la vida comida

food. life.

Tag: peruvian 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.)

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

Pimientos o Rocotos Rellenos / Peruvian Stuffed Peppers

I’ve never liked American stuffed peppers. The flavorless pepper, tinny meatloaf filling, and powdered cheese topping always made me think of a decrepit diner’s Monday night leftover special.

But these Peruvian stuffed peppers are vastly different. This recipe is based on Tony Custer’s, from The Art of Peruvian Cuisine; but I’ve altered it quite a bit, through trial and error. I use diced meat (over ground), and macerate the raisins in pisco. The peppers are par-cooked; this not only makes them fork-tender, but also allows the filling’s flavors to permeate the pepper during the baking process. The hot pepper’s fruity heat, combined with the sweetness of the pisco and raisins, create a rich meat filling that far surpasses its American Hamburger Helper counterpart – almost reminiscent of a cream-less moussaka. The Crema de Rocoto – which I’ve also altered by using pisco instead of wine – is a perfect complement. After all, what isn’t better with pisco?

I’ve used bell peppers here, rather than the traditional rocoto – the fiery red Peruvian pepper – which are very difficult to find fresh here in the U.S. You can use canned whole rocoto, if you can find it at your local Latin market; or use poblano, if you prefer. Rocotos are a little smaller than bell peppers; rocotos rellenos are sometimes used as an appetizer.

There are several steps (prepping the peppers and filling, stuffing, and baking); but the beauty of this dish is that you can make the filling (and even the peppers) a day ahead, chill, then stuff and bake the next day. I assure you that it’s worth the effort!

Pimientos o Rocotos Rellenos / Peruvian Stuffed Peppers
Servings Prep Time
4servings 30minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
30minutes 1hour
Servings Prep Time
4servings 30minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
30minutes 1hour
Ingredients
Peppers
  • 4medium bell peppers(or 8 rocoto peppers)
  • 4quarts water (2 times)
  • ¼cup sugar (2 times)
  • ¼cup apple cider vinegar (2 times)
  • ½tsp. kosher salt (2 times)
Meat
  • ¼cup vegetable oil
  • 1tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1tsp. black pepper
  • 1tsp. ground cumin
  • 1pound beef, bottom round, visible fat trimmed, small dice
  • 1pound pork loin, visible fat trimmed, small dice
Filling
  • 1large red onion, small dice
  • 5cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2medium plum tomatoes, small dice
  • cup tomato paste
  • ¼cup ají panca paste  
  • 2Tbsp. ají rocoto paste (*see below)    
  • 10each olives, Peruvian or kalamata, small dice  
  • 3each hard-boiled eggs, small dice  
  • ¼tsp. kosher salt (to taste)
  • ¼tsp. black pepper (to taste)
  • ¼tsp. ground cumin (to taste)
  • 3oz. raisins (2 small boxes)
  • ½cup pisco (as needed)
  • 8oz. cheese, shredded or crumbled (mozzarella, queso fresco, etc.)
Instructions
Eggs and Peppers
  1. Hard-boil the eggs in advance; shock in cold water, then dice when cool.  Cut the tops off the peppers, and reserve. Scoop out the seeds and veins; discard.
  2. If using rocoto or other hot pepper: heat water, sugar (1) and vinegar (1) to boiling; add peppers, and parboil for about 3-4 minutes. Change the water, then repeat the process once more, and boil for about 2 minutes. (This process will reduce both the heat and the bitterness of the pepper, while partially cooking the peppers so that they will be more tender after baking.) Remove the peppers and immediately shock them in ice water (or under cold running water) until cool. Drain upside down on paper towels or a wire rack.
  3. If using bell peppers: boil the water with the sugar and vinegar as above; but cook for only about 5 minutes / until just slightly tender. Do not change water. Remove; cool and drain as above.
Meat
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Combine the meat; season with 1 tsp. each of salt, black pepper, and cumin. Mix well.
  3. Heat the oil on medium-high heat in a large sauté pan; add the meat, and sauté until browned. Remove using a slotted spoon and reserve.
Filling
  1. If the pan is very dry, add 2 Tbsp. more vegetable oil.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add onion, and sauté for 6-7 minutes (until very soft and golden).
  3. (After this point, avoid adding extra oil, if the mix is too dry; the filling will become greasy. Add a splash of water when needed.)
  4. Add garlic; sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add tomato; sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Add tomato and pepper pastes; cook until darkened to a brick color, and the mix has a strong tomato aroma (3-4 minutes).
  7. Drain the raisins, but do not discard the pisco.
  8. Deglaze the pan with the pisco; when the alcohol scent evaporates (2-3 minutes), add the raisins, and mix well.
  9. Add the meat and mix well. Remove from heat, and allow to cool completely.
Stuffing Peppers / Baking
  1. When both peppers and filling are cool, place peppers in a Pyrex dish. Stuff the peppers; pack firmly, but take care not to rip the peppers. Leave a small space on top for the cheese.
  2. Place a layer of cheese on top of the filling; press firmly, so the cheese is level with the top of the pepper.
  3. Place the reserved pepper top on the cheese as a lid. Cover with foil; “tent” the top, so the foil does not touch the peppers.
  4. Bake for approximately 35-45 minutes / until the internal temperature reaches 160° F.
  5. (Optional) Remove the foil; broil for 2-3 minutes to brown the cheese (watch closely).
  6. Remove from oven; serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Pepper Tips

* When working with rocoto (or any hot pepper), be sure to wear disposable gloves. Use a separate cutting board and knife, and wash them separately from your other dishes. Pepper oils remain on the skin, even after washing; and if you touch your eyes or sensitive mucous membranes – well, let’s just say you won’t forget to wear gloves the second time around. Especially if you wear contacts. (Think pepper spray.) Trust me on this one.

* If using rocoto peppers, do not add rocoto paste to the mix (unless you are a suicide wing alumnus, or have a breakup revenge meal planned).

Variations

If you wish to omit the alcohol, use half white grape juice and half water (with a touch of apple cider vinegar) to macerate the raisins.

You can substitute ground beef; but it will render out more fat. If so, ladle out all but about ¼ cup before sautéing the onions.

You can use mozzarella; Peruvian quesillo; or Mexican quest fresco - whichever you prefer.

For a vegetarian meal: omit the egg; and use your favorite ground meat substitute. Follow the recipe the same way, except brown the meat substitute only lightly; and add ¼ cup vegetable oil before sautéing the onions. (The baking time may also be shortened; check the temperature frequently.) Either omit the cheese topping, or add your own favorite cheese substitute. This looks like a good vegan queso fresco recipe! (I'd add it after baking, though.)

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!

Papa Rellena / Stuffed Potato Croquettes

No long-winded post today… just a long-winded recipe! These delicious potato croquettes are most likely rooted in French classical cuisine; it seems to have appeared in the 19th century, when many Europeans (and French chefs) immigrated to Peru.

The name is somewhat of a misnomer: it’s actually a combination of papa and yuca rellena. You can use all potato, or all yucca; but I think the blending provides the tenderness and sweetness of potato, as well as the firmness and distinctive taste of yucca – the best of both worlds!

Papa rellena make an excellent hors d’œuvre, or a delicious light meal or snack.

 

Papas Rellenas / Stuffed Potato Croquettes
Servings Prep Time
8croquettes 45minutes
Cook Time
15minutes
Servings Prep Time
8croquettes 45minutes
Cook Time
15minutes
Ingredients
Potato Dough:
  • 1pounds yellow potato
  • 8oz. yucca,frozen, defrosted
  • 1 1/2tsp. lemon juice, fresh
  • 1 1/2tsp. butter
  • 1/4tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/8tsp. white pepper
Filling:
  • 2Tbsp. olive oilextra virgin
  • 1pound ground beef(or finely chopped sirloin)
  • 1pound ground pork(or finely chopped pork loin)
  • 1large yellow onionsmall dice
  • 5cloves garlicminced
  • 4medium plum tomato,small dice
  • 4large eggs
  • 1/2cup olives, pitted, minced(Peruvian or kalamata)
  • 1tsp. paprika
  • 1packet Goya Sazon seasoning
  • 1/2tsp. Kosher salt(to taste)
  • 1/2tsp. black pepper(to taste)
Breading:
  • 1cup flourall-purpose
  • 3large eggs
  • 1cup bread crumbs,homemade or panko, crushed
Instructions
Mise en place
  1. Gather / measure ingredients.
Potato dough:
  1. Peel potatoes; cut in eighths, and place in a bowl of cold salted water. Place the yucca into a pot with cold salted water and the juice of half a lemon; place the lemon itself into the water. Bring yucca to a rapid boil; after 10 minutes, add the potatoes and eggs. Boil for 15 more minutes. (If potatoes and yucca are not done, remove eggs and continue cooking potatoes and yucca. They should be fork-tender, but not mushy.) Drain potatoes and yucca; place hard-boiled eggs in cold water to cool. Remove fibrous strings from yucca. Run potato and yucca through a food mill (or mash finely with a ricer, or pass through a tamis). While still warm, mix in the butter, salt and white pepper (to taste). Blend well. Set aside to cool.
  2. When cool, flour your hands and a work surface; knead the potato by hand until it becomes a smooth dough without any lumps. Cover with plastic until ready to use.
Filling:
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Thoroughly brown the meat; remove with a slotted spoon, and reserve. Remove all beef fat except a thin coating on the bottom of the pan (about 2 Tbsp). Turn heat down to medium; sauté the onion until lightly caramelized (about 7-8 minutes). Add the garlic, tomato, paprika and Sazon; simmer until liquid evaporates (about 6-7 more minutes). Add beef back to the pan; stir to combine. Remove from heat, and pour into a bowl; set aside to cool. Peel and dice the eggs. Dice the olive. Add to the meat, and mix well. Cool filling to room temperature.
Making Croquettes:
  1. Liberally dust all sides of a small, shallow bowl with flour.
  2. Place the scooped potato dough into the bowl. Make a well in the center.
  3. Place 1 Tbsp. of filling into the well. Do not overfill, and pack down gently with a spoon.
  4. Make a flat dough “hat” to cover the filling. Press gently to seal the edges. Invert the bowl, and pop out the croquette onto the floured surface.
  5. Flour your hands, and gently round the sides with your palms. The traditional shape is that of a football (though I make them in a “puck” shape to optimize the frying surface of the croquette). Dust the croquette with flour; place on a floured plate or sheet pan. Repeat until potato dough is used up.
Breading:
  1. Bread the croquettes using standard breading procedure (SBP); place on a plate.
Frying:
  1. Fry in about ½” of oil. Flip very gently with a fish spatula (using two spatulas if necessary) to avoid splashing the oil. Hold on a rack in a warm oven (200° F) with the door open a crack to vent condensation. Alternately, you can place in a paper bag (placed on a sheet pan) in a warm, open oven.
Serving:
  1. Serve immediately with salsa criolla (and mayonesa de ají, if desired)
Recipe Notes

Do not purée the potato – you will be left with glue! Mash and work the potato by hand.

If using fresh yucca, cook it separately. Remove the tough peel with a sharp knife; then quarter. Boil in salted water with the juice of ½ a lemon for 20-25 minutes / until fork tender. Cool, remove strings, then add to the potato dough.

You can can stuff peppers or top rice with the extra filling. Or, freeze the extra in a Ziploc bag for up to 1 month.

You can also freeze leftover croquettes, and reheat in a 350° F oven for 15-20 minutes.

You can omit the pork and use all beef, if you prefer.

       

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.

© 2017 la vida comida

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑