Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Project Food Blog: Peruvian Expedition

Seco de Pollo, Salsa a la Haucaina and Papas a la Huacaina
make up this traditional Peruvian meal. 
I was honestly surprised and a little flabbergasted to open my email on Friday and find that I had been promoted to Round 2 of Project Food Blog 2010. Seriously, browsing the competition at the outset I had no real hopes that my humble adventures in cooking could hold its own against trained chefs and those with aspirations of being the next Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, or Gordon Ramsey.

But here we are. Challenge #2 is to work with a classic ethnic cuisine which is unfamiliar to you. Well, technically a lot of classical French dishes are still unfamiliar to me as a traditional Southern cook. But, I figured delving into Mastering the Art of French Cooking wouldn't be winning me points with the judges. So, I decided to look even further south.

 Just before we met, Michael made a spiritual journey to Peru and the Andes. There he learned about traditional Quechua healing and culture. He was greatly moved by these decendents of the Inca and you'll find Peruvian influences in decorations in our home.

Q'ero family.
Photo by Michael Koch.
When I was awaiting my transplant, one of his friends who frequently visits the Andes and works among the Q'ero, sent a beautiful native textile that had been blessed by one of the Shaman. My scientific and medical training from years ago was put aside momentarily and I often lay with it draped over my abdomen. I can't say it healed me - after all I ended up with a new liver - but I can say it comforted me to know that Q'ero healers were also offering up their support.

I've never been to the Andes and I'm not sure in light of my medical history whether those altitudes would be a good idea now. But, I still feel great kinship with the Q'ero and people of the Andes through Michael's stories of his time there and from their kindness and concern for a person they would never meet who was sick.

In honor of that, I decided to choose some classic Peruvian/Andean dishes for this challenge. My first foray was T'antawawa which is a spiced bread in the shape of people. The word comes from the Quechua word for "baby" and this bread is used for decorative purposes around Dio de los Muertos (November 1) when the dead are remembered. This bread is also presented as an offering at grave sites. It's pretty tasty too.

For the main course I went with Seco de Pollo which is a chicken dish seasoned with cilantro and rounded out with peppers, garlic, and onion. To me this seems more of a stew because of the amount of liquid called for in the recipe. But, I put all that liquid to good use since I decided to do quinoa instead of rice for the base. I scooped out some of the liquid which was flavored with all these lovely herbs and spices and used that as the basis along with chicken broth for my quinoa. This ensured the quinoa would not come out bland (which is a common complaint) but also that it would compliment the main dish.

Huacaina is a spicy cheese sauce that makes a wonderful appetizer but also a great sauce for boiled potatoes. Michael fell in love with this because, while it's spicy it's not overwhelmingly hot. I have a feeling I'll be making haucaina quite a bit in the future. I served it with tortilla chips (not a traditional Peruvian snack but one common here in the Southwest) and found it's great for everyday snacking. It's not a difficult dish to make and would make a great dip for watching those Sunday football games!

I was pleasantly surprised with how this all turned out. Being pressed for time because I honestly never dreamed of making it to Round 2 of the contest left me a little flustered in the kitchen today. But by the end of the ordeal I had a nice meal on the table, the food was tasty and I'd discovered some new flavors from a wonderful country.

Seco de Pollo

2 whole chicken breasts
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons chopped yellow chile pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bunch of cilantro
4 cups chicken stock
14-16 oz. peas (frozen works well in this recipe)
3 large carrots
4 medium yellow potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Seco de Pollo over quinoa. 
Peel the potatoes and cut each potato into 4 wedges.

Peel the carrots and slice each carrot across into 1/4-inch thick round slices. Set aside with the potatoes and frozen peas.

Wash and dry the cilantro and remove the large pieces of stem. Place the cilantro in a blender or food processor with 1/2 cup of the chicken broth and process until smooth. Set aside.

Cut each chicken breast half into 2-3 inch cubes. Season chicken with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté chicken pieces just until lightly browned on all sides. Place chicken on a plate and set aside.

Add the chopped onion, chile pepper, and minced garlic to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until soft and translucent, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the processed cilantro and the rest of the chicken stock to the saucepan. Add the carrots and potatoes, and simmer until just tender.

Add the chicken pieces and the peas and simmer until chicken has cooked through. Check with thermometer - chicken is done when internal temperature reaches 160°.

Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve over quinoa.

Salsa a la Huacaina

4 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 yellow chile peppers
2 cloves garlic, mashed
2 cups queso fresco
1/4 cup crushed tortilla chips
3/4 cup evaporated milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove seeds from yellow chile peppers and chop into 1 inch pieces.

Sauté onion, garlic, and chile peppers in the oil until onion is softened, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Place onion/chile mixture in a food processor or blender. Add evaporated milk and blend.

Add cheese and tortilla chips and blend until smooth. Sauce should be fairly thick. Thicken sauce with more chips or thin sauce with milk if necessary.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and allow sauce to cool. Garnish with a little chopped cilantro and red pepper flakes.

Note: I served this as a dip with tortilla chips and also as a sauce with boiled potatoes. For the potatoes, boil 4-5 yellow potatoes (Yukon Gold are best) until tender when pierced with a fork. Allow to cool until they can be handled and slice each potato in half. Place potatoes in small bowls and spoon Salsa Huacaina over them. 


1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1 cup liquid from Seco de Pollo
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Sauté onion in olive oil for 2-3 minutes; add garlic and continue sautéing for another 30 seconds or so.
Add quinoa, broth, liquid, and salt to pan; bring to boil then reduce heat and place butter on top of quinoa. Cover and simmer 15 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with fork and serve.


2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups bread flour
2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon powdered yeast
1 egg yolk
raisins and sesame seeds for decoration

Add the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and cloves to the bowl of a standing mixer and mix briefly.

Make a small well in the center of the flour, and add the water, milk, egg, butter, shortening, vanilla, and yeast.

Knead, using dough hook attachment, for 5 to 10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic and does not stick to the side of the bowl. If the dough appears dry or crumbly, add water, a teaspoon at a time, and knead until it's smooth. If the dough appears sticky, add small amounts of flour and knead, until dough is smooth and elastic.

Place dough in an oiled bowl and let it rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Divide dough into four parts and shape each portion into a ball. Roll the balls of dough on the countertop until they are smooth. Let dough rest for 10 minutes.

Shape the dough: Pinch a small part of the ball of dough and shape it into a head (it should stay attached to the bigger piece). Press the dough onto a cookie sheet, flattening and shaping it as you go, so that it resembles a large circle topped with a small circle.

Press a small round cookie cutter into the smaller circle of dough, to make the outline of the "face". Using a skewer, poke two holes for eyes and fill each one with half of a raisin. Let the dough rise for 30 minutes to an hour. Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water and paint breads with the egg wash - on the body and lightly around the face. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Let cool and serve.

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