Peruvian Ingredients & Dishes 101
Peru on a Plate: Ingredients and Dishes
This dish of cubed raw fish lightly marinated in citrus, drizzled with olive oil and served with onion, avocado and chillies, is the one most closely identified with Peruvian cuisine. The word is believed to derive from the Quechua (an indigenous language) word siwichi, which means fresh fish. Ceviche dates back to the Incas, but the ingredients and techniques have changed with each successive wave of cultural change and exchange, from the Spanish conquest onwards. The dish helped make Peruvian food famous around the world and is still evolving today.
Not so much an ingredient or dish, but a way of cooking. Chef Adrián Sánchez says, “Pachamanca means ‘earth oven’. You dig a hole, make a fire and line it with volcanic stones, then wrap the food in banana leaves and layer it in the earth oven, then cook it for hours. In a single dish, you can find all the roots of Peruvian cooking.” Ingredients might include marinated pork, alpaca, cuy (guinea pig) and lamb, along with potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn. It’s similar to a New England clambake, a Maori hangi and a Hawaiian luau. The dish had ritualistic importance for the Incas because cooking food in the ground was believed to pay homage to Pachamama, the Inca earth goddess. It remains a feast dish today.
Native to Peru and cultivated by the Incas, peanuts were brought to Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands during the European colonial expansion. Peanuts, now a major food crop around the world, are an integral part of West African stews, Indonesian satay sauces and the all-American lunchbox staple, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Peanuts are also the main ingredient in Plumpy’Nut, a high-nutrition food administered by UNICEF and others to alleviate severe malnutrition in children.
Possibly the most popular tuber in the world, this native of Peru has altered the course of human history. There are an estimated 3,800 types of potato in Peru alone. Luard says: “You see thousands of varieties piled up in the marketplaces in their land of origin, and there is an enormous range of colours and textures and uses.” Luard recommends Papa a la Huancaína – potatoes with fresh cheese and chillies in a bright yellow sauce. Potatoes are also the basis of another iconic Peruvian dish, causa – potatoes mashed with chillies and lime, which dates back to the Incas and is still popular today.
Centuries before this nutritious seed became revered as a superfood among health-conscious Westerners, it was grown in the Andean highlands, where the Incas called it chisaya mama, the mother seed, the source of life. Spanish colonisers tried to suppress its cultivation because they believed its ceremonial importance undermined the spread of Catholicism. Quinoa and its cousin amaranth nonetheless survived, and they continue to sustain Andean populations and give pleasure to cooks the world over. The seeds, in shades of pink, black, brown, orange and red, are appreciated for their beauty as well as their nutritional value.
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