When I arrived to Sydney I made a resolution to cook Peruvian food at least once a week. There have been weeks I’ve adhered to my goal and whole weeks, even months, that I have totally forgotten about it. This is partially because, as I’ve said before, most Peruvian food is not healthy, according to my standards. It’s healthier than junk food without a doubt, but it relies heavily in starches, often mixed within a same dish. But I think it’s good to keep one’s roots alive, so here I am again, trying to include some food from home into my repertoire.
Some months ago I bought stuff from a Latin American shop called Tierras Latinas. One of the items was still unopen in my cupboard: a tin of ollucos, which are root vegetables similar in shape to kipfler potatoes. The most popular dish prepared with them comes from the mountains and is called olluquito con charqui, ollucos with a kind of jerky made from alpaca meat. The urban version of the dish uses beef instead of charqui. It’s not a fancy dish by any means, more like an ordinary weekday dish that some people don’t like. But my aunties cooked a really tasty version of it, and not only because they added queso fresco (feta cheese) and quite often a fried egg on top. One small detail that I liked about their version was that they bought whole ollucos and sliced them in rounds instead of buying it pre-julianned like most busy people do.
The tin I bought contained nothing but whole ollucos, water and salt. They didn’t have the yellow/orange colour of the fresh stuff and the texture was way softer. I sliced them in rounds and proceeded with the prep.
Most Peruvian recipes start with aderezo, our version of the Italian soffritto and the Spanish sofrito, which consists in chopped onions, garlic and chilli. Variations depend on the recipe, but the basic idea is to cook the ingredients over slow heat for as long as you can wait until they soften and the mix becomes super fragrant. This recipe uses ají panca, a dried red chilli that is very aromatic. Unfortunately, I’m not able to find it fresh here, so I use the bagged powdered stuff I used to hate before migrating.
The other spices in the recipe, also present in many other Peruvian dishes, are cumin, paprika and oregano.
This time I cooked the onion and garlic for 10 minutes.
Then I added the spices and cooked the aderezo for 5 more minutes.
Most Peruvian dishes are served with white rice as a side, which is cooked with sautéed garlic and salt. I don’t eat rice often and when I do, I prefer to keep it plain to enjoy the taste of the stew.
Olluquito con carne
Yield: 3 servings
Adapted from Yanuq
1 tin of ollucos
2 tablespoons olive oil
350 grams beef
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon de paprika
2 teaspoons ají panca powder
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
150 grams queso fresco or Australian feta cheese (optional)
3 fried eggs (optional)
Rinse and drain ollucos and cut them in slices.
Season beef with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan and brown the meat. Reserve.
Turn heat to low, add the rest of the oil to the same pan and cook the onion and garlic until soft, about 10 minutes. Add paprika, ají panca, cumin and oregano. Cook for about 5 minutes.
Add ollucos and beef. Cover pan y cook on high heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Optional: turn off heat and add cubed cheese.
Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley, an optional fried egg on top, and white rice as a side.