Monday, 9 February 2015

Meal 52. Lebanese Sawda, Malta, Fatteh and Tabbouleh

Sahid is my generous host this evening, and as I walk onto the balcony, he asks: "What is your poison?" I opt for arak, the only Lebanese drink on offer. It is very much like pastis, but all the other guests at the dinner tut at my glass and warn me about drinking it. It is apparently so strong that you will need a bottle of water by your bed, and you can only drink it with food (mezze) or you will be knocked out cold. Heeding their advice, I sip slowly and carefully; it is delicious...and no ill effects are noted.

Sahid is incredibly hospitable and tells me that every Sunday he hosts a big fish dinner after his weekly angling trip off the coast of the Western Area Peninsula. He is one of the roughly 30,000 Sierra Leoneans of Lebanese descent (these estimates vary wildly depending on the source). The Lebanese diaspora is huge, with 'Lebanese' outside the country vastly outnumbering the ones in Lebanon. In Sierra Leone, they first arrived in 1893. Sahid's grandfather was one of the first to land and soon married a local Madingo woman. So Sahid is a bit Madingo, as well as 2nd and 3rd generation Lebanese. A portrait of his father has pride of place in the living room, an imposing figure in a flowing white gown.
Sawda, chopped raw liver

Tonight's gathering is an international affair, with Sierra Leonean, British, Irish, Lithuanian and Belarusian guests as well as varied Lebanese. Sahid and a few of the invitees tell me they feel most 'at home' with Lebanese Sierra Leoneans or Lebanese Londoners, more so than when they are in Lebanon. Sahid first set foot in Lebanon when he was 22 and confides he had to study hard to truly master written and spoken Arabic. Some part of the evening is spent discussing how crazy expensive Beirut is, how people in clubs easily drop $15,000 on a bottle of champagne or a private table and how people are quite 'money conscious' there.

The fact that there are both Christian and Muslim Lebanese does not seem to phase this gathering, who say it

Sahid showing me how to eat the liver
is all the same to them. Most have spent many years in Sierra Leone, as well as in Lebanon, the UK, Dubai, or the Netherlands. These friends tease Sahid mercilessly about him 'slaving away in the kitchen all day' to prepare everything for this dinner, and he sheepishly laughs and shrugs. I suggest his role was more of a co-ordinating and delegating host, and he smiles that this might be an appropriate description. I recognize the malta (raw beef pâté, delicious) as
remarkably similar to one his neighbour Hoda made the week before...and just as tasty! Raw meat features in three separate dishes; the malta, the spicy beef tartare and the chopped raw liver (sawda). I had been forewarned about the liver, and had promised to at least try it. Scooped up with small pieces of Lebanese flat bread, with loads of fresh mint and raw onions, it is better than I expected. The beef tartare and the malta are great, and new to me. The refreshing salads (tabbouleh and fattoush) are familiar and offer a lighter touch. I try taking a little bit of everything, including some top quality hummus and my favourite of the evening: fatteh. This dish consists of chicken, yoghurt, chickpeas, fried bread, almonds and garlic.
Fatteh, on a traditional Sierra Leonean mat
I will definitely try to get repeats of this dish somehow soon, either at friends or a restaurant. There are many
restaurants in Freetown that feature Lebanese cuisine, but I do not recall having seen fatteh on the menu before, or chopped liver.

As I hear Sahid's friends joke around in a mix of Arabic and English, I ask if they call this Aranglish. They tell me the term they use is tabbouleh, not just the name of the mixed salad, but also of the amalgam of languages.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Meal 51. Tunisian Bricka, Slata Mechouia and Tagine

The lovely Sonia has volunteered to be the first to help revive my 80 meals project (stuck at 50 meals since 2008!) while we are both in Sierra Leone. She is French-Tunisian and speaks Arabic, French and English. Her work brought her to Sierra Leone, but she has also spent time in Angola and Senegal in recent years. About her short visits in Dakar she says "it is like Petit Paris!" Not many would say Freetown is like a Little Paris, or a Little London for that matter.

We discussed my old blog project over drinks and she seemed willing to help out, but I was still surprised to receive a text a few days later that read: "As promised last Friday, tonight dinner at my place to enjoy Tunisian food." So excited!

When we arrive, the table is beautifully set in the living room and Sonia is putting the finishing touches on the meal in the kitchen, placing olives and hard boiled eggs on the slata mechouia, a spicy vegetable salad made with tomato, bell pepper, onions, chillies and a generous helping of tuna. Apparently Tunisia is famous for its delicious tuna, both fresh and in cans. However, despite their similarity, the country and the fish are not linguistically linked. The slata is served with flatbread, easy to get in Sierra Leone due to the large Lebanese community here.

Tuna makes another appearance, again with egg, as the filling of the bricka, crunchy triangular parcels of filo pastry. Very tasty!

As we dig in to the slata, bricka and tagine (a kind of omelet) with saffron rice, Sonia amuses us with stories of a hallucinogenic fish common in her town. It is called chelba in Arabic or la saupe in French and it is renowned for being good to eat as well as for its ability to make people go crazy. They say it is better to eat it at lunch, because if you wait till dinner, tempers can fray and the meal can end up causing a divorce! Sonia tells us her sister once had visions of the devil descending upon her after eating this notorious fish.

I initially do not really believe it, never having heard of any animals having mind-altering properties, apart from psychoactive toads. But then Sonia whips out her tablet and shows me the wikipedia page describing it...hard evidence! It seems it is a toxin in the green algae these fish like to eat that causes them to induce these bizarre hallucinations.

After the main meal is over we have some coffee and cheesecake (not very Tunisian!) and Sonia's Lebanese friend promises he will make some traditional dishes soon for the next entry. In addition, a few days later, Sonia herself invites around 20 people over for couscous, a truly traditional North African dish. There are mountains of couscous on huge platters, as well as exquisitely tender mutton, chickpeas with raisins, and pumpkin/potatoes/onions to accompany the twice steamed grains. Remarkably similar to the Moroccan and Sahrawi dishes I had so many years ago...

Monday, 2 February 2015

Meal 50. Chinese-Singaporean feast

Though Derek (or Des) is originally from Singapore, he's lived in Australia since he was 9, and now in Oxford for a year or so. To my untrained ears, he sounds like somebody speaking 'posh', but with a bit of an Australian accent thrown in.
He loves to eat and to cook, and tonight is my lucky night: time for a feast. We've spent many a happy moment in preparation discussing Singaporean cuisine and its similarities to Chinese and Indonesian/Malay cooking (with which I am more familiar).
Though it is 'only' a city state, Singapore has almost 5 million inhabitants and is one of the most densely populated nations on earth. Before meeting Des, I had already read a very enthusiastic article about the world famous 'hawker centres' which seem to bring together specialists of various dishes in hygienic-but-authentic outdoor or indoor conglomerations of foodstalls. Some people seem to visit Singapore only for the food! Sadly, I've only been airport for a stopover...

In preparation, Derek has bought bagloads of ingredients at the local Chinese store in Oxford...this is a great shop that I enjoy wandering around in a mildly perplexed state. One day I came home with paper money that had "Bank of Hell" printed on called Hell Money, used to provide dead ancestors with cash for the afterlife. I also saw a guy in front of me in the queue with a 2 kg bag of frozen chicken feet, hard to get at the local Sainsbury's. Derek shows me some packages that say "Dried Provisions" on them as the only indication of what can be found inside (for those who cannot read Chinese script). Luckily he is a man with a plan and gets to preparing the feast for me and his flatmate. All I need to do is watch and chop the occasional vegetable.

To start, I am served bak kut teh soup with bean sprouts, mince-meat and salted vegetables. These were served with steamed char siu buns (pictured at left). This is the only part of the meal that I have easily recreated at all it involves is buying the frozen buns and steaming them above hot water for ten minutes. I love the sweet and savoury taste of the pork filling.

The main course consists of an authentic dish of stir-fried kailan and cloud-ear fungus with baby corn and oyster sauce. Kailan is otherwise known as 'Chinese broccoli' or 'Chinese kale'. I would say it's more like kale than broccoli, see right. The cloud-ear fungus was one of the 'Dried Provisions'. When fresh...they supposedly resemble human ears. Not sure where the clouds come in.

The final savoury dish is prawn laksa noodles served with fried onions and hard-boiled eggs.
I am absolutely stuffed and need to give everything some time to digest before having any space for desert. Desert is more of a 'fusion' dish, lovely vanilla ice cream with lychee and raspberries.
You can understand why this meal deserves the epithet 'feast' as with so many dishes, it is difficult to chose the one most representative for the whole meal. I think I'll need to travel to Singapore sometime in the near future and venture outside of the airport, but in the meantime hope to entice Derek to teach me more about this cuisine (=cook for me) while we're both still in Oxford.

(The original post about this meal is from December 21, 2008)

Meal 49. Polish Żurek, Bigos and Gołąbki

When I arrive at this cosy house in North Oxford for the Polish meal, it turns out the blog was checked out beforehand and lots of photos were made of all the preparations to help me out. This allows me to relax and just chat to Jolanta about what Polish cuisine is like. She warns me:"It is delicious, but it is possibly the most difficult food in the world to digest!"
Possibly this is due to the large role cabbage plays in Polish dishes.
Our starter, the white soup żurek (see picture), does not contain this vital ingredient. The main course, though, consists of stuffed cabbage (gołąbki) and bigos, which takes two days to prepare and has both normal and sour cabbage in it. It should normally be drunk with cold vodka!

The stuffed cabbage rolls are called 'pigeons' (due to a somewhat similar shape?) and have a lovely mince and rice filling. In the photo above you can see Yolanta preparing them. They are youngest daughter Zuzanna's favourite and she manages to finish at least four of them. Looking at her slim figure, I must assume that they aren't prepared that often!

Contrary to my prejudiced expectations, Darek (at right) actually did most of the cooking. He and Jolanta met when they were 16 and 13 and by now they've been married 18 years! Their cosy household is a warm haven for the (often single) young Poles who end up in Oxford for work or study.
Though they love everything about Poland (except the politicians), the economic insecurity meant that their move to the UK took away a lot of stress. As Jolanta succinctly puts it:"I no longer have to choose between buying food and paying the rent."
I am very impressed by how fluently she speaks English after so few years here. She said she thought she spoke it while still in Poland, but could not understand a word people said in the UK when she just arrived. Incredibly, she is now well on her way to being an accredited interpreter.
Though at the moment she is still the senior ward housekeeper at the stroke unit in Oxford's major hospital: "Learning to follow what the stroke patients are trying to say is a bit like learning a new language; it is satisfying that I can understand them almost all the time by now."

The dessert after this lovely dinner is a spice cake prepared by Ewelina (at left) who helped me contact the family initially. Another of Zuzanna's favourites (see below)!

We discuss how we would actually need a "Polish meal part 2" to include classic dishes as pierogi, borsht and cheesecake.

I'm up for it, and can confide that I had no digestive problems after this first copious meal...

Here is the recipe Jolanta emailed me to recreate the bigos at home. Be aware that it tastes best if prepared a few days in advance!

(The original post about this meal is from September 26, 2008)

Meal 48. Greek Cypriot Makaroniatou Fournou and Ttavas

Maria, a social psychologist, has gone to great lengths to provide an authentic Greek Cypriot meal. The email with recipes solicited from her mother and grandmother is stuck to the fridge. For expert advice on the desert, galactoboureko, a visit was arranged to a local Cypriot matriarch. Maria's compatriot, Yiannis (at right), is helping out - the local matriarch is his auntie. In total, seven people will be enjoying this feast tonight, including Pascalis, a Greek friend who can help separate the typically Greek Cypriot from the plain Greek dishes.

We start off with pita and haloumi, a lovely cheese that is probably Cyprus' most famous export. Maria tells me her grandma prepares this every morning as breakfast for her grandfather.
In general, most Cypriots prefer to start the day with something a bit lighter, such as frappé.
Pascalis immediately informs us that this cold coffee beverage was invented at the International Trade Fair in Thessaloniki (in 1957). So now you know the origins of this famous frothy drink!
The main course consists of Makaroniatou Fournou (a pasta dish with bechamel sauce), and Ttavas, made with beef and tomatoes. Both are oven dishes and preferably cooked in an authentic mud oven in your back garden.
As we all dig in and enjoy the hearty fare accompanied by a feta salad, I try to find out more about Cyprus. For example, what drives the economy? "Tourism!", answers Maria, while
Pascalis laughs: "Money laundering!"
Cyprus has been through a lot...Maria's synopsis is that it was ruled by the Ottoman empire who sold it to the British Empire in the late 19th century. In 1960, Cyprus gained independence after a number of years of protest against the British rule.
The first president was an archbishop and remained in power for 17 years! For some reason, the second candidate was a psychiatrist... and since early 2008 the government is leftist.
But Cyprus is most well know for the division between Greek and Turkish territory. Maria has been to the Turkish part quite often, but Yiannis never has. He does feel it is part of 'his country'. Though the situation is far from ideal, it is relatively peaceful, with no fighting or terrorism, and according to Maria, many people are alright with the current status quo.
Besides the locals, Cyprus has seen an influx of British expats who enjoy the climate and the relatively cheap property.
As well, I am told there are now quite a few "Russian artists". This is a polite euphemism for even a Polish hooker would be referred to as a "Russian artist"!
Similarly, the many domestic helpers are known as "Sri Lankans", though they might be from the Philippines, Malaysia, etc. Maria tells me it is now so common to have help from overseas, that her own mother, when spotted cleaning by the neighbour's help, was asked:"So...where are you from? Sri Lanka?"

We finish off the meal with the lovely Galactoboureko pudding and sweet Commandaria wine, brought over from Cyprus by Maria's parents during their last visit. You can see how much fondness she has for this wine at right.

Here is the recipe for Ttavas, the beef stew.

(The original post about this meal is from August 18, 2008)

Meal 47. Belarusian Draniki and Bliny

This meal is quite special to me, as it marks the continuation of the project in the UK. Inni is my first host in Oxford and is cooking for me at her student housing in the centre of town.
Impressively, she has gained a full scholarship, and is one of the few Belarusian students in the UK, though the country is quite big, with a population of around 10 million.
I have to admit my mind goes pretty blank when the country Belarus is mentioned, though it is really not that far away (bordering Poland and Lithuania). Strangely, Belarusian cities like Minsk and Brest seem a lot more familiar. I even had a friend planning to travel "between four Brests", as there are cities called Brest not only in Belarus, but in France, Germany and Macedonia as well.

The dinner starts with traditional fare that I do associate with the region: red cabbage salad (very easy to make) and potato pancakes called draniki. They are made with grated potatoes and onions and bound with some egg and flour. Very similar to the latkes my father often makes, though Inni uses a much finer grater. The desert, bliny, crêpe like pancakes, again reminds me of a dish my dad makes, called blintzes (see Meal 17. Jewish-American Borsht, Challah and Blintzes). This might just be because his family came from the Ukraine, near Belarus, with similar cuisine. Though Inni tells me the medium-sized town she grew up in, called Borisov, used to be predominantly Jewish. However, most of them left or were killed long before she was born.

Belarus has opened up considerably after the Soviet collapse, but is still pretty much a communist state. When prodded, Inni can come up with memories of how rare bananas were when she was younger. In her recollection, her mother came home one special day with a whole suitcase of bananas. Inni didn't really like them as they were too firm for her taste. By the time they had ripened and become softer, she discovered she loved them. But by then, they were almost finished and she had to wait a long time before she could eat them again!
This story is quite 'exotic' to me and seems typical for someone from a former Soviet state. In most other aspects, I have to say Inni is very much a product of the global village; speaking fluent English, well travelled within Europe and even planning a trip to Nepal.

I give her the names and email addresses of my Nepalese friends (see Meal 2.) and imagine a distant reunion of 80meals participants.

To make your own Belarusian meal, click here for recipes (that Inni diligently penned down for me, at right).

(The original post about this meal is from July 7, 2008)

Meal 46. Albanian Groshe

I stumble across the lovely Eri as I am picknicking in the park with a friend. He is sitting all alone with lots of delicious food surrounding him which surprises me. Who would make so much food to eat by himself?
Of course, it turns out his friends were only temporarily absent. But by the time I find this out, he has offered me some of the food and I have speedily convinced him that he is the perfect candidate to make the Albanian meal for this project!

Though he has been living in Holland for the last ten years, he still has a strong dose of national pride and has plans to return to his country of birth when he graduates from law school. [Update: at the time of publishing this blog, he HAS graduated and IS back in Albania]
His brother Lulzim also studied law in Utrecht and is now minister of Foreign Affairs in Albania, a fact that makes Eri understandably proud. Googling him turns up photos with Condoleezza Rice, what a surprise!
Anyway, no offense to Lulzim, but Eri is obviously the handsome one, and proves to be an excellent cook as well.
The white bean soup he is making for the project takes about four hours to prepare, so while everything is simmering on the fire we actually have time to go out for a coffee. I know, normally it is not a good idea to leave something on the fire unattended for so long, but we survived to tell the tale.

Sadly, Eri later tells me the recipe is top secret, so normally you would need your own Albanian sources to find out how it is made.
But, after a bit of sniffing around online I discovered a list with Albanian soup recipes online that seems quite trustworthy. Strangely, though Eri assures me this soup is called groshe, they seem to think that is made from lentils. Whereas fasule would be white bean soup. If any Albanians are reading this, let me know what you think!
In general, cuisine from this relatively unknown country is quite similar to its neighbours' and you might even find tarator on your table (as seen in Meal 45 from Bulgaria). Many of the dishes can be compared to other "Balkan" cuisine and Turkish and Greek food.
One thing I am still curious about is a drink called Dukagjin made with grape juice, sugar and mustard!

(The original post about this meal is from February 08, 2008)

Meal 45. Bulgarian Tarator, Musaka and Pitka

How I get in touch with my various generous hosts is quite diverse. Often it happens through mutual friends, and I stumbled across the host for my Albanian meal (no. 46) while he was picknicking in the park. Kristina, however, contacted me just minutes after I got a Skype account. I saw her last name and immediately asked where she was from....and what do you know, Bulgaria, unchartered territory for this blog! She seemed to take my strange request for a meal in her stride (after she checked out the website) and a few days later I am ringing her doorbell just minutes away from my own home. I get to know her husband (a mathematician with Russian roots) and her baby boy, Marin, with luminous blue eyes.
Kristina came to Holland to study piano and now practices daily in her colourful flat. Her son is growing up surrounded by music...and good food!
Our starter is a deliciously tart yoghurt and cucumber soup called tarator. Kristina assures me is very simple to make and it seems perfect for summer dinners; you can just take it from the fridge and it's ready to serve cold.

The main course is warm and hearty, a 'meat and potato' dish, musaka. It is somewhat similar to the more famous Greek moussaka, but without eggplant (aubergine). Kristina is a bit embarrassed, because her musaka turned out darker than she would have liked (some would even say burnt), but it is quite tasty nevertheless! It is accompanied by fresh salads and a lovely flower-shaped bread called pitka.
After dinner we discuss similarities between Russia and Bulgaria as former USSR nations, I play with Marin (carefully, as I don't want him to catch my cold) and listen to an impromptu piano recital from Kristina. I have to admit I cannot remember the evening in much detail as I have delayed posting this story almost a year after moving to the UK. Every time I log in to Skype I feel enormously guilty seeing that Kristina is online and without anything to show for all her efforts. The last time we chatted through Skype, she even sent me new photos of her son, who has of course grown enormously since I saw him. But the luminous blue eyes and gentle smile are the same. I wonder if he will feel Russian-Bulgarian when he grows up, or Dutch-Bulgarian-Russian? But who knows where their little family will settle permanently? A pianist and a mathematician can grow roots in many countries...

(The original post about this meal is from August 12, 2007)

Meal 44. Bengali Motor Polao and Pangas Mach

Ahmed is the master cook of this authentic Bengali meal. Though I was first a bit confused by the difference between "Bengali" and "Bangladeshi", a quick search taught me the latter epithet refers strictly to the nation. Bengali includes West Bengal, officially part of India. As this evening with Ahmed teaches me, he does feels the ties with India. We watch highlights of Bollywood movies, a compilation of mostly musical interludes with the megastar Shah Rukh Khan.
Somehow, in my long and (I try) multicultural life, I have never really watched a Bollywood movie. I'm impressed by how they seduce me with their fantasy world. The songs and dances vary from the classic to the modern, in desolate landscapes and ornate palaces. Ahmed explains how in one classic dance sequence, every movement of the arms, the legs, the head means something. He can understand what the female character is trying to express to the male love interest without a word being spoken. Amazing! In all of the romantic sequences shown, the actors never kiss, though some touching of the naked female stomach obviously is allowed. Ahmed tells me nowadays some actors do kiss for real, but that it is bad for their image. You will see a tantalizing amount of 'almost' kisses, which to be fair, might be more interesting in the end.

Now, for the cooking...when I enter the communal kitchen in Ahmed's student house, I am impressed by the enormous pan of rice waiting for us. It is more than enough for the four people that will be enjoying this meal tonight. As Ahmed is leaving to return to Bangladesh in just a few days, I wonder who will eat it all. The rice is infused with yellow colour, and aroma, because of the saffron added. Ahmed obligingly poses with the Motor Polao rice at right. But the fish is more special. He calls it Pangas Mach. Googling that turns up nothing, though I do find Panga is a type of fish found in the Indian Ocean. It is serves with Dal Aloo Ghanto, a lentil sauce. The vegetables draped on top are called "Indian root" in Bengali, but Ahmed isn't sure of the English translation. It is all artfully served and quickly gobbled up by me, a young Dutch friend who is always up for Bengali food, and Shusil, our Nepali friend who prepared the second meal for this project.
The same relaxed atmosphere is present now as at that evening more than a year ago. As we go to leave the dirty dishes in the kitchen, we find Ahmed's housemates preparing a meal including magic general, in my world, stimulating company beats chemical stimulants any time! Although, in a way, maybe food counts as a stimulant as well? I do enjoy good company more in combination with good food!

To check out some Bengali recipes at home, try out these websites:
A collection of Bengali recipes
Anita Pal's Bengali recipes

(The original post about this meal is from May 16, 2007)

Meal 43. Sahrawi Couscous

This meal is the most "political" meal I have had during the whole project. The nationality "Sahrawi" probably won't ring a bell for most people. It is the term used by/for refugees from the Western Sahara territory. This is a huge chunk of Morocco; on some maps it will have a different color. After Spain left Morocco in 1975, control of the Western Sahara has been disputed by Mauritania, the Moroccan government and Frente Polisario, who want independence for the region.

And it is the representative for Polisario in the Netherlands, Ali, who will be making couscous for me tonight. I was introduced to him by a friend of mine, who got a visa from him to visit the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria. It is very interesting to meet someone whose life has been influenced so strongly by the politics of his home country. He had just been studying medicine in Spain for three years when he was called back in the mid seventies to help his country fight the Moroccan rule. He mostly served by running the Red Cross and remembers the period as very difficult. There was a lot of fighting then, guerilla warfare with a lot of people getting hurt or killed. Polisario formed a kind of government in exile of the Sahrawi refugee population in Algeria. Ali was their minister of education for a while and tells me about many young Sahrawi being educated in Cuba. Mostly as doctors and as teachers. They shared the language and the common past as Spanish colonies.
Ali has had many different "nationalities", as the Sahrawi passport is only recognized in certain countries and he has to be able to travel freely to represent Polisario. At the moment, he is officially Spanish.

During the preparations for the meal, we speak about the past and present of his country and I am impressed by his gentle spirit. His attitude seems to be a mix of sadness, frustration, determination and hope. The fight for independence has been going on for so long now, more than 30 years. And though there has been a ceasefire and talk of a referendum since 1991, no real steps forward have been taken. It is virtually impossible for a Sahrawi to travel from the camps in Algeria to his birthplace because of the wall that has been built by the Moroccan government.

In essence, the couscous Ali is preparing is not that different from the Moroccan couscous I had earlier (see Meal 12. ). Again, the couscous is steamed twice, with a lot of attention to the "fluffing" in between, as seen at right. It is served with succulent lamb, chick peas and a multitude of vegetables. Squash, carrots, cabbage, bell peppers, tomatoes and nabos, turnips. Ali tells me that though this is a typical dish, a more unique meal is eaten in the Sahara desert. When groups of men head out into the desert for whatever reason, they will take flour, onions and meat with them. The flour is made into unleavened bread with the sand as an oven. This is served with a sauce of meat and onions on top. For the authentic experience I think I would have to travel with them into the desert! Who knows if this might happen one day, and who knows what the situation of the Western Sahara will be then...

(The original post about this meal is from May 11, 2007)

Meal 42. Peruvian feast

Tonight is the night of the Peruvian feast. Once again, it is a feast, as my hostess, Valeria, has made so many dishes it is impossible to choose one as the "main dish". Besides Valeria, her Dutch partner Geert and me, two other friends have been invited to make all the cooking worthwile. Aparently, Valeria has been at work since the early morning!

We start out with an appetizer of deep-fried yuca with salsa amarilla, a sauce made with yellow bell peppers, cheese, milk and fine cracker crumbs. I used to love havind yuca frita as a snack when I lived in Costa Rica, as a kind of Latino french fries, with ketchup. The yellow sauce is new to me.
I have to admit that before this meal, my only association with Peruvian food was: "Guinea pigs!" It seems like all tourists come back from Peru with not only photos of the Machu Picchu, but of fried guinea pig on a plate as well. A locally popular type of meat, the little animals are easy to raise next to the house. Often women are responsable, and sometimes children as well.

But when I ask Valeria, she exclaims:"Cuy?!" No, too much trouble to get cuy in the Netherlands, and besides, there are more than enough other great dishes she would love to make.
After the fried yuca, we are seated around the large dinner table and dig into the wonderful ceviche. Valeria's version of this dish involves nice, big, juicy chunks of fish marinated in lemon juice, with finely chopped red onions, celery, coriander and hot pepper.
Then come the papas rellenas, potato patties filled with ground meat and raisins. I love the combination of meat with the sweetness of the raisins, also found in Chilean empanadas (see meal 13). You can see Valeria preparing the patties at right.

Easy to make yourself is the salad of hard boiled potatoes and eggs, olives and yellow sauce, otherwise known as papas a la huancaina (at left). This yellow sauce is versatile!

We also have fried calamares and fish with a dip, rice with chicken, beef with vegetables (lomo saltado), and as a grand finale the dessert. One of Valeria's first presents to Geert was a Peruvian cookbook, and now he knows how to make fried picarones, a sweet ring-shaped pumpkin pastry served with syrup. Yummy!

We discuss how they met, while he was travelling in Peru. Valeria has traveled extensively in her own country as well, and they met on the road. Their photos make me want to step on the plane to Peru! What a beautiful country. Plus, now I know there'll be more than enough good things to eat, not just guinea pigs!

Check the recipe if you want to learn how to make picarones

The original post about this meal is from March 23, 2007