On our last day in Arequipa it was time for some learning of the culinary variety. We participated in a cooking classs called the Peruvian Cooking Experience, hosted by hotel that was, conveniently, only a couple of blocks from our hostel. I’d been looking up cooking classes in almost every stop along our way but they’d all been way too expensive, so I was pretty excited when Zevi said he’d found one that would fit our budget. We had a lot of fun making two traditional Peruvian dishes with instruction from Lady (Lady is a legit name in Peru, as we were told a few times), the head chef.
We were given an apron and a Chef Boyardee-style hat to wear and got down to business. Each of us had a different ingredient to prep, some for the first course and some for the second. My job was dicing carrots, and although I was missing my Knifeware knives as always, the ones in this kitchen were better than many I’ve used on this trip.
As an extra special tip, Lady showed us how to make roses by using a knife to peel a tomato in one long strip of skin. I was not a natural at this, and my skin broke into a few pieces instead of staying in one continuous snake, but I managed to salvage something that looked rose-like anyways. Zevi was much more proficient and was basically the star of the class, making a perfect rose on his first try. He’s officially the head garnisher and plater in our house from now on.
The first dish we were making was causa, a layered dish of potatoes, chicken salad and avocado. We mashed and kneaded our potatoes until they formed something close to a firm dough. To our delight, there was hot sauce that was to be added to the potatoes, and we added much more than she recommended for our gringo palates. You really have to take the spice where you can get it here, because you don’t get it often. We shredded chicken and mixed it with mayo (much less than you’d probably get at a restaurant which was just perfect for me) and the diced carrots as well as some shelled peas. Then it was time for the fun part! We were each given a ring mold, and started building our causa layer by layer. First was a base of potato, then some chicken salad, then more potato, followed by avocado and finally some more potato on top. Each layer was pressed down to make sure that it would stay in its beautiful circular shape when the ring mold was removed. It was the first time I’d worked with a ring mold so my technique wasn’t perfect, but I did manage to get it off with my tower still in one cylindrical piece. It was a pretty heavy appetizer, and probably not something I’d rush to order in restaurant again, but it was fun to have the opportunity to try this traditional dish, and despite its simplicity it was pretty darn delicious.
Next up was our main course, which was lomo saltado. Ubiquitous on restaurant menus in Peru, this dish, like many others in the country’s repertoire, takes its inspiration from asian flavours. It’s basically a beef and vegetable stir fry with some Peruvian flare.
We’ve made many a stir fry, but on this day we got to try a technique we’d never attempted before. After putting a healthy amount of oil in a large pan along with some cubed beef, we tilted the pan so that the oil would catch fire. This had the benefit of giving the beef a perfectly seared crust without overcooking the inside, and beyond that, tossing the meat in the pan among the flames made us feel pretty badass. Later in the cooking process we added some pisco, a distinctly Peruvian twist, and set the whole thing on fire again to burn off the alcohol. Usually I’m trying to avoid seeing flames near my food as I’m cooking, so this was pretty novel. I have a feeling that trying this in our enclosed kitchen would result in some angry smoke alarms and maybe some unwanted burns on our low hanging cupboards, so this might be best left for an environment with more ventilation.
After the flames were put out, onions, peppers, and fried potatoes were added to the mix. Beef stock, soy sauce and pepper rounded out the flavours, and we had our finished product. The dish was served with rice, because it just wouldn’t be Peru if we didn’t have a second starch to go along with our fries. As we took our first bites of the meat we were lamenting the fact that we’d have a pretty hard time replicating this dish in our own kitchen, because those flames really had produced a better beef stir fry! The outside of each piece had delicious caramelized flavour, while the inside remained tender and juicy. It doesn’t get much better than that when you’re talking about beef!
We had a great time learning a little more about Peru’s cuisine at the Peruvian Cooking Experience, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. The environment was really fun and laid back, and we had a chance to chat with some other travellers as we chopped, which was a nice perk. We even got an email with a copy of the recipes so that we can try them out when we get back home. Is it worth it to risk sacrificing our cupboards for some delicious beef? We’ll have to think about that.