Saturday, October 16, 2010

Viva Vegan: Peru! Part 1

Long before I was a vegetarian, there was a really good Peruvian restaurant in Chandler that my sister and I loved going to. The restaurant has long since disappeared, and even though there are a couple others in the valley, they are really not vegan-friendly. So, I was super excited when Terry Hope Romero's Latin foods cookbook, Viva Vegan, wasn't just Mexican food, and in fact, it includes recipes from Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Cuba, as well as Mexico and a smattering of other Latin countries.

One of my favorite entrees from the Peruvian restaurant was Papas a la Huancaína, potatoes covered in a cheesey sauce. When I read through the Viva Vegan cookbook, I discovered a recipe for the dish, called Peruvian Potatoes with Spicy "Cheezy" Sauce. I knew I had to make this, in fact, I wanted a whole Peruvian dinner, dammit! And so I rounded up some guinea pig friends and planned a full meal.

Here is Part 1 where I share tips, photos, reviews, etc from my Peruvian dinner.

First, here we have the special ingredients from Peru that I purchased. I found all of them at my 'go-to' place for all ethnic foods, LeeLee's Oriental Supermarket.

Choclo Desgranado. These are basically giant corn kernels, easily the size of my thumbnail. Typically, choclos are served aside ceviche, but I used them in Terry's Peruvian Red Chile-Corn Salad with Limas and Cherry Tomatoes.

Peruvian Olives. Black olives are often used as a garnish for Papas a la Huancaína. These ones are similar to kalamata, and as such, I was not a fan. I fully confess that I really only have eyes for the California black olive and have never met another olive that I like. However, the olive aficionados at the table liked them. Also, they have seeds which is always a turn off to me.

Ají Panca Paste. Ají is the general South American term for a chile pepper. Panca peppers are mild, but have tons of smokey, fruity flavor. In fact, I really liked this paste in the sauces I made for the Peruvian Seitan and Potato Skewers (aka Seitan Anticuchos) and the Peruvian Red Chile-Corn Salad with Limas and Cherry Tomatoes. I can't wait to try this paste in other dishes.

Ají Amarillo Paste. Made from yellow-orange hot peppers the heat is supposed to be slightly less than that of the jalapeño, with a little bit of a sweet fruity kick. This paste also has a good flavor. I used this one in the Yellow Chile Grille Tempeh with Ají Amarillo, the Peruvian Potatoes with Spicy "Cheezy" Sauce, and the Mixed Mushroom Ceviche.

Huacatay. [wah-kah-tie] Aka "Peruvian or Andean black mint", according to Viva Vegan this unique herb is like a combination of tarrgon, mint, cilantro, and oregano, so if you cannot find it, she lists the amounts of the other herbs needed to create a similar flavor. However, you can find this bag in the frozen Latin foods section at LeeLee's. And because it is frozen, you just take what you need as you cook and the rest keeps in the freezer. If you like the Ají Verde sauce they often have on the table at Peruvian restaraunts, most of them have this ingredient so it really might be extra worth the purchase of a full bag.

Tomorrow- the full menu and food photos! Stay tuned.

Viva Vegan: Peru! Part 2

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