Recipe: Huevo a la rusa (Russian-style egg salad)

Despite its name, this dish is a Peruvian classic. So much so that I’ve been told it’s called “huevos a la peruana” (Peruvian-style eggs) in Chile. It is basically a spin-off of the traditional Russian Olivier salad, with the addition of eggs and golf sauce. It’s always served as an entrée, usually in “menú” (affordable set menu) eateries.

Huevo a la rusa (Russian-style egg salad)
Yield: 3 servings

Huevo a la rusa

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 3 medium potatoes
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 cup peas
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup (preferably homemade)
  • lettuce leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Boil or steam the eggs to your liking (I steam mine for 10 minutes). Cool down with tap water. Peel, halve and reserve.
  2. Peel, cube and steam potatoes and carrots.
  3. Blanch or steam peas.
  4. Once vegetables have cooled down, mix them with 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise.
  5. Mix the other tablespoon of mayonnaise with the ketchup.
  6. Arrange lettuce leaves on 3 plates, place vegetable mix on top. Top with one halved egg and the mayo/ketchup sauce.

Recipe: Vegan causa

Yes, vegan. Before you think I’m crazy for bastardising one of my national dishes, let me explain. I made this version for an assignment for which I had to modify a recipe for social (i.e. religious, ethical, etc.) reasons. I thought of causa because I know people make vegetarian versions all the time (not me, I love it with seafood) but I have never seen a vegan version out there. Not only I had to ditch the main protein, but also the eggs used as garnish and in the mayo. I combined a few vegan soy-free mayonnaise recipes I found online and the result was awesome! Also so much easier to make than regular mayo. I served this vegan causa to a bunch of friends and everyone (including Alvaro) liked it.

Vegan causa
Yield: 8 servings

Vegan causa

Ingredients

  • 8 (1500g) floury potatoes
  • 4 Tbsp (60ml) ají amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilli) paste
  • juice of 4 limes
  • 4 Tbsp (60ml) macadamia oil
  • 1/2 cup (80g) finely chopped red onion
  • 500g white mushrooms
  • 1 Tbsp (15ml) olive oil
  • vegan mayonnaise (see below)
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 4g salt
  • 8 (20g) black (preferably botija) olives
  • 1 (65g) heart of palm

Vegan mayonnaise

  • 3/8 cup (50g) raw cashews
  • 2 Tbsp (30ml) avocado oil
  • 2 Tbsp (30ml) water
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tsp (4ml) apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp (1g) salt
  • 1/4 tsp (1g) mustard powder

To serve

  • cherry tomatoes
  • lettuce

Directions

  1. Blend the mayonnaise ingredients.
  2. Place the chopped onion in a small bowl with the juice of 1 lime and season lightly with salt. Set aside to marinate while the potatoes cook.
  3. Cook and mash the potatoes, let cool down. Mix with chilli paste, juice of 3 limes, macadamia oil and salt.
  4. Slice mushrooms and sautée in olive oil. Let cool down, mix with mayonnaise (method below).
  5. Oil a ring mold. Press half of the mashed potato mixture into the bottom of the pan. Cover with the mushroom mixture in a smooth layer. Top with slices of avocado. Layer the other half of the potato mixture on top and smooth the potatoes with the back of a spoon. Top with slices of hard-boiled eggs and olives.
  6. Serve chilled with lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes.

Recipe: Palta rellena con camarones (stuffed avocado with prawns)

A few weeks ago my Facebook status reflected how I missed avocados from back home, after opening one I bought for $1 at Woolworths that was horrible inside. A few Peruvian friends chimed in, including Victor who lives in Spain and can buy Peruvian avos there, and Gino who lives in the Central Coast and mentioned palta rellena con camarones (stuffed avocado with prawns). The craving was on.

Palta rellena is a great warm weather entrée. It’s basically a mayo-bound salad served in a half avocado. The most popular protein of choice in the filling is pulled chicken (chicken breast that has been boiled and pulled in strips with a fork). It’s usually mixed with peas and/or carrots and/or corn and/or potatoes. After ditching the legume, grain and nightshade I was left with carrots. I figured out celery and broccolini stalks would be nice additions thanks to their crunchiness, freshness and mayo-affinity.

Palta rellena con camarones (stuffed avocado with prawns)
Yield: 6 servings as an entrée

Palta rellena con camarones

Ingredients

  • 3 avocados
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, diced
  • 1 bunch broccolini stalks (use the florets in another dish) or asparagus, chopped
  • 15 – 18 medium prawns, peeled and cleaned
  • 2 teaspoons ghee or butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise (I make my own, following this recipe)
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Steam carrots and broccolini stalks or asparagus separately. Let cool.
  2. Heat ghee or butter, add garlic and prawns. When cooked, let cool down.
  3. Reserve 6 prawns and chop the rest.
  4. Mix vegetables and prawns, add mayonnaise, season with salt and pepper.
  5. Split avocados in half, remove the seed, scoop each half out of its shell with a spoon and place on a plate. Stuff with the prawn mixture and top with a whole prawn.

Recipe: Atún playero (beach tuna)

More than a recipe, this is a memory. When I was a little girl, my dad took us to the beach every single Sunday in summer (from December 21st to March 20th – he’s extremely punctual). My mum was, as always, in charge of food. She packed a big container full of tuna sandwiches and two huge soft drink bottles (a Coke and a Inca Kola because tastes in the family were divided). Once in the beach, between swimming and sun-bathing, they bought us snacks: some sort of sweet tuile-like cylinders, delicious natural fruit ice pops (I usually got mango, my sisters and mum loved the coconut ones) and/or regular ice cream. But the highlight for me were the tuna sandwiches.

The sandwich filling is super simple: canned tuna, tomato, red onion, lime juice, salt and pepper. The combination is very tasty but also super moist. My mum made the sandwiches in sliced white bread and by the time we got to eat them the bread was all soggy. Not only that, but the sand in the beach inevitably stuck to the damp bread. Back then I was sometimes annoyed when I chewed on some sand or my sandwich fell apart in my hands, but now I really miss the taste, the smell, the feel, and the whole experience. I don’t miss being a fat kid in the beach, though :)

Canned tuna in Australia tastes different from canned tuna in Perú (fish and seafood in general do). But I can trick myself into bringing back those memories with a bit of atún playero (beach tuna), now free of bread… and sand.

Atún playero (beach tuna)
Yield: 2 servings as an entrée

Beach tuna

Ingredients

  • 300 gr canned tuna in springwater
  • 1 ripe tomato
  • 1 small red onion
  • 2 limes
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Drain tuna.
  2. Seed and chop tomatoes.
  3. Chop onion.
  4. Mix tuna, tomato, onion and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve as an entrée with some greens, maybe throw an avocado or make sandwiches if that’s your thing.

Recipe: Conchitas a la parmesana

It’s that time of the year again. Peruvian Independence Day is right around the corner, which means getting together with the family for a big feast.

This year we had seafood as a theme. Today’s recipe is the entrée: conchitas a la parmesana, or scallops with Parmesan cheese. Of course this is by no means a traditional Peruvian dish but it’s very popular, especially in Lima. It’s very simple and tasty, and as most good things in life it’s better to have in small quantities because it packs a good bunch of calories.

Conchitas a la parmesana (scallops with Parmesan cheese)
Yield: 6 units, 2 to 3 servings

Conchitas a la parmesana

Before grilling

Conchitas a la parmesana

After grilling

Ingredients

  • 6 scallops in their shells
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 lime
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 teaspoons butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven grill to 180°C.
  2. Place scallops on tray lined with aluminum foil (for easier cleanup), season with salt, pepper, a small splash of lime juice and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce.
  3. Top with Parmesan and chunks of butter.
  4. Grill a few minutes until nicely browned.

Recipe: Anticuchos

Time for Peruvian food, yay! I just spent almost four weeks on the road eating all kinds of food, from very tasty to the worst meal I’ve ever had, but sadly anything Peruvian. Back home I took traditional food for granted and didn’t eat it too often, but here I find myself craving the tastes and textures of my country.

What I found myself craving lately is anticuchos. They’re basically marinated meat skewers, usually sold in street stalls (I remember eating them frequently as a kid in stalls that opened every night close to my parents’ house), but also in restaurants of all “levels”. Tourists love them when they try them until they ask what kind of meat is it. Usually it’s beef heart.

Now, before you stop reading, let me tell you that you can use any kind of meat you want. Anticuchos were created, as many other dishes, when Peru was a colony of Spain. We had the tradition of marinating meat with chilli and spices, and cooking it over the flames, they brought the garlic and the novelty of inserting the meat chunks in skewers. Of course the conquerors ate only fine cuts of beef, and the offal was reserved for the slaves. In the end, the slave version won and became the most widespread.

In Peru you can buy beef heart in markets and supermarkets, here it’s not so easy. My sister told me that a friend of hers buys it in the pet food section of his local supermarket. I haven’t found it yet, but one day when we were eating kangaroo, my sister mentioned that flavour and texture-wise it would be a good substitute. I tried it and it was perfect. What if you don’t like kangaroo either? You can use any tender beef cut (sirloin, for example), chicken, fish, or whatever your imagination tells you.

About the chilli, I (of course) used Peruvian chilli, which I brought from home. It’s sold here, too, in shops like Tierras Latinas and Fiji Market. If you don’t want to bother, that’s fine. You could use any dried red chilli in place of ají panca and any yellow chilli in place of ají amarillo. If using fresh, just blend it with a bit of oil or water.

Ají amarillo

Powdered ají amarillo

Ají panca

Ají panca, the top ones are powdered and not hot, the left bottom one is powdered and hot, the right bottom one is a hot paste

I served the anticuchos with boiled potatoes, corn, and a huacatay chunky sauce (I mixed jarred huacatay, which I bought in Tierras Latinas with crumbled feta). If you don’t want to bother you can serve it with a simple chilli sauce (just saute chillis with onions and garlic and blend them adding more oil if necessary, add some chopped green onions if you like) or any other sauce you prefer (tomato sauce to make it more Aussie, perhaps?).

Kangaroo anticuchos
Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Kangaroo anticuchos

800 gr kangaroo steaks (see ingredient substitutions above)
8 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons ají panca paste or 2 teaspoons powdered ají panca (see ingredient substitutions above)
1 teaspoon powdered ají amarillo
1 tablespoon dried oregano
salt and pepper
1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Soak the bamboo skewers.

Cut the steaks in chunks about 4 cm x 4 cm. Try to keep them thin and cut against the muscle fibres to ensure tenderness.

Blend the garlic, cumin, ají, salt, pepper, oregano and vinegar. Pour the marinade over the meat, cover and refrigerate 8 to 12 hours.

Insert the meat chunks into the bamboo skewers (3 or 4 per skewer). Reserve the marinade.

Grill the skewers, brushing the meat with the leftover marinade while they cook, 3 to 5 minutes per side.

Serve with boiled potatoes, corn, and the sauce of your choice.

Recipe: Causa de atún

Last week I prepared this dish for dinner with friends, along with the solterito salad. This dish is typical from Lima and its name causa means “cause”, the story says it was invented during the war against Chile with the produce available at that time (mashed potatoes, limes and chillies), and given to the soldiers por la causa (“for the cause”).

Generally speaking, a causa is a cold dish made with a layer of the aforementioned potato mash, a layer of filling, and another layer of mash. The original version is called causa limeña and it’s filled with pulled chicken, mayo and avocado. These days you can find thousands of versions available, with different meats (or veggies) in the filling and different tubers in the mash. There’s a restaurant in Lima called Mi Causa which serves a lot of versions, including one with German sausages. Some cooks also roll their causas sushi-style for a more interesting presentation.

Causa de atún

My favourite fillings involve some kind of seafood, like tuna, crab, prawns, smoked salmon, and pulpo al olivo (octopus in olive mayo). The most common one is tuna (atún in Spanish), perhaps because it’s the cheapest and easiest to prepare.

One tip about the potatoes: try to use a variety that is good for mashing and has good flavour. I used nectas this time, following the recommendation of the potato people in the market. I think pink eyes would work well, too, or any floury variety.

Causa de atún
Yield: 8 servings

Causa de atún

1 1/2 kg potatoes
1 small red onion
1 450 gr can of tuna in oil
5 limes
3 teaspoons powdered yellow chilli or any chilli blended with a bit of oil into a paste, to taste
2 teaspoons salt
2 avocadoes
1/2 – 3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 eggs
black olives (optional)
chopped coriander or parsley (optional)

Boil the potatoes with the skin on in salted water until tender. Peel them and mash them while still hot. Let the mash cool down.

In the meantime, chop the onion and place it in a bowl with water.

Boil the eggs and slice them.

Mix the mash with the juice of 3 limes, the chilli and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Drain the onion, drain the tuna, and mix both with the juice of 2 limes.

Lightly oil a baking dish or baking tray with a mousse ring on top. Using a spoon or spatula, spread half of the mash and even it out.

Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on top of the mash.

Slice the avocadoes and arrange them on top.

Spread the tuna mix on top.

Spread the rest of the mash and even it out.

Spread another thin layer of mayonnaise and arrange the boiled egg slices. If using olives, scatter them around the egg slices.

If using herbs, sprinkle them on top.

Recipe: Huancaína sauce

This is the side dish/appetizer I made for the international dinner we had last Saturday. Huancaína is, without a doubt, the most popular sauce in Peru. It literally means “from Huancayo” (a city in the highlands) but its origin is not clear. The most convincing story I’ve heard is that it was prepared by someone who was on the train that goes to Huancayo. It doesn’t matter, it’s delicious anyway.

The main ingredients in huancaína sauce are queso fresco (fresh cow’s milk cheese) and yellow chilli. In Sydney I’ve bought rounds of queso fresco in Tierras Latinas and Flemington Paddy’s Market. When I don’t feel like travelling more than one hour on a train (which is 99.9% of the time) I use haloumi or Australian feta instead. I suppose a mix of any of those and ricotta could work well, too.

Regarding the yellow chilli, I strongly suggest getting Peruvian chilli (available jarred or powdered in Tierras Latinas, and jarred in Fiji Market in Newtown). I always use the powdered one (for heat and taste) plus fresh medium or large chillies (for texture).

As with pesto, the original recipe was developed when no blenders or food processors were around. People used a batán, a stone instrument that has the same purpose of a mortar and pestle, obtaining a chunky sauce. To achieve that result, instead of blending or processing the cheese with the rest of ingredients, crumb it with a fork or grate it with finely and mix with the rest by hand.

This sauce was originally invented as part of a dish: papa a la huancaína, thick slices of boiled potatoes dressed with the sauce and topped with a slice of hard-boiled egg and an olive. It’s an extremely popular entrée, found everywhere from the humblest home in the highlands to the fanciest restaurant in the capital city. But serving that great sauce only with boiled potatoes would be underestimating its potential. It can be used as dipping sauce for potato chips, cocktail potatoes in toothpicks, cassava chips, crudités, tequeños (queso fresco wrapped in wonton sheets and deep-fried), crackers, etc.; as well as a sauce for pasta, gnocchi, risotti, etc.

Last week I served it as a dipping sauce for yuquitas fritas, cassava chips made by boiling cassava with salt until tender, cutting it in thick chips, and frying them in butter. You can buy frozen cassava in supermarkets (I buy it in Foodworks or Fiji Market).

Huancaína sauce

Huancaina sauce & yuquitas fritas

1 large or 2 medium chillies (preferably yellow), plus 1 tablespoon powdered Peruvian yellow chilli, or 3 – 4 jarred Peruvian yellow chillies or whatever chillies you want *
1 small red onion
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1/2 – 2/3 cup evaporated milk
4 – 6 soda crackers
200 gr queso fresco, haloumi or Australian feta

Coarsely chop the chillies and onion. Smash the garlic with the blade of your knife. Heat the oil over low heat, add chillies (including the powdered), onion, and garlic and cook for at least 10 minutes.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a blender or food processor, add milk, soda crackers and cheese. Blend until smooth. Alternatively, don’t process the cheese, but crumble it with a fork or grate it finely and add to the rest of the ingredients by hand.

Adjust the seasoning (if using Australian feta you won’t need any salt), if you find the sauce it’s too salty add a bit of milk accordingly. If the sauce ends up being too thin, add more soda crackers.

Recipe: Pulpo al olivo

This is one of the dishes I made for the international dinner we had last Saturday. It was created by Rosita Yimura, a Japanese-Peruvian cook who is known as the mother of Peruvian nikkei cuisine. She developed the dish as a way to marry octopus sashimi with the excellent taste of Peruvian olives.

Pulpo al olivo is served as an entrée, usually with soda crackers. It’s a simple dish if you are able to cook the octopus until tender. If not, buy baby or medium-sized ones. There are a number of myths about how to achieve a tender octopus. Some people swear that a natural cork in the boiling water does the trick, others say that a rice “doll” (rice wrapped in cheesecloth) is the way to go. When cooking big octopuses I use less superstitious methods: smash the animal with a rolling pin and freeze it before cooking to break its muscle fibres.

Regarding the other main ingredient, the olives, I prefer to use Peruvian ones. I grew up with their taste and for me it’s hard to replace. In Sydney, I’ve been able to buy them jarred in Tierras Latinas and fresh in Flemington Paddy’s Market (in the only stall that sells queso fresco). These olives, called aceitunas de botija, are bigger and have a deeper purple colour than regular kalamatas. Their taste is slightly more bitter and fruity at the same time, really hard to describe. Anyway, if you don’t have Peruvian olives, use kalamatas instead. Or any other olive you like. In the photo below you can see the size difference between a very dark kalamata and a Peruvian olive.

Olives

There are a bunch of optional ingredients in this recipe. Omitting them will make no harm to the final result, but this is the way I like to prepare the dish.

Pulpo al olivo
Yield: four servings as an entrée

Pulpo al olivo

1 medium-large octopus or 4 medium octopuses
1 onion (optional)
1 carrot (optional)
1 celery stalk (optional)
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon mustard (Dijon or American)
2 limes
1/2 cup canola or other neutral oil
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
6 – 8 Peruvian olives, pitted (or any olives, adjusting the quality according to their size and taste)
1/2 celery stalk (optional)
1/2 small brown onion (optional)
soda crackers to serve

Chop the onion, carrot and celery stalk in large chunks. Boil water in a pot, salt lightly and add the octopus and vegetables (which are optional but good for taste). Cook until the octopus is tender, to test it pinch it with a fork where the tentacles meet its body. If the fork goes through fairly easily, it’s ready.

Let octopus cool down, slice thinly and refrigerate.

Thinly slice the half celery stalk and small onion. Soak the onion in cold water. This step is optional.

Prepare a mayonnaise by whisking the egg yolk with the mustard and a teaspoon of lime juice and adding the oils as slowly as you can. Season with salt and pepper. Blend or process the olives with a little mayonnaise (one or two tablespoons), then mix with the rest of the mayonnaise by hand.

If using celery and onion, drain the onion, and mix both with the octopus. Squeeze lime juice over the mix. Arrange in a platter (sashimi-style) and dress with the olive mayonnaise or mix everything and spoon on a dish.

Serve with soda crackers.

Recipe: Pastel de choclo

On Wednesday we got together for dinner and a movie. I volunteered to cook and decided to make pastel de choclo. I’m not sure about the exact translation, it is something like “corn pie” but it doesn’t involve any pastry. It’s more like a shepherd’s pie but with a sort of corn soufflé instead of mashed potatoes. I wouldn’t normally attempt to prepare a Peruvian recipe that features corn in Australia because corn here tastes completely different, but most pastel de choclo recipes call for sugar, so the result taste-wise is close enough.

Now, the texture is an issue. Australian corn has more water and less starch than Peruvian corn. That means that the pie won’t be really solid when ready and you’re better off baking each serving in a ramekin instead of doing it in a baking pan and cutting off portions, as it’s commonly done in Peru. I’m on a mission to find a better way of cooking it.

The middle layer of the pie is what I call the Peruvian all-purpose filling: minced beef, onion, garlic, yellow chilli, black olives and raisins. It’s used in plenty of dishes like empanadas, arroz tapado, rocoto relleno, caigua rellena, papa rellena, and yuca rellena. In case you’re wondering, relleno(a) means “stuffed”, and yes, you can stuff chillies, tomatoes, and pretty much anything you like with this filling. You can swap the beef for chicken, turkey, or the doubtfully healthy textured soy protein (a.k.a. soy “meat”).

As with every dish, there are many ways of preparing it. Some people add grated Parmesan to the corn mix, which I like in the vegetarian version that uses cheese instead of the beef filling. Some people add yellow chilli paste to the corn mix, too, which is good if you have the right chillies.

The best side for this dish is a fresh salad with plenty of greens. I prepared a simple salad with mixed leaves, cucumber, tomato, avocado, coriander, lime juice, salt and pepper. Basic but effective.

Mixed leaves, cucumber, tomato and avocado salad

For dessert I made arroz con leche (rice pudding) and mazamorra morada (purple corn pudding). The rice pudding was made from scratch (the recipe will be published here some day), but because there’s no purple corn in Australia, the mazamorra morada came from a package sent by my mum. I have a strong aversion to processed food in general, specially in this case, in which the fake stuff tastes like lollies instead of the real deal. To give it a bit of natural flavour I boiled the water with pineapple skin and cinnamon sticks before adding the powder. Then I added some cubed pineapple, currants and prunes.

Some people (me included) like to eat a portion of arroz con leche and a portion of mazamorra morada in the same bowl/cup. This combo is commonly called combinado (“combined”), in the old days people used to call it sol y sombra (“sun and shadow”) due to the contrast of colours.

Combinado

Pastel de choclo
Yield: 8 servings
Adapted from Yanuq.

Pastel de choclo and salad

Pie:
8 corn cobs
¾ cup milk
¾ cup butter
2 tablespoons pisco (optional)
4 eggs, divided
salt
pepper

Filling:
½ k minced beef
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon powdered yellow chilli
1 medium brown onion, chopped
15 raisins
salt
pepper
oregano
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
3 black olives, chopped
1 tsp coriander, chopped
sugar

Preheat oven to 160°C.

Pie:
Blend corn kernels with milk in food processor or blender.

Melt butter in big pan over low heat. Add corn mix and stir thoroughly. Add salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes until thick.
Remove from heat and let cool down. Add pisco.
Whisk egg yolks until pale. Add to corn mix. Whisk egg whites to soft peaks. Gently fold in corn mix.

Filling:
Heat oil in a pan. Sautee onion, garlic and chilli. Season with salt, pepper and oregano. Add beef. Let cook and add raisins.
Oil 8 ramekins and pour half of the corn mix. Cover with filling. Cover with boiled egg slices, olives and coriander. Pour the rest of the corn mix and sprinkle sugar on top.
Bake for 40-50 minutes.