Tuesday, August 19, 2008

International Steez - Part 1: Viva Peru

The world is a small place when you’re armed with a santoku knife, a skillet and a wooden spoon. While my kitchen may seem like nothing fancy, in the past month it has magically transported me to Peru, India, France, Japan, the Middle East and North Africa. And I didn’t even have to pay fuel surcharges or airport fees or worry about getting la turista from drinking the water!

First stop: Peru. My classmate Amy is from Lima and her mom sent her a care package of latin goodies from home so Amy could treat Meagan and me to a Peruvian feast. Oh dear. What a feast it was.

It started with a cluster of packages of Peruvian peppers and potatoes that are unavailable basically in the rest of the world.

Did you know that the potato originated in Peru, and that today there are thousands of varieties of wild and cultivated potatoes available there? I learned that from the International Potato Center’s website. Yes, the International Potato Center is a legitimate body and is the kind of place I will most likely toil away my days after receiving a degree in gastronomy. I can think of worse jobs than that of Expert in Potato Cultivation, Distribution and Consumption. Sounds like every day would be an exciting new adventure.

Anyway, I digress. In the care package were rocoto, panca, and spicy yellow pepper sauces along with two types of dried potatoes and Peruvian mayonnaise. And, for the kicker, two bottles of pisco!

There is some dispute as to whether pisco legally belongs to Chile or to Peru, but Amy vehemently claims that pisco is Peruvian, always has been and always will be, and I am inclined to take her side after visiting the town of Pisco, Peru a few years ago and witnessing the extent to which the locals consume the lethal spirit. It is made from distilled grapes and from my experience can vary wildly in quality. Luckily, Amy was a master at making pisco sours. Amy is a master at making everything, so I wasn’t surprised. She whipped the liquor with egg whites, crushed ice, sugar, lemon juice, and passionfruit…

…and the night was off to a great start. Salud!

The first course of the evening was causa.

Amy rehydrated the yellow potatoes sent to her by her mom and mixed the mashed potatoes with the aji amarillo (spicy yellow pepper paste), olive oil, and salt. Meanwhile, she poached a chicken breast, chopped it, and made a filling of chicken salad with mayonnaise, red onion, cilantro, salt and pepper. She then lightly oiled a piece of plastic wrap and spread the mashed yellow potatoes in a thin, even layer.

Next she layered slices of avocado with 2/3 of the chicken salad filling.

Then she dexterously rolled the causa into a log, sealing it on all sides so no filling peaked out of the seams, and topped it with the remainder of the chicken salad, mayonnaise mixed with rocoto paste, cilantro, and more sliced avocados.

Voila! A masterpiece.

Causa is eaten cold or at room temperature, so Amy let it sit while she finished creating the rest of the meal. On the menu: ají de gallina and carapulcra.

Ají de gallina is a saucy yellow concoction resembling a thick yellow chicken stew. It reminded Meagan of an Indian curry. There was a lot going on in the kitchen so I wasn’t able to write down the exact ingredients and measurements but I know it contained cubed poached chicken breasts and their poaching liquid, a paste made of white bread soaked in milk and pureed, onion, garlic, turmeric, aji amarillo, grated Parmesan cheese and ground nuts (I believe we used almonds but I may be wrong).

On the back burner is carapulcra, a very unique dish that didn’t resemble anything I’d eaten before. Amy toasted dried yellow potatoes and soaked them in water for a good 20 minutes. She then slowly sautéed cubes of pork belly until the fat rendered and the pork began to brown and then added the rehydrated potatoes, cubed potatoes, cumin, chicken stock, bay leaves, and water. She simmered until the pork and potatoes were tender and at the end added ground peanuts. (Amy – please correct me if I’m missing something!) And here is the finished plate:

Carapulcra and ají de gallina accompanied by white rice, boiled potatoes, kalamata olives and hard boiled eggs. Oh, and don't forget the cumbia and Mana playing on iTunes. I think Amy was expecting her friends and family from Lima to show up on my doorstep because we had leftovers for the next three days. But we were all full and felices at the end of the night!

Stay tuned for culinary adventures to India, France, Japan, the Middle East and North Africa in upcoming posts.


Anonymous said...

Yay! This post made me so hungry. Way to go. It all looks and sounds so delicious! What exactly does the liquor taste like?

Cari said...

Hey dudette! Yeah, Amy is a master. She gave me a lot of Peruvian stuff her mom sent her and I'm planning to make some more Peruvian food tomorrow... but we didn't have any leftover pisco, darn! Personally, I can't drink pisco on its own, the stuff I'd had previously in the States was a lot like Rubinoff vodka (i.e. Rubin Alcohol --> Rubbing Alcohol). The quality of the stuff I had in Peru was way better, as was the one Amy's mom sent us, but still not drinkable solo. But once you mix it with all the goodies - sugar, ice, lemon, fruit, egg whites - it transforms into a foamy frothy sweet tart deceptively strong drink and the otherwise overwhelming taste of the liquor meshes and blends perfectly! Mmmmm... I want another one right now.