This is my friend Lali (on the left). Isn’t she lovely?
Nevermind the mess and the hideous orange couch. I live in China, ok? That’s my excuse. Anyway, Lali is super cool. She is Peruvian-Japanese, which means her heritage is Japanese but she was born and raised in Peru. She is an amazing cook. She wouldn’t say so, but she is. I know from experience.
I’ve been bugging Lali to show me how to cook some Peruvian dishes and she most graciously obliged, coming over to cook in my tiny kitchen and bearing with all my questions. We cooked up a storm, and then our hubbies and our friends got to partake in the surpassing deliciousness.
This is what we made.
This is an appetizer called Papas a la Huancaína…. It’s a delicious yellow sauce made with aji Amarillo, a yellow chili pepper found in Peru, poured over potatoes (Peru not only gave potatoes to the world, but has over 2000 varieties of potato, including purple ones) and a lettuce leaf, and topped with a boiled egg. The sauce has a creamy, nutty taste, and I could eat it by the spoonful. Unfortunately you can’t get aji amarillo in China, and Lali made this from a dehydrated powder that her sister sent her, so we don’t have a recipe for Papas a la Huancaína right now.
For the main course, we had a chicken stew, again with plenty of potatoes, served over steamed white rice. Now, this Estofado de Pollo has a real simple list of ingredients, but for some reason, it has so much flavor. I really can’t explain it, because it doesn’t call for a long list of herbs, except for a couple bay leaves, but it is so savory, rich and just…flavorful. Lali says that the sauce base – fried garlic, onion, and tomato – is the base for many Peruvian dishes. And the best part is…it is so simple even I can do it! And of course, if you’re not a huge potato fan, you can always pop in other vegetables or pretty much anything you like.
We also made a really simple aji sauce, a hot sauce made by puréeing red chili peppers, onion, lemon juice, and oil. It’s got a good kick, and unlike many hot sauces, isn’t overwhelmed by vinegar and salt. What I love about this aji is that it’s got flavor as well as heat. You can store this in the fridge for a few days and put it on anything from scrambled eggs, to roasted vegetables, to lentils, to rice…basically anything that could benefit from an added kick of spiciness. We put the aji on the chicken stew, and it really gave it some extra oomph (see the dollop of red sauce on top of the stew?).
Estofado de Pollo
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 small or 1/2 medium/large red onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 medium tomato
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken (we used breasts, but thighs would be juicier)
½ cup frozen carrots, corn and peas
4-5 potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
salt and pepper
3-4 whole bay leaves
Peel the tomato and dice it. Chop the chicken into ¾ inch cubes. Set aside.
In large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over low-medium heat (I know ¼ cup of oil sounds like a lot, but the goal is to evenly coat the bottom of the pot). Add the onions and garlic, and fry, stirring often, until onion is translucent (and revel in the delicious smells wafting through your kitchen). Add the tomato and cook, stirring often, until tomato begins to disintegrate. Season liberally with salt and pepper (Lali added about 3 or 4 large pinches of salt).
Add the chicken, and stir until the outsides of the cubes are cooked. Add the frozen vegetables, potatoes, and bay leaves. Stir around to coat everything with sauce.
Add just enough water to cover approximately half of the ingredients. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, stirring often, about 20 minutes.
Adjust seasonings and serve over steamed white rice. Serves 4.
Recipe Notes: The beauty of this stew is that you can do anything with it, as long as you have the basic sauce. Do it with beef, or add different vegetables. The sky’s the limit!
Peruvian Aji (hot red chili sauce)
½ small red onion or ¼ large one
4 fresh red chili peppers
Juice of ½ lemon (or a whole lemon if your lemon, like mine, was a little dry)
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Dice the onion. If the onions are very oniony (as in, they’re making you cry as you dice them), rinse them in cold water. Remove the tops and tips of bottoms from the chili peppers. If you can’t take the heat, open them and remove some of the seeds.
Whiz all the ingredients together in a food processor or blender until puréed and smooth.
Recipe Notes: The sauce is a bit thick for a blender to handle very well (the blades just fling everything to the sides and then can’t blend them anymore). If your blender comes with a small container attachment (something that looks like the “Magic Bullet” instead of the large blender jug) it will work better. Alternatively, you could try adding a bit of water, or doubling the ingredients.
You will probably need to poke a spoon in there to stir up the chunks. Remember to remove the spoon before you turn the blender on!!!
By the way, can someone tell me why that first picture of the egg has a little bubble in the middle of the yolk? Is that normal? Did I boil it wrong? I do live in China. Maybe it’s a fake egg?