la vida comida

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Tag: cuisine

Manjar Blanco 2016 Redux

Hello again, after (another) long hiatus! I have been so thrilled to watch Peruvian cuisine gain attention and interest over the last year. I always knew that once the creativity, simple elegance, and intriguing combination of history and fusion behind this fabulous cuisine came to light, the world couldn’t help but stand up and take note!

Today, I’m revisiting manjar blanco, one of my all-time favorite sweets. (Click here for my original post.) It is ubiquitous in Latin America (and especially popular in Argentina and Peru): each country and region has its own name and variation – dulce de leche, arequipa, etc. It can be made with goat’s milk (as in Mexican cajeta), or coconut milk; but most versions are made with cow’s milk.

Manjar blanco is a culinary workhorse. Cook it a little less, and it becomes a rich sauce to drizzle over ice cream, crêpes, or any favorite dessert. Reduce it longer, and it can be piped into alfajores; spread in a pionono (a Peruvian jelly roll); or formed into tejas, a Peruvian truffle confection. It is also the base for suspiro de limeña, one of the most heavenly desserts on earth.

More about suspiro another time. But here’s a teaser.  😉

Manjar blanco can be a little tricky. The main issue I’ve had is occasional graininess, especially after a day or two (refrigerated or not).  Any suggestions?

I’ve seen some fresh milk recipes floating around. The ones that look more reliable advocate for four parts milk to one part sugar, by volume; high heat to boil quickly, then very low heat (and constant attention) for several hours. I did try this once. Frankly, I don’t have an entire day to devote to making condensed milk – THEN turning it into manjar blanco – when that hard work has already been done for me. (I know, all-natural, homemade, no shortcuts, etc. etc…. but I’m picking my battles here. I mean, we are making milk candy, not an organic salad, people!  🙂  That said, I’d like to make fresh goat’s milk cajeta sometime.) If you have had success with this method before, though, will you please share your results? Maybe I’ll change my tune.

Just say no to microwave manjar blanco. That’s all I’m saying.

Anyway… I generally make manjar blanco two ways. My favorite is my usual, tried-and-true method: slow-cooking condensed and evaporated milks. Every once in awhile, I’ll cook it in the unopened can (in other words, under presssure). I haven’t yet tried to make it in an actual pressure cooker – I’m fatally clumsy, and not fond of explosions. But this looks like a good recipe; I may try it sometime, if I’m ever feeling adventurous.

(An aside: Want some cool info about food science, the Maillard reaction, and dulce de leche? Click here, and here.)

Manjar blanco cooked in the can is smooth and perfect. It has little to no separated milk solids, and is completely slick and shiny. Also, there is practically no work involved: I simply make sure the water level stays high. It’s relatively thin, which makes it great as a dessert sauce. While the caramel flavor is good, it’s fairly neutral to me. And it looks a little too perfect, even store-bought.

Manjar blanco cooked in a pot requires much more care. You have to stir frequently, and watch for scorching. It does generally have some milk solid and caramel specks in it, so it’s not as smooth-looking as can-cooked manjar blanco; but I find this does not affect the texture or mouth-feel. I personally greatly prefer it. You can reduce it to the consistency you want; and it has that deep caramel flavor, that butterscotch fragrance… it’s just ambrosial.

Here, you can see the difference:

Left: manjar blanco cooked in the pot. 

Center: manjar blanco cooked in the can.

Right: caramel-flavored condensed milk, cooked in the can. (The fake caramel flavor was so gross – not even worth mentioning.)

I haven’t really changed my original manjar blanco recipe; I’ve just added some more cooking details and a few helpful tips. Experiment, and let me know which works best for you!

Buen provecho!

 

Manjar Blanco in a Can
This is the simplest way to have smooth, delicious manjar blanco - without all the stirring or mess. It does take hours - and it's not as thick or rich as manjar blanco cooked in a pot - but the only thing you need to do is keep the can covered with water. Doesn't get any easier!
Servings Prep Time
1can 5minutes
Cook Time
2hours
Servings Prep Time
1can 5minutes
Cook Time
2hours
Ingredients
  • 1can condensed milk(14 oz.)
Instructions
  1. Remove label from can. Place can, on its side, in the bottom of a very tall aluminum stock pot.
  2. Fill the pot almost to the top with room-temperature water. Place the lid tightly on the pot.
  3. Place the pot on the stove over very high heat until the water just boils.
  4. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Simmer gently for approximately 2 ½ hours (2 for lighter color; 3 for darker).
  5. Remove the pot from the heat, and remove the lid. Do not drain the water or remove the can.
  6. Place pot in the sink; run room-temperature (not cold) water into the pot, and gradually allow the can to come to room temperature.
  7. Do not remove the can from the pot, or handle or open the can, until it is completely cool.
  8. Let rest overnight before opening, if possible.
Recipe Notes

The can must be completely smooth, with no dents; otherwise, the can could explode.

It is extremely important to make sure the water never runs low. If the water is allowed to evaporate to the point that the can is exposed to air and not completely submerged, the change in temperature / pressure may cause the can to explode.

The can must always be covered with at least 2” of water; so it’s best to simply keep the pot filled. Be sure to check the water level at least every 15-20 minutes (set a timer!), and add hot water whenever necessary (it’s helpful to have a hot pot of water at the ready, and ladle in extra water as needed). Keeping a tight lid on the pot will help prevent evaporation.

Manjar Blanco 2016
Manjar blanco - milk caramel - can be a decadent spread for Belgian waffles, a filling for cookies or cake, a rich fruit dip... or just eat it, one huge spoonful at a time. It is well worth the effort and time - which you can spend collecting all the foods you want to put it on! The yield is determined by how much you reduce it.
Servings Prep Time
1 pint (approx.) 5 minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Servings Prep Time
1 pint (approx.) 5 minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Ingredients
  • 1can condensed milk(14 oz.)
  • 1can evaporated milk(12 oz.)
  • 1/8tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
Instructions
  1. Combine 1 Tbsp. of the evaporated milk with the baking soda in a small bowl; set aside.
  2. Place remaining milks and salt in a very tall aluminum pot. Pot should be at least 6-8 times as tall as the milk in the pot. Stir to combine.
  3. Quickly bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
  4. Stir the baking soda into the mixture very quickly with a long wooden spoon. Be careful - it will immediately foam up a great deal.
  5. Immediately turn heat down to very low, still stirring constantly.
  6. Once the mixture stops foaming and is very lightly simmering, stir very frequently (every few minutes), for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour (depending on desired degree of caramelization and thickness).
  7. When manjar blanco holds its shape for 2-3 seconds when stirred, it can be removed from heat. (Continue to reduce for thicker / more caramelized manjar blanco.)
  8. Pour into a completely clean stainless steel bowl (use the cleanest side of the pot to pour). Do not scrape bottom or sides into bowl (scrape it into a separate bowl, if you don’t want to waste it).
  9. Cool to room temperature, then transfer to a container with an airtight lid.
Recipe Notes

Manjar blanco keeps for 3-4 days at room temperature, and longer than a week in the refrigerator. (However, it is more likely to re-crystallize and become grainy if refrigerated.)

Donde Peruco

Seafood / ceviche, Northern Peruvian (norteña)
(4 / 5)
$$
review date: 12/24/2014
+51 1 4491030
Calle María Elena Moyano (La Merced) 178, Santiago de Surco 15038, Perú

 
 

My husband’s sister Susi and brother-in-law David brought us to Donde Peruco for Christmas Eve lunch, saying that if we couldn’t get up to my husband’s northern hometown of Piura, Donde Peruco had some good norteña dishes, and some great seafood too.

The restaurant’s located on a side street in Surco, Lima’s largest district. Mistura and Apega signs hang prominently outside the restaurant, proclaiming the restaurant’s participation in the country’s largest food festival (and by association, its quality).

Outside, the small, winding street was packed with cars (and attendants looking to help you park for a few nuevo soles); but the restaurant’s interior – while smallish – had a rustic, breezy feel. There was a little alcove bar which looked cozy.

The server was extremely polite, and swiftly served us beers, and a pitcher of sweet, clove-y chicha morada. We munched on the provided cancha (fried maize kernels) and chifles (plantain chips), then started with leche de tigre – for which chefs and home cooks alike have their own special recipe. Often this consists of strained ceviche marinade, while sometimes it is made on its own; still others use a combination of these two. Donde Peruco’s, to me, was more like a ceviche in a glass, with extra marinade – but I’m not complaining. The tart creaminess of the marinade, the inimitable floral, tangy-sweet Peruvian lime, fresh sea bass, and crisp red onion… my mouth waters just thinking about it, and I’m not even exaggerating.

This led into our main dishes, the first of which was a mild ceviche de pescado (which was nearly identical to the leche de tigre, I think). I personally like my ceviche much spicier, but it was still delicious.

The lomo saltado was incredible. Those who’ve had it before may think this phrase is an oxymoron! It’s a simple dish, certainly – strips of beef and bell pepper, with a lot of garlic and a hint of soy sauce, a nod to the many Asian influences in Peruvian cuisine. But the beef was filet mignon-tender, the sauce so flavorful, with just the right balance of salt and garlic. Even my husband said it was the best he’d ever had.

We also shared a plate of jalea, a plate of battered fried seafood and yucca, with homemade mayonnaise for dipping. Hot, light, crisp… yum.

Our arroz con mariscos had a dark, rich seafood sauce, with shrimp, squid, calamari, mussels, and a paella-like rice. It was very good.

We also sampled a few of the norteño dishes. I’d never had seco de chabelo before, and it was… well, interesting. It was like smashed tostones with fresh dried beef (charqui, or jerky), and chifles stuck in the top. There’s no question it was well-made; I’m just on the fence about tostones, which I find to be bland and dry. I greatly prefer ripe, moist plantains, fried to a dark caramel on the outside, and that sweet, deep yellow creaminess on the inside… well, I digress. If you’re not a fan of unripe plantains, you may want to skip this one. (My husband says that in his hometown, they do not put chifles, and they use chicha de jora to make it more moist and flavorful.)

Majado de yucca is another northern specialty. Now I’m a yucca freak, and I could pretty much eat fried yucca (with an assortment of dipping sauces of course) every day of the year. But this was similar to the seco de chabelo, only with yucca. Like the chabelo, it was very good – just not my thing.

For dessert, we went to a gelateria, though we’ll be sure to try Donde Peruco’s postres (and the arroz con pato, the one norteña dish we didn’t get to try) next time. 

For a restaurant in Lima, the prices might be considered middle of the road. For American visitors, the prices are quite reasonable; almost all of the entrées are priced between $8 and $9 American dollars.

Donde Peruco is simply an excellent restaurant. I can’t say one negative thing about it. Every single dish was well-made, perfectly seasoned, nicely presented, and served quickly and courteously. I absolutely recommend it, and plan to go back as soon as we return to Lima.

Sancocho

As most everyone knows, New York’s winter has been especially brutal this year. Subzero temperatures, weekly snowstorms, blustery gray days that blend into one another… it feels like winter will never end.

My husband’s friend Will is a Nuyorican who has lived in Albany for many years. He’s helped us out of many a jam, not the least of which has been digging us out of every snowstorm.

After the last storm, I gratefully asked Will what I could make to repay him. He immediately answered, “Sancocho!”

I wasn’t even sure what it was. But after a little investigation, I learned that sancocho is another ubiquitous culinary term: most countries in and near the Caribbean have their own version. (Peru’s sancochado is a soup – not quite the same.)

Some cite sancocho’s origin as the Canary Islands: slaves brought to the Caribbean by the Spanish brought the dish (originally made with fish) along with them. Others elaborate, asserting that African slaves set a pot of sancocho to simmer in the morning, so they would have a hearty stew to sustain themselves after toiling in the scorching heat. (It also alludes to the individuals themselves, boiling under the hot sun.) Still others credit the indigenous Taino peoples with introducing the Spanish to their root vegetable stew.

Like most food history, things have a tendency to get muddled over time. There’s surely truth in each version.

But it is important to remember – especially now, in honor of Black History Month – that each Latin American country’s cuisine was not created by only indigenous and Spanish food cultures. African slaves prepared, influenced – and truly, invented – many dishes for the viceroy and upper class households. This vastly influenced the mainstream cuisine of many countries. African contribution to Latin American cuisine simply cannot be overstated.

Will says his family always used oxtails – which is usually used in the Colombian version – and included tomatoes. This version, based on Will’s family recipe, is a meat-heavy stew, full of earthy roots, sweet squash, and of course, sofrito.

Sofrito is a central ingredient in sancocho. Every Latin American culture has at least one version of sofrito. (Truly, almost every food culture has a similar culinary staple: a mix of aromatic vegetables which form the foundation of a dish’s flavor. Think pre-cooked, Latin American mirepoix. (Recaíto, a cilantro-based sofrito, is usually used for Puerto Rican sancocho.)

When I asked Will if his family’s recipe was traditional, he said that each family had its own version; but added: “Does it taste good? Then it’s traditional.” Truer words were never said!

It was such a hit, I’ve made it three more times in the last month! I can’t think of a more satisfying comfort food for this frigid weather – or for a loyal friend.

Sancocho
Servings Prep Time
8people 30minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Servings Prep Time
8people 30minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Ingredients
Browning meat:
  • 2packets Goya Sazon seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1pound oxtails or beef shin bones
  • 1pound beef short ribs
  • 1pound beef neck bones
  • 2pounds beef eye or top round,cubed
  • 1 ham hock
Stew base:
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1large yellow onionmedium dice
  • 10cloves garlicminced
  • 1medium green peppermedium dice
  • 1/2can tomato paste(6 oz.)
  • 1pint Sofritofresh or frozen Goya
  • 2quarts beef stock
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1packet Goya Jamon seasoning
  • 1tsp. Goya Adobo seasoning
  • 1tsp. achiote, ground
Vegetables:
  • 4medium yellow potatoespeeled and quartered
  • 1large sweet potatopeeled and quartered
  • 1pound yucca,frozen, defrosted, strings removed
  • 1large batata (yam)peeled and quartered
  • 1large plantain,cut in quarter width-wise
  • 1 pound butternut squashfresh or frozen, large dice
  • 2whole corn cobs,cut in thirds width-wise
  • 1bunch cilantrochopped
  • salt and black pepperto taste
Instructions
Mise en place:
  1. Gather / measure all ingredients.
Browning Meats:
  1. Sprinkle meats with the two Sazon packets and ½ tsp. black pepper. Heat oil in a very large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, over medium-high heat. Brown meats, starting with the fattiest meats (oxtail / shin bones, neck bones, then boneless diced meat). Lightly brown pork bone. Remove meat from pot with slotted spoon.
Base:
  1. Lower heat to medium. Add onions to oil; sauté until transparent (3-4 minutes). Add garlic; sauté 2-3 minutes. Add green pepper; sauté until soft (3-4 more minutes).
  2. Add tomato paste; sauté until paste darkens and has a distinctive, rich aroma (pincé), about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add liquids; deglaze pot. Add sofrito; stir. Bring liquid to a boil, then add meats and pork bone to the broth.
  4. Turn heat back down to medium; partially cover (but allow some steam to escape). Simmer meat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Check that all meats are tender. (They do not need to be completely fork tender, since the stew will continue to cook. But if they are still firm, continue to cook. Check every 10 minutes until meats are just starting to become fork tender (fork will penetrate meat, but will not sink all the way through with no effort).
  6. Remove cover. Add all vegetables except butternut squash, corn, and cilantro. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Check that all starches are fork tender. If not, continue to cook until they are tender; but be careful not to overcook, or they will disintegrate.
  8. Add squash and corn; cook 7-10 more minutes, until squash is tender and corn is done. (Be careful not to overcook squash, or it will fall apart).
  9. Taste the sancocho. Add Adobo, salt, and/or black pepper to taste, if desired. Stir in cilantro. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

You can find Goya (and other) brand sofrito, recaíto, and yucca (cassava) in most grocery stores.

Goya frozen sofrito has a very strong oregano flavor and aroma.

If using recaíto instead of sofrito, omit the tomato paste.

You can substitute 1 can yellow hominy (rinsed) or 1 cup frozen and defrosted corn nibs for the cobs, if desired.

Panchita

Criollo Peruvian cuisine

(3 / 5)

$$

review date: 1/2/2015

Menu: Facebook 

+51 1 4478272

Calle 2 de Mayo 298, Miraflores District, Lima

My husband's sweet cousin Mili brought me, my husband, daughter, and mother-in-law to Panchita for lunch. Panchita is one of renowned chef / restauranteur Gastón Acurio's casual dining restaurants, located in the Miraflores district of Lima. It has a fun vibe, with traditional ceramics and posters of Peruvian expressions throughout. The first thing you see when you walk in is the refrigerated case of marinating meats and fish, giving the impression that Acurio means to showcase the traditional criollio Peruvian food from the outset.

Our courteous server greeted the five of us immediately, and we while we perused the large menu, we ordered drinks: passionfruit and regular pisco sours, and a pitcher of chicha morada. The sours were good, with just the right amount of pisco and egg white froth. The chicha was very subtly spiced, and not too sweet; I don’t care for it personally, but my husband and daughter really liked it.

As we had walked to our table, we’d passed the huge bread oven, a red-mosaic monstrosity with a concrete wall around it. It glared with heat and promise. We were told that all the restaurant’s breads were baked in this oven, and I could not wait to try them. We were quickly served a variety of breads and condiments on a wooden tray: a large, fluffy loaf of potato bread; two round, crusty white rolls;  an unleavened bread made of beans; and another bread made of corn.

What a disappointment.  The potato bread was sweet and cottony-soft, but nearly flavorless, and reminded me distinctly of store-bought potato bread. The other breads had a nice chewy texture, but also lacked flavor, with barely a trace of the earthy stone-hearth aroma I would have expected from that oven. Even more, I was shocked to discover (after the fact) that we had been charged $7 soles per person for the one tray of bread we’d all shared, which was never even refilled! That makes $35 soles for four rolls and one four-serving loaf of bread. That’s outrageous. Though the price is on the menu, many people (especially Americans, including myself) would just assume bread was free, especially when it’s simply plunked down on your table without a comment. (Note 7/2016: apparently this “bread tax” is a common practice in restaurants; so you may wish to check the menu or ask the server at each restaurant you visit in Peru.)

We decided to share an assortment of appetizers. We began with Piqueo Doña Pancha, a sampler plate of appetizers: anticuchos de corazón; causa; chicharrón; tamal verde; choclo a la huancaína; and a papita rellena, accompanied by salsa criolla and fried sweet potato. We all agreed that each appetizer was exceptionally good. The tamal verde – moist and delicate, full of fresh cilantro flavor – was one of the best I’ve had. The anticuchos de corazón – marinated, skewered, and grilled beef hearts – stole the show: so tender, with a taste like a cross between a ribeye steak and a mild liver, and just a slight hint of game in the aftertaste. Add hot pepper paste, spices, and smoky char from the grill… simply amazing. Try them. You won’t be sorry.

Next came Jarana Criolla, or an assortment of stewed dishes which were largely created by Peruvian African slaves: olluquito (a stew made with olluco, a root vegetable that tastes to me like a cross between white potato and cabbage); ají de gallina; carapulcra (dried potato and beef jerky stew); cau cau (tripe); sangrecita (fried beef blood); patita con maní (pig’s feet with peanut); chanfainita (an organ meat stew); and frijoles con jugo y arroz (black beans with rice). All were very good, but the star was the pig’s feet – the meat was rich and sweet, and the peanut was a perfect accompaniment. However, a few of these were extremely salty, especially the beans.

We also ordered a plate of anticuchos de paiche, with tostones. Paiche is a massive South American river fish that is white and sweet, much like cod (indeed, it’s sometimes called the “cod of the Amazon”); but has a bit of chewy bite to it, making it strong enough to withstand the grill. It was marinated in lime juice, pepper paste, and spices, and cooked absolutely perfectly, plucked off the grill just at the point when it was cooked through. It was juicy, bursting with flavor, yet still delicate. This was one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever eaten, bar none – and I don’t say that lightly.

My daughter ordered a plate of pesto pasta for herself; she said it was good. I tasted it and thought it was decent. (This might work for a vegetarian, as well as the breads / condiments, and possibly the bean stews – but ask which dishes are made with meat stock; I bet most are.)

For dessert, we all shared a plate of picarones, deep-fried beignets/doughnuts made of pumpkin, sweet potato, and sweet spices like cinnamon and clove. They were fresh and light, with most of its sweetness lent by the generous pouring of miel (molasses syrup). It was a perfect end to our lunch.

The service was excellent: friendly, knowledgeable, prompt, and unobtrusive. They cheerfully obliged our every request, even when I (very annoyingly) asked to take pictures of everyone and everything. They even took pictures on each of our phones.

Overall I found Panchita provided a very good meal for a reasonable price (with the exception of the bread). The entire meal for 5 people, including drinks, came to just over $400 soles – about $130 American dollars. Now that is a bargain, even with a steep “bread tax.”

Keep in mind this is more casual fare. It’s a good place for a fun lunch or happy hour with friends. We’ll definitely give it another try next time we’re in Lima, and sample some of the main dishes. I would recommend it.

I can hardly believe so much time has passed since I’ve written! I’m so glad to be back. It’s been such a busy year for me: I’m just two semesters shy of my food studies master’s degree, which has been very hard but rewarding research work. I’m also working as a pastry chef at a gourmet market, as well as a private cake artist (and participated in a cake competition earlier this year as well). But I will be posting regularly from now on – really, I promise!

Today’s my birthday, which I’m pleased to find falls during Mistura (September 5-15 this year). Quite a nice birthday present, I think! It’s my mission to attend next year.

Mistura is a Peruvian culinary festival which was created by APEGA (Peru’s Gastronomic Society, which promotes Peruvian biodiversity, farming, and cuisine). APEGA and Mistura seek to educate the public about Peru’s incredible and unique food products, which immediately translates into its tremendous gastronomic diversity. In that vein, Mistura’s chef-participants showcase Peruvian agricultural and food products in creative and exciting ways.

At Mistura, Peru’s culinary “worlds” are represented by ingredients or dishes (like anticucho, ceviche, and sandwiches) – and regional / fusion cuisines (including north, south, Amazon, chifa, and nikkei). Quinoa, the Andean superfood, local fish / seafood products, and chocolate took center stage this year.

Peruvian cuisine is dynamic, innovative fusion at its best – and the culinary world is finally starting to take note! Mistura is fast becoming a culinary destination for top chefs and international foodies. The festival has grown in recent years to include culinary exhibits from around the world. Celebrated international chefs headlined food presentations, including (of course) Gastón Acurio, Ferran Adrià, José Andrés, Rick Bayless, Alain Ducasse, and René Redzepi.

One aside: I was greatly disappointed to learn there was not one female chef included in the presentations. I sincerely hope this inexplicable exclusion is corrected in Mistura 2014. However, chef Milagros Herrera was selected as Mistura’s Best Pastry Chef 2014, whose quinoa crème brûlée thrilled the judges. Read about it here:

This beautiful English-language video about Mistura was shared with me by filmmakers Mo Stoebe and Katja Kulenkampff. (It is also posted on their stunning blog, Cut and Cue.) It showcases renowned chefs Gaston Acurio, Tony Custer, and René Redzepi sharing their views about Peruvian cuisine, food culture, and the Mistura festival. It perfectly captures both the visual beauty of Peruvian food and the cultural essence of the cuisine – and especially how Peruvian food can become a vehicle for social change.

Mo and Katja, thanks so much for this enlightening glimpse into Mistura and Peruvian food life!

 

Want to learn more about Mistura? Check out the links below.

¡buen provecho! ¡hasta pronto!

Link to the official Mistura website (español)…

http://mistura.pe/

…and its official Facebook page (español):

https://www.facebook.com/misturaperu

Eater.com’s Mistura review (English):

http://eater.com/archives/2013/09/10/hangover-observations-from-mistura-2013-in-lima-peru.php

Peru This Week.com’s Mistura writeup (English):

http://www.peruthisweek.com/food-everything-you-need-to-know-about-mistura-2013-100774

Latina Lista.com (English):

http://latinalista.com/2013/09/international-foodies-turn-their-attention-to-perus-mistura

Peruvian newspaper El Comercio’s website, with Mistura 2013 news (español):

http://elcomercio.pe/gastronomia/?tag=mistura&ref=ecb

El Comercio’s aerial camera view of Mistura (español):

http://elcomercio.pe/gastronomia/1628820/noticia-feria-mistura-2013-desde-lente-dronevideo

Holy crap, I’m on TV!…

… for three minutes, anyway.

Today my blog was featured on the local New York NBC affiliate TV station, WNYT-Albany, in a segment called “Today’s Women.”  The featured recipe is tacu tacu con apanado, an Afro-Peruvian dish that highlights the significant contribution the African slaves made to Peruvian cuisine.

Here’s the video:

I was honored to be chosen, and I’m grateful to Elaine Houston and WNYT News Channel 13 for helping spread the word about my blog! I hope people will visit and learn something new about Latin American cuisine!

If you’re checking out my blog for the first time, welcome! I hope you’ll return often – or feel free to subscribe via RSS at the top of the page. If you like this site, please click the “like” Facebook button too!

Questions, comments, suggestions, and requests are always welcome. Please feel free to email me via the Contact page.

Thanks for reading!

Locro / Andean Squash Stew

Locro (ruqru in Quechua) is a pre-Colombian Incan meal that originated in the Andes Mountains. In Peru, it is a stew of pumpkin or squash, potatoes, corn and cheese (which was added after the Spanish conquest). It’s usually a winter dish; but I thought it would be perfect for this gloomy, rainy spell we’ve been enduring here in New York.

[In Ecuador, locro is a potato and cheese soup served with avocado. There is also a dish called locro in Argentina; but it is more of a meat-and-potatoes stew.]

I imagine some might turn up their noses at a “plain old squash” stew – I thought I would, too. But the hearty but clean, simple flavors shine through. I love this dish – I bet you will too!

 

Locro / Peruvian Pumpkin Stew
Servings Prep Time
4people 15minutes
Cook Time
70minutes
Servings Prep Time
4people 15minutes
Cook Time
70minutes
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup olive oilextra virgin
  • 2pounds acorn squash,peeled, large dice (about 2 small squashes)
  • 1medium yellow onionsmall dice
  • 3cloves garlicminced
  • 1Tbsp. ají amarillo paste
  • 1tsp. flour, all-purpose
  • 2medium yellow potatoespeeled, quartered
  • 8oz. peas,fresh or frozen and defrosted
  • 8oz. queso fresco(for stew)
  • 4oz. queso fresco(for garnish)
  • 2cups stock,chicken or vegetable
  • 1/2cup heavy cream(or evaporated milk)
  • 1Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/4tsp. white pepper
  • 1Tbsp. huacataypaste (or fresh, if possible)
  • 6large olives,Peruvian or kalamata, sliced
Instructions
Mise en place:
  1. Gather / measure / prep all ingredients.
Stew:
  1. Heat the oil; sauté the onion until translucent (4-5 minutes).
  2. Add the garlic and ají amarillo paste; cook for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the flour; stir to incorporate, and cook for one minute.
  4. Deglaze with stock, whisking constantly. Add salt and pepper.
  5. Bring to a low boil. Reduce to a simmer; then add the squash. Cook for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Add potatoes; cook for 20-25 minutes more (until potatoes are just tender).
  7. Add peas and corn; cook for 10-15 minutes.
  8. Stir in milk or cream and butter; blend. Gently fold in cheese. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  9. Serve with white rice; garnish with chopped oregano, sliced olives and cubes of cheese.
Recipe Notes

This recipe makes a pea-soupy consistency. For a thicker stew, use ½ the amount of stock and milk.

Butternut squash is particularly good substitution. Pumpkin can also be used.

This hearty stew is a great vegetarian meal option.

For a vegan locro: substitute vegan vegetable stock, tofu cheese, and almond milk; use olive or vegetable oil instead of butter.

Copyright © 2011 la vida comida.
Recipe by Jennifer Ramos Lorson.

A Brief History of Peruvian Cuisine

The next several posts will be about Peru and Peruvian cuisine, since it’s closest to my heart (and mouth!). We will get to the recipes soon, I promise! But I thought I would be in remiss not to mention the rich cultural history that is behind this exciting cuisine.

Believe it or not, this is relatively brief overview of Peruvian food history! It would be impossible to cover the entire history of the Inca Empire, Spanish conquest and subsequent cultural development in a blog post (and not really relevant for our purposes!). I will, however, include links to websites that offer more in-depth explanations, for anyone who might be interested.

Peruvian cuisine is one of the most fascinating food cultures in the world. It is unmatched in both its diversity and individuality – in my humble opinion, anyway. It is a fusion of many different cultures; it retains unique elements of each, yet is a distinct cuisine all its own. Its main influences are the indigenous Inca peoples; the Spanish conquistadors; African slaves brought by the Spanish; and large waves of immigrants who became integral components of the cultural and culinary framework.

Peruvian Girls in Traditional Dress

Incas

The Inca Empire, at the time of the Spanish conquest, was a vast and complex civilization that – at its height – extended into modern-day Chile, Ecuador and Colombia. This region was called Tahuantinsuyo, or “land of four regions.” The Tahuantinsuyos (the word “Inca” actually referred to the nation’s nobility, though we’ll use it because it’s familiar) were already a mixture of cultures and languages themselves, united through the conquests of emperor Pachacutec and his sons. After Pachacutec’s death, both brothers vied for power; as a result, the nation was greatly compromised by war between the two brothers’ factions. It is at this time that the Spaniards arrived; the weakened state of leadership, government, and army greatly contributed to the Incas’ downfall at the hands of the Spanish.

The indigenous peoples had a rich array of native foods, recipes and techniques when the colonizing Spanish arrived. Peru is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, and a multitude of important native foods were consumed throughout the country:  notably the variety of peppers, hot and sweet, which are an essential ingredient in many Peruvian recipes. Peanuts and many tomato and bean varietals were also cultivated and widely consumed.

In addition to these universal ingredients, local cuisines were – and still are – highly dependent upon the geographic area and climate of each region. While it is important to note that there is a considerable overlap of foods in each region, there are three main climatic (and culinary) regions:

The Andes Mountains and Highlands

Purple Corn

The mountain regions had a highly developed system of farming, which included terrace farming and its complex irrigation systems. Many mountain crops grow only at specific altitudes; these ancient farmers knew which crops grew best at which altitude, and 

Corn was a highly-prized staple of Andean cuisine; there were a multitude of corn cakes and tamales, each serving a different meal or cultural purpose (i.e. some were for ritual celebrations, some for everyday meals, etc.). Chicha morada is a drink made from purple corn; and chicha de jora is a fermented corn beer which held great ceremonial importance in ancient Inca life.

They also cultivated hundreds of tuber varieties indigenous to the region, especially the incredible diversity of potatoes; but also sweet potatoes and unique tuber varieties such as the olluca.  Quinoa, amaranth (kiwicha) and other ancient grains were important for nutrition and culinary variety. While the majority of the common folk ate little meat, the Incas did hunt fresh game such as venison (most often in the participation of ritual hunts). They also domesticated native animals, such as llama, alpaca, and cuy, or guinea pig, which they also sacrificed.

The Inca people developed advanced preparation and preservation methods such as freeze-drying; these enabled them to endure times of scarcity and difficult weather conditions. Chuños / papas secas (dried potatoes) are still a staple, and a main ingredient in the stew carapulcra. The Incas also dried meat and freshwater fish; in fact, charqui (jerky) is one of the few Andean foods and Quechua words that have been adopted worldwide. Pachamanca is a huge celebration meal that is cooked in an earthen pit with hot stones. Native plants such as huacatay, a native herb related to marigold, and hot peppers, seasoned and flavored their foods.

Tropical / Amazon Basin

This region grows vast quantity of tropical fruits, many of which are not often found outside of Peru; they include camu camu, lucuma, cherimoya, and guanabana. Also found are yucca, yam, guava, passion fruit, granadilla, and avocado. The Amazon River provides an abundance of fish and wildlife. Wild pig and other jungle animals are hunted.

The Coast

Fish and seafood are obvious staples. Ceviche – raw fish or seafood marinated in lime juice – is a regional delicacy; each area has its own version. Waterfowl such as duck was also common.

There are two subdivisions of the coastal regions:

The Northern Coast is extremely hot, with a desert savanna climate. In addition to an abundance of fish and seafood, Chicha de jora (corn beer) is used in cooking more frequently here. Also, maize tamales are more common, whereas corn tamales are made in Lima and the southern portion of the country. Goat and lamb, particularly in stews (secos), are common entrées in this region.

Lima and the Central / Southern Coast has a subtropical / desert climate. Once home to the Viceroyalty, Lima is now considered the gastronomic center of Peru, if not all of South America. The sheer number and variety of Peruvian restaurants is extraordinary. 

Spanish Conquest

When Francisco Pizarro and the Spaniards arrived in Peru in 1532, they not only found a state weakened by civil war; but they also brought smallpox and other epidemics, which wiped out somewhere between 60% to over 90% of the Inca population by the end of the 16th century… leaving few people to fight or to be conquered. The Spanish used the remaining Inca as slaves – frequently working them to death – and suppressed their culture and traditions to the point that few Inca artifacts or history remain. They also brought their own blended culture’s cuisine, which consisted of European and Moorish recipes, ingredients, and methods.

Aside from pestilence and oppression, the Spanish brought European classical cuisine and ingredients including: onions and garlic; cumin, cilantro and parsley; and fruit trees (especially grape, olive, citrus, apple, peach, and pear). They also brought domesticated livestock, such as chicken, cows, rabbit, goats and sheep. The Spanish contributed significant agricultural staples such as rice and wheat. The Spaniards’ contribution of sugar cane transformed Peru into a sweet-loving culture in a very short period of time.

Mestizo Cuisine

The Inca intermarried with the Spanish over many generations; and their descendants came to be called mestizo (mixed). This created a lower-middle class that took many generations to develop. This process began on the culinary level as well, as the two food cultures began to blend together along with the families. Over many generations, the two cuisines became intermingled, recipes marrying ingredients and techniques became commonplace; and the foundation of modern Peruvian cuisine was created. Criollo (Creole) literally means locally-born people of foreign descent; but the term came to describe Peruvian cuisine itself: the marriage of Spanish colonial cuisine with the foods and food culture of the indigenous Inca groups.

Immigrant Waves

Peruvian cuisine was later influenced by large immigrant population waves. The Spaniards brought African slaves as obviously unwilling immigrants. They contributed many culinary techniques and ingredients, often borne out of necessity (i.e. being forced to use less appealing cuts of meat, leftovers, etc.). They contributed African methods, particularly frying foods in oil; and made a significant contribution to the cuisine. A few notable recipes include anticuchos and tacu tacu. Also, as servants in the Viceroyalty’s kitchens, they helped transform Peru into a sweet-loving culture: they imbued Spanish desserts with African undertones. Picarones and turrón de Doña Pepa are a few examples.

Peru formally declared its independence on July 28, 1821. In 1872, the Peruvian government created the Sociedad de Inmigración Europea (“European Immigration Society”); it offered financial support to Europeans looking to emigrate to Peru. Many immigrants – most notably Italians, Germans, and French – soon arrived. Classical French cuisine and Italian ingredients (especially pasta) were readily incorporated into the food culture. Many settled in isolated communities in mountain valleys and lowlands; Italian and German enclaves in the mountain valleys and Amazon basin still exist today, and strive to maintain their ethnic heritage. (My husband is himself a descendant of the Tremolada family of Junín province, and is one-quarter Milanese!)

Chinese immigrants arrived to build the railroads in the 1800s, and contributed tremendously to Peruvian food culture. Chifa – Chinese-Peruvian cuisine – blends traditional Chinese with native Peruvian ingredients. Peruvian cooks began to integrate Chinese ingredients into their meals; ginger, soy sauce, and scallions can be found in many Peruvian recipes. Chifa is quite different from Chinese-American cuisine – which has been altered to suit American tastes, and is not generally consumed by Chinese people (either in the U.S. or in China). It is a unique cuisine onto itself.  Lima and the larger cities hold the greatest concentration of Chinese immigrants, and consequently the greatest number of chifa restaurants.

Last – but certainly not least – the Japanese made their mark on the cuisine. Peru established diplomatic relations with Japan in 1873; emigration to Peru began soon afterwards. Today, Peru is home to over 1.5 million Japanese-Peruvians. (Former President Fujimori and his presidential-candidate daughter Keiko are notable, if dubious, Japanese-Peruvians.) Partly through the expertise of sushi chefs, ceviche – a traditional Peruvian dish of fish macerated in citrus juice – has been elevated to an art form in the haute cuisine kitchens of Lima. Tiradito – a sashimi-inspired dish similar to ceviche – was the result of Japanese influence.

The cuisines of the Inca, Spanish, Africans, Europeans, Chinese, and Japanese have been seamlessly incorporated into one unified Peruvian food culture. Spaniards’ own mélange of cultures, as well as the multitude of microcultures that made up the Inca people, may have set the stage for an attitude of culinary acceptance that might not have been possible elsewhere. The result is Peruvian Cuisine: an exciting, vibrant, eclectic mix of cultures, ingredients and recipes that continues to evolve today.

A note about Latin American culture and cuisine

Before I delve into regional food cultures and recipes, I would like to give a very brief explanation of Latin American cuisine – which is kind of a misnomer in itself.  There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about it, and I wanted to address them before I went any further.

Latin America (Latinoaméricaconsists of those countries in the Americas that Spain and Portugal conquered and colonized. Often, when people say Latin America, they really mean Hispanoamérica – the places that only Spain colonized.

Each Latin American country has its own separate culture – and as a result, its own unique cuisine.  Indeed, each region within each country has its own distinct culinary specialties – just as the countries of Europe do (and really, just about everywhere). So “Latin American cuisine” really is a collection of different cuisines, rather than its own entity. More about that in a minute.

The biggest misconception I’ve found here in the U.S. is that if something is Hispanic or Latin American, it’s labeled “Spanish.” Only people and things from the country of Spain itself are Spanish. An Ecuadorian restaurant is not “Spanish”; a Mexican taquería is not “Spanish”; a Chilean person is not “Spanish.” I imagine the practice developed because many people from Hispanoamérica speak Spanish as their first language.  But each Latino/a person takes great pride in his/her country of origin, as well as the traditions from that country (in the same way that our ancestors’ traditions are important to us Americans). Also, it doesn’t even make any sense, if you think about it. I’m Swedish and German and an American… but because I speak English, suddenly I’m “English?” See what I mean? It’s kind of bizarre, really.

Another misconception is that all people who speak Spanish eat tacos and enchiladas. Those foods are from Mexico. You will not find them in most other regions, and particularly not in South American cuisine. Only Mexican and Central American cuisines use tortillas. In fact, in Spain, a tortilla actually means an omelette. And authentic Mexican regional cuisine isn’t found in a fast food chain… though that’s for another time.

Some foods, like tamales and salsas, can be found in many regions; but they vary greatly, depending on what is found locally. Take beans, for instance. Rice and beans is a staple dish in many Latin American cuisines – but it’s made differently in every country.  For example: in Cuba, you’ll find slow-cooked black beans; in Peru, fava and white beans; in Mexico, pinto beans; in Puerto Rico, pigeon peas; etc. etc.

So every Latin American country has its own distinct cuisine, based on how the indigenous culture’s food blended with Spanish colonial food – and how that cuisine evolved over time (often absorbing the cuisines of immigrants as well, such as in Peruvian cuisine).

In short, it ain’t Spanish!

So why put all Hispanic Latin American cuisines together? Well, they do share some of the same ingredients; and they do share the contributions of Spain, the colonizing country. Part of the problem is that here in the U.S., we have not had the opportunity to learn much about different Latin American countries. So, for lack of knowledge, we’ve just lumped them all together in this “Spanish” group. I don’t think it’s intentional; I was guilty of the same ignorance. But I thought I’d do my part to clarify things, now that I’ve gained a bit of knowledge about this topic.

I am enamored with all Latin American cuisines; and while I’m going to focus on Peruvian food – my hands-down favorite – I couldn’t imagine concentrating on only one. I will concentrate on Hispanoamérica; but I’ll touch upon Spain, Brazil and Portugal as well. So here in this blog, it’s not a “lumping”… but rather, a (hopefully) tasty mélange that will retain the trueness of each individual ingredient. (Okay, that was totally cheesy, but sincere nonetheless.)

Anyway, thanks for indulging me. Time for some food!

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