Virtual kitchen: daydreams of SALSA!

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t taken a single cooking class while we’ve been in South America. Shocking but true! 😦 Not to say that I haven’t been enjoying the food. Especially since we arrived in Bolivia/Peru.

Bolivia’s simple but hearty quinoa based soups were consistently delightful and satisfying. And I’m really getting into Peru’s collection of colorful, beguiling salsas!

While I haven’t been taking classes, I HAVE been asking questions at our favorite restaurants. I’ve never been able to get the most clear recipes however, so I’ve been supplementing my requests with some internet research, and all of it’s been making my mouth water for the day that I have my own kitchen again and get to experiment till I get the flavor combinations for some of the lovely condiments we’ve encountered during our South American journeys the way I want them.

So I’m putting together a recipe collection here so I’ll easily remember what I want to try, next chance I get. 🙂 Apologies for the long post, but it’ll help me to have everything in one place. 🙂 Maybe some day I’ll spruce it up with pictures of the recipes I get around to trying. 🙂

Chimichurri – Argentina

From Wikipedia: Chimichurri is a sauce used for grilled meat. The origin of the name of the sauce is unclear. There are various stories explaining the name… The Argentine gourmet Miguel Brascó claims that the word chimichurri originated when the British were captured after the British invasions of the Río de la Plata. The prisoners asked for condiment for their food mixing English, aboriginal and Spanish words. According to this story, che-mi-curry stands for “che mi salsa” (give me condiment) or “give me curry”. The word then corrupted to chimichurri.Another theory for the name of the sauce comes from the Basque settlers that arrived in Argentina as early as the 19th century. According to this theory, the name of the sauce comes from the Basque term tximitxurri, loosely translated as “a mixture of several things in no particular order.

There are green versions and red versions chimichurri – the red includes all the same ingredients as the green but adds tomato and or red bell pepper. The flavors are lovely and I’d be happy to put it on plenty of things – not just meat. 🙂

Here’s a recipe I found on simplyrecipes.com:

INGREDIENTS

1 cup firmly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, trimmed of thick stems
– 3-4 garlic cloves
– 2 Tbsps fresh oregano leaves (can sub 2 teaspoons dried oregano)
– 1/2 cup olive oil
– 2 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar
– 1 teaspoon sea salt
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

METHOD
1 Finely chop the parsley, fresh oregano, and garlic (or process in a food processor several pulses). Place in a small bowl.
2 Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Adjust seasonings.
Serve immediately or refrigerate. If chilled, return to room temperature before serving. Can keep for a day or two.
Yield: Serves 4.

Green Aji/Huacatay Salsa – Peru

Oh my gosh these elusive Peruvian sauces!

The green goodness that is served with bread as a starter in Peruvian joints in the US and has been showing up on randomly unpredictable culinary occasions during our time here in Peru seems to be the stuff of legend.

Online searches have proved absolutely futile in terms of pinning down an official and definitive recipe. There seem to be as many variations to the recipe as there are entries online; I can’t even settle on the most proper and official name. Suffice to say this topping is as delicious as it is addictive.

A key component appears to be haucatay, a Peruvian herb that seems near impossible to get fresh outside of South America (thus speaks the interwebs anyhow) – cooks on other continents make do with pre-packaged pastes when they’re lucky and mint/cilantro/a combination of the two when they’re not. More info here and here.

I found one afficianado’s advice on yelp:

each person has its own way of making it.

aji amarillo paste
huacatay paste
chopped green onions
lime juice
salt
bit of oil

puree on a blender

some others make it with

mayo, queso fresco, milk, cilantro…

i suggest you get creative.
enjoy

Seems to me like a good place to start (although I have also heard tell of a version involving peanuts!!! Seriously yum!). Here are some more intriguing recipes I’ve found online (have I mentioned I am so excited for when I have a kitchen again some day???):

http://southamericanfood.about.com/od/saladssidedishes/r/Peruvian-Huacatay-Salsa-Aji-De-Huacatay.htm
http://www.robertaskitchen.com/2008/01/06/salsa-verde-peruvian-green-sauce/
http://veganfeastkitchen.blogspot.com/2009/09/move-over-ketchup-and-salsa-peruvian.html

Salsa Picante – Peru

I had an awesome version of this just tonight at a restaurant here in Nazca (La Encantada in case you’re interested). Our friendly waitress told me it was made of the infamous aji amarillo (yellow chile pepper), onion, garlic, and milk blended together. Further research on the internet has yielded other recipes of course – see the collection below. The jury will have to wait till I get home and can try to rediscover the lovely, deep, sweet, fiery flavors of the pepper in my own homemade experiments before I can say what the best recipe might be.

http://www.fiery-foods.com/recipesearch/salsa-picante-de-peru-peruvian-hot-salsa
http://www.pepperfool.com/recipes/salsa/salsa_picante2.html

Tallarines Verdes: Green Noodles with Spinach Pesto – Peru

I stumbled across this recipe during my extensive internet searching. While this dish/sauce is not one that I was looking for, it makes me think of two meals from our two favorite restaurants in Cusco, so I want to make sure I give it a try when I can.

1) Green’s is a lovely organic restaurant that I got hooked on. Their garden salad comes with a great basil vinaigrette that I really loved. All the goodness of basil without heading towards the heaviness/garlic overload (not that that’s a bad thing! 😉 of pesto. Reading the ingredients for the sauce in this dish, I wonder if they used something like this recipe for their dressing.

2) Roma Mia was the delightful Italian restaurant – run by a proper, passionate Roman Italian – that absolutely charmed us. Our last meal there I had spaghetti pesto; it was served with beans a potatoes as in this recipe – which was a first for me.

The recipe is from about.com. Here it is:

YIELDServes 4-6.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound pasta (spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large bunch washed spinach (about 3 cups leaves. packed)
  • 1 cup basil leaves, washed
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup queso fresco cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until soft and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. While onions are cooking, add spinach and basil leaves to a blender with the milk and process (working in batches if necessary) until smooth.
  3. Add cooked onions and garlic to the blender with the cheese and process, adding a little more milk if necessary, until you have a smooth mixture.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  5. Melt butter in the skillet that cooked the onions. Pour sauce from blender into the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes, until sauce is heated through and smooth. Keep sauce warm.
  6. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook according to directions. Drain well and toss pasta with the sauce. Serve warm.

The next recipes have nothing to do with South American cuisine. When we got to Arequipa, we were ready for some international fare. We loved the french-style creperie, subtly named Crepisimo, and I was in heaven finding some decent hummus and falafel at Fez (or Istanbul – there were two signs on the door so I’m not sure what the official name was. 😉 ). Sticking with the salsa theme, here are some sauces both restaurants got me excited about:

Crepisimo’s tasty french-style vinagrette

I normally don’t go for sauces with mayonnaise in them, but this one was delish! Our sweet waitress was kind enough to ask the kitchen for the ingredients, but as for measurments, I’ll have to experiment when I can. Some pointers – the finished product was thoroughly emulsified, light tan in color, and somewhat thick and creamy.

INGREDIENTS:

Mayonaise
Mustard
Balsamic vinegar
Salt
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Plain yogurt

PREPARATION:
Mix all ingredients well.

Yogurt/garlic goodness inspired by Fez

My salad at Fez came with a small pot of a seemingly simple yogurt sauce that exploded with insanely awesome garlic intensity about a second and a half after the first taste. Our waiter here was less communicative; he said the ingredients were yogurt and garlic but wouldn’t divulge any kitchen secrets beyond that.

Yogurt and garlic sauce in Middle Eastern cooking has less of a mystique to it than Peruvian green sauce although until that meal I’d managed to forget about it and how darn good it is given how rare it’s been to find that sort of food in South America.

Below is one simple recipe I found on about.com that could serve as a good base. The sauce I had at Fez though was completely smooth, so I think I might try nixing everything in a blender rather than having pieces of minced garlic floating about.

During my search I also found an intriguing recipe for vegan mayonaise that goes heavy on the garlic. I am NOT a fan of traditional mayo but I am a fiend for garlic, so this is definitely on my list of recipes to try.

http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/2011/09/lebanese-vegan-mayo/

Yogurt and garlic sauce

INGREDIENTS:

  • 16 oz. plain cold yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • salt to taste

PREPARATION:

In a small mixing bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Mix well. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
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Peace in the Monasterio de Santa Catalina

Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, located well south of Cuzco and both closer to the coast and lower in altitude, made for a warm and welcome change of scene after being steeped in Incan lore and thin mountain air for so many days (not that I didn’t LOVE all the Incan amazingness and beautiful mountains!). The city is full of exquisite examples of pearly white colonial architecture and the vibe is considerably more down to earth than lovely, but ultimately touristy, Cuzco.

We had a few days here and I’ll write later at greater length about those days, but for now I want to share some snaps from, what was for me, the great highlight of our time in Arequipa.

The city is home to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a maze-like convent dating back to the 1500s.

Despite a dubious past – for much of the Monasterio’s history its nuns were women of wealthy backgrounds who continued to enjoy the good life, complete with servants and slaves, live music and parties in spite of their cloistered existence and alleged vows of poverty – the place still managed to produce one saint, Sor Ana de Los Angeles Monteagudo, and in the late 1800s, the entire place was reformed by a strict Dominican nun, Sister Josefa Cadena, who ran a tight ship and brought life in the Monasterio in line with typical convent standards. (More details can be found here.)

Screen through which nuns would speak to people from the outside world.

Today, only a handful of nuns remain at the Monasterio. They live in a small section of the 20,000 square meter complex which is closed off to the public. The rest of the Monasterio, however, is open to visitors and is well laid out to receive them, with ample and interesting information about the place’s history posted in most rooms in both Spanish and English and even a café that serves quite decent food located about halfway through the tour circuit.

From what we’d read in Lonely Planet, I knew the Monasterio would be worth visiting. I wasn’t prepared though for how totally charmed I would be by the place.

The cells, courtyards and walkways are a mesmerizing interplay between, dim rooms, cool shadow and rock and bright hot sun and illuminated, brilliantly painted walls and cheerful frescos. I suppose the resident saint and the changes put in place by the reforming sister have been effective enough to balance out the alleged wickedness of some of the earlier nuns – the atmosphere of the place is peaceful and hallowed.

We ended up spending half a day there, making our slow way from room to room, hall to hall, enjoying the peace, the stillness, the warm, summery air, the beautiful grounds and the cheerful colors of the place.

I think I must have been a nun or monk in a past life. I just loved spending time in this place. Somehow the thought of a life of spiritual devotion in a location so simple but so lovely seemed quite appealing. Especially when reading a message from the sisters currently serving there:

Since the origins of Arequipa there was a need of founding a contemplative Dominican Mothers’ convent… (Permission was given to begin) the construction of the convent in 1570.

Nowadays we are 30 sisters, of ages ranging between 18 and 90.

In the serenity that our hearts have been originating during long hours of silence, listening to God, in the perseverant praise that springs up of the grateful soul, we are able to acknowledge the presence of God in the small events of everyday life.

Our spirit takes us to offer prayers of intercession and reparation for all the humans to be saved.

Our day starts at 5 a.m., and we pray starting from (during) the praise of Jesus Eucharist, from (during) our studies, doing our manual work in order to win our daily bread. In every single moment we pray for the world and with the world. In the Church we are the presence, not the visibility.

After more than 400 years we are still here, because our contemplative vocation is LOVE. This is our great secret of being happy: to be in love, neither with an ideal nor a project, but with Jesus Christ. 

There are plenty of times I will disagree vehemently with the Catholic/Christian church, but when I read something like this, I can’t help but feel pretty inspired by these women’s devotion to attempt to live in selfless prayer.

And if you’d like an audio to go with the photos, click below to hear the convent bells ringing as we left the peaceful sanctuary for the city streets at closing time. I always think there’s something magical about the sound of church bells…

Church bells

A beam of light shoots through the blackened walls of an ancient kitchen

A collection of old medicines

In the Monestario garden

I love swallows! 😀