Himself and I convened with a group of friends at Puro Sabor in Van Nuys to try the eats of this land on the Pacific coast of South America. We ordered a number of dishes and passed it all around the table, making for a fun and tasty but discombobulated event. As is the risk of gathering with friends for such enterprises, we were so busy talking that we didn't pay as much attention as we should have to what we were eating. So Himself and I made a return visit a few days later, during which we sampled more dishes and completely fell in love with Peruvian food.
You might not be able to see it well, but along the bottom edge of the photo, you can just make out the juice on the dish that is produced by the ceviche combination. In Peru they call it leche de tigre, or tiger's milk. Hot, salty, sweet, sour and attitudinous. Makes sense! On our return visit, Himself and I shared an order of ceviche de mariscos, which was loaded with shrimp, squid and octopus. This is the perfect way to prepare seafood that so easily overcooks. With calamari in particular, it's easy to end up with a plate of thick and chewy rubber bands. But that didn't happen--it was delicate and wonderful.
Ocopa is so popular we had to wait until the return visit to score some. It is sliced boiled potato blanketed in a sauce made of peanuts, aji chilis and huacatay, a South American herb that's known by a variety of names including tagetes minuta, black mint, Mexican marigold and assorted other names including "Stinking Roger!" There's nothing stinky about it. It may look a little like wallpaper paste, but don't let that put you off--it's lightly sweet, lightly salty and altogether good. Since huacatay is difficult to find in North America, you can approximate its flavor with equal parts of basil, mint and cilantro.
Uncooked quinoa: It's tiny and doesn't look like it would amount to much, but it holds a surprise.
The next day I still had Peruvian food on the brain and wanted to make something, so I stirred up a pot of quinoa vegetable soup. For two servings, you put a little vegetable oil into a pot and sauté a carrot, a stalk of celery, half a green bell pepper and some onion, all finely diced, add in two ounces of dry quinoa and a couple of cloves of garlic minced, and continue to cook until you can smell the garlic. Then add a pint of water, two diced tomatoes, and a healthy handful of chopped green cabbage. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for ten minutes. Season to your liking with salt and black pepper. I was amazed by what happened in that short space of time. The quinoa unfurled and gave the soup some heft, and the veggies made a nice broth.
See all those tiny O's in there? That's the quinoa.
Himself and I had a bowl of this soup with a piece of garlic bread for dinner. We expected to be hungry by bedtime, but we weren't. And we weren't feeling ravenous when we got up the next morning.
In that tinker-with-it way I have--and that people migrating from place to place have of taking a new food and injecting something familiar--I'm tempted next time I make this soup to toss in a handful of beans or some chicken or beef. And to give it a hearty dash of Tabasco Sauce.
One of the beauties of foods is that it's open to endless interpretation and creativity. As long as we play with our food, how can we ever be bored?