It seems like a hundred years since I lived in Lima, Peru. And although some of the memories of my years there have faded, my memories of the food have not. One of my favorites was (and is) palta rellena. Avocados stuffed with anything from cebiche to ham to tuna salad. I found this great variation on the classic over on Peru Delights, a wonderful site dedicate to all foods Peruvian. The avocado is smashed into a creamy guacamole, then topped with a mixture of shrimp, onion, tomato, and olives mixed with fresh lime juice. Drizzled with a fantastic sauce of aji amarillo, mayo and ketchup. Aji amarillo has a fantastic fruity, spicy flavor. Not too hot, but not totally tame either. If you can’t find it just add a few squirts of Sriracha hot sauce instead.
I love Andean popcorn. It’s somewhat similar to the popcorn we enjoy here in the states in that it has a fantastic flavor, even a hint of a butter. The kernels, though, are different. They do not explode and puff up like popcorn has been grown to do here. Instead, they kinda… just go… pop. No big explosion. No fluffy white insides. The kernel is thin, and very crunchy. You just pop (no pun intended) the entire thing into your mouth and enjoy. I recall street vendors up in the mountains of Peru, in the city of Huancayo, selling bags of popcorn along the street on market day. I think a bag was 10 soles which then was less than a US nickel. Well worth the price! They were fried in screaming hot oil then salted. That’s it. You did (and do) have to be careful of the kernels when they first come out of the fryer, though. They are very, very hot. So let them cool a bit before diving in!
I popped the cancha in the same popper I use for ‘regular’ popcorn. It takes a bit longer as the heat needs to get really good and hot, but it’s well worth the wait. If you can’t find cancha in a South American market near you you can order it using the Amazon link at the bottom of this post. It’s great stuff!
Huancayo is a fairly large city about 5 1/2 hours outside of Lima, Peru. It was the first city that I went to outside of Lima when I lived there many years ago. The drive is through some very beautiful areas in the Andes.
This potato dish from Huancayo is served as an appetizer, which might seem odd to many (it seemed odd to me at the time, but I was a kid). Golden potatoes are topped with a creamy sauce that is almost Holandaise-like, but it has a nice spicy kick thanks to aji amarillo, a Peruvian pepper that is a bit fruity in flavor. Topped with boiled eggs and olives, and sometimes corn, papa a la Huancaina is a great summer dish (served cold or at room temperature). If you can’t find aji amarillo paste, use pureed habaneros.
I cannot say enough about just how great this lomo saltado tasted. It was absolutely fantastic, and surprisingly took only minutes to prepare. The incredible flavors reminded me so much of my years living in Peru. And although there are a lot of variations on this dish, it comes down to great beef stir-fried with onions and tomatoes, served with fries or potato wedges and occasionally rice. It’s a wonderful example of the Asian influences on Peruvian cuisine.
One of these keys to a great lomo saltado is the Peruvian aji amarillo pepper. It has a distinct flavor that is almost fruity, with just a bit of heat. If you cannot find aji amarillo peppers you can use aji amarillo paste, which is easier to find in specialty stores. And in a pinch, use a habanero pepper instead.
I cooked this wonderful lomo saltado on the Weber Performer grill using the wok insert. It is an amazing way to do stir-fry. Easy clean up, and super high heat.
1tablespoonaji amarillo pastesee note, or 1 aji amarillo pepper, seeded and minced
3tablespoonsred wine vinegar
2cupscooked steak French fries
Note: Aji amarillo paste is a paste of the Peruvian aji pepper. It can be found jarred in most South American specialty stores. If you cannot find it substitute a large, seeded and minced habanero pepper.
Slice the steak very thin. I find it easier to do this if you first put the steak into the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour before slicing.
Heat a wok over high heat.
Toss steak slices with 1 tablespoon of oil and season with salt and pepper.
Add to the wok and stir fry for 10 minutes, getting the meat almost done completely through and nicely golden in color.
Add garlic, onion and tomato slices, and aji pepper. Stir fry for 3-4 minutes.
Drizzle the soy sauce and vinegar along the size of the wok and stir all ingredients well, stir frying.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot along with fries and rice.
I am a big fan of choclo. It’s a corn from the Andes of Peru. It’s not like the sweet corn you normally find here in the US. In fact, it’s not sweet at all. The kernels are instead very large and very starchy, almost like hominy. This choclo al cumino really accentuates the unique flavor of the corn, with a hint of lime and cumin. It’s a fantastically fresh and light side dish.
You can find the choclo to make choclo al cumino in some South American specialty food stores. Usually it’s frozen and off the cob, but you can also find it on the cob. In Peru, it isn’t uncommon to find street vendors selling boiled choclo-on-the-cob, specially when you are in the Andes.
Another favorite choclo dish of mine (though not authentic Peruvian cuisine) is my choclo maque choux.