Saturday, January 2, 2010

Segundo de calabaza con papas sancochadas

Here’s a funny thing: I love to read food blogs. It’s a habit that started sometime around when Alex and I began exploring vegan cooking and I wanted to look for recipes. Of course, it became a growing addiction that expanded to include several meat-eating traditional blogs as well as alternative, liberal vegan/vegetarian/raw food ones. The funny thing is that this addiction continues now. When my internet signal is strong, after, of course, checking emails from friends and family, I fly to check google reader and see what new recipes have been posted. Rarely is there a recipe that is feasible in rural Peru; I have yet to read any recipe in which all the ingredients are available. I laugh aloud as I read recipes calling for tofu, nonfat plain yogurt, or even something as seemingly simple as bittersweet chocolate.
Some days, I am frustrated and silently curse the well-meaning authors of these blogs. Why wouldn’t they take the needs and desires of a poor Peace Corps volunteer in mind when writing their recipes? For example, a useful post would cover a topic such as: what to do when all your neighbors gift you giant sacks of potatoes (and you are secretly sick of the tuber, after eating it, boiled, at every meal these same kind neighbors invite you to)? I considered this topic as I dragged home my third such gift, a heavy sackload, in a week. How do you make a potato no longer a potato? Moreover, how does one person eat this many potatoes? I’m leaning towards some sort of rosti/latke type dish, to be shared with my family, of course.
Of course, secretly I admire blog authors—even in my darkest moments, when I’ve returned from a lunch of boiled potatoes and rice, and read some recipe for roasted vegetable lazagne or enchiladas and want to hit the author who innocently called for Anaheim pepper or ricotta cheese. Therefore, this week, I will thrill you all with my own food blog entry.
Early this week, a friend invited me to come cook lunch at her house today. As people here cook with wood, this meant arriving around 9 am. We washed and peeled potatoes, to be boiled whole and put water on to boil for masamorra de trigo—basically whole wheat porridge. The star dish, though, was made of a vegetable called “calabaza” which is similar to zuchinni, only a bit sweeter and juicier. It is sautéd with garlic and then, chunks of queso fresco, a local cheese that has sort of a sour taste are added. We topped off this plate with a boiled egg and lettuce salad. The cheese, egg and salad additions to the usual Peruvian standards (potato, masamorra) made it one of the most balanced meals I’ve been served. Of course, the absolute highlight was, once we had served lunch and I complemented my friend’s cooking she replied, yes, it’s tasty, but it needs a bit of MSG (a common condiment). My unhealthy, American contribution was a batch of gingersnap (ish—I had to improvise on the molasses front and because the icing was a bit melty, they became sandwiches) cookies which I explained with the somewhat true story that Americans spend the weeks around Christmas and New Years giving each other cookies.
For dinner we headed into another cross-cultural wonderland: I made a Mexican-flavored beet-bean stew, my mom made pachamanca, and I suggested the blend would be delicious (she, my sister and brother were the only ones in the family to try it, but still)
Deep insights? That I think I need to learn to love potatoes (if it can be done without a from-birth ingraining) and that sweets can win almost anyone over (my host family destroyed the gingersnap sandwiches before we even served dinner).

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