I grew up with my mother, but it was my grandmother that cooked in the house. Living with my Peruvian abuela, she dominated the kitchen, daring anyone to enter her domain. But there was no contender that challenged her, as everyone in the household appreciated her cooking skills. As I mentioned, my family is very Peruvian, rarely adapting to any new culinary renovations, except for the days that my grandmother didn’t want to cook so we would eat out. And even then we would eat at Peruvian restaurants. Traditional Peruvian dishes were tallarin verde, ceviche, escabeche, aji de gallina, carapulcra, and lomo saltado to name a few rotating dishes that was served at my house. And of course, we always had papa la huancaina all that time. To those who are not acquainted with Peruvian food, this plate is a staple appetizer that is found at any peruvian restaurant and household. It is a relatively simple dish to make, which is served cold, starting with the arrangement of fresh lettuce leaves on the bottom, yellow potatoes sliced in half, then the Huancaina sauce served on top. The sauce itself is cold, made up of fresh white cheese (queso blanco, or similar to feta) crushed saltine crackers, and aji amarillo (yellow Peruvian pepper), all mixed in a blender. Then, once the sauce is poured, place sliced hard boiled eggs and kalamata olives to finish the plate.
My personal favorite that I would sometimes get on my birthday was jalea mixta, which was not complicated to make. It is a mix of different types of seafood like pieces of fresh fish, octopus, squid, scallops — all fried. The yucca that accompanies it is also fried. Then when it is all assembled onto a plate, it is topped with red onion, choclo (larger, less-sweet, variation of corn), and lime juice. I would wait every year for her to make this as my birthday dinner. For desserts, something typical would be flan, bread pudding, lucuma ice cream, mazamorra, picarones, and alfajores. The alfajores were made at home, and they were huge. Basically, it is two shortbread cookies with dulce de leche in between the two. Traditionally, the cookies would be small, the circumference of an oreo, and dusted generously with powdered sugar. But the recipe at my house would make the cookie much thinner and bigger, and it would be lightly dusted with sugar. The size of the cookie would not jeopardize the softness of it and it would taste just as delicious as if bought at a bakery.
By Caroline Shalabi