Lentejas

Had lentejas for lunch today. Remember when I fussed at Otto for cooking lentejas on his day off? Well, I’ve been meaning to say this for a while now: “I was wrong!”

WRONG

WRONG

WRONG

I had eaten lentejas before and they were “OK no mas” but what I didn’t know is that lentejas done right, are great. We have a girl who cooks for us and she is an excellent cook, especially when it comes to any of the typical “comida criolla” of Peru.

Provecho!

lentejas

Lentejas, comida criolla Peruana

Peruvian food brainteaser

Here’s a questions for all you foodies and Peruvian food fans:

When making papi’s famous chicken and french fries – Peruvian style of course – which ingredient is most likely found underneath the living room couch?

While you ponder on that let me tell you I like my food simple. I’ve had a chance to eat fine cuisine at some of the best restaurants in different places around the world and I do enjoy that occasionally, but for the most part simple is better in my humble kitchen. One of the things I don’t like about Europe is that many Europeans seem to try and do fancy food all the time. You get a really pretty-looking plate with some unidentifiable food that leaves you $50 poorer but still hungry. Not me, I’ll take a simple plate of good food over fancy fish eggs any day.

When I was a kid we rarely ate out but I remember during one summer vacation eating at a restaurant with my parents and grandparents in La Jonquera, Spain. While we were enjoying simple yet delicious steak and french fries my grandfather told us this very Belgian story:

Two guys are at a restaurant and order steak and french fries. The waiter brings 2 plates of steak and fries. One guy asks his buddy: “Which plate do you want?” His buddy takes the plate with the biggest piece of steak.

The first guy says: “That is not polite, when you take the first plate it is not polite to choose the plate with the biggest piece of steak.”

“OK”, says his buddy. “So you choose”.

The first guy ponders for a moment and then grabs the plate with the biggest piece of steak. “I’ll take this one.”

“I thought you just said it isn’t polite to choose the plate with the biggest piece of steak!” exclaims his buddy. To which the first guy responds:

“It isn’t polite, but I don’t care, I’ve got the biggest piece of steak!”

I was only 7 or so at the time and thought that was the funniest story ever.

At any rate, have you figured out my Peruvian food brainteaser? If not I’ll give you a hint: it’s the same ingredient you would look for under the couch when cooking pretty much any Peruvian food. Here are the ingredients for my world-famous Peruvian-style chicken and french fries:

  • Chicken.
  • Potatoes.
  • Spices: salt, pepper and cumin al gusto.
  • Last but not least: look under the living room couch for Peruvian lemons! Soak chicken liberally in Peruvian lemon juice.
peruvian style chicken and fries

Papi's world famous chicken and french fries

OK, maybe in your house the Peruvian lemons aren’t under the couch but properly stored in the kitchen somewhere. In our house nothing has been properly stored since Pitufiloquita has gotten big enough to reach practically anything, even if she needs to drag a chair around to reach what she wants to get at. She likes to take our Peruvian lemons to her little play-kitchen and inevitably all my Peruvian lemons end up on the ground and under the living room couch.

That was easy, no? As soon as I said Peruvian food you knew there would be Peruvian lemons involved somewhere. Practically all Peruvian food gets lemon juice: salads, meat, fish, etc. Of course lemon juice is a main ingredient in both the best known Peruvian food (ceviche) and best known Peruvian drink (Pisco Sour), but you find Peruvian lemon juice in practically any Peruvian food. There is even a supposed Peruvian hangover cure based on the lemon juice.

I guess I should clarify the thing I’m calling “Peruvian lemon” here is closest to a “lime” or “Key lime” in US stores, it’s the little green one, not the really sour yellow one.

Also as a little disclaimer, I’m by no means a Peruvian food expert. In my kitchen everything is al gusto and nothing is ever cooked the exact same way twice. Every day is a new adventure. If you’re looking for a blog that is really good about Peruvian food, check out Kelly.

So if you’re entertaining or just in the holiday spirit and want to impress your friends with your Peruvian food expertise, just add Peruvian lemon juice to whatever it is you wanted to do in the first place 😉

eating_chicken_and_fries

Pitufiloquita enjoying chicken and french fries - Peruvian style!

mami_eating_chicken_and_fries

Mamacita linda having papi's world famous chicken and french fries

vacation in Spain

Playing cards with my grandparents on vacation in Spain, many moons ago.

vacation in Spain

Vacation in Spain

Cooking in Peru

Much has been written about the many great foods of Peru, but let me give you some insight in the process of cooking, how that great yummie food ends up on our table.

Now my experiences are not representative of all of Peru. There is a world of difference between the elite in Miraflores who have beautiful grocery stores, cooks and maids, and the rural population who live of the land and cook on a fogon. I can only speak from my own experiences living in a middle-class area of Cusco.

What you need to know in order to grasp the concept of cooking in our neighborhood, is that there are many small stores and very few larger stores in Cusco. In our complex, there must be 6 or 8 of these 1-man or 1-woman stores, like the one in the picture below. Each store is about the size of a big pantry and serves maybe 2 or 3 apartment blocks.

One of the little stores in our neighborhood

One of the little stores in our neighborhood

Just for contrast, a little bit of background about the process of cooking in the other cultures I’ve lived in:

Cooking in Belgium:

Belgian people are super-efficient, in an old-fashioned, hard-working, German kind of way. In addition, for many in the graying population, the Depression and World War 2 are only a generation away, so their comfort level is to stock up a ton of food in their pantries, freezers, etc.

In my house, this is how we used to cook:

(1) Dad peels potatos — God knows Belgians eat a lot of potatos.
(2) Mom gets meat and vegetables out of pantry / fridge / freezer.
(3) 20 minutes later everyone’s at the table eating and another 20 minutes later the dishes are done.

Cooking in the US:

In the US people do everything big, not just in Texas. Twice a week I used to stop at the grocery store on the way back from work and spend $100 or more on groceries. I’d eat as much red meat in a week as I do now in 2 months. Seriously.

(1) Drive home, fire up the grill.
(2) Open bag of salad and put baking potato in Microwave.
(3) 15 minutes later dinner is ready.

Cooking in Peru:

Let’s take a typical weekday, lunch is the big meal. The cooking is usually done by mamacita or my suegra.

12:15 – Hey, it’s time to start cooking.

12:17 – I’m going to Señora Maria’s store. (see above).

12:22 – At the store, there are three or four other ladies from the neighborhood. Everyone talks, and talks for a while.

12:47 – I’m back from the store. Time to cut the vegetables.

12:57 – Holy guacamole, you realize you forgot to buy onions.

12:59 – You go back to Señora Maria’s store only to find out it is now closed, Señora Maria is also cooking. No problem, you go to another “store” 200 yards away.

13:05 – The lady at the other store has the new Avon / Esika / L’Ebel / Leonisa or whatever catalogue, so you check it out.

13:24 – Walking back to the house with your 2 cebollas, you run into your friend from “collegio” and talk for awhile.

13:48 – Back at the house you chop up the vegetables and potatos and throw them into the trusty pressure cooker along with some noodles. Soup will be ready soon.

13:50 – Don’t forget the rice. I think Peruvians eat more rice than Belgians eat potatos.

14:02 – Time to set the table.

14:04 – Yell at your ayudante (in our case, my sister in law). Helen, Heeeleen, Heeeeleeen.

14:12 – Tell Helen to go to “the store” and buy something to drink. Helen and my suegra then argue about what kind of soda to buy and how much money to spend.

14:15 – Food for the wawa (baby) is ready. Papi feeds the wawa.

14:26 – Table is set, Helen came back with soda, soup is served.

14:35 – “Segundo” or the main course is served.

15:50 – Table is cleaned and dishes are done.

Until tomorrow, then we do it all over again 🙂

Parrilla para 2

Occasionally we order a “parrilla para 2”, or “grill for 2” from the Tablon restaurant chain. There’s a ton of yummie food and in our case, it’s more like a “grill for 2-and-a-half”, plus leftovers. Goes great with a Cerveza Cusqueña or a glass of wine.

Parilla para 2 ... y medio

Parilla para 2 ... y medio

Now Cusco isn’t exactly Texas when it comes to steak. Instead of a 32oz T-bone, this “parilla” has a small steak, a pork chop, various types of sausage plus a bunch of food you wouldn’t typically see in the US: tongue, heart and some other pieces that I don’t quite recognize 😉

I don't know what most of it is either :)

I don't know what most of it is either 🙂

Peru is a poor country with only a small percentage of arable land due to the mountains, desert (coast) and jungle, so it is only natural that many types of food are standard fare. Here in the mountains we eat mostly chicken and pork, but I’ve also had goat, alpaca and of course “cuy” or guinea pig, a local specialty.

Plato Sol de Mayo

Patricia got hungry today, you know, nursing the baby and all…

Plato Sol de Mayo

Plato Sol de Mayo

We went to our favorite restaurant in Urubamba, “Sol de Mayo” and Patricia ordered their perennial house special, “Plato Sol de Mayo”. In case you can’t make out the details in the old cellphone picture, the plate consists of a salad with yummie white Andean cheese, a potato – which Peru claims to have invented – noodles, corn, chicken, beef, chicharron and cuy.

There are a lot of places where you can enjoy typical Andean food, but if you’re in Urubamba I highly recommend “Sol de Mayo”. It’s located only 3 blocks right behind the main bus terminal in Urubamba, it’s not overpriced or touristy, and you definitely won’t leave hungry!

Papa rellena

We are by no means experts when it comes to cooking typical Peruvian food, or comida criolla, but yesterday our papa rellenas actually came out looking good.

Homemade papa rellena

Homemade papa rellena

Papa rellenas are typical Peruvian food, served often at the local restaurants that offer daily specials known as “Menu”.

So how do you make papa rellena? Again, I’m no expert, but basically you make mashed potatos and roll them around some ground beef and vegetables like peas, carrots, peppers – all cooked and cut into small pieces, of course. Then you fry the rolled potato in a pan to make it crispy brown on the outside, yummie!!

Don’t try frying them in a deep fryer, just take my word for it 🙂

Healthy breakfast

Quick: Name something everyone has but no one uses?

A juice extractor, of course.

Fresh fruits

Fresh fruits

Despite the fact it takes 45 minutes to make a jar of juice, and another 45 minutes to clean up the mess, we make fresh juice once in a while because the fresh fruit here in Cusco is to die for. The high Andes are known for typical crops such as Quinua and Kiwicha, purple corn, etc. But Cusco is close to lower-elevation areas such as Quillabamba and Limatambo where fruit grows readily.

We buy fresh apples, grapes, bananas, oranges and pineapple, just to name a few, at the market here in Wanchaq. We also eat fresh palta (avocado) at least once a week. Sometimes simply “pan con palta” for breakfast, or other times I make my (almost) world famous guacamole burgers.

Healthy breakfast

Healthy breakfast

I love how we can get practically everything fresh here. The one odd thing that I just can’t get over is how fresh bananas last several weeks, instead of 3 days in the US.

Peruvian food is excellent, even when prepared by a gringo 🙂

Ceviche

Patricia had ceviche at a small seaside restaurant in Huanchaco last week. Ceviche is a typical Peruvian dish: fresh, uncooked fish, typically marinated in citrus and spices.

Ceviche

Ceviche

El Mochica, seaside restaurant in Huanchaco, Peru

El Mochica, seaside restaurant in Huanchaco, Peru