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:

Aji de Gallina

Serves 6

4 whole chicken breasts, skin removed, about 1lb each
4 cups chicken stock
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped plus 1 medium white onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery with leaves, stalk roughly chopped and leaves reserved
1 bay leaf
½ loaf sliced white bread, crust removed
1½  cup milk
¼ cup canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced1 tsp cumin
¼ cup aji mirasol paste
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
¼ cup walnuts, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste


Cook chicken breast with 4 cups of chicken stock, carrots, 1 chopped onion, chopped celery, celery leaves and bay leaf in a pot on medium heat, simmering for about 40 minutes. Once cooked, let chicken cool then shred into bite-size pieces. Reserve two cups of the stock.

In a bowl, crumble the bread and soak in the milk for 10 minutes, then put the mixture in the blender to form a panada that will bind the dish.

In a medium pan, heat canola oil and sauté 1 diced onion until translucent, then add chopped celery, garlic, cumin and aji mirasol paste and cook for 5 minutes. Add the soaked bread mixture and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 10 minutes, then start adding hot chicken stock slowly, stirring constantly to maintain a creamy consistency. Add stock whenever the sauce thickens too much. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Finally, add the shredded chicken, parmesan cheese and walnuts. Add a little more stock if necessary, gently stirring so the chicken pieces stay intact. Simmer for 8 minutes and adjust seasoning as needed.

Aji de Gallina is often served with a side of white rice and/or sliced potatoes and garnished with botija black olives and hard boiled eggs.

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 (you can buy it online)

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!

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.

Quinoa Salad with Asparagus and Roasted Red Peppers

Quinoa with AsparagusWhen I grew up, nutrition was always as important to my mother as deliciousness. This is how my grandmother raised her and it’s the way I am raising my own kids.

Quinoa, an ancient grain native to Peru, is one of the most nutritious foods – there is a reason why it’s a staple in any health food store. We actually started having quinoa very young – when my siblings and I were babies, my mom used to give us quinoa water (the water used when boiling quinoa) mixed with powdered milk. Babies in my family always had a beautiful glow and I don’t think that’s a coincidence – quinoa is high in protein, fiber and many important minerals. Now my own kids are growing up eating quinoa just like I did.

Here is a recipe that is always a hit with my clients when they ask me to provide them with healthy but delicious meals. It’s a versatile dish that can incorporate any seasonal vegetables – in the spring I love it with asparagus. Enjoy!

Quinoa Salad with Asparagus and Roasted Red Peppers in Lime Cumin Vinaigrette

Serves 4

2 cups quinoa
1/3 cup canola oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp annatto powder (available online)
½ tsp aji mirasol paste (found at Latin American markets or online)
4 cups hot water
salt and pepper to taste
½  cup green asparagus, cooked and cut into ½” pieces
½  cup roasted peppers, diced
½ cup sundried tomatoes, julienned
1/3 cup lime juice
½ tsp yellow mustard
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped cilantro

Rinse the quinoa under cold water in a fine meshed strainer to remove any dirt or impurities. In a medium-sized pot, heat the canola oil over medium heat, add the onion and cook until translucent, then add crushed garlic and annatto powder. Stir then add aji mirasol and cook for 1 minute. Add the quinoa and hot water, mix all the ingredients together well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, leave uncovered and simmer until the water is absorbed and the quinoa looks fluffy. Place the quinoa in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and separate it by running a fork through it. Once the quinoa cools down, add asparagus, peppers and sundried tomatoes.

In a separate bowl, combine lime juice, mustard, cumin seeds and olive oil and mix well. Pour the mixture over the quinoa and add chopped cilantro. Adjust seasoning if necessary and enjoy!

Cooking Tip: Always season quinoa after it is cooked because adding salt from the beginning will prevent it from cooking and becoming fluffy.

In Season: Chirimoya

One of my favorite fruits is chirimoya (also known as cherimoya), a mid-winter fruit with a season ending in late May. This fruit is native to the highlands of the Peruvian Andes and increasingly available here. When ripe, it has a soft green skin and a white silky flesh with large black seeds with a flavor some say is a combination of mango, banana and pineapple. For me, it tastes better than that! Try it in smoothies, as a mousse, or just eat it alone.

You can find organic chirimoyas from California at Calimoya.com.

© Copyright 2010 Marita Peruvian Cooking