Friday, April 15, 2011

Oh, and the food was good, too.

Peru turned out to be a very foodie-friendly place.

 My taste buds were not at all biased by having a frosty Pisco Sour like this one almost every night.  Not much, anyway!

Pink trout tartar from the MAP Cafe in Cusco
Octopus ceviche from the Hotel Monastario
One of many amazing baskets of bread
Wild mushrooms, peppers and a luscious braising liquid lie beneath the perfect puffed pastry.

And the breakfasts?  Oh, my goodness.

Big Fluffy Pancakes at Jack's Cafe in Cusco (real maple syrup on the side)

Quinoa pancakes from the Hotel Inka Terra in Aguas Calientes.  Hearty, toothsome and light at the same time.  Wow! 
Andean cheese, fresh croissant, homemade elderberry jam, and salami.  I really could hike for miles after this kind of fortification.

Dessert?  Um.  Yeah.  They had that.   

This carrot cake appeared in our lunch tent, pitched by the chefs in the middle of a cow pasture.   Served after some of the best fried chicken I have ever had.  Let's just say the hubby was muy feliz about this development.

A rather phallic photo of tree tomato sorbet...tasted a little like apricots and was absolutely delicious.

The most beautiful birthday cake I ever had...a mango and pear tart, covered with edible flowers and powdered sugar.

Even the simplest food was deeply satisfying.

Box lunch midway along our hike up the Inca Trail...sandwich with ripe tomato, fresh avocado and cheese, local tangerines, and sweet bananas.  Plus Peanut M&Ms (not shown).
Hot vegetable soup, ready and waiting after our slog through the rain and the mud,

Heirloom potato soup, with crispy spring onions and parsley oil.

Hearty quinoa Soup, with local greens and potatoes

There was, however, one local delicacy we avoided eating.  Even though it was on every menu.  Entire towns were devoted to this dish.

Cuy. Also known as...guinea pig.

A roadside "guinea pig"-eria.  Note the little clay oven on the left.

We didn't try to eat the our here.

Local livestock.  We were sorely tempted to try a rescue operation, but our hutch at home is still a bit overcrowded.

As much as I loved the food, by the end of the trip, my son was ready to shoot the next person who brought him a bowl of steaming soup instead of a double cheeseburger.    Peruvian chefs are great at making French bread, pancakes, steak, vegetables and trout, but they suck at cheeseburgers.   That's why I had to secretly make this while he was at school when we got home.

Curried Lentil Soup
My not-too-shabby stab at recreating a memorable dish from Baco restaurant, in Cusco.  It was one of our last nights in town, and we wandered through the cobblestone streets in the pouring rain.  The restaurant was nearly empty.   After watching me blearily trying to translate the menu for the family*, the staff took pity on us and brought the English version.  The place was known for its gourmet pizzas, so I was a little surprised when my husband ordered soup and salad.   But when that soup came, I was blown away.   He and I practically came to blows over who got to lick the spoon when every last drop was gone.    I frantically waved at the waitress.

Me: Can you please ask the chef if I could get the recipe for this soup?

[My son is glaring at me so hard that I think his eyes might fall out of his head.  The waitress looks a little puzzled but agrees to ask.  She comes back shaking her head.]

Waitress:  I speak with the guys in the kitchen who make the soup.  They say there is no recipe.
Me: (wailing)  Really?  I promise to keep it a secret!**
Waitress:  No, no.  That is not a problem.  They say it is too easy to be a recipe.  It is lentils, onion, water and bacon.
Me:  I'm sorry?
Waitress:  Yes.  Just put in pot.  Make soup.
Me: much lentils?  How much onion?  How...
Waitress:   Em..maybe 1 kilo of lentils.  One onion.  You cook with bacon.  You add water.  You cook until lentils is soft.  Put in blender?  Is that the word?
Me: Yes!  Yes!  A blender?
Waitress:  Add salt and pepper.  And yellow curry powder.  And of course, we serve with bacon.
Me:  That's it?
Waitress:  That's it.  Is easy, see?  You like maybe another Pisco sour?
Me:  Si.

3/4 lb. bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 sweet onion, chopped
2 lbs. lentils (I used pre-cooked lentils from Trader Joe's, but you can use dried)
6-8 c. of water (use less if your lentils are cooked, more if they are dried)
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
3 Tbs. or so of curry powder, to taste
2 Tbs. grapefruit juice or lemon juice, to taste
chopped cilantro and/or scallions, for garnish

In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, brown 1/2 lb. of the bacon over medium heat until nearly crisp.  Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and just beginning to turn golden.  Stir in the lentils, and add water.    Bring to a low boil, reduce heat to low, and cook, covered, for 30 minutes to an hour (longer if you are using dried lentils, shorter if cooked).    
Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until completely smooth.   Strain the puree through a fine chinois strainer to refine it even further, if you have one.   Return to the stockpot, season with salt, pepper and plenty of curry powder, and cook for 10 more minutes to allow flavors to blend and set.   While the soup is finishing, cook remaining 1/4 lb. of bacon until very crisp and set aside.  Add citrus juice to your soup, taste and adjust seasoning for the final time.   Ladle into bowls, add a generous sprinkling of bacon and cilantro, and serve.

Makes enough so you don't have to fight over this with your husband, and you will even have some leftover to taunt your kid with while he does his homework.

* Heaven knows what my son actually did at school during the past three years of Spanish class.  Clearly, they never practiced ordering dinner.  Or anything else even mildly travel-related.
** Assuming that I have no Peruvian readers (which is a very fair assumption!) it will be kind of a secret.

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