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.

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.

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

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.

Quinoa

QuinoaQuinoa is an ancient grain native to Peru, also called “the Gold of the Incas.” It is high in protein, including all nine essential amino acids, and is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus. It is also high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest, so it is a great choice for vegetarians, vegans and anyone gluten-sensitive. After it is cooked, quinoa has a fluffy texture and a mild, almost nutty flavor. Recently some new types of quinoa have appeared in the U.S., including red and black quinoa. The grain is increasingly easy to find in supermarkets, as well as at any health food store or Whole Foods Market.

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.





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