Week 6: A Peruvian Adventure

This week’s dinner was very special. My mom and my 91-year-old Grandma drove in from Cleveland for dinner. I feel so blessed to have these 2 wonderful women in my life, and grateful that they made the trip to visit us. It was great cooking for my mom, who spoiled me growing up by making all of my meals and snacks for me. There were even a few occasions back in high school when my friends and me would come home late at night and she would climb out of bed to make us some delicious Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese. So being able to provide her with one top-notch meal doesn’t quite begin to pay her back for the 20+ years of keeping me alive, but at least it’s a start.

And my grandma is one of my favorite people I have the pleasure of knowing. I’m honored I get to call her my grandma! She is both hilarious and sentimental at the same time, and has always been there to give me the best life and fashion advice. She is super kooky and has absolutely no filter. But more than anything she has always given me infinite love and support, and I was so overwhelmed with joy that she came with my mom to my house for dinner. I took the two of them on a tour of Peruvian cuisine for our meal.

Papa A La Huancaina

Peru boasts about being the home of the humble potato. Contrary to popular belief, tubers did not originate in Ireland, but in Peru! There was no way we could have a meal without featuring Peru’s hometown hero, the potato. This dish is a cold potato salad with a spicy cream sauce. This is a very different way than I’m used to eating potatoes (usually mashed or baked). We found the recipe on organicauthority.com. To make the dish you boil Yukon Gold potatoes while making the sauce. The sauce consists of:

  • Crumbled queso fresco cheese
  • Vegetable oil
  • Evaporated milk
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Minced garlic and
  • Spicy Serrano peppers
Ingredients for the Papa A La Huancaina
garlic, queso fresco, limes, condensed milk and serrano peppers make the spicy cheese sauce

To make the sauce I blended the ingredients together, and kept giving spoonfuls of it to my grandma who consistently declared, “needs more spice!” so I kept chopping more peppers. I was worried about the sauce because my mom isn’t a big fan of cheese, so I was hoping the spiciness would help alleviate some of the cheesy taste.

Papa A La Huancaina
Papa A La Huancaina

The half moon shape cut potatoes are plated on top of a slice of iceberg lettuce that acts like a boat, and topped with parsley, the sauce and a slice of a hard-boiled egg. The potato dish was great, and everyone was happy with the sauce! Queso fresco cheese is mild to begin with, and my mom even added extra to her potato. Both my mom and me went back for seconds.

My grandma!
I am so blessed my grandma was able to visit me!

Ceviche

We wanted to do Peru mainly because we wanted to make ceviche. The beautiful colors and well-blended flavors of ceviche make it a unique dish that stands out. We wanted a dish that was light for the summer evening, but also a more distinctive dish than my mom and grandma were used to. Dan made up his own recipe and decided to feature fresh bay scallops and grouper in the meal. We followed some tips on making a great ceviche found on the Huffington Post.

Ceviche and Papa A La Huancaina
Ceviche and Papa A La Huancaina

What is really interesting about ceviche is the way you cook the fish. The fish is marinated in limejuice for no more than 20 minutes before serving it. The acidity from the limejuice actually cooks the fish! However, the bay scallops need longer to cook. We marinated them for roughly 3 hours. This meal was so refreshing and zesty. It was the perfect compliment to all the other elements of our dinner. The following is Dan’s Grouper and Scallop Ceviche recipe:

  • ½ pound bay scallops
  • ¾ pound fresh grouper
  • 1 sliced red onion
  • 3 chopped scallions
  • 1 cup of quartered strawberries
  • ½ tablespoon of fresh chopped cilantro
  • 1 dash of sugar or more to taste
  • 1 pinch of salt or more to taste
  • 1 dash of black pepper or more to taste

Marinade the scallops in limejuice for 3 hours ahead of time. Meanwhile, stir together the onion, scallions, strawberries, sugar, salt and pepper. In a separate bowl marinate the grouper in limejuice. We followed the tip we found online to use ½ cup of limejuice for every 1 pound of fish. When ready to serve mix everything together!

Ceviche
Delicious Ceviche

Cancha – Toasted Chulpe Corn

I wanted to make a good, simple side dish to serve alongside the ceviche so I Googled Peruvian Corn. Instantly a recipe for Cancha popped up which is described as being traditionally served with ceviche (perfect!) and similar to popcorn (double perfect!!) My mom loves popcorn! I knew I had to make this dish. I just needed to find somewhere I could buy chulpe corn.

Me and Dan took a trip to a lovely part of Pittsburgh known as the Strip District. In the strip you can find markets from all over the world: specialty cheese markets, Asian markets, fresh fish markets (where we bought the grouper and scallops for the ceviche) and also Latin American markets. La Reyna is a traditional Latin American market where you can buy a variety of foods, piñatas, an array of specialty prayer candles, and yes, chulpe corn.

Cancha
Cancha

The chulpe corn is sweeter than traditional corn and does not puff out when you fry it like popcorn does. It was very easy to make and my mom in particular loved it. She kept eating several handfuls. I was happy to give her our leftovers as well as the leftover kernels so she can make it when she’s back at home. We found the simple recipe on aboutfood.com.

Pisco Sour

As I’m preparing to make the national drink of Peru, Pisco Sour, my grandma keeps bragging about how her and her husband have a drink every night, him a glass of wine and her a glass of Scotch. My grandma also loves to reminisce about the time we traveled to Italy and we drank Limoncello liquore together (side note: I was only 17, my grandma is the coolest). So how was I to know that one glass of Pisco Sour, an 80 proof Peruvian brandy cocktail, would get her drunk? Oops!

Since I don’t own shakers, I made the Pisco Sour in a blender. It consists of Pisco, simple syrup, fresh limejuice and egg white. If you haven’t tired a cocktail with egg white, you must try it! It provides a great texture and flavor that enhances the overall drink. I found the recipe on food.com

Pisco Sour

I received the highest compliment when getting ready to serve dinner. I had my table set up outside and the Pisco Sours were sitting next to the Papa A La Huancaina, when my neighbor walked by. He looked at the table and said, “you guys must be doing Peru!” It turns out he used to live in Peru and immediately recognized the Pisco Sours and potato dish. I was so flattered that our dish looked authentic enough that he knew what we were cooking.

My mom and her Pisco Sour
My mom and her Pisco Sour

But back to my grandma, she was drunk but she handled it like a champ. When she called/drunk dialed her husband to check in she started the conversation by saying, “Hannah made a great meal, and boy am I drunk!” There’s something so endearing (and frightening) about a tipsy 91-year-old.

Leche Asada

Leche Asada is known as the “poor man’s crème brulee” and translates to roasted milk. However, about an hour into baking something that should have only been in the oven for a half hour, I was sure we would never get to actually eat it. I was so perplexed, we followed thre simple recipe found on Lima Easy exactly, and yet the liquid wasn’t turning into custard. Every time I opened the oven the ramekins were full of a very viscous substance, not at all creamy like it was supposed to be. I had the oven set for 175 degrees as the website directed but nothing happened. Eventually I turned the oven up to 350 and ta-da, the dessert was made!

Leche Asada about to go into the oven.
Leche Asada about to go into the oven.

It wasn’t until hours later that Dan realized what had happened. The recipe we were following was in metric; the temperature was supposed to be 175 Celsius! We pulled out a conversion calculator (aka Googled a conversion calculator app) and sure enough 175 Celsius translates to 347 Fahrenheit (that was a hand to forehead kind of moment). We all laughed about this and enjoyed the dessert.

After over an hour, they finally cooked!
After over an hour, they finally cooked!

Having my mom and grandma with me for dinner this week truly meant the world to me. I will remember this night for the rest of my life. I’ll remember watching my grandma scarf down the ceviche even though she had told my mom the night before she didn’t like ceviche. I’ll remember my mom sitting anxiously in the kitchen while we were cooking, wanting so badly to assist us in any way, and not used to having someone else take care of her. I’ll remember how we set up the table on the sidewalk and how both my grandma and my mom repeatedly said how it felt like we were in Paris… really, the small row house section of Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh feels like Paris?

It was so special having them with us tonight. The dinner was a success and the food was incredible. We all marveled at how even though there was so much food, we all felt light and not overly stuffed. It was a fantastic evening that I will always hold onto.

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