Recipe: Pisco sour

This year I decided to put the last bottle of pisco I had in my cupboard to good use and made a round of pisco sour to celebrate with friends. Generally speaking, there are three types of pisco: quebranta (the least aromatic), mosto verde or Italia (the most aromatic) and acholado (a mix of both). Quebranta and acholado are the better ones for making cocktails.

I used the classic ratio of 3:1:1:1 (pisco to egg white, syrup and lime juice), although some prefer a 4:1:1:1 ratio. I made a test run with water and stevia instead of syrup and found it less sweet and quite enjoyable. If you make your own syrup, feel free to adjust the sugar-to-water ratio according to your taste. Final note: when making more than 2 serves, it’s easier to use a blender. Just be mindful to use the minimum amount of ice to cool down the drink without watering it down too much. Salud!

Pisco sour
Yield: 1 serving

Pisco sour

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces pisco quebranta or acholado
  • 1 ounce egg white
  • 1 ounce simple syrup (or 1 ounce of water and stevia to taste)
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • a few ice cubes
  • dash of bitters

Directions

  1. Shake pisco, egg white, syrup and lime juice in a shaker, pour and garnish with a dash of bitters.

Recipe: Kombucha chilcano

This is a healthier twist on the traditional cocktail chilcano de pisco. I use kombucha instead of ginger ale to lower the sugar content. I’m not sure if the alcohol negates the beneficial probiotic effects of the kombucha but it sure tastes great. I used ginger & lime kombucha this time, but any ginger-flavoured kombucha will do.

Kombucha chilcano
Yield: 1 cocktail

Kombucha chilcano

Ingredients

  • 2 oz pisco (quebranta recommended)
  • 4 oz ginger kombucha
  • juice of 1 lime
  • ice cubes
  • slice of lime, optional

Directions

  1. Pour ingredients into a tall glass and stir. Garnish with a slice of lime.

Recipe: Chilcano de Pisco

Pisco is a Peruvian spirit. Chileans say it’s Chilean (as they do with many other Peruvian/Bolivian things) and they certainly produce and export more pisco than Peru (they have the financial means to do so) but the truth is that it was born in my country. Makes sense when you find out that the word itself comes from the Quechua (one of our native languages) word that means “little bird” and that the spirit was first produced in the 16th century in the town called Pisco, when the Spanish invaders brought the distillation process with them.

Peruvian wines are awful. Really. Simply put, the terroir (soil, climate, etc.) is not good for growing wine grapes. But it turns out that the must (the grape juice that gets fermented) suffers a wonderful transformation during distillation. Think of a nasty caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly.

Pisco is high in alcohol, around 40%. It comes in three categories: puro (“pure” or non-aromatic), aromatic and acholado (combination between aromatic and non-aromatic grapes). There’s a fourth category: mosto verde (“green must”) that comes from partially fermented must, but because it’s aromatic as well, I chuck it with the rest of the great-smelling varieties.

Peruvian piscos

Pisco can be drank on its own (Riedel produces special glasses that enhance the qualities of the drink), or in cocktails. The rule of thumb is to drink aromatic pisco on its own and non-aromatic in cocktails. Pisco acholado can be used for both purposes. Pisco can be used for cooking, too: as part of sauces, for flambeed dishes, and in desserts.

The best known pisco cocktail is pisco sour, which features lime juice, egg whites, syrup and bitters. The second best know is algarrobina, which is more an alcoholic dessert than a drink, because it’s made with evaporated milk, carob syrup, egg yolks and cinnamon. And probably the third best known is what this heat wave in Sydney made me crave: chilcano de pisco. More refreshing and less caloric than the previous two, it’s the perfect drink for chilling out after work if you happen to have some good quality pisco at home.

Chilcano de pisco
Yield: 1 cocktail

Chilcano de pisco

2 oz pisco (acholado or puro)
1 tsp lime juice
4 – 6 oz ginger ale (depending on the size of your glass and how strong you want your drink)
ice cubes
a few drops of bitters (optional)
lime

Pour ingredients into a tall glass and stir. Garnish with a wedge or slice of lime.

Peruvian food month (part 1)

Last Wednesday was my country’s Independence Day. When I lived there I usually didn’t care too much about celebrations, I just looked forward to the public holidays. I never watched the official parade or the one that is organised by one of the big supermarket chains, with fireworks and everything. Here, of course, things are different. Fiestas patrias, as we call that day, is the perfect excuse to indulge on Peruvian food. Because I’ve been craving so many dishes, I decided that I would declare July the Peruvian food month.

As I’ve written before, Peruvian food is not that healthy. It’s way better than fast food, but most of the dishes are loaded with starches. That’s the main reason why we haven’t been eating them everyday. The other reason is that some ingredients are expensive or impossible to find here, so I have to use what I’ve got wisely.

I prepared the first dish two Sundays ago, for Monday’s lunch and dinner. It was a fake pollo a la brasa (charcoal chicken). Fake because there’s no way on Earth a charcoal oven could fit in my apartment, so I just marinated it with rosemary, salt, pepper, cumin, soy sauce, malt beer, vinegar, garlic and ají panca (red chili), and roasted it in the oven. It was very tasty, but different from the original thing. Instead of eating it with potato chips, I parboiled cubed potatoes, sprinkled them with olive oil and salt, and roasted them in the oven. I also added a coleslaw with an Asian dressing that was the perfect pairing for the chicken.

Pollo a la brasa

The second dish was picante de camarones, which we ate that Wednesday. It’s a shrimp stew with shrimp stock (I used prawn stock this time), bread, Paria cheese (I used queso fresco, Peruvian-style feta cheese), evaporated milk, ají panca (red chili), onion and garlic. The result was very similar to the original version. I served it with white rice (we cook it with sautéed garlic and salt), broccolini and green beans.

Picante de camarones

That Friday we had asado con puré, beef marinated in red wine and red wine vinegar and slowly cooked with stock, puréed onions, carrots and tomatoes, and herbs, served with mashed potatoes and rice. I added broccolini to add some veggie fiber. This one was tasty too, but different from the one I cooked back home, because the flavour of Australian garlic and onions is stronger.

Asado con pure

The central day was last Sunday. My sister and I cooked lunch and had a toast with a Peruvian cocktail: algarrobina, which is prepared with pisco, algarrobina (carob syrup), evaporated milk, egg yolk and ice, and sprinkled with cinnamon.

Algarrobina

For lunch we had a mixed leaves, cucumber, tomato and avocado salad simply dressed with lime juice, plus seco de cordero (lamb stew with onion, garlic, yellow chili, chicha de jora, coriander and stock), borlotti beans cooked with a bit of bacon and with aderezo (onion, garlic and chili cooked slowly in oil until soft) added in the end, ají de gallina (chicken stew with chicken stock, bread, onion, garlic, yellow chili, evaporated milk, Parmesan cheese and pecans or walnuts), and white rice. We didn’t have dessert, the cocktail was sweet enough and we already had too many calories.

Lettuce, cucumber, tomato and avocado salad

Seco de cordero, frejoles, aji de gallina, white rice

Alvaro arrived late from work and had lunch. Later we watched the debate and before it ended I started preparing some nibbles to eat while drinking a few beers. I prepared huancaína sauce (yellow chili, onion, garlic, queso fresco, milk and soda crackers) and yuquitas fritas (cassava boiled and fried in butter). We opened the jar of choclo (white corn kernels) I bought in Tierras Latinas, but unfortunately they were a bit tough. The sauce and yuquitas were brilliant.

Yuquitas fritas, huancaina sauce, choclito, malt beer

To be continued…

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.