It’s a culinary march that began in the Andes and after conquering the taste buds of Europe and America, is tempting the Asian palate with promises of familiar flavours with an Aztec twist.
Peruvian cuisine, the result of nearly 500 years of Spanish, African, Japanese and Chinese immigration meshing with native Quechua culture, is what has had chefs worldwide excited over the last five years. Many have gone on to declare Peruvian fare the next big thing in the food world.
The buzz that started in 2011, when uber-chef Ferran Adrià decided that Peru held the key to the future of gastronomy, has only grown louder. Last year, Alain Ducasse declared that Peru will become one of the leading actors on the global culinary scene. Then, the Culinary Institute of America named 2014 the year of Peruvian cuisine, and analysts predicted a Latin American food revolution, with Peru at the forefront. Little wonder then the World’s 50 Best Restaurants launched a Latin American section in Lima.
Perhaps the best known of all Peruvian dishes is the ceviche, somewhat like sashimi. To make it, the freshest of fish is marinated in a “tiger’s milk” of citrus, chilli, black pepper and onions. Ceviche has been declared to be part of Peru’s “national heritage” and has even had a holiday declared in its honour. The fish is traditionally marinated for several hours and served at room temperature, with chunks of corn-on-the-cob, and slices of cooked sweet potato. Then there are again the sashimi-like tiraditos, potato cakes known as causas and marinated meat skewers called anticuchos.
The healthy ingredients of Andean food are the source of all Peruvian cuisine. Think nutrient-packed amaranth, maca root, corn and maize, beans and mountain nuts. And heading the list is what the Incas worshipped as mothergrain and valued it as much as gold—quinoa.
Peruvian food is both nutritious and bursting with flavour, with even the familiar coming in mind-boggling forms. There are thousands of kinds of potatoes, hundreds of chillies and a huge variety of corn. There is lucuma, a fruit which tastes like caramel, and the huacatay, a black mint that tastes like aniseed. There is chicha de jora, a purple corn beer.
For diners unfamiliar with Peruvian food, there’s a gateway in the form of the Japanese influence. Many of the best-loved recipes, including ceviche, tiraditos and anticuchos will remind diners of Japanese dishes, but with a twist. The country’s influence on Peruvian food is no surprise: There are an estimated 90,000 Japanese descendants in Peru.
Many have been drawn to Peru by Gastón Acurio, the country’s top chef. The 43-year-old, who opened his first restaurant in Lima in 1994, now has 32 restaurants in 14 cities worldwide.
■ 2 lbs firm white fish fillets, cubed
■ 8 -10 garlic cloves, chopped
■ 1 teaspoon salt
■ 1/2 teaspoon
■ 2 teaspoons fresh coriander leaves
■ 1 habanero pepper, seeded and chopped (or Peruvian Aji Amarillo, if you can find it)
■ 8 -12 limes, freshly squeezed and strained to remove pulp, enough to cover fish
■ 1 red onion, thinly sliced and rinsed
1. Combine all ingredients except red onion and mix well.
2. Place red onion on top and let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 hours before serving. 3. Before serving, mix well and serve with lettuce, corn, avocado or other cold salad vegetables on the side.
Causa (Peruvian Potato Salad)
INGREDIENTS FOR MASHED POTATO
■ 4 small potatoes
■ Juice of 2 limes
■ 4 tablespoons olive oil
■ 1 teaspoon salt
■ 1/2 tsp pepper powder
FOR THE TOPPING
■ 1 can of tuna in water
■ salt to taste
■ 1/4 cup diced
1/4 cup mayo
■ 1 avocado, peeled and cut into slivers
■ Fresh dill for garnish
1. Boil potatoes with enough water to cover them. Cook until fork tender, 20-30 minutes.
2. Peel and press potatoes through a ricer into a bowl.
3. Add olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper into bowl and mix with potatoes to make purée. The purée should be stiff enough to be shaped. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
5. In a bowl, mix tuna, onion, and mayo. Add salt to taste if needed.
6. Shape purée into timbales and top with avocado and dollop of tuna mix. Garnish with dill and serve cold.
NOTE: Use tuna that was canned in water, not oil.