Dinner in Lima
Papa a la Huancaína (Potatoes with Cheese Sauce)
Salsa a la Huancaína is a traditional sauce used to top all kinds of dishes in Lima - from chicken to vegetables to grains to pasta. The most common variation, though, is this one - boiled yellow potatoes topped with this spicy, cheesy, flavorful sauce, and garnished with a hardboiled egg and black olives. We’ve written about potatoes a few times now (Burgundy, Milan, Dublin - potatoes are quite the globetrotting tuber!), but with this menu, they feel especially important, as we’ve finally landed in their birthplace! Potatoes originated in the Andean highlands of Peru, and there are still more than 4,000 varieties cultivated there. They were central to the Incan diet, and indeed, the success of the Incan Empire is attributed - at least in part - to the fact that Incan soldiers were well-fed, even when they were on long marches far from home. The Incans had a strong tradition of drying and preserving food, and dried potatoes were one of their greatest nutritional (if not precisely gastronomic) successes. Modern Peruvian food uses potatoes in myriad ways, but this dish is a favorite appetizer, especially in Lima and up into the highlands directly east of the city. The sauce is a tangy purée of feta, garlic, ají amarillo (the favored yellow chile pepper of Peruvian cooking), cilantro, and finally - salty Ritz crackers as a surprisingly brilliant thickener! (Contains egg, gluten, dairy; vegetarian).
Lomo Saltado (Stir-Fried Beef and Potatoes)
Lomo saltado is a classic example of Peruvian Criollo cooking. Thin strips of beef are stir-fried with onions, tomato, and peppers, then flavored with soy sauce (in this case GF tamari), garlic, and cilantro. Finally, it’s served alongside a pile of fried potatoes. The potatoes, as mentioned above, are native to Peru, and have been used in Peruvian cooking since pre-Columbian times. The garlic and beef travelled to Peru with Spanish conquistadors. The soy sauce and stir-fry technique are the influence of Chinese immigrants. The familiar dish of stir-fried beef (like you might find in Chinese immigrant cuisine anywhere else in the world) was introduced in Lima’s Barrio Chino (Chinatown) by Cantonese immigrants who came to Peru to work on the railroads and coastal plantations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It evolved over the course of many decades - spicy peppers and cilantro were added, and the bed of rice was swapped out for crispy potatoes. (Contains soy; no gluten, no dairy).
Tacu Tacu (Seasoned Rice and Canary Bean Cake)
Tacu tacu is another prime example of Criollo cooking. This dish was created by West Africans brought to the New World as slaves by the Spanish conquistadors. It was initially a reinvention of leftover rice and beans, and is now a beloved comfort food throughout the country. We make a purée of ají amarillo peppers, garlic, cumin, and red onion, and use it to season a pot of canary beans, which are a mild and creamy bean native to Central America. Rice is mixed with cooked and seasoned beans, and then the mixture is pan-fried into a cake. Try it with the Ají de Huacatay! (No gluten, vegan).
Quinoa Salteada con Acelga (Sautéed Quinoa with Swiss Chard and Duck Bacon)
Quinoa was incredibly important to the Incan people. It was considered a sacred grain, and it was so revered that the Spanish colonizers banned its use, deeming it “un-Christian.” Quinoa was a key export crop for Peru when, in about 2005, it burst onto the global scene (it is kosher, gluten free, and a complete plant protein - something of a trifecta on the contemporary food scene). While Peru still produces and exports quinoa, giant commercial producers have eclipsed production of the smaller traditional Andean farmers. In this dish, we quickly wilt swiss chard with sautéed garlic, crispy duck bacon lardons, and ají amarillo paste. Finally, we stir in cooked quinoa for a light but flavorful accompaniment to the heartier dishes on the menu. (No dairy, no gluten).
Solterito (Peruvian Chopped Salad with Pepper Vinaigrette)
While vegetable side dishes and big salads aren’t typically the stars of a Peruvian meal, this cold chopped salad is an exception. This dish originated in the town of Arequipa - a beautiful fertile oasis in the otherwise moonscape-like desert of the far southern coastal region. “Solterito” translates to “little single man”, and while the true story is unknown, people speculate that this dish was named because of its simplicity in preparation. No matter how simple, though, this salad is lovely. It is! Traditionally the salad is made with the fiery hot Rocoto pepper. A favorite in Peru, it bears a dangerous resemblance to its sweet red bell cousin and has taken many a tourist by surprise. (Contains dairy; no gluten, vegetarian).
Ají de Huacatay (Peruvian Spicy Green Salsa)
While it’s not the most traditional food, mayonnaise is ubiquitous in Lima - both in restaurants and in home kitchens. Rather than replace some of the more traditional hot sauces, mayonnaise has simply been combined with them to make something new and altogether delicious. Ají de Huacatay is a green sauce, often served with roasted chicken, but delicious on just about everything. There are countless variations, though most include mild green peppers, cilantro, lime juice, and huacatay. Huacatay is an herb native to the Andes and sometimes called “black mint.” It has a flavor in the range of mint and anise, and shows up in many Peruvian dishes (you might taste it in the Papa a la Huancaína as well). This sauce also has spicy ají amarillo peppers in it, for a mild kick! Try it on the Lomo Saltado, the Tacu Tacu, and the Papa a la Huancaína. (Contains egg, dairy; no gluten, vegetarian).
Arroz con Leche y Mazamorra Morada (Sweet Rice and Purple Corn Pudding)
Mazamorra morada is purple corn pudding, and it is a beloved dessert in Peru, found in fine restaurants and from street vendors. Its origin dates back to pre-Hispanic times, when a similar pudding was made with yellow corn, but without the cinnamon and dried fruits that are in this version. The purple corn is what makes it so dramatic, though, and certainly one of the reasons it has become so popular. Purple corn is also the main ingredient in the very popular chicha morada - a fruity, not-too-sweet, nonalcoholic drink with many of the same flavors as this dessert. Arroz con leche is most definitely not of Peruvian origin; the Spanish brought this recipe, along with the sugar, milk, rice, cinnamon, and vanilla necessary to make it. Since then, though, it has become a favorite dulce all over South America (much as it is in Europe). The two puddings combine in a lovely contrast - not only of colors, but of flavors, as the fruity, deep purple mazamorra morada complements the sweet and creamy arroz con leche. Sometimes, this dessert is called “sol y sombra”, or “sun and shade.” (Contains dairy; no gluten, vegetarian).
Pisco available at A&L Wine Castle
Pisco sour is definitely THE beverage of Peru - the first Saturday of every February is actually a public holiday honoring the beloved cocktail! The base alcohol in this drink is pisco, a type of grape brandy with roots in Spanish aguardiente production in the area. That said there are many types and flavors of pisco depending on the grape used, production technique, aging, etc. The “sour” component of this drink has a distinctly non-Peruvian backstory. An American Mormon from Salt Lake City named Victor Vaughen Morris moved to Peru in 1903 to work in the nascent railway industry. During a celebration, the whiskey ran out and Morris substituted pisco when making a whiskey sour and voila! He then opened Morris’ Bar in Lima and his protege Mario Bruiget added egg whites and angostura bitters to get the drink we know today. Check out our “Featured Recipes” to make this cocktail at home!
Inca Kola is perhaps the national beverage of Peru and has reached the status of being a cultural icon: in fact Inca Cola outsells Coca-Cola in Peru, one of only two countries in the world with this distinction. It’s a lemon verbena flavored soda that is *extremely* sweet and almost tastes like a cream soda. It’s popular anywhere there are Peruvians in the States - you can find some of the neon-yellow soda at Tienda la Libertad.
The Quechua word “Birú'' translates to “land of abundance” - a reference to the incredible wealth and prosperity of the ancient Inca empire of Tahuantinsuyu. While Birú was not a word the Incas used to refer to any region of their empire (which flourished between 1438-1533 CE), a classic misunderstanding between Spanish conquistadors and native people led to the ultimate adoption of the name “Peru” for the country that today comprises the majority of the area of the Incan Empire. The Incas had a supremely sophisticated and organized culture, and food was one of its most important facets. Potatoes, chiles, peanuts, beans, corn, and quinoa were not only staple foods, but also used as currency, gifts to the gods, and burial tributes. These foods, native to the region, domesticated and then cultivated by the Incas, are still the staple foods of the Peruvian people.
Peru is divided, from top to bottom, into three “slices” - the costa (the arid coast) is the westernmost slice, the sierra (the mountains and foothills of the Andes mountains) makes up the center slice, and the selva (the Amazonian rainforest) comprises the largest and easternmost slice. More than 60 percent of the country is Amazonian rainforest, but only five percent of Peru’s population lives there. Peru is not only considered one of the six cradles of civilization (read more about this designation in the Resources below), it also has the distinction of being one of only seventeen “megadiverse” countries in the world. It’s geographic and climatic extremes mean that it is home to an incredible number of species - there are more species of butterflies in the Peruvian rainforest than anywhere else in the world!
After the violent Spanish conquest of the native Inca in 1532 (read more about the rise and fall of the Incan Empire in the Resources), port cities were established to link Peru to Spain, including Lima, Piura, and Trujillo. Lima, which was the Spanish colonial capital of South America, and today is the capital of Peru, is located on the central desert coast - it is one of the largest desert cities in the world, second only to Cairo. Still, much of the population remained in rural areas until the 20th century, when there was mass migration to cities (especially after WWII), as people sought health care, education, and jobs. Now, more than one third of the country’s entire population lives in Lima and its surrounding area. While Lima is a major cosmopolitan city, with Michelin-starred restaurants, world-class museums, colonial cathedrals, and gleaming hotels, there is still severe socioeconomic stratification within the city and its outskirts. Not far outside of Lima, many Peruvians live a life of subsistence deeply rooted in their indigenous heritage. The Incan Empire comprised many different tribes, but there were unifying factors that still persist today. Quechua (the language of the Incas) is recognized as one of the official languages of Peru; traditional colorful Andean clothing has its origin in Incan weaving and is still widely worn today; agricultural techniques and fishing tools echo those of the Incas; and of course, the food and cooking techniques resonate with the history of the ancient Inca Empire.
The food culture of modern Lima is called “Criollo” - based in indigenous culture and heavily influenced by the colonial Spanish, with additional contributions from Africans brought as slaves to the New World, and from more recent waves of Chinese and Japanese immigrants. Criollo is Peruvian comfort food, and it’s what we’ve put on this menu for you! This is what Limeños eat in their homes, or what you might get in huariques (the informal family-style eateries that are all over the city), or from the street vendors on every corner. The aforementioned staples of potatoes, corn, beans, and quinoa are common ingredients in Criollo food, along with the Spanish contributions of rice, garlic, wheat, beef, pork, and chicken; Chinese immigrants brought soy sauce, noodles, ginger, and dumplings. (There are more Chinese restaurants in Peru than in any other country in South America.) Seasonings typically include a wide variety of ají (chile peppers), Peruvian lime, and lots of cilantro.
In the 1960s, Peru was the world’s leading fishery, and though overfishing has led to an overhaul of the industry, seafood remains one of the country’s most important exports. The national dish of Peru is undoubtedly ceviche - fresh fish chopped and lightly “cooked” in lime juice, and mixed with red onion, salt, and ají, and then served immediately after preparation. Alas, ceviche doesn’t really work with our meal delivery system, but we’ve curated a delicious selection of traditional dishes that we know you’ll enjoy!
Featured Recipe: Papa a la Huancaina
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer
2 lbs Golden potatoes
1.5 tablespoon of salt
16 purple or black olives, sliced
2 large hard-boiled eggs for garnish
For the cheese sauce
6 dried Guajillo (aka Mirasol) Peppers, stemmed and seeded
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 tbsp huacatay paste (available at Dos Hermanos in Ypsi & Tienda La Libertad in AA)
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
2 oz Ritz original crackers
8 oz cottage cheese
5 oz feta in brine
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
For the potatoes
Place the potatoes and salt in a pot of water and bring to a boil.
Boil until the potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork. Remove and allow to cool
When potatoes are cool enough to handle peel them and cut them into quarter-inch slices, set aside
For the sauce
In a small pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil
While the water comes to a boil, heat a cast iron skillet or heavy bottomed pan over high heat.
Add the peppers and dry fry until beginning to char (turn your oven fan on for this!)
Place the peppers in a small bowl and cover with hot water and let soak until the peppers are softened at least 30 minutes
Drain the peppers, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid
Coarsely chop the peppers and set aside
Heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in skillet over medium heat
Add the garlic and saute just until it is beginning to turn a light gold
Add the onion and chopped peppers and a ¼ tsp of salt, and saute, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft.
Remove from heat and let cool
Transfer the onion pepper mixture to a food processor, add the cilantro, crackers, feta, cottage cheese, evaporated milk, reserved pepper liquid, salt and pepper
Process into a smooth puree while adding the remaining olive oil (6 tbsp) in a stream, taste for salt and adjust if necessary
Arrange the sliced potatoes on a large plate, pour the cheese sauce over the potatoes and garnish with olive slices and hard boiled eggs
Featured Recipe: Pisco Sour
2 tablespoons aquafaba (drained chickpea liquid) or 2 egg whites
5 ounces pisco
5 ounces lime juice
4 ounces simple syrup
Place aquafaba or egg whites in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously 20 to 30 seconds to aerate.
Fill the shaker with ice and add pisco, lime juice and simple syrup. Shake vigorously for at least a minute
Strain evenly between 2 glasses and shake a few drops of angostura bitters on each
Recipes Inspired By:
Maricel E. Presilla’s encyclopedic cookbook, Gran Cocina Latina
Peru Delights, an excellent online resource for Peruvian recipes
My good friend Dana, who lives in Cusco and makes gorgeous and sustainable alpaca yarn
Learn more about the six cradles of civilization, and especially about Peru as one of them.
Bourdain’s write up on Peru includes some great articles about lomo saltado and tacu tacu!
Virgilio Martínez and his restaurant Central (which is currently rated as the 6th best restaurant in the world) is putting Peruvian food and indigenous ingredients on the world stage. Check out his Netflix special on Chef’s Table, season 3!