Peru Comes to Vermont
The concept for our collaboration with the Vermont International Film Festival started just a few months ago, but the preparation for the dishes my mother and I prepared goes back to culinary knowledge built over more than 500 years. Peruvian cuisine is a mixture of cultures (Indigenous, European, African and Asian), influences and recipes that have marinated over time to create a distinct cuisine with very specific flavors and distinct dishes.
There is no Afro-Peruvian or Chinese-Peruvian cuisine; everything is simply just Peruvian. Dishes have multiple layers of history, beginning with an indigenous root at its base and with foreign ingredients or techniques that have been introduced over time. In other situations, the recipes were imported to the country, and then were reworked with new ingredients and flavors only available in Peru. Over time the various recipes and ingredients blended into a national cuisine.
With all this culinary history that rests on the shoulders of Peruvians, you can imagine the responsibility my mother and I felt to provide an accurate depiction of some of our most iconic dishes. In preparing this tasting we decided to focus on three ingredients that really define Peruvian cooking: yellow Peruvian peppers, Aji Panca (red Peruvian chili peppers), and purple maize. These three ingredients serve as the base for three iconic dishes known to every Peruvian home cook. In addition to their distinct smell and taste, these ingredients have vibrant colors; deep purples, rich reds and sunny yellows. To me these colors represent Peru – its landscape, its people, and its rich history.
My mother and I were so honored to introduce Vermonters to our culinary history through the tasting, especially at a film – “Cooking Up Dreams” – that is about Peruvians spreading their culinary traditions across the world. To Peruvians our food is the thing that we are most proud of as a people. That is why it was so gratifying to see the response to people eating our food. The expressions on people’s faces after having tasted our purple maize dessert for the first time or the distinct spice of our Huancayo sauce confirmed our belief that Peruvian food has the ability to transcend cultural differences.
Given the requests we had for the recipes we decided to share our family recipes with you. We hope that you will make them a part of your repertoire and that your interest will be piqued to try out more Peruvian food or to visit the country.
Recipes from Slow Food Vermont & Vermont International Film Festival Tasting for Cooking Up Dreams
Appetizer- Papas a la Huancaína (Potatoes in a Spicy Huancayo Sauce)
This dish originates from the City of Huancayo located in the Peruvian highlands, where potatoes were domesticated more than 8,000 years ago. The Quechua people in the Andes pay reverence to the potato and cultivate thousands of varieties to this day.
Total Time: 30 minutes
- 4 medium potatoes (Russett or similar)
- 8 ounces queso fresco (feta cheese or ricotta can be substituted) crumbled (about 2 cups)
- 1 can cup evaporated milk
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon seeded and chopped Aji amarillo peppers (available at Spanish markets such as C-Town or online: http://www.mamatinas.com/)
- 6-8 Saltine Crackers
- 1 garlic clove finely minced
- 4 large lettuce leaves (such as Bibb or romaine)
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
- 10 black olives pitted and sliced (Kalamata or Botija Peruvian olives)
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1) Boil the potatoes in a large pot with water until the potatoes are sliceable. Drain the potatoes and let them cool slightly. Peel the potato skins and slice the potatoes into 1/2-inch rounds and set aside.
2) Combine the cheese, evaporated milk, oil, garlic, saltine crackers in a blender and puree until smooth. The sauce should be creamy and pourable, not watery. If sauce is too spicy add more milk and crackers until desired spice is achieved.
3) Arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter and top with the sliced potatoes. Pour the sauce over the potatoes. Garnish with slices of hard-boiled egg and olives. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
ENTRÉE -Escabeche de Pescado (Fish pickled in vinegar)
Total Time: 1.5 hours
- 2 lbs white fish (tilapia or similar)
- 1 Jar of Aji panca (Peruvian pepper available at Spanish markets such as C-Town or online: http://www.mamatinas.com/)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 4-5 red onions
- Canola or Vegetable Oil
- Pepper & Salt
- Boiled Eggs
- Head of lettuce
- Fry the fish in hot oil, until golden, brown on both sides. Set aside to cool on a plate.
- Boil water in a small pot and add two tablespoons of vinegar to the water. Cut the onions into thin wedges from stem-end to root-end, for long even slices. Throw the onions in the water & vinegar mixture as the water boils for about 5 minutes. Empty the water and set aside onions.
- In a pan filled with hot oil (medium temperature) fry a half a jar of Aji Panca with the garlic (minced), vinegar, pepper and a tablespoon of vinegar. Add a cup of water once the ingredients have mixed to form an earthy reddish mixture. Cook at a lower heat for about 15-20 minutes.
- In a separate container (Pyrex baking dish) lay the fish down, and pour the Escabeche mixture over the fish. Best served slightly cooled.
- Garnish with yucca or potatoes and some lettuce, olives and boiled eggs sliced.
DESSERT – Mazamorra Morada (Purple Corn Pudding)
A light, comforting dessert primarily served at festivities (birthdays) and during the month of October to celebrate the Patron Saint of Lima. This dessert is mixture of the Old World and New World, the purple maize and yam flour are indigenous to Peru, while the cinnamon, cloves, apples, membrillo, apricots, plums and sugar all arrived in the New World with the Spaniards, who in turn were influenced by the Moorish occupation of Spain.
Total Time: 1.5 hours
- 1(15 oz) bag of Purple maize (available at Spanish markets such as C-Town or online: http://www.mamatinas.com/)
- 6-8 cloves
- 1 stick of Cinnamon
- Pineapple Peel and diced cubes of pineapple
- 2-3 Quinces chopped in large pieces (can substitute apples)
- 2 Quince chopped in small cubes
- 2 Green apples chopped in large pieces
- Dried fruit (apricots, plums)
- 200 grams Yam Flour (available at Spanish markets such as C-Town or online: http://www.mamatinas.com/)
- 1 ½ cup of Sugar
1) Boil the purple maize in a large pot of water (about 2 liters of water) with chopped quince, apples, the peel of a pineapple, cloves and a stick of cinnamon. Boil for an hour or until the kernels of the corn open.
2) Strain the fruit from the pot. Pour some of the purple colored water into a small bowl. Pour the rest of the water back into a large pot and add the sugar, diced pineapple, dried fruit, diced quince, and put it on a low flame for another 30 minutes.
3) Cool of the water in the smaller bowl and stir the yam flour until it dissolves (water should turn a light purple color). Pour the smaller bowl slowly into the large pot and stir for 10 minutes or until the water becomes a slightly thick, gelatinous consistency.
4) Serve the pudding in a cup with some cinnamon powder sprinkled on top (see image above).
Interested in learning about Culinary Tours in Peru, contact me at
Photos by Jessica Bongard