro and spinach also add to the ‘green theme’ and flavour of this dish.
The Huancaina sauce recipe makes a lot of sauce…and that’s okay! As I mentioned earlier, you’re going to want to put it on everything. I roasted some cauliflower the next night and used the remainder of the sauce and the boys loved it. As I’m not a big fan of cauliflower, I can definitely say that I would eat this dish over and over again.
Papa a la Huancaína (Huancayo Style Potatoes)
Recipe from Peru Delights
- 6 medium yellow potatoes; peeled and boiled
- 2 tbsp aji amarillo chili pepper paste
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 6 soda crackers
- 8 oz. queso fresco (fresh white cheese) save a handful for garnish
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- lettuce leaves
- 1 tbsp annatto seeds
- 2 tbsp oil
- Fresh Cilantro
- Arrange lettuce on the platter.
- Add pepper paste, vegetable oil, soda crackers, queso fresco, and evaporated milk to a blender. Blend until sauce is smooth and thick. A Vitamix on setting 10 is especially handy here because it can warm up the sauce at the same time.
- Slice potatoes and arrange on top of lettuce.
- Pour Huancaína sauce over top of the potatoes; garnish with extra queso fresca and cilantro.
A huge part of the fun of ATW12P (besides finding out what the next country will be) is reading the posts from the other participating bloggers. Will they make the other recipes that I was looking over…will they go for a full meal or keep it to one simple and tasty dish? To read the other blogger’s ATW12P Pervian experiences, simply click on one of the links below:
Gabby cooks up a Peruvian feast at The Food Girl In Town
Nicoletta and Loreto at Sugar Love Spices with Avocado Cream Cheese Roll on Toast
And welcome to newcomer Evelyne Budkewitsch at Culture Eatz with her Peruvian Quinoa Flan