Because Peruvian food has become so en trend in the last two years and has enjoyed a serious laud in the realm of culinary innovation, we’re going to chat a bit about how to stay on top of this ubiquitous culinary style at home. It’s so easy to incorporate a rich culture and its foods and techniques into your own cooking routine without visiting Machu Picchu or grueling through an intense stodge at a reknowned Peruvian chefs kitchen. Though, ideally, I’d love to do both before the year’s out, I’m riding this with you in a comfortable way. After all, getting to know Peruvian has been a novel experience for me as much as it’s probably been for you. I’ve been eating it for the better part of 20 years, but only until the cheesy relationship with Sargento Cheese, have I really been in the trenches digging up little factoids and tasting new flavors. Plus if Rick Bayless identified it as a go-to-know trendy hit, then it must be.
I feel like I’d be borderline insulting if I included quinoa in my Top 5 of things you can do to have an authentic learning experience at home. But since the grain really does belong to them, it deserves to remain in tact and full of integrity. So we’ll start there. I mean it’s too good and easy to make to ignore.
SUB QUINOA FOR BROWN RICE
I’ve been totally shocked at the number of people who’ve not cooked quinoa at home. I found this out from a general consensus I took at my hands-on cooking classes at LivingSocial, where I used red (really black-looking) as the starch to pair with my herbed salmon. Every time I asked the class how many people had cooked, less than 5 raised their hands. That’s in a class of about 30+. Even less knew where it comes from. What a great five minute history lesson I gave every Thursday!
Assuming most of you reading this know what quinoa is all about, I’ll step back from surfacing the roots of the grain and encourage you to play with it in your dishes where you’d normally use rice; especially brown rice. The only thing you should keep in mind is that quinoa is not necessarily healthier than brown rice. It has about the same amount of carbs and sugar. And, it is a bit pricier, but it’s so worth the texture your salad will be enhanced with. Or how wonderfully it tastes in a parfait…. yes, a parfait. You can’t do that so much with brown rice, now can you?! Yeah, use quinoa for two weeks and you’ll be in love. Check.
PLAY WITH PURPLE POTATOES
I think I touched in this cheese-themed post how Peru is known for their insanely large potato harvest. You’d think they cover every color in the rainbow, but alas, yellow reigns and the purple comes in a close second. At least from what I’ve seen. It’s not all that easy to find in my hood, but when I do find it, I’m all over it. It’s such a beautiful break from the every day red and yellow we love. Try them as a garlicky mash, make French fries and most awesome, in a the popular dinner lomo saltado. It’ll be a colorful remix for sure.
MAKE CHEESE SAUCE. REALLY SPICY CHEESE SAUCE
Fancy up your weekend snackage by making cheese sauce. Let it play the main role for all those crunchy bites. Pour, slather, and smother a spicy sauce on all those traditional dishes we gravitate toward for our shindigs. During the week, incorporate your cheese sauces in your main meals. Instead of cream cheese, I’m all about a robust and creamy cheese sauce all over my baked potato. Try this or this one to start. You’ll be amazed at how incredibly simple it is to make. 6 minute, my friends. 6 minutes.
AN ATTEMPT TO MAKE JAPANESE FUSION
Here’s a challenge even to myself. The last time I made sushi from scratch, I promised myself I’d really get into it and at least learn the basics. My salmon hand rolls were a hit, but the mess in my kitchen was epically embarrassing and way too much to spend time cleaning. I’ve not made a single sushi dish, roll, or anything in the realm of Japanese since. That was about 6 years ago. It’s so much easier to go out for sushi. And it’s so much fun.
Of all the Latin cuisines known to the American restaurant scene, I think the fusion of Japanese with Peruvian is just genius. I’ve not seen a plethora of public options, so bringing it to your casa is just easier. The idea of taking Japanese techniques and applying them to Peru’s indigenous ingredients is quite sexy. At home, go for a sushi style and formed causa (the classic potato and fish entree).
SKIP THE JALAPEÑO AND GO FOR THE YELLOW
Who doesn’t loving adding jalapeños to anything needing a kick? It’s in my guac, my now famous watermelon gazpacho, some burgers, and the list goes on to infinity. My research of Peruvian food has me all inquisitive about aji amarillo, or yellow pepper. I STILL can’t find a fresh one anywhere within 20 miles, so I’m relegated to using the paste. My suggestion here for infusing the heat is to use the fresh pepper, seeded, peeled and even roasted to make your own paste. The only element to consider when using the equally searing pepper is that your foods will turn a yellow hue, naturally. I have visions of our rustic arroz con pollo getting a Peruvian twist with some aji amarillo. I mean it’s not the first or the last time my family is known to saturate our plate of the utter goodness with hot sauce. A sofrito with the yellow heat will do the job in advance and squash all visible silent eye wonders.
See! Quite easy. We don’t have to do all five at once, but slowly, one by one, our kitchens will be super diverse. It just takes a few ingredient switacharoos and an open mind to play with flavors and more queso!
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.