Recipe: Peruvian ceviche

Classic Peruvian ceviche (cebiche or seviche are the proper spellings that nobody uses anymore) consists of 4 ingredients: fish, lime juice, onions and chillies. It is normally served with sweet potato and choclo (Peruvian white corn). Less common accompaniments include potato, yuca (cassava), yuyo (seaweed), rice (!). Cancha is normally served as a snack, although some restaurants serve some as part of the dish. Buen provecho!

Peruvian ceviche
Yield: 5 servings as an entrée

Ceviche

Ingredients

  • 1/2 red onion
  • 500g white fish fillet, such as snapper
  • juice of 5-7 limes
  • red chillies, such as birdseye, sliced (optional)
  • salt, to taste

To serve

  • coriander
  • choclo (Peruvian white corn) or regular corn, cooked
  • sweet potato, cooked

Directions

  1. Finely slice onion and soak in cold water. You can do this step a few hours in advance. When ready to start preparing the fish, drain onions in a colander.
  2. Cube fish, mix with onions and place on a serving platter. Season with salt.
  3. Cover with lime juice. Serve immediately or reserve in the fridge if you like your fish more marinated.
  4. When ready to serve, check the seasoning and garnish with coriander. Serve choclo and sweet potato on the side.

Review: Cafe de Lima (Marrickville)

Up to a few months ago, when people asked me where to go to try Peruvian food I didn’t know what to answer. I knew there were a couple of Peruvian restaurants in Sydney but I decided not to try them based on their reviews. The La Bodeguita del Medio opened its doors with my compatriot Danny Parreno in charge of the kitchen. While the menu is meant to be Cuban/Latin American, he has introduced some Peruvian dishes and elements in the menu, and I must say the ones I’ve tried have been excellent. Then another compatriot, Alejandro Saravia, opened Morena, with a mainly Peruvian menu. Food is outstanding and I’m recommending the restaurant to anyone who asks, but with the caveat that is pricey, and it’s not your everyday typical cuisine. La Parrillada falls in the budget category, portions are large, food is tasty and service is great.

I don’t know how but my sister found Cafe de Lima a while ago. When I looked at the about page in their website I was pretty sure I had seen the owners selling Peruvian food in the Marrickville Festival before. We scheduled a visit ASAP.

The cafe is located in the heart of Marrickville’s commercial strip. A peak inside made it obvious that most of the customers are Latin Americans, presumably Peruvians.

Cafe de Lima

We ordered two dishes from the regular menu and one special to share. The anticuchos can be made of prime beef or heart (we ordered heart, which is the traditional cut) marinated in Peruvian spices and grilled. The portion consists in 2 skewers with a side of potatoes, huancaína cream, and salad greens. The anticuchos tasted great but were a bit dry. We had decided to make an exception and eat potatoes and dairy to try the sides. Sadly, the huancaína cream was disappointing, too thin and bland for our taste. I loved that they put palmitos in the salad.

Anticuchos

Anticuchos ($13.00)

The cebiche was better. It had a good fish/onion/chili ratio but lacked a bit of zing. Later I realised they cure the fish in lemon and lime juice, definitely the lemon lowers the acidity we’re used to.

Cebiche

Cebiche ($18.00)

Finally, we tried the adobo de chancho, marinated pork which is slowly cooked in a casserole with Peruvian spices. It was the best dish, hands down, flavourful and tender. I was very happy my allergy to pork is gone.

Adobo

Adobo de chancho ($18.00)

We didn’t find the food breathtaking but it wasn’t bad. Prices are good, serving sizes are right, service is efficient and correct. And a bonus: it’s close enough to home. I reckon we’ll be back.

Cafe de Lima
208 Marrickville Road
Marrickville NSW 2204
(02) 9569 3331
http://www.cafedelima.com.au/

Cafe de Lima on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Cebiche de pulpo y pescado (with seafood from Faros Bros)

I love seafood. That’s not news, since I come from the coast of Peru, where we have heaps of top quality seafood. In Lima, most supermarkets sell fresh seafood and I had a good supermarket at a short walking distance from home that was opened until midnight. Here, things are a bit more complicated. Fresh seafood is not always easy to get and not always really fresh. Lucky me, I mentioned going to the fish market one day to a friend and she told me about a place in Marrickville where she buys her seafood, according to her, fresher than in the fish market shops.

I reserve public holidays and non-busy weekends for preparing “special” dishes, for example those that require ingredients bought on the day, or those that have to be served immediately. So Australia Day was the perfect excuse to satisfy my craving of cebiche. I know it wasn’t a “politically correct” meal for that day but that’s what I felt like eating.

Faros Bros is located in an industrial part of Marrickville, very close to the Sydenham train station. If you look it from the outside you’d think there’s nothing going on there. But past the plastic blind-type curtains a wide range of fresh seafood at good prices makes you want to eat it all in the spot with a squeeze of lemon juice and a cold beer.

Faros Bros

Fish & prawns

More fish

Inside Faros Bros

I got a fillet each of red snapper, barramundi and salmon, four medium octopus and half a kilo of fish roe (yes, I like it battered and fried). The snapper and one of the octopus were for the cebiche, the rest for future meals.

There are dozens (or hundreds, perhaps) of ways of preparing cebiche. What is right or wrong depends on what you like, but what is authentic is usually easy to spot because it’s simple. Think about tacos, for example. If you eat a taco that’s so full of ingredients that you can barely have a bite without it falling apart, and that gives you a bad indigestion right after, then probably it’s not very authentic. If you order a taco in Mexico, you’ll get a tortilla with carnitas (pork), green onions and chilli. Simple and delicious. The same happens with cebiche. A traditional one has nothing more than fish, onion, lime juice, chilli and salt. Simple and delicious, too.

Cebiche ingredients

Cebiche de pescado (fish only) and cebiche mixto (mixed seafood) are the most common versions offered. My current favourites are octopus + fish, octopus + prawns + fish, and fish + conchas negras (black scallops). Combinations are endless. There’s even chicken cebiche for non-fish eaters and mushroom cebiche for vegetarians. In the North of Peru there’s a white bean cebiche (the bean is called sarandaja) that is served as a side.

In the quest for umami, some people season cebiche with MSG. Some use celery water. Some use palabritas (a small shellfish) stock. I don’t use any of those.

Regarding sides, the typical ones are corn and sweet potato. For the last 10 – 15 years the old-fashioned boiled sweet potatoes have been replaced by glazed sweet potatoes (shaped like a rugby ball, boiled, and then glazed with butter, sugar, and sometimes orange juice). For me, that’s overkill. Sweet potatoes are sometimes replaced by yuca (cassava) or potatoes. Finally, there are people who eat their cebiche with white rice. Outrageous.

If you want a green touch you can add some chopped coriander leaves. But I prefer the good old yuyo (seaweed) that complimented every cebiche when I was a kid and is slowly making a comeback. Of course there’s no yuyo in Sydney but I suspect wakame would be a fine substitute.

When you go to a cebichería in Peru, instead of a basket of bread you get a bowl of canchita (roasted and salted corn kernels), sometimes served with chifles (salted banana chips). Being this an special occasion, I opened the (very expensive) bag of canchita I bought in Tierras Latinas.

The best pairing for cebiche is a crisp lager or pilsner, or a good sauvignon blanc. But because I like malt beers and ales better, whenever I eat cebiche in Peru I drink a dark malt beer (Cusqueña negra), and here any of my favourite Aussie ales (this time a Monteith’s Summer Ale).

Monteith's Summer Ale, canchita

Cebiche de pulpo y pescado (fish and octopus cebiche)
Serves 2 as a main course

Avocado salad, canchita, cebiche de pulpo y pescado

500 grams red snapper fillet (or similar white-flesh fish)
1 medium octopus
1 small Spanish onion
9 limes
1 sweet corn
1 sweet potato
1/2 celery stalk
1 clove garlic, peeled
salt, white pepper
red chilli to taste (optional)
canchita (optional)

Thinly slice the onion and soak in water. Finely chop chilli.

Boil corn and steam or oven-roast sweet potato.

Boil octopus with celery and garlic until tender, approximately 20 minutes. Refrigerate when ready.

Let corn and sweet potato cool down, then cut the corn kernels from the cob, peel and cut sweet potato in pieces.

Once the corn, sweet potato and octopus have cooled down, cut octopus in 1-inch pieces and place in a bowl. Cube the fish and add to octopus. Add the drained onions and chilli. Season with salt and white pepper.

Squeeze lime juice on top of the mix. Toss and taste, adjust seasoning if needed.

Serve a portion of cebiche with corn and sweet potato on the side.

Enjoy with a chilled beer and canchita if you like it (and can find it!).

Faros Bros
34 Buckley St
Marrickville NSW 2204
(02) 519 3785
Monday to Friday 7am – 6pm
Saturday 7am – 5pm
Sunday 8am – 5pm
Public Holidays 9am – 4pm

Holidays in Lima (April 17 2010)

On Saturday I didn’t have a pre-workout meal because I had been out the night before (again!), drinking and eating, and I wasn’t hungry. After training I had a papaya and banana de la isla* juice. Papaya is great for healing the stomach lining that is usually irritated after a night out. I always add cinnamon to juices that contain papaya. I also had half a wholemeal bread roll with butter and black olives. Until some years ago I totally hated olives. Lots of people write about the dualism that surrounds olives, it seems that people tend to either love it or hate it with passion. That happened to me, too, and now I’m in the olive lovers’ side. And I must admit that I love Peruvian olives a lot more than the ones I buy in Sydney.

After breakfast I prepared crema volteada, a Peruvian dessert similar to flan and crème brulée, made with eggs, evaporated milk, condensed milk and vanilla esence. When it was almost ready I turned off the oven and left it inside to finish cooking with the remaining heat. I went for lunch with my sister Gloria, her boyfriend Aníbal and my niece Ale. Aníbal drove us to a cebichería that belongs to a well-know Peruvian chef. The place, called La Pescadería (the fish shop) is located in a not-so-good neighbourhood but inside it’s a fancy restaurant on the pricy side. They even have a sushi bar inside. We ordered some sushi to nibble while waiting for the mains: maki montado (fried fish, avocado and Philadelphia cheese, topped with huancaína sauce**) and drinks (I had beer, of course). Before the sushi arrived we were served complimentary chilcano de pescado, a fish broth seasoned in this case with ají panca (dried red chili) and drank with lime juice and fresh chili, perfect for a cool afternoon.

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While browsing the menu looking for the most appealing main option I spotted something I couldn’t believe, a dish that I’ve been craving for ages but that is hard to find in restaurants (and impossible to re-create here): cau cau de choros. The traditional cau cau is a stew made with mondongo (cow’s stomach), cubed potatoes, palillo (turmeric) and a herb called hierbabuena. I hate mondongo because of its strong smell and towel-like texture, but I love the dish when cooked with choros (mussels). According to the menu, this version of cau cau came with mussels and chorizo but instead of chorizo there was salchicha de Huacho, a spicy sausage (as in “with spices”, not as in “hot”) similar in flavour to a Turkish sausage called Sucuk. It comes from a town called Huacho, hence the name. The stew was served in a big clay pot with white rice in the center, it was espectacular.

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Ale ordered cebiche de corvina (corvina is the name of the fish) without chili, Gloria jalea de calamar en salsa de tumbo (fried squid in a sauce made with a fruit from the jungle called tumbo, with fried yuca as a side) and Aníbal mako en guiso de frejoles y salchicha de Huacho (a fish called mako with a bean and salchicha de Huacho stew, which was served also in a clay plate like mine and was almost as good. Food was excellent, the only flaws in the restaurant were a dirty fork (which was changed as soon as I told the waiter) and that the waiter failed to let us know that the credit card system was not working before we even ordered. Luckily, Aníbal had cash on him.

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At night, after dropping Ale at home we went to the city centre to have a pisco sour, our national drink made with pisco**, lime juice, jarabe de goma** and egg whites, in the old Hotel Bolívar, which fame relies on this drink. Gloria drank algarrobina, a cocktail made with pisco, algarrobina (a syrup made in the North of the country boiling carob pods for very long hours), jarabe de goma, evaporated milk, egg yolk, cinnamon and sometimes cacao liquor. We ordered two servings of bolitas de yuca rellenas de queso con salsa huancaína (cassava balls stuffed with cheese and served with huancaína sauce) to nibble on. The sauce was very thin (I like it chunky) but tasted alright.

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We wanted another drink so we went to Huaringas bar “for a change”. We always end up here because a) the drinks are awesome, b) the food is amazing, c) the vibe is great, d) the manager is my good buddhist friend Alfonso and over the years many other buddhist friends have worked there as waiters/waitresses. Before going there we went to Aníbal’s house and left the car there. My friend Rashid was working that day, so he found us a table (the place is always packed, so he actually removed the “reserved” sign from a small table and let us sit there). Aníbal ordered one of the signature drinks: Huaringas sour (I don’t remember what’s in it), Gloria had a granadilla and mandarin juice and I had a sour de granadilla con fresas de Pachacamac (pisco sour but with granadilla and strawberries from Pachacamac instead of lime juice). We also had more nibbles (I know, we ate a lot!): quinoa-crusted prawns. Once again, everything was super yummy.

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* The explanation about the types of bananas can be found here.

** The explanation about huancaína sauce, pisco and jarabe de goma can be found here.

Holidays in Lima (April 16 2010)

On the third day I overslept. I had been out the night before and I just lost track of time. My breakfast, at noon, was two bananas* (de la isla and manzano). Then I took a taxi and went to Segundo Muelle, a cebichería (seafood restaurant) where I met my ex-colleagues from Ernst & Young. We ordered two jugs of chicha morada, a sweet and refreshing drink made by boiling purple corn with pineapple skin, cinnamon and cloves. Before serving, sugar and lime juice are added. I drank as much as I could when I was there because, unlike lúcuma**, the powdered stuff is terrible, tastes like a lolly. I ordered cebiche de lenguado, langostino y pulpo (raw fish, cooked prawn and cooked octopus mixed with sliced onions, salt, chili and lime juice, served with corn and sweet potato), and a tamalito verde (green tamal**, the colour and flavour come from fresh coriander). I also tried tiradito a la huancaína (sashimi-style fish with huancaína sauce, made with yellow chili, oil, feta cheese, evaporated milk and soda crackers), piqueo Entre Causas (yellow potato causa* and sweet potato causa, with cooked seafood between them) and arroz con conchas negras (rice with black mussels), all of them very tasty. There was no room for dessert, but I gave them a big Tim Tam pack for afternoon tea in the office.

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In the afternoon, in an Internet cafe I spotted doncellas, a sweet similar to turrón de Doña Pepa but very small, orange in colour and without lollies. I love those, so I ate one as dessert. After training in the gym I had a papaya and banana juice.

At night I went out with my friends from uni. We went to Cocodrilo Verde, a restaurant/bar with live shows. There was a three-men jazz band from the US playing that night. When choosing drinks I decide to have something with pisco, our national liquor made from distilled grape must (the just pressed grape juice that contains all solid parts of the fruit). I chose suspiro de lúcuma (pisco, milk, lúcuma, jarabe de goma, cinnamon and whipped cream). I know, I know, it was more a calorie-loaded alcoholic dessert than a drink, but it was really good. Actually, it’s named after our typical dessert suspiro a la limeña, which consists of a layer of manjarblanco (aka dulce de leche or caramel) mixed with raw egg yolks, topped with Italian meringue infused with cinnamon and port. It’s sweet as hell but delicious. It’s better eaten while drinking a large glass of water or a pisco shot to cut the sweetness. Back to the drinks ingredients, jarabe de goma is a syrup infused with citrus, used in lots of Peruvian cocktails.

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We order some food to nibble on while chatting: piqueo criollo (fried yuca with huancaína sauce, corn with chili sauce, tamalito, humita, chicharrón de pollo or fried chicken morsels) and crunchy prawns with passion fruit sauce. Humita is another kind of tamal, the main difference is that the corn isn’t mixed with chili. The food was beautiful. When I finished my drink/dessert I order another pisco cocktail called pisquiri de mango (mango daikiri with pisco instead of rhum), also very nice.

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Back home I wasn’t really hungry but I wanted to eat something. There was some asado with mashed potatoes left from lunch, one of the many dishes my mum cooks really well, so I had a full-size serving.

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* The explanation about the types of bananas and causa can be found here.

** The explanation about lúcuma and tamales can be found here.

How things led me to cooking again

During all this time (school, uni, first years as a professional) I cooked once in a while. My favourite dishes to prepare were cebiche (raw fish marinated in lime juice with onions, chillies, sweet potato, and corn) and pasta. I baked desserts once in a while, too.

As mentioned before, I had a new friend called gastritis, who magically appeared around the time when I started traveling for work. Whoever thinks that traveling as part of your job is cool has obviously never done it or has a job that doesn’t involve programming software in the client’s office. Anyway, I had a few trips over the world, I really enjoyed having the opportunity of visiting places like Hong Kong, but I hated the stress and long hours that were involved in almost all of my trips.

On June 2005 I was in Mexico City, programming an accounting software and wondering what should I do with my life. As I left the office at lunch time and went to this cool restaurant in which you built your own salad with really yummy ingredients, it stroke me like lightning. I knew I wanted to cook for a living.

I stayed a few weeks in Mexico and after getting home I started getting quotes from all cooking schools I knew of. Le Cordon Bleu was my first choice but it was really expensive and classes were only at daytime (meaning I would have had to quit my job and lose the money income I needed for the tuition fee). Most options were unviable because of the starting times but there was this school just a block away from my office with a one-year program in which classes started at 6:30 pm. That sounded perfect, so I started studying on September 2005. I told my boss that I wouldn’t be able to travel anymore during the next year because I had enrolled in a course (I didn’t mention what kind, but he eventually found out).

I was very short of time at that moment but still managed to train, work, study, be in a band, and have a boyfriend. Soon after starting the program I began preparing desserts and selling them at my office and my sister’s office. So my typical day was something like this:
6 am: Wake up
7 am: Taekwondo or weights
8 am: Take a shower and go to the office
6:30 pm: Get out of the office, walk 100 meters, wait until being able to cross safely the Javier Prado avenue, enter the cooking school, change my clothes and go into the classroom/kitchen
Anywhere between 9:30 and 11:50 pm: Go home. Three days a week prepare desserts and package them.
Go to sleep.

I had lunch with Alvaro (my current husband) on Wednesdays and spent more time with him on weekends. On Saturdays, after going to the gym, I met him in his kung fu class and then we went to his house. On Sundays I played tennis, had lunch and went to rehearse with the band. Alvaro went with me and read a book or something while we rehearsed.

This went on for a while until my energy was completely depleted. First I stopped playing tennis, then I started skipping training days. I gained weight as a consequence of cooking and tasting food every day, but I tried to adhere to my eating and training plans outside from the classes. Later I quit the band.

I noticed a few things changing within me during that year (besides my body fat, of course). One is that I became increasingly interested in nutrition. I began to think that maybe that was another career path I should think about (I still think that, but haven’t done anything about it yet).

The other thing is that my palate evolved very quickly as a response to constant exposure to prime quality ingredients and dishes prepared by top chefs. While it was true that my interest for highly processed foods decreased as a result of my healthy eating awareness, my tastebuds started to demand better prepared food. This is what anyone would from cookery students, but I was surprised to see that the vast majority in my class chose KFC for group lunches and fried super fresh salmon and sole sashimi as soon as the Japanese Cuisisine teacher left the kitchen.

I began to truly appreciate all dimensions of food and wine: smell, texture, taste, depth, contrast, temperature, harmony, layout, colour, etc. Naturally, I started to expend more money, both when eating out and when buying groceries for cooking at home. My family and Alvaro got some side effects too: yummy food and body fat increase.