Peru

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My husband and I recently returned from a vacation to five countries in South America. We were the most excited about Peru, because Machu Piccu has been a “bucket list” destination for what seems like an eternity.

There wasn’t one thing about Peru that wasn’t beautiful, delicious, and memorable. Except for their dog situation, but I’m leaving that off of the blog.

Machu Piccu was everything we knew it would be. But we also fell in love with the country and its beautiful people. Here are a few photos from Peru.

In anticipation of this trip, my daughters gifted me a cookbook for Christmas, entitled Peru, by Gaston Acurio, published in 2015.

There is a significant population of Italians in Peru, so some of the cuisine has a definite Italian flair to it. In fact, the recipe I’m making for this post is a pasta dish with chicken.

“The chicken is cooked slowly in the tomato sauce, which gives it a distinctive taste, and the addition of Huancaina sauce gives it a Creole touch.”

Two unique foods, at least to me, are used in this recipe. One is panca chile paste, and the other is Huancaina sauce. Panca chile paste smells exactly like ancho chile paste. Huancaina sauce is magical. It’s made with cream, queso fresco, and amarillo chile peppers.

In the future I’ll make Huancaina Sauce myself using Ali Amarillo pasta that I’ve found on Amazon. It’s unlikely I can find the actual yellow chile peppers.

Pasta with Chicken and Tomato Sauce
Tallarines Rojos con Pollo

1/2 ounce dried mushrooms, any variety
4 ounces vegetable oil
4 pounds chicken, cut into 8 pieces (I cubed chicken breasts)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and grated
2 carrots, grated (mine were too coarsely grated)
2 tablespoons Panca Chili Paste
1 bay leaf
4 cups vegetable broth
2 1/4 pound linguine
1/2 ounce butter
Salt, Pepper

To serve
8 ounces Huancaina Sauce
2 ounces Parmesan cheese

Soak the dried mushrooms in a little warm water for 15 minutes. Drain.

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add to the pan, and brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.


Add another 3 tablespoons oil to the pan, add the onion and garlic, and sauté for 2 minutes over low heat until the onions have started to soften. Season with salt and pepper and add the tomatoes, carrots, chili paste, bay leaf, and soaked and drained mushrooms. Cook for another 5 minutes, then add the browned chicken pieces and vegetable broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the mixture has reduced to a thick sauce.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta in a separate pan in plenty of salted water according to the package instructions until al denote. Drain and transfer to a shallow pan, add the butter and a little of the pasta sauce, and mix together well.

Divide the pasta between plates and spoon over the remaining sauce.

Serve with Huancaina sauce and Parmesan cheese.

This recipe is outstanding.

I could drink the Huancaina sauce. But I wont…

The panca chile paste taste similar to ancho chile paste. It supplied a deep-flavored richness to the sauce.

After making all of the photos, I mixed the fettuccine with the chicken, sauce, and Huancaina sauce, and it was best to me like that. The flavors were all meant to be together.

Note: In the description of this dish, the term “Creole” is used. The cookbook has a recipe for Creole sauce, or Salsa Criolla, and it’s a purée of onion, a limo chile pepper, cilantro, lemon juice, and salt. So I don’t think Peruvian cuisine’s use of the term Creole has much to do with what we’re familiar with in the United States.

Colombian Coconut Rice

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When my husband and I were visiting our daughter a while back, she told us she was going to be vacationing in Colombia. My first reaction was, “Oh, Columbia in South Carolina?”

I should have known better. This is the kid who’s already been to Argentina, Hungary, Croatia, Guatemala, New Zealand, and Australia – 6 countries we hadn’t been to yet.

Our immediate thoughts were of course of drug cartels and kidnappers, but she assured us that the old part of Cartagena, where she’d be staying, was safe.

Well, she went, and she came back alive. But not without first texting me a recipe while in Cartagena for coconut rice that she fell in love with there. And she sent me a coconut rice recipe that she found online.

The recipe is from Serious Eats, and it’s actually called Colombian Coconut Rice, although the author, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, claims that this rice is popular throughout a significant area in South America.

As Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats and James Beard award winner, he definitely knows his stuff. Full bio below.

He writes, “At its core, arroz con coco is a pilaf—rice grains toasted in oil before being steamed, but in this case the oil comes directly from coconut milk. You start by dumping a can of coconut milk in a pot, and slowly boiling it off until all of the water content is removed, the coconut oil breaks out, and the solids begin to brown. From there, it’s a slow process of stirring and toasting until they are a deep, crunchy golden brown before finally adding sugar, salt, and rice.”

The only issue is if the coconut milk used in the recipe has stabilizers like crystalline cellulose or xanthan gum, you’ll have a hard time getting your solids to separate properly from your fat, making the rice to brown.

So I set out to find coconut milk without stabilizers and preservatives. Not an easy task. Finally, I found coconut milk at Trader Joe’s, with only coconut milk and water as ingredients. After many stores and Amazon. Hallelujah!

Colombian Coconut Rice
printable recipe at bottom

1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk (see note above)
2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups water

Heat coconut milk in a 2 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat until simmering. Reduce to medium low and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until reduced to a couple of tablespoons.

Continue to cook, stirring and scraping constantly until coconut oil breaks out and coconut solids cook down to a deep, dark brown, about 20 minutes total.

Add rice, sugar (more or less to taste), and salt. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly until rice grains begin to turn translucent and golden, about 2 minutes.

Add water and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over high heat, reduce to lowest possible setting, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and let rest 15 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork, and serve.

Coconut rice is delicious, not too sweet, and actually works well as a side dish to meats and vegetables. In Colombia, my daughter ate it for breakfast with eggs.

And, at this point, this daughter has only been to 4 countries we’ve not been to yet, since we finally visited New Zealand and Australia in fall of 2017.


We’re catching up!

Note: When the solids separate from the oil and begin to brown, they look like crumbs. But have no fear. Once the water is added and the rice cooks, they will dissolve.

J. Kenji López-Alt is the managing culinary director of Serious Eats and author of the James Beard Award–nominated column The Food Lab, in which he unravels the science of home cooking. A restaurant-trained chef and former editor at Cook’s Illustrated magazine, Kenji released his first book, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, in 2015, which went on to become a New York Times best-seller and the recipient of a James Beard Award, and The Food Lab was named Cookbook of the Year in 2015 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

 

 

Chimichurri

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I’ve made chimichurri a few times over the years when I’ve prepared South American*-inspired meals for company. For one meal, I grilled skirt steaks and served both green and red chimichurri sauces. I preferred the green.

But other than that I haven’t paid much attention to chimichurri, which originated in Argentina. I only see it associated with meat, which is so quintessentially South American. Grilled meat. Lots of meat.

I decided to make chimichurri again and really focus on its goodness and, of course, I decided to use it on steaks. I don’t want to rock the South American boat here.

So what exactly is chimichurri? It’s basically like an oil and vinegar mixture that includes chopped green herbs and garlic.

So I’m not being very creative here using chimichurri, but it doesn’t really matter. Once you’ve made it, you don’t care if you ever have it any other way other than schmeared on a steak. It’s that good.

But I can definitely see it on shrimp as well. Or poultry. Or toast. For breakfast.

Chimichurri

1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
Few grindings black pepper

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Combine all of these in a small bowl, then add:

1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

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Then stir in:

1/2 chopped parsley, loosely packed
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, loosely packed

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Mix everything together well.

Today I wanted to use the chimichurri for a marinade as well as a “finishing” sauce so to speak, so I placed two filets on a plate, and covered them with a generous amount of chimichurri.

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After about 30 minutes, I turned the steaks over and added more chimichurri.

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Before cooking the steaks, I wiped off the chimichurri sauce. The tops and bottoms of the steaks were oily, so I didn’t have to pat them dry. But I did add a little oil to the skillet first before searing the steaks.

After cooking to medium rare and letting them rest, I sliced the steaks, and placed them on a bed of sauteed spinach with tomatoes and onions.
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Then I drizzled some of the chimichurri sauce over the steaks.
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The freshness of the chimichurri sauce, from the cilantro and parsley, plus the garlic, is a perfect foil against the mellow, sweet steak. It’s a marriage made in food heaven!
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* I know, South American inspiration for a meal is a bit all-consuming since it’s a continent, but there are aspects to South America that stand out from a culinary perspective. And those typically are more Argentinian and Brazilian in origin. The meals revolve around meat, but there are also beans and grains and lots of green. If you’ve never delved into the cuisines of South america, I suggest you look into them. I’ve just barely broken the surface…

note: This recipe is perfect to me. I love the addition of the dried oregano and crushed red pepper. If you want a thicker sauce, whether for use as a marinade or for serving, purée it. I know that goes against the tradition of the fresh herbs and garlic in the oil and vinegar mixture, but then at least the parsley and cilantro leaves don’t get stuck in your teeth. I think it’s a reasonable option. You can also cut back on the volume of vinegar as well. It’s personal choice, as long as you don’t change what the chimichurri is all about.