Recipe: Locro (Peruvian pumpkin stew)

I’m sure there are a million locro recipes out there because it’s fair to say this is an everyday staple in almost every Peruvian household. The way I make it is not the way my mum makes it, nor the way my aunties make it, nor the way my mother-in-law makes it. This is one of the few dishes Alvaro insists on keeping meat-free, with a fried egg (or three) on top. Works for me.

Locro (Peruvian pumpkin stew)
Yield: 4 servings

Locro

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp ghee or oil
  • 500-600g pumpkin, peeled and cubed
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 – 1.25 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 0.5 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-3 tsp ají amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilli) paste
  • 0.5 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 200g goat feta cheeese
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp dried oregano

To serve

  • white rice
  • 4 olives
  • 4 fried eggs
  • coriander leaves

Directions

  1. Peel and cube pumpkin and potatoes.
  2. Heat the ghee or oil in a saucepan at medium-low temperature.
  3. Add onion, garlic and ají amarillo. Cook for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
  4. Add pumpkin and potatoes. Cook for another 4-5 minutes, then add stock and bring to a boil.
  5. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, until pumpkin and potatoes are falling apart. Feel free to mash them up as much as you want.
  6. Add corn and peas, cook for another couple of minutes.
  7. Turn off heat, add cheese, season with salt and pepper.
  8. Serve with white rice, topped by a fried egg and garnish with an olive and coriander leaves.

Recipe: Mixto completo (sort of)

Another sandwich recipe? Really? Yeah, we still got a lot of protein bread in the freezer. Peruvians took the French classics croque monsieur and croque madame and made the poor person’s versions mixto and mixto completo. These generally contain jamón inglés (regular leg ham) and Edam cheese. The completo (equivalent to the croque madame) has a fried egg. These are normally buttered and put in a sandwich press. Another option is to heat it on a flat grill iron (or pan). When using this method, it’s common to cut a whole on the top slice of bread with a small glass or cookie cutter and pour the egg in the hole. We took the lazy route: toasted the bread in a regular toaster and melted the cheese in the pan where the eggs were cooking.

Mixto completo
Yield: 1 sandwich

Mixto completo

Ingredients

  • 2 slices protein bread
  • 2 slices double-smoked ham
  • hard cheese, to taste (Parmesan, Pecorino or aged tasty work well)
  • 1 egg
  • fat of choice
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Fry the egg and season with salt and pepper. When it’s about halfway done, drop the cheese in the same pan to melt it.
  2. Toast the bread and make a sandwich with the cheese, ham and egg.

Recipe: Pan con aceitunas

Recently I wrote about craving sandwiches from my childhood. Today’s sandwich is even simpler: it involves only three ingredients but tons of memories. I recommend using botija olives (I’ve bought them in Tierras Latinas, Flemington Markets and Loving Earth in the past) but any flavourful black olive would do. Pro-tip: next time someone you know goes to Perú, tell them to bring some olives (and lúcuma and maca), they’re way more expensive over here.

Mantequilla y aceitunas

Once again, this sandwich features the paleo-friendly protein bread.

Pan con aceitunas
Yield: 1 sandwich

Pan con aceitunas

Ingredients

  • 2 slices protein bread
  • black olives (preferably botija), pitted
  • butter

Directions

  1. Bread, butter, olives, bread. As simple as that.

Recipe: Triples in protein bread

I don’t crave bread often but when I do it’s usually in relation to childhood memories. Among other sandwiches, we grew up eating triple, which is very popular back home although there’s nothing typically Peruvian about it. Its name refers to the three different fillings that are separated by four (FOUR!) slices of bread. Yep, Peruvians eat lots of carbs, that’s why we’re all “doughy”, as Robb Wolf would say.

I’ve come across a couple of great commercially-available bread options that we use once in a while. One of them is protein bread, that is not technically paleo but grain-free and low carb. The good news is that we haven’t noticed any ill effects from the whey or pea protein it contains. The complete list of ingredients is: water, egg white, whey protein, golden flax meal, pea protein, almond meal, gluten-free baking powder, chia seeds, linseeds, sea salt, kibbled black pepper, caraway seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pepitas, and cinnamon. It tastes pretty good, is very filling and is sturdy enough to make sandwiches.

Triples in protein bread
Yield: 4 sandwiches (to feed 2-4 people)

Triple

Ingredients

  • 1 Roma tomato
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise (preferably home-made)
  • 8 thin slices protein bread
  • salt
  • pepper (optional)

Directions

  1. Peel, seed and chop the tomato, put in a bowl.
  2. Peel and chop the eggs, put in a separate bowl.
  3. Peel and chop the avocado, put in a separate bowl.
  4. Season the tomato, eggs and avocado with salt (optional pepper) and mayonnaise.
  5. Make two sandwiches by layering bread, avocado, bread, egg, bread, tomato, bread. Normally you would cut off the edges but I like the seeds that come with the protein bread. Cut each sandwich diagonally in half and enjoy.

Australia & NZ 2011 (21 March)

21 March was my mum’s birthday. Of course it wasn’t her birthday yet in Peru (the time difference is 16 hours), but still I had her in my mind. It was the first beautiful day since we arrived, bright and sunny. I convinced Alvaro to go to the beach for a workout and a bit of sun exposure. Our pre-workout meal was a banana and some almonds.

Beach view from the penthouse

Alvaro ran and I did yoga. We both freshened up in the sea before heading back to the apartment. Breakfast (post-workout meal, really) was scrambled eggs with thyme, baby spinach, avocado, wholemeal Lebanese bread, a slice of tasty cheese, and a bit of yogurt.

After the 11 am meditation session we had leftovers for lunch again: beef and lamb steaks, plus a salad of iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, avocado, lime juice and olive oil.

One more meditation session and we were ready for dinner. But we didn’t want any more meat, so we went to Govindas with Angela C. We managed to get a free table (the place is small and popular), and as we waited in the queue to order, Neil arrived and was quite surprised of finding us in a vegetarian restaurant. I wonder why.

Angela, Alvaro and I chose the medium plate (rice + 3 dishes for $11). Neil wasn’t that hungry and had a small plate (rice + 2 dishes for $9). I chose the vegetable curry (broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, lima beans), antipasto salad (olives, etc), and pumpkin, baby spinach & avocado salad. The serving was huge and the food was really good. Tasty and comforting.

Govindas - Rice, koftas, tofu salad, vegetable curry

Rice, koftas, tofu salad, vegetable curry

Govindas - Rice, croquettes, kofta salad, vegetable curry

Rice, croquettes, kofta salad, vegetable curry

Govindas - Antipasto salad, pumpkin, baby spinach & avocado salad, rice, vegetable curry

Antipasto salad, pumpkin, baby spinach & avocado salad, rice, vegetable curry

We were stuffed up but Alvaro and I had bought a custard & semolina dessert, which was actually very nice. It was like a warm bread pudding layered with silky custard, both of them not too sweet.

Stuffed up as we were, we managed to get through at least half of the evening session and then passed out in bed.

Govindas
20 James Street
Burleigh Heads QLD 4220
(07) 5607 0782

www.govindas.net.au

Review: Yullis Bar (Surry Hills)

Confession: I undo all my weekday healthy eating on weekends. I know that’s pretty obvious by now but acknowledging it in a public space like this one may be the first step towards rehabilitation (as it is in AA). Actually I think that the knee pain that I get most Sundays night may be a more useful reminder to keep on track.

Anyways, last Saturday, after eating pasta in The Falconer we walked for 10 or 15 minutes and made a pit stop in The Local Taphouse. Nothing screams “beer” more than a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon. We asked the girl at the bar for the sweetest brew for Alvaro (he doesn’t like alcohol and only drinks it if it’s sweet). She gave us a couple to try and Alvaro chose the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (friendly name: number fifteen). I had a Holgate Choc Temptress. Both beers were really nice, full bodied and sweet. Alvaro couldn’t finish his, so I had to help him.

Then we continued our route, which included the much awaited dessert pit stop. I decided to try Yullis Bar, which despite of having an all-vegetarian menu gets great reviews from meat and non-meat eaters. I let Alvaro pick the dessert (I wanted a bite but not the whole half of it) and I had another dark beer, this time a Red Oak Chocolate Stout ($9.80 a bottle).

The chosen dessert was Mango Tapioca Pudding with Coconut Ice Cream ($9.50). I don’t like coconut ice cream (I used to hate all things coconuty until not so long ago) but Alvaro got a call from his mom when the dessert arrived so I decided to give it a shot before it melted down completely. The dessert was genius. Tapioca pudding is easy to make but the mango sauce on top was delicious (full of taste, hard to believe considering that fruit in Oz is kinda bland) and the ice cream was heaven (even for a non-believer like me). The waitress told us that it wasn’t actually ice cream, but a sorbet, and indeed it tasted as clean as sweetened coconut milk chilled in an ice cream machine.

Mango Tapioca Pudding with Coconut Ice Cream

There are many things in the menu that have caught my eye, so I’ll be dragging Alvaro for lunch or dinner soonish.

Yullis Bar
417 Crown St
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9319 6609
yullis.com.au

Review: Badde Manors Cafe (Glebe)

Two years ago I was making plans with a Peruvian friend who was living here to start a business. We wanted something along the lines of a coffee shop and when discussing concepts, she suggested me visiting some cafes when I arrived (I was still in Peru), among them Badde Manors, in Glebe. I checked the website and the menu (which is vegetarian, by the way) looked interesting. But then I arrived and moved to Newtown, which has way too many choices for eating out (especially for someone who doesn’t eat out that frequently) to ever think about going to another suburb for lunch.

So I just waited all this time for the circumstances to fall into place. In this case Alvaro and I went walking to Broadway to buy some stuff and we got hungry in the way. We went all the way up to Cafe Bariloche because we were craving empanadas but it was closed. Starving, we turned around and walked to Badde Manors. It was packed, but there was a free table right next to the door. Due to our level of hunger we chose our meals in record time but it took a while for the waitress to come and get our order.

We were in the mood for something to drink besides water, so I ordered a raspberry/apple organic juice and Alvaro a raspberry/apricot smoothie (with vanilla ice cream and milk). Both were really good and refreshing.

Raspberry/apple organic juice, raspberry/apricot smoothie

What my body wanted that day was a huge salad. The carbs overload of the day before (grazing at the Eveleigh Market in the morning plus lonchecito in the evening) had broken my internal balance and I needed loads of veggie fibre to fix it. I chose the chef’s salad: mixed leaves, chickpeas, artichokes, grilled haloumi, cherry tomatoes, toasted almonds, green beans, tahini dressing and a lemon wedge, served with a toasted slice of sourdough and butter.

The salad was good, but lacked a “wow” factor. I think the dressing was too dry, and even when I squeezed the lemon wedge on the veggies, they lacked that moist and round flavour that makes a salad taste exactly like that as opposed to some veggies, legumes and cheese thrown together to share a plate. The sourdough toast was tasty, I wish it wasn’t to avoid the starches, but I couldn’t help it and just enjoyed it.

Chef's salad, toasted sourdough

Alvaro chose one of the blackboard specials: homemade arancini with mushroom, sundried tomato and asparagus, served with garden salad, pumpkin and ginger sauce, and garlic toast. Two huge arancini sat on the plate next to some salad leaves and two slices of toasted garlic bread. According with the description we were expecting the dish to be completely Italian but no… the rice in the arancini was not cooked as risotto (or if it was, it needed more creaminess) and the pumpkin and ginger sauce (which definitely had cumin and more spices in it) felt a bit out of place with the garlic bread and the veggies in the arancini. I won’t say it wasn’t tasty (although it needed a bit more salt) but again it didn’t feel like a rounded dish.

Homemade arancini with mushroom, sundried tomato and asparagus, served with garden salad, pumpkin and ginger sauce, and garlic toast

Once again we ended up stuffed and couldn’t taste any of the yummy looking desserts on display. Next time maybe we’ll drop by just for dessert.

Badde Manors
37 Glebe Point Rd
Glebe NSW 2037
(02) 9660 3797
baddemanorscafe.com

To be or not to be… vegetarian?

I was a vegetarian for more or less one year. That happened in 2005, and it was not a result of religious beliefs, health issues/concerns, or diet fads. It was because I had braces on my teeth from 2004 until 2007 (yes, three years of torture) and eating meat at some point was a real annoyance for me. Not only I was afraid of breaking one of the acrylic braces (I had them on my upper teeth) while tearing a piece of beef, but I started to hate all the bits of fibrous flesh that got stuck in every available space. Smiling in that situation is not very nice, and the cleaning process not easy at all.

I was fortunate enough to have a very caring mom who still cooked for me even when I was old enough to cook for her (but remember I come from a retrograde country where you live under your parents’ roof until you get married or decide to live on your own), and that she was happy to cook two or more different meals to please everyone at home. My pseudo-vegetarianism consisted in substituting soy “meat” for real meat in burgers, stews, and sauces. I ate meat when there was no other choice but most of the times I stayed away from it.

A few months after my relationship with Alvaro (who was a pseudo-vegetarian at that time, too) started. Time passed by and I got my braces removed. I switched back to meat, except for a few dishes that were tastier with fake meat, like my mom’s soy “meat” burgers and her wheat stew with soy “minced meat”. Alvaro was still a vegetarian (his reasons were more karma-related) for a while, until he realised that he didn’t need to and embraced again a life full of steaks and bacon… just kidding! he’s not the typical meat eater.

Our food intake post-Turbulence Training changed a bit. Basically I cut down our starches intake, which in our country is very high. Our ancestors in the Andes ate lots of tubers (countless types of potatoes, sweet potatoes, oca, etc.), corn, yuca (mandioca or cassava), pseudo-grains (quinua, kiwicha or amaranth), etc. Then the Spaniards arrived with rice and the Chinese, Japanese and Italians arrived with pasta, and the nutritional disaster began. Peruvians eat rice with everything, including other starches. It’s really common to have the rice and mashed potatoes, rice and boiled potatoes, rice and potato chips, etc, in one dish, and it’s perfectly possible to have combinations like rice, potato and yuca, as well. Starches are the staple of our traditional foods, probably because they’re cheap and abundant, and there’s a wide range of textures and tastes to choose from. But they’re starches. And they’re evil. Not really, because technically speaking if you are carb tolerant or if you had just worked out hard, you’re entitled to eat good starches (non-processed ones). But most of the time it’s wise to stick to a lean protein + good fat + veggies combo.

Our main sources of protein when living in Lima were animal: chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, ostrich, and some beef. For some time we ate some kind of meat every day for lunch and dinner. It seemed ok, because in order to build muscle you need animal protein, right? Not so fast! I used to think that before, and therefore our diet included meat and whey protein powder. We ate legumes as well, because we love them. We drank lots of milk, but at some point my gastritis got worse, the doctor recommended avoiding it, or choosing a non-lactose one. We made the switch because Alvaro noticed that he digested it better, too.

One day I noticed something interesting, both John Berardi and Craig Ballantyne, among other fitness experts, started writing that being a vegetarian was not a bad idea after all. I remember reading in Precision Nutrition that maybe the key to eating better was being a vegetarian and using good quality meat as a supplement, i.e. eating it not very often. That made perfect sense to me, specially considering the enviromental and health side effects of having such lifestyle. Now that we live in Sydney, where food costs 3 to 4 times more than in Lima, the economical factor became important, too. Organic beef and chicken are available but very expensive. About twice as much as the regular stuff. Kangaroo is a pretty good option: high in protein, low in fat, sustainable, and cheap. It also has a nice taste, similar to beef, but a bit stronger. It’s available in supermarkets as steaks (marinated or not), sausages, and minced.

On the seafood side, I must admit I’m still confused. I don’t know where and what to buy in order to make a sensible, healthy, and sustainable choice. I love seafood, even when it tastes bland here, but all the information I have read hasn’t got into my system yet. We eat seafood (mostly fish because Alvaro has allergies to prawns, crab, etc.) about once a week, and I’m aiming to increase that frequency. Maybe twice a week, plus a day with other kind of meat, and the rest of the time vegetarian plates.

The other thing that keeps bugging me is the dairy issue. Is it good or not? People say we’re not meant to be drinking cow’s milk because we’re not cattle, but what about cheese? Can I give up drinking milk and still have my cheese? Please? I’ve lowered my milk intake to almost nothing. Maybe one cup of non-lactose milk a week. But I have some yogurt everyday. And cheese. I love cheese and I’m sure that it would be really hard to let it go. Maybe as hard as quitting smoking (I’m guessing here because I never went through that). I’ll be talking about milk and soy later, as it’s such a vast topic.