A new cookbook is a wonder. You lift it, open its pages, look at its pictures, and read. Your brow may wrinkle in deep thought, as you imagine that recipe in your kitchen and those ingredients in your hands, or the final dish sitting before you, scented and ready. Your mouth can’t help but water at this image.
I found this cookbook in a small set of books in the tourist area of Cusco, just a scattered offering of text among sweaters that might even be alpaca, knit gloves, scarves, and caps as well as the inevitable T-shirts just like those you see everywhere else. After a while your eye sees what is distinctive and that day it was this book with a bombastic title: El gran recetario de la cocina peruana (The Great Recipe Collection of Peruvian Cuisine).
A thick book, published by Ediciones Alpamayo in Lima, it is just one of a myriad of books published in volume and distributed widely throughout the country. Better than the pamphlet-style books sold on buses, streets and by roaming vendors in the market, it is not nearly as good as the well-designed and award winning cookbooks put out by the San Martín de Porras University Press.
It’s author is just the name used by that press for books. I have no idea if that is a real person or even what authorship means in the case of such a large compendium
Still it is a wonder. I can see all the people making this food and it opens before me a world I could not know unless I were to divide myself and eat everyday in dozens, if not hundreds of homes in Lima. It opens an entire world of cooking to me, even if it is one without context, without the cooks and homes, families laughing and conversing around a table.
If if its title is bold and filled with the Creole brashness of the street embaucador— the salesman who promises all, including falsehoods, to convince you to buy and leaves you with the nervousness and thrill of not knowing completely if what you just got was real or not — inside I promptly found a recipe that was simple, and yet claimed a title that has great resonance. It is a mushroom cebiche.
Yes, they spell it with a b as does Gastón Acurio, even if the rest of the Spanish speaking world and much of Peru uses v. That alone gives it the image of authenticity. But it is more. It calls forth a whole world of ceviches. It shows the one with fish fits into a pattern of dishes that use lime juice to pickle foods, whether fish, chicken, mushroom, or more.
The recipe grabbed me and, though I am in the United States at the moment, I had to run to the market to get ingredients. And, being me, I started thinking about how to make it a bit more interesting and well-presented.
Hidden in a wall of first courses, appetizers, which seem ordinary and yet fascinating all at the same time, it is just mushrooms, lime juice, salt and pepper, with a sharp addition of garlic and salsa inglesa (English sauce, i.e. Worcestershire sauce).
Instead of marinating the mushrooms raw, like with fish, they are quickly blanched in boiling water and then sit in the lime juice seasoned with salt and pepper as well a minced garlic and that darkening dash of England.
I just had to try it. In Peru, I am sure they make it from button mushrooms since in Spanish it is called cebiche de champiñones that are those white buttons that are so common in North America. I thought, though, of the wild mushrooms, the setas, of Cusco that will be springing up soon since the rains are now falling. That season is gone here, but I could get a variety of mushrooms at the markets and so decided to make a mushroom medley of white button mushrooms sliced and sliced hedge hog mushrooms. Two different colors, textures and tastes. I wanted to find ones that would stand up to the lime. And I thought to serve them like much of the fish ceviche alongside a garnet sweet potato with a bright sprig of green cilantro.
Here is the recipe:
250 grams (roughly 8 ounces) of mushrooms
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 Tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 Tbs olive oil.
Clean the mushrooms well and blanch them quickly by putting them in boiling water, pulling them out, and then placing them in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain.
Place the mushrooms and the other ingredients in a bowl. Mix and let sit for ten minutes or so. Serve and enjoy.