I’ve lived in Peru, and traveled back multiple times since: This is a box I’ve been waiting for with glee.
Peruvian food culture is truly extraordinary. There’s a massive diversity of landscapes, climates, and ecosystems – from Pacific coastal waters to deserts, to jungles, to rugged hillsides and snow-peaked mountains. That leads to an incredible wealth of ingredients to cook with, and of styles of cooking in different parts of the country.
The ingredients in this box should provide you with a nice base to begin exploring techniques and flavors. Peruvian cooking is heavy on chili peppers, so you’ll see variations on three, plus some herbs, corn, and chocolate!
Some fresh ingredients that will also come in handy: cilantro, potatoes, ginger, garlic, and limes, and on the proteins side, the ingredients below lend themselves well to very fresh fish and seafood, some to poached or roasted chicken, and some to beefy/heartier cuts of meat. You’ll also see evaporated milk and queso fresco in a lot of recipes – both are pretty widely available.
Peruvian food is honestly pretty heavy on animal proteins, but you can also do well substituting different plant-based proteins in based on the desired flavor and texture. And if you really want to get fancy, coconut meat is a near-perfect ceviche base (and according to one subscriber who wrote in, cremini mushrooms are also an excellent substitute).
Here’s what’s in the box itself:
* Organic Ají Amarillo Paste (Zócalo Gourmet)
* Organic Ají Panca Paste (Zócalo Gourmet)
* Ají Limo Cooking Sauce (Zócalo Gourmet)
* El Amarillo Chili Sauce (Paqu Jaya)
* Pasta de Huacatay (Peru Chef)
* Giant Corn with Andes Pink Salt & Chilies (Nina Muru)
* Piura 70% Dark Chocolate (Ranger)
Also, a small editorial note: beginning this month, the "Delicacies" subscription became the "Taste the World" subscription. That name better reflects what these boxes actually are -- it's not about foie gras and caviar, but rather really delicious items that allow you to cook and taste the flavors and cuisine of a given place.
Organic Ají Amarillo Paste (Zócalo Gourmet)
Much of Peruvian cooking is based around chili peppers (ají), and the amarillo is perhaps most important.
This bright chili paste serves as a base for a number of classic Peruvian dishes like ají de gallina, papa a la huancaina, ají verde sauce, and ceviche, and you can use it as a medium-spicy base for a sauce with onions, garlic, and herbs to use with meat, rice, or grilled vegetables.
I’ve got recipes for several of those at the bottom of this post, along with some links to others.
Organic Ají Panca Paste (Zócalo Gourmet)
Ají panca is another important pepper – much milder than the amarillo (or the even spicier limo), ají panca provides a deeper flavor with less heat.
Combine with garlic and onions for a perfect grilling marinade, or use as a base for stews with milder proteins like fish that might get overpowered with a spicier chili.
This is the perfect started for a marinade for anticuchos – a real Peruvian treat, pictured below. Traditionally (and most deliciously) this is made with beef hearts, but you can also use other steak or chicken (or even tofu). Recipe at the bottom of this post.
Ají Limo Cooking Sauce (Zócalo Gourmet)
Ají limo is the spicier of the core Peruvian peppers – this sauce packs a punch, but is mellowed out with the complementary flavor of passionfruit, onion, bell pepper, and more.
Combined with a bit of oil, mayo, and yogurt, this makes a great salad dressing or dipping sauce, or simply toss your desired protein (chicken, tofu, steak) in this sauce and add some oil before grilling. Could also be great as part of your leche de tigre (citrus marinade) for ceviche, a core Peruvian delicacy.
El Amarillo Chili Sauce (Paqu Jaya)
This versatile sauce works as both condiment (think sriracha with a different flavor profile) and as a base ingredient for cooking sauces or dressings.
Use it on a sandwich, as a dipping sauce for roasted potatoes, or as a shortcut to some of the dishes that rely on ají amarillo.
Pasta de Huacatay (Peru Chef)
Huacatay, or “black mint,” is a staple Peruvian herb that is very hard to find fresh or frozen in the US; the best way to get it is a paste like this.
It’s the key ingredient in ají verde sauce (see below), which is a main accompaniment to pollo a la brasa, Peruvian rotisserie chicken. It also combines *very* well with the panca and amarillo pastes and sauces in this box to add more herbaceous flavor.
Giant Corn with Andes Pink Salt & Chilies (Nina Muru)
Giant corn – Choclo – is an important Peruvian staple, and this comes from the protected origin of the Sacred Valley. These can be a delicious snack right out of the bag, can serve as a crouton-substitute in a salad, or they’re the perfect thing to go alongside your ceviche.
You’re getting two bags – one seasoned just with Andean pink salt, and one with salt and chillies.
Piura 70% Dark Chocolate (Ranger)
Grown in the Alto Piura Valley, these beans are considered some of Peru's best (and certainly rarest), with a balanced flavor and smooth texture.
Recipes for: Ají de gallina, ceviche, anticuchos, ají verde de huacatay,
Anticuchos (pictured above)
* Beef heart, trimmed and cut into inch-long pieces for skewering (you want some thickness, but they shouldn’t be cubes)
* 2 tablespoons of ají panca paste
* 1-2 tablespoons or so of red wine vinegar or lime juice
* An appropriate amount of garlic, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper
* Vegetable oil
* Mix all the ingredients except the beef together, than add the beef, coat well, and marinate for at least 1 hour (ideally more).
* Thread on skewers, and grill at high heat so you get some char on the outside while still being medium-rare to medium inside.
* Serve with rice, quinoa, or potatoes and grilled vegetables.
You can find a *ton* of ceviche recipes online, as well as many different cuisines laying claim to them. In my opinion, Peruvian ceviche is clearly the superior ceviche.
There are two main variables to play with: what seafood are you using, and how good is your marinade (often called “leche de tigre,” or tiger’s milk. Luckily, with your aji amarillo paste + some fresh herbs and spices, your leche de tigre will be on point.
For the fish, your best bet will usually be commercially frozen seafood that you thaw and use quickly. Most often you’ll see ceviches made with shrimp, scallops, squid, tuna, and meaty white fish. You want to be careful not to let it marinate for too long, or it will become rubbery; the actual length will depend on how citric your leche de tigre is, how thick your pieces are, and what you’re using, but usually we’re talking 15-90 minutes.
For a plant-based alternative, as mentioned above, coconut meat can make for a great ceviche (most notably that I’ve had at Planta in Toronto). And Ben to Table subscriber Ellen wrote in to suggest that minced cremini mushrooms can work really well, too.
For the leche de tigre below, I blended cilantro, aji Amarillo, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, and a lot of lime juice (I juiced 8 limes). I then tossed with some thawed, deveined gulf shrimp, marinated, and then garnished with some of the spicy giant corn and some fresh cilantro leaves.
Here's the leche de tigre:
And then here's the ceviche:
Ají de gallina (This recipe comes directly from Sarela Herrada at Simpli, the supplier for this month’s Quinoa, with a couple small edits from me. Sarela got this recipe for us from her family in Peru and translated it. Thanks Sarela!)
* 2 chicken breasts boiled and shredded (or any combo of chicken meat you have on hand)
* 4 slices of white bread
* 50 grams of queso fresco
* ½ cup of evaporated milk
* 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic
* 4 tablespoons of aji amarillo paste
* ¼ red onion fine diced
* Salt and Pepper
* Vegetable oil
* In a pan at medium temperature, add the oil, onion, garlic, and aji amarillo. Cook until caramelized.
* Then, add the shredded chicken at low temperature. Keep cooking.
* In a blender, blend the bread, queso fresco, and milk.
* Add blended sauce to the pan, cook 10 minute and serve! Add salt, pepper, and lime juice to taste
Ají verde de huacatay: Peruvian pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken) probably vies with ceviche as the most ubiquitous Peruvian dish served outside of Peru. Generally served with either potato or yucca fries, there are usually two dipping sauces: a seasoned mayonnaise, and ají verde. The key ingredient in the latter is the huacatay herb which you just got in paste form. Hooray!
Here’s an adapted recipe that was also provided by Sarela at Simpli’s family. Double thanks!
* 4 oz of huacatay paste
* 4 oz of ají Amarillo paste
* 2 saltine crackers (I used bread crumbs)
* 1/8 cup of vegetable oil
* 1/8 cup of milk
* 50 grams of queso fresco
* Coriander leaves
* Blend above ingredients.
* If you think that it’s too thick, you can add more milk, and/or more ají amarillo paste.
* You can garnish the cream with some coriander leaves.