Welcome to Marita’s Peruvian Cooking

My name is Marita Lynn and I own Catering by Maria, a full service catering company serving New Jersey and the New York metro area. Since I moved to the U.S. in 1991, my passion has always been to show people the wonders of Peruvian cuisine.

Coming from a family of good home cooks, I decided to enroll in culinary school so that I would have a solid foundation for cooking professionally. Once in school, I started to add a Peruvian touch to the dishes I would prepare. I remember my classmates loving my sazon – a term which I’ll talk about in my next post – and I always made the point that the dishes I make are everyday dishes in Peru. Once I graduated and started to work, I would often talk to my fellow chefs with great enthusiasm about Peruvian cuisine and now I’ll be sharing that with you.

I am very excited to bring you my new blog, “Marita’s Peruvian Cooking,” and I can’t wait to share with you recipes, information and personal experiences about my journey from childhood right through today. My intention is to convey the greatness of Peruvian cuisine, its history and regional diversity as well as all the stories behind my culinary background. I hope you enjoy!

Marita Lynn

Aji de Gallina

Aji de Gallina is a spicy stew made with hen and aji that is a source of some controversy in my family – I like to use aji mirasol, the way it is made in Lima, but my mother and my aunts insist the proper way is with aji panca, the way they learned from my grandmother.

The dish can be traced back to Incan times, when a type of bird called hualpa was cooked then shredded and served with aji sauce. Later, French chefs fleeing the French Revolution put their imprint on Aji de Gallina, and the dish also became known as Spicy Peruvian Chicken Fricassee. Many of these chefs worked for wealthy Criollo families (a social class of people born in the New World with pure Spanish ancestry), bringing their recipes and techniques with them. This fusion of Peruvian tradition and French cooking can be seen in Aji de Gallina as well as Parihuela, also known as Peruvian Bouillabaisse.

My mom and my aunts learned from my grandmother to cook it with aji panca (aji colorado), which gives the chicken a red tint. They say this is the traditional – and correct –  way, but I love to make it with aji mirasol, and the resulting yellow color is what is most commonly found in Lima. Traditionally the dish is made with non-laying hens, but today most people use chicken, and there are also other variations, for example using seafood and shellfish instead of chicken.

Aji de Gallina is one of my favorite dishes and so easy to prepare. Try it with both aji mirasol and aji panca let me know what you think. Provecho!

Click through for the recipe: Read more…

Aji Panca

Another type of aji is aji panca or aji colorado, which has a great smoky flavor and a dark red to brownish color. It is used throughout the country, and its origins come from Pre-Incan times. It has a mild taste, not too spicy, but its wonderful flavor adds a delicious smokiness to dishes like  Carapulcra, a dried potato stew. It also gives beautiful color to soups like Parihuela, seafood soup, and Sopa a la Criolla, made with chopped beef, onions, garlic, tomatoes, aji panca – right before serving, milk and beaten eggs are added as well. Unlike me, my mom uses this aji for her Aji de Gallina, Peruvian chicken fricassee, which gives it a red color.

To use, soak aji panca in water overnight and blend with canola oil to form a paste. You can find Aji Panca at any Latin American grocery store.

The Andean Cross

When the designer of this blog suggested various options for a logo, I liked them all, but there was one that I immediately felt a connection to – Chakana, or the Andean Cross. The word comes from the Quechua word chakay, meaning a square shaped cross, a powerful symbol of the pre-Incan peoples, and seen as a symbolic bridge between heaven and earth. The top of the cross represents the Sun god, Viracocha, and the bottom represents Mother Earth, Pachamama. It has three symmetric steps that represent the three levels of existence, Hanan Pacha, the upper world of the superior gods, Kay Pacha, the plane where we live, and Urin Pacha, the underworld.

Chakana also represents the Southern Cross Constellation, one of the most important constellations in the Inca Empire. People in the Andes honor the Southern Cross every year on the 3rd of May. This is the month of harvest and celebration where people give thanks to the cross for the protection of their crops.

Machu Picchu Reopens

Machu Picchu, also known as the “Lost City of the Incas,” is an ancient Incan site located near the city of Cuzco and one of the ”New Seven Wonders of the World.” For two months at the beginning of the year, the area was deluged by heavy rains, which caused mudslides and the overflow of the Urubamba River. Not only were the sacred ruins and railways affected, but also communities in Yucay, an area close to the ruins, had houses totally lost. Visitors were evacuated from the area in early February and Macchu Picchu was closed for almost two months. This month, the site reopened, with government officials and Susan Sarandon welcoming visitors back.

I am looking forward to visiting Machu Picchu with my family this summer and I’ll let you know how the area is recovering.

Aji Mirasol

Aji Mirasol, also known as dried aji amarillo, means “look at the sun,” referring to the technique used to sun dry fresh aji amarillo to a yellow-red color. Used throughout Peru, especially in the Andes and the south-central part of the country, aji mirasol has a lightly smoky and fruity flavor. It can be ground and used as a spice or blended with oil to form a paste. It is especially good as a rub on roast meats.

Aji Mirasol is used in various Peruvian dishes such as Tamales, made of mote, a white hominy dough, and filled with meat and olives, wrapped in banana leaves then steamed for 3-4 hours, and Aji de Gallina, Peruvian chicken fricassee. It also can be added to Peruvian Sofrito, which we call Aderezo and make by combining vegetable oil, onions, garlic paste, paprika and salt.

To give a kick and smoky flavor to any dish, make aji mirasol into a paste. Wash, de-vein and remove the seeds of 1 pound aji and soaking overnight in water. Then blend with 1/3 cup canola oil. You can also blanch them in water and blend with oil.

Minestrone Soup Peruvian-Style

Minestrone SoupYou must be thinking “minestrone soup”? In Peru? Yes, the soup shows some of the many influences of Italian cuisine in Peru, brought by Italians who migrated to Lima as far back as 1530s. The base color of the soup is green from the combination of spinach and basil. But there is so much more to it than just soup – it’s a meal in itself. Filled with meat, beans, legumes and vegetables, and served with rice, one large bowl of Sopa Menestron will be enough to fill you up for the rest of the day.

My mom cooked minestrone soup on Sundays and it always came accompanied with a side of white rice, even though it had ziti-style noodles in it since my dad wanted noodles in the soup. This is how she served the soup: she’d put it in a large bowl with a piece of meat, potato, corn and vegetables. We’d get a small plate of white rice on the side and you could either transfer the white rice into the bowl or place your meat, potato and corn on the plate and eat it with the rice. Whichever way you eat it, this soup is delicious – let me know what you think of this Peruvian version of minestrone soup.

Sopa Menestron (Minestrone Soup)

Serves: 6 – 8

1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup basil leaves
1 cup spinach leaves
1 garlic clove
2 qts water
2 qts natural beef stock
2 lb of cubed beef loin (preferable with the bone)
2 celery leaves
½ cup leek, small diced
½ cup pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cubed
3 medium white potatoes, quartered
2 oz white beans
2 oz lima beans
3 corn on the cob, husk removed and cut into three pieces
½ cup green beans, medium diced
2 carrots, medium diced
1½ cup ziti noodles
1 small green cabbage, cut into six wedges
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan cheese to taste

Place the olive oil, basil, spinach and garlic clove in a blender and blend for 3 minutes or until a puree forms – if needed, you can add two tablespoons of water to help it emulsify. Pour the mix in a large bowl and set aside.

In a large pot over medium high heat, pour the water and beef stock then add the beef, celery leaves, leek and pumpkin. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and lower the heat to medium and let simmer for 1 hour.

Then add the white potato, white beans, lima beans, corn, green beans and carrots. Simmer for 20 minutes, then add the noodles, cabbage and the spinach/basil mixture. Cook for about 10 more minutes until the noodles are al dente. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve. Enjoy!

Made in Peru – The Potato

Peru is famous for its potatoes – over 4,000 varieties are grown in the country. But did you know that the potato actually originated in Peru? All modern varieties of the potato were traced back to one species from Southern Peru by botanist David Spooner of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Previously, the potato was believed to have originated in Chile. A number of varieties from Peru were taken to Europe by the Spanish in the 16th Century.

Aji Amarillo Salsa Dip

This dip makes a good side – try it with fries instead of ketchup.

Serves 6 – 8

1 lb Aji Amarillo
¼ cup canola oil
1 small garlic clove, crushed
pinch of salt
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut aji in half and remove the seeds. Cover with water and soak overnight at room temperature.

In a small pot, boil the aji for 15 minutes or until soft. Let cool then peel the skin off. Place aji in a blender with canola oil, crushed garlic and a pinch of salt and blend to form a paste.

Pour paste in a bowl and mix in the vinegar and scallions until well combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Aji Amarillo

Peru has a large variety of aji (hot peppers), which vary in color, size, shape and flavor. They have been used in Peru for several thousand years, since Pre-Incan times, and every region has its own type.

My family and I love to cook with aji – it always brings a special flavor to my dishes and immediately takes me back to when I was growing up in Peru. I remember my mom cooking most of her dishes with aji amarillo and aji mirasol not to mention her favorites Rocoto and Aji Limo, which are mostly used in ceviche. I’ll be posting on many different types of aji in this blog since they are intrinsic to Peruvian cooking.

My favorite is aji amarillo, long and thin peppers, about 3-5 inches in length. Don’t be fooled by the name – amarillo means yellow in Spanish – because ripe aji amarillo are bright orange and unripe ones are yellow. The seeds inside will make a dish very spicy so just remove them to lower the heat level. The aroma and its fruity, somewhat sweet flavor add to the spiciness, making it unique from other hot peppers.

I use aji amarillo in dishes such Papa a la Huancaina, potatoes with a yellow creamy sauce, Causa, a cold potato dish colored and flavored with yellow aji, Papa a la Diabla, a warm potato dish with a creamy aji sauce, and as a garnish on Escabeche, pickled fish. Another common use is as a side dipping sauce that can accompany any meal.

In addition to flavor, aji Amarillo has health benefits as well due to its high levels of capsaicin, a natural ingredient in hot peppers located in the pepper’s ribs, which is good for pain relief, as a digestion aid and in fighting inflammation.

A good place to buy aji is from Amazon.com.

© Copyright 2010 Marita Peruvian Cooking