Peruvian Independence day was on July 28th. That day I went to meditate and the centre. Before meditation we usually have dinner together, so I offered to cook that day. I usually prepare a main and a dessert but I swapped the dessert for a salad to keep things a bit more healthy. The salad had baby spinach, corn, grated carrots, palmitos and avocado and was dressed with balsamic and olive oil (from a mega container of olives that’s been in the centre pantry for quite a while).
The main was lomo saltado, one of the most emblematic Peruvian dishes along with cebiche. Peru had a huge Chinese immigration some centuries ago, and as result our cuisine is heavily influenced by Cantonese food. This dish is a perfect example of this fusion, a beef stir-fry (tenderloin should be used) with wedges of red onions and tomatoes, dark and light soy sauce and vinegar, served with white rice and potato chips (remember, one starchy item per dish is not enough for Peruvians!). I marinate the beef with garlic paste beforehand and add a bit of oyster sauce to the mix. Some people add pisco to set the beef on fire, which gives it a nice smoky (and boozy) taste. Garnishes are usually chopped parsley, coriander or green onions (I prefer coriander but used parsley this time).
The only vegetarian in the room got a version with shiitake mushrooms.
That Friday I prepared arroz con pollo, that means “rice with chicken” but is so much more interesting than it sounds. I prefer to make a twist on the dish that originated this one: arroz con pato (“rice with duck”), a staple from the Northern Coast. To prepare it, you marinate duck legs in chicha de jora and malt beer, then brown them and reserve them, then cook aderezo (red onion, garlic, yellow chili) in the same pot, add grated pumpkin and coriander paste (blended with a bit of water), then add rice, duck stock, the marinade, some brown sugar and salt, and let it cook slowly absorbing all the liquid and taste. Then you add the duck legs and continue simmering until everything’s cooked (you can add diced pumpkin just before it’s done), then add blanched peas and roasted capsicum. I did exactly this except that I used chicken legs and stock because that was what I had. The everyday housewife version is extremely simplified and often leads to a bland and dry final result. I prepared a big batch, so we ate this on Friday dinner, plus Saturday lunch (with a mixed lettuce, tomato and lime juice salad) and dinner.
On Saturday afternoon I prepared dessert. Peruvian desserts are often too sweet and a pain in the ass to prepare, not because they are highly elaborate (like an Opera cake, for instance), but because they usually take a long time. This didn’t stop me this time because I had been craving a combinado (means “mixed”) since a long time ago, which is actually two desserts put together: arroz con leche (rice pudding) and mazamorra morada (purple corn pudding). Some people call this combo sol y sombra, meaning “sun and shade” because of the colours. Rice pudding is a classic in many cuisines, and each country has their own way of preparing it. The Peruvian version came from Spain, and the method is the following: cook white rice in water that has been boiled with orange peel, whole cinnamon and cloves, then (when the water has been absorbed) add evaporated and condensed milk (you can add pisco or port here) and cook until it’s almost dry again. Most people add raisins, some shredded coconut, some chopped pecans. It can be served warm or cold, with cinnamon sprinkled on the top. I prepared mine with pisco (I added a bit too much, so it wasn’t suited for kids) and raisins. The mazamorra morada is prepared with purple corn, which is not available here. What I did was to use sachets of chicha morada (a sweetened drink made from purple corn) instead. I dissolved the powder in water and boiled it with pineapple skin (the original recipe calls for quince too, but I don’t know if I can find it fresh here). When it had acquired the fruit taste, I separated some of the liquid to soften dried fruit (sultanas, prunes and apricots) and some of the liquid to cool down a bit and dissolve the starch (the original recipe calls for sweet potato starch or a mix of that one and potato starch, but I haven’t found sweet potato starch), then added the liquid with starch, the dried fruit and some chopped pineapple, and cooked it all for a while. Mazamora morada can also be served warm or cold and with cinnamon sprinkled on the top.
Last Sunday we went shopping and bought some fish for this week. Squid was on sale, and there were frozen baby clams which I needed for stock, so we bought them and once we were back home, I prepared arroz chaufa de pescado y mariscos (Cantonese-style fried rice with fish and seafood), with garlic paste, minced ginger, egg, cooked brown rice (for a healthier twist), dark and light soy sauce and chopped green onions, served with the seafood stir-fried and tossed with dark soy sauce, and a drizzle of sesame oil. Peruvian housewives commit all sorts of atrocities with this dish, from cooking it all in a pot instead of stir-frying it, to adding sliced hot dog as protein source. My mum cooks it in a big pot and adds chopped ham, but she makes it so tasty that I always forgive her :)
I squeezed that last dish in the Peruvian food month, even when it was officially August, because it was my last day of carb-loaded indulgence. I’ll keep preparing Peruvian dishes around once a week, but I’ll try to choose the healthier ones, or at least skip the starchy sides.