Three weeks ago I embarked on a seven week journey to visit a few countries in South America. So far it has been an absolute whirl-wind of experiences and sights but unfortunately the culinary side has been lacking. My food philosophy places me in the category of vegetarian when I travel , but on this trip with the exception of fish. My daily food options in Peru included: stale bread, jams, bananas, tea, overly fried eggs or omlettes, fried rice, french fries, fried yucca - a type of peruvian potato (and just about anything else you could imagine fried), occassionally some salad and very salty canned vegetables. If I was an omnivore, I would have had the added option of Lomo Saltado ( an Asian/Peruvian fusion dish of stir-fried beef or chicken, french fries and rice). Now, you may be thinking about why I have not mentioned quinoa. Isn't quinoa from South America? Isn't quinoa a great source of protein for vegetarians? Yes, quinoa is from South America. Yes, quinoa is a great source of protein for vegetarians. But no I was not served or had the option to be served quinoa once. Why, when quinoa is such a great source of protein and other vitamins and minerals, would Peruvians not serve quinoa to their vegetarian foreigners? The answer is quite simply about the current price because of the booming global demand for the product. Sadly, since quinoa has blown up in the western world as our new 'super food', the local non farmers have paid a dear price. A Peruvian informed me that just five years ago one kilo cost 3 Soles (just over 1 USD), but now one kilo will cost a local 20-25 Soles! This is obviously great for the quinoa farmers, but not so great for all other Peruvians. Peruvian food history is very interesting, but a bit lengthy of a discussion for this blog post, so please take my word for it. So although there are interesting origins, current Peruvian food culture is not so interesting as a traveller until you mention one dish - and that is ceviche!
Ceviche. Thought to have been established in Peru nearly 2000 years ago, it traces its origins to a Grenadan woman who accompanied the Spanish conquistadors. The dish naturally evolved and today is known as a traditional Peruvian dish - usually eaten as an appetizer, served cold. The preparation is simple, but it is very important that it is prepared fresh to minimize the risk of food poisoning as it requires the use of raw fish. Tradionally you want to use the Sole fish, but you can find different recipes with other fish and seafood too. But back to the process. The raw fish is cured in citrus juice, shredded onion and spiced with aji (a local red Peruvian chili pepper). Naturally the dish is accompanied with complementary flavours such as lettuce, sweet potato, corn, plantain and avocado.
In Peru the locals will tell you that you will get the best tasting ceviche when you are visiting a costal city. To name a few major coastal city centres from North to South: Piura, Chiclayo, Trujilo, Chimbote, Lima and Arequipa all serve up this tasty dish fresh. If you travel to Peru you will no doubt be passing by one coastal city - take some time and enjoy a small plate of ceviche, you will be please you did!
1 1/2 pounds white fleshed fish (traditionally Sole is used in Peru - but you can use mixed seafood too)
1/2 medium red onion
3/4 cup lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 aji chile (or habanero if this isnt available)
1 orange sweet potato
1 cob of maize (or sweet corn if not available)
4 butter lettuce leaves
4 sprigs of cilantro
Rince diced fish and dry thoroughly. Boil water to cook corn and sweet potato. Thinly slice red onion and juice limes. Set aside butter lettuce leaves and cilantro.
In a large bowl combine: fish, onion, lime juice, salt and aji. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Once the corn and potato are cooked allow them to chill. Just before serving mince and stir cilantro into the bowl of marinading fish. Divide the corn, potato and lettuce between four plates. Now scoop out and divide the ceviche between the four plates. Top with sliced chile pepper. Enjoy!