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Tag: history

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Some cite sancocho’s origin as the Canary Islands: slaves brought to the Caribbean by the Spanish brought the dish (originally made with fish) along with them.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.

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!

The History of Peruvian Pisco

* For those of you who’d rather skip the history and get right to the Pisco Sour recipe – click here.!

pisco sour

Pisco is clear Peruvian grape brandy, made by distilling the fresh musts of specific varieties of grapes. It is the national spirit of both Peru and Chile. There has been an ongoing battle between Peru and Chile for credit for its creation; but it is internationally recognized as originating in Peru. Pisco probably began to be produced in Chile after its occupation of southern Peru in the late 19th century.We’ll concentrate on Peruvian pisco, which is universally believed to be the gold standard.

The name pisco itself has an interesting history. Pisqu or pissqu means “little bird” or “seagull” in the Quechua language. Legend has it that an Ica Valley tribe was renowned for its skilled potters. Chuquimanco, the tribe’s chief, saw a flock of pisqu seabirds, and was inspired to name the potters’ village after them.  This Incan tribe produced amphora-style clay vessels to store liquids, as well as to ferment chicha (corn mash beer), which is the only alcoholic beverage attributable to the pre-Colombian Incas. These vessels came to be called piskos, after the tribe that made them; this eventually evolved into the word pisco.

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, they imposed their lifestyle upon Peru. Wine was a basic component of daily life (and the Catholic Church); so the Spanish quickly imported Iberian grapes to Peru. European black Muscatel grapes were planted throughout Peru’s southern coastal valleys in the mid-1500s. These grapes, which had been previously used to make raisins and brandy, became the grape of choice for Peruvian winemaking. Advanced Incan irrigation canals were already in place in the Ica Valley, which carried melted snow down from the Andes Mountains; as a result, viniculture was able to flourish in this hot, desert area.

These Muscatel grapes came to be known in Peru as quebranta, which means “broken-in.” As the grapes acclimatized to their new environment, they developed into a genetic mutation, becoming their own discrete variety. Quite fortuitously, this mutation rendered quebranta grapes resistant (though not immune) to the phylloxera insect that all but destroyed European grape stock in the 19th century.

quebranta grapes

Peruvian wine trade thrived; and the Ica’s capital city and main port, Pisco, bustled with wine exports. In fact, during the 1600s, Peruvian wine production became so lucrative that King Felipe II of Spain banned Peruvian wine imports altogether, to eliminate competition with Spain. Consequently, grape farmers increased production of aguardiente (fermented alcoholic beverages) throughout the Viceroyalty in the mid 16th century – especially Peruvian grape brandy. Peruvian brandy soon became popular among travelers to the region. Its popularity spread; and exports from Ica’s capital city and main port, Pisco, increased considerably. It became widely known as pisco because of the double reference (to both storage vessel and port).

Pisco even made a brief appearance in U.S. history during the California gold rush era. Ships bound for California stopped in Pisco, picking up pisco and other liquors, which they then traded in California ports. Pisco became extremely popular in San Francisco; the Bank Exchange & Billiard Room created Pisco Punch: a potent brew of pisco, pineapple and lemon or lime juice, gum Arabic, and distilled water – so potent, in fact, that several celebrated writers (including Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling) wrote about it and helped spread its popularity, until Prohibition closed the Exchange’s doors.

So to recap: the name pisco refers to the region, the port, the clay vessels, and the beverage itself… which clearly shows pisco’s great importance to Peruvian culture.

Pisco Today

Peruvians take exceptional pride in their pisco. To preserve its quality and reputation, a series of policies and laws have regulated the production, classification and appellation of pisco from the 19th century to the present day. Today, Pisco is produced in legally designated areas of origin, and production is closely monitored. Proof is not regulated, though it is usually about 42%. Pisco must be aged for a minimum of three months in vessels that do not alter the pisco in any way, and no additives whatsoever are permitted.

There are four recognized grades of Peruvian pisco:

puro (non-aromatic)

Made primarily from Quebranta grapes (considered to be the best), but sometimes from Mollar, Common Black, or Uvina grapes.It is produced exclusively from one single variety of pisco grapes, which is indicated on the bottle label. It is the most exported and sought-after grade of pisco, as it is considered to be the highest quality.

aromático (aromatic)

Fresh musts fermented from the blending of ‘aromatic’ pisco grape varieties, such as Muscat, Italia, Torontel, and Albilla.

italia grapes

acholado (also called “half-breed”)

Made from blending any varieties of Pisco grapes, both aromatic and non-aromatic.

musto verde (green must)

Partially fermented fresh must that is distilled before the fermentation process has completely transformed all the sugars into alcohol. Not necessarily sweeter; but exceptionally smooth.

Each grade has its own unique flavor profile; but I would say that the unifying characteristics of good pisco are smoothness and clean, fresh flavors. It is so smooth that it’s difficult to taste the alcohol… which has both benefits and risks! The best piscos are meant to be sipped neat. I prefer to drink pisco in mixed cocktails (see my Pisco Sour recipe, and look for more pisco drink recipes coming soon!). I personally like puro for Pisco Sours, and aromático for fruitier drinks. Sample different varieties to see which you prefer.

Pisco does have its detractors, who say that it’s just a clear brandy… but they don’t know what they’re missing. I think it’s a truly unique addition to your beverage repertoire.  I hope you’ll give it a try!

Even though pisco is surfacing on the U.S. radar again, it can still be difficult to find in the U.S. But ask your local wine and spirit merchant – many are very willing to order special items for their customers.  Here is a list of some great Piscos – hope this helps.

Salud!

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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