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The Tastes of Peru

written by Marsha Seidelman, M.D.
on Monday, 29th May ,2017

In Part One about our trip to Peru, I promised you a Part Two - so here it is!  Anyone who has read my blogs knows that food is foremost on my mind. At the time we planned our trip however, we were unaware that Peruvian cooking has made its mark on world cuisine. We thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of its labor.  Two of the world's top 10 restaurants are in Peru. Although we didn't dine at either of those, just their everyday fare is amazing.  Gaston Acurio is one of the top chefs and has many reasonably priced restaurants around the country.

Since Peru encompasses 84 of the worlds 104 biologic zones, there is an abundance of colorful, luscious produce. Everything that can be grown or caught from the Amazon forest, the Andes mountains and the ocean, rivers and lagoons are available to them - that’s as fresh as it gets. Wherever we went, we saw llamas, alpacas, and all their relatives, providing wool and meat. We frequently saw ‘salmon trout’ on the menu, which is vibrant pink trout from local rivers - not salmon at all.

We visited a farmers market and tasted many native fruits, including chirimoya, a very sweet fruit, and lucuma, similar to a sweet potato, and of course lots of papaya and dragon fruit. In total, they grow over 3000 types of potatoes and many different corn species. My favorite corn was choclo, with large, firm kernels. I was excited to locate some at a local Latin market, but alas, it was frozen and I didn’t quite do the kernels justice. I’ll try cooking it differently and see if I can improve on my first attempt.

We were fortunate enough to have a cooking lesson at Sibaris restaurant with Chef Francesco. We watched him make an excellent variety of causa limena with a base of riced potatoes mixed with yellow pepper puree, topped with tuna, avocado and an olive. By ricing the potatoes 3 times - by hand - the mixture was smooth and silky.

Next was a typical Peruvian dish of lomo saltado - tenderloin beef flash-fried at high temperatures, served with red onions, yellow peppers, and tomatoes. Then there were potatoes which had been cooked earlier, frozen, then fried quickly for a crispy outside and smooth inside. For dessert, he made suspire a la limeña - caramel custard topped with beautiful meringue flowers.

During our trip, we were daring enough to try anticucho, or marinated beef heart, a delicacy in Peru. It had a firm but chewy consistency. Alpaca was similar to beef. We didn’t try cuy (guinea pig) which is very common there. We thought about it, but couldn’t do it. (photo). We had potatoes — LOTS of potatoes. Rice is served often, although it is not indigenous to Peru. It was brought there from Asia by the Europeans. Beans, another Latin American staple, were brought by African slaves years ago. Some of the foods in Peru are so interesting because of the blend of South American, Spanish, Asian, and African tastes. Restaurants serving chifa, a mix of Chinese and Peruvian, are very common, although wasn’t my favorite cuisine.

Quinoa, and an even smaller grain kiwicha (known here as amarinth) are popular, although as quinoa has become in demand here as a ‘superfood’ is has unfortunately become too expensive for many Peruvians due to the export value. Quinoa soup is on most menus there, though, incorporating vegetables and sometimes lamb. One of our best meals was at Indio Feliz in Aguas Calientes, a town near Machu Picchu. The appetizer was avocado and papaya with a lemon, orange mustard vinaigrette, followed by grilled chicken in mango sauce or teriyaki. Other truly outstanding meals included trout grilled with stewed red peppers and humitas filled with corn and pesto, red quinoa salad, and various lamb and alpaca dishes.

Since our return, we have tried some dishes at Latin restaurants here, but so far can’t highly recommend any. We still have some more to try. The food is very good, but doesn’t ‘bring us back’ to Peru. There’s something about how fresh the produce is, how creative the chefs seem to be, and the view of the Andes that make it difficult to feel the same here. Oh - and maybe I was more relaxed there - that might have helped the flavor!

 If you want to try a quinoa recipe, here's one posted here a while ago: http://ladydocscornercafe.com/article/complete-proteins-quinoa-and-hemp-seed/#sthash.1J0jsKNT.dpbs

Tags: Peru, quinoa, alpaca

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