A Fun-filled Weekend of Peruvian Homecooking
Vic asked me if I wanted to join his friend’s family for a weekend of cooking. Of course, I said yes. A weekend of cooking is my ideal kind of vacation (a vacation within a vacation, if you want to be technical).
Vic’s friend’s family has a cute house in Punta Hermosa, a quiet beach town about an hour from Lima. We immediately started talking about food in a mixture of Spanish and English and continued talking about food for the whole trip. In part pop quiz about Peruvian food, part personality test, everyone took turns asking us questions about Peruvian food. By the end of the trip, they had created a custom menu based on our answers.
Trip to the Market
On the way, we stopped at Lurin market which is probably the most organized market I’ve come across in all of Peru.
Zarela and Leo pointed out all of the varieties of grains and dried potatoes in the market.
Then, we got a detailed tour of the butchery section of the market.
All of the meat was sorted by animal and then by the part of the animal.
Vic pointed out that it was like watching chicken parts compete in a form of synchronized swimming.
I’ve been to so many markets in Peru, but yet each market seems to have something new to teach. Plus this one had a cute baby next to the lamb heads and hanging meat.
Camu Camu Juice
I had recently come from the jungle where I fell in love with Camu Camu, a purple, cherry-like fruit. The juice is served at almost every restaurant in Iquitos, and even after only a week there, I was hooked. I started searching for Camu Camu juice in Lima. We found some Camu Camu at the market. As soon as we got to Punta Hermosa, we immediately started making a fresh batch of Camu Camu juice.
First, you wash and then mash it. Then, you add boiling water and let it sit for about an hour. The color changes radically until you get a bright pink juice. We strained the juice, added a bit of sugar, and served. I like Camu Camu because of its tart taste (like cranberry but less cloying). It is classified as a “superfood”-it has sixty times the Vitamin C as an orange and provides a natural energy boost.
It was my second time making causa at home. Causa is described a layered potato salad, but that description leaves out the ají amarillo and lime that flavors the potato. Causa takes many different shapes and forms. We made chicken causa in a circular pan. I learned that having a potato mill really helps! Last time I made causa in Cusco, we all took turns massaging the potatoes until we were all tired.
Causa makes for a great first course in a traditional Peruvian lunch format of a soup or starter and a segundo (main dish).
For the main course, we made my favorite dish to make at home, Lomo Saltado. I’ve gotten picky about my Lomo Saltado to the point now am hesitant about ordering it in a restaurant. There are two questions about Lomo Saltado that I find offer a window into a person’s personality: 1) Is there vinegar in Lomo Saltado? 2) Do you mix the fries with the meat and sauce or do you like the on the side?
1) yes, definitely. I will not order Lomo Saltado without any vinegar. A good Lomo is all about contrast. Without vinegar, Lomo just tastes like Chinese takeout
2) Mix in the fries! The fries add texture and help you sop up all of the sauce. The only caveat is that you have to eat it right away before the fries get soggy.
Luckily, everyone cooking liked Lomo the same way. The results were amazing.
We managed to get a char on the meat, which a bit challenging at home. It was immediately clear this family cooks a lot.
We prepared each ingredient in batches and then stir-fried everything together in the end, exactly how I make Chinese stir-fry when cooking for a crowd.
We almost forgot the Ají amarillo but added it just in the nick of time. To me, every ingredient in a classic lomo saltado is important.
The resulting Lomo had everything that makes a good Lomo. The perfectly sautéed onions and tomatoes provide perfect textural contrast to the meat and the vinegar, soy sauce, and the juices of the meat are a wonderful medley of flavors. Plus the feeling of family always makes food better.
Before heading to bed, we tried Fernando and Diana’s homemade Pisco. They bought a harvest of grapes and took a class on how to make Pisco! Luckily, they had some left for us to try.
Chilcanos are my favorite drink to make at home. Simple and refreshing. All in all, a great way to end a great day of cooking.
Special thanks to Victor Wong and the Lachi and Campos family for a great weekend. An extra thank you to Margarita Lachi Campos for photo permission.