Thursday, April 30, 2009

Recipes for memories: ceviche, hauncaína, tallerines con pollo

I’m fairly certain that everyone who reads my blog already knows about my experiences in Peru (or at least that I’ve been there), but if there’s any other creepers reading who don’t, I’ll just start this post by saying that I LOVE Peru. So much so that I even tattooed my love for Peru on my foot. No, it doesn’t say “I heart Peru” or “MK+PERU4EVA” or anything, just a symbol of my time there stamped onto the top of my right foot. My month in Peru was my first trip out of the country by myself, my first real adventure, the first time I realized how much I love Latin American culture, language, food, music, history… all of that. I can’t help but compare every other Latin American country I visit to Peru. So when I arrived in Buenos Aires, a city that seems to value everything non-Latin American, I was just ever so slightly heartbroken. Most of this disappointment came from my tummy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Argentine food does not have flavor. Yes, there is great quality beef. Yes, the produce is fresh and beautiful. But when cooked to death in a pan with glugs of canola oil and handfuls of salt, quality beef and beautiful veggies turn into blaaaah. And slapping it between paper thin slices of crustless bread does nothing to help the matter. Argentina is not the place to find rice and beans with a fried egg on top. And imported Tobasco sauce is considered “extrapicante”. Pah-lease. So why am I complaining again about tasteless porteño food? Because, yesterday I took another cooking class at Casa Saltshaker. And not just any class. A class on Peruvian cooking. Heeellll yesssss.

Ooooh it was glorious. Fancy chef Dan completely and totally won back his fancy chef reputation in my mind and belly. Dan’s boyfriend is Peruvian and these are his family’s recipes, if you’re wondering how this NYC chef came to be teaching a Peruvian cooking class in Buenos Aires. Apparently he also has a long-time student who was interested in learning Peruvian food, so he’s been cooking this stuff up for a while.

We used hot peppers (my left hand was still tingling last night as I feel asleep because I didn’t wash the pepper oils off well enough after all the chopping I did)! cilantro! garlic! lime! All the fabulous flavor combos I remember from Peru, all intensified by the fact that I haven’t tasted spice in too long (besides the Marie Sharp’s habanero sauce that came in my box of love). We made three dishes: ceviche, ají de gallina, y pollo con tallarines. All were absolutely deeelicious! I even learned how to cut up a whole chicken! COOL. So here’s the low down on these Peruvian classics. I will definitely be making these when I’m back home!

I know a lot of people aren’t that into ceviches, but I love them! And I think the fact that you can “cook” raw fish in salt and lime is pretty kick ass. We made a really classic ceviche: white fish (we used abadejo: pollack) marinated in lots of lime juice and just the right amount of salt. Then once the fish is “cooked” after 30-40 minutes marinating in the lime, you take it out of the lime juice (but add a little back in), throw in some thinly sliced red onion, rocoto pepper (a mild chili pepper… remove the seeds!), chopped cilantro, garlic, and some ginger. So fresh and cool and fabulous!

The two chicken dishes both won over my hungry belly, but the pollo con tallarines won my heart. For non hispanohablantes, pollo is chicken and tallarines just means linguini. But the sauce we made was increíble! Thick and meaty itself, but just veggies! It went perfectly with the chicken marinated in smoky ají panca roja (dried peppers). MOM! Make this, I think you’ll like it!

For the sauce:

1 Tbs olive oil

1 ½ cups peeled and finely grated carrots

1 ½ cups minced or grated onion

1 ½ cups finely diced tomato

1 ½ cups red wine

1 tsp pimentón rojo (similar to paprika)

½ tsp ground cumin

2-3 dried bay leaves (optional)

salt+pepper to taste

The onions and carrots should really be very finely grated/chopped because you want them to basically dissolve or like, mush down in the sauce. Sounds weird but it’s a great texture. First sauté the carrots in the oil with a little salt until they are soft and just starting to turn golden in color. Add the onions, pimentón, and cumin and continue cooking and stirring regularly until the mixture is dark golden in color. The liquid will have evaporated and it looks like a coarse paste. Then add the tomatoes and bay leaves and cook until the tomatoes fall apart and the liquid has evaporated again. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Continue to cook until the sauce is fairly thick.

Now, add the chicken. We used the wings, thighs, and legs (mostly all the skin removed, but left on the bone), of a chicken that I cut up! Yes! I butchered a whole chicken and then enjoyed my handiwork doused in two different sauces… sorry, but I was psyched to have learned how! Cook the sauce and chicken over medium-high heat until the chicken is lightly browned on the outside, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Let it all simmah down now until the chicken is cooked. Season with salt n’ peppa to taste. Don’t forget to take out the bay leaves if you used them.

Oh right, some time during all that cook up a pot of pasta, the linguini worked nicely, but anything would do. Then serve it in a big ass bowl, family style, steaming and wonderful.

Ok, Mama? Or maybe I’ll make it for you when I get home. How about that?

And the yum doesn’t stop there!! Oh no! One more dish to go! For this one we used the breasts of the chicken that I cut up and lots of yellow chili peppers!

What you need:

Chicken breasts

4-5 yellow chilies (they give it a really bright, creamy yellow color)

fresh farmer’s cheese

a few hunks of stale bread


milk or cream

garlic, onion, olive oil

First thing is to remove most of the seeds and veins from some fresh ají amarillo (the more seeds you leave in, the spicier it is). Then boil the chilies in water until soft. In another pan, boil the two chicken breasts until they’re cooked through but soft enough to shred.

When the chilies are soft, take them off the heat, peel them and throw them in a blender. Everything added to the blender from this point on is “to taste”. Add to the peppers: some fresh cheese (like a white farmer’s cheese), some chunks of stale bread to thicken it (I feel like this could be left out, but I don’t know…), and a handful of walnuts. Whir it up and add some milk while it’s blending until you have a thick smooth puree. This sauce is called a salsa huancaína. It’s also the base for another classic Peruvian sauce called ocopa. To make ocopa you blend in a handful of huacatay leaves (Amazon Black Mint… available in the states?) Did I mention how much I love the sound of Quechua words?

Alright, almost there. Sautee some garlic and white onion in olive oil until translucent, then add the blended sauce and continue cooking for a few minutes. Then add the shredded chicken and give it a few stirs, turn the heat down low and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes stirring occasionally.

DEVOUR IT! Usually with some rice or potatoes. MMmmm. Peruvian memories spilling aaaall over this dish.

I finally incorporated some persimmon into my dinner tonight. And it was really good. I think I prefer eating them in a savory dish to eating them raw like hand fruit. Though I haven’t tried a dessert with them yet, so who knows! Tonight I made an eggplant, chick pea, persimmon curry. I started out sautéing up some onion in olive oil and then added my Chinatown curry powders that I had toasted a bit in a hot pan. Learned that trick on the Cook’s Illustrated website (yes, that’s right, like Sports Illustrated but for kitchen nerds). To that I added a can of chick peas and let them get a little crusty before adding the chopped eggplant, persimmon, and a bit of tomato paste. Also a bit of water to get it stewin and bubblin, and some Marie because I wasn’t sure how much kick my curries had. Little salt and pepper and I just let it bubble away while I made some tortilla chips from the mini flour tortillas Celeste brought home when I asked if they had sandwich wraps here. The chips were actually delicious! Just got some oil nice and hot in the pan, rubbed a little garlic on the tortillas, cut them into chip shapes, and fried them in the oil until they were nice and crispy. Perfect dinner. I am happy.

To be honest, maybe just 2 weeks ago, I could not say I was happy here. I was having some good times and great adventures, but I was constantly anxious, uncomfortable with myself, and just all around out of it. I thought really hard about talking to someone, like a therapist or some other person of similar occupation about how weird and crappy and not myself I had been feeling here. But now that I’m cooking entirely for myself I am busier and happier and my money is much better spent on cooking classes and groceries. It’s incredible to me how much just being able to cook, to think about what I want to cook, to go to the markets, and to eat something healthy and delicious that was all my doing has improved my well-being and confidence. I just love to cook. And I think it’s a lot healthier than loving to bake… though I truly can’t wait to be back with my oven and my kitchen aid again. In a moment of weakness, this is where I found myself:

In my pjs, on my bed, eating crackers and creamed honey and looking at stand mixer product comparisons on Cook’s Illustrated. Yikes. But hey, it’s better than a crack habit, right?

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