Unbelievable flavors await you in every dish of food. Laid out on a plate it may look simple, but just its scent brings a very agreeable sensation. It opens your appetites and when you try the first spoonful of food, its magnificent flavor claims you. It delivers enormous pleasure to your palate and keeps you from leaving the table until the food is gone.
That is how I perceive the dishes prepared in our beloved Cusco. They are so delicious and yet simple that one can easily eat too much, especially if it is your favorite dish. The original combinations of flavors of each are made by the beautiful hands of Andean cooks.
The other day I was exploring the San Pedro Market, one of the largest and principal markets of our city. As I walked through the section of prepared foods I saw a large quantity of signs offering an equal variety of dishes. I also smelled a seeming infinity of exquisite scents that feed my nose. They awoke my hunger.
I chose the eat a spicy aji de gallina, one of the Peruvian classics but made in the Cusco way. It is a spicy chicken dish. It had a strong and concentrated perfume. It was well presented with the dark yellow color of the sauce, the green of the lettuce, and the rice’s white. It was a very attractive dish.
I still remember well the taste of its sauce. It was a bit thick but otherwise perfect.
The owner of the stand was named Rosa and I asked her, “What is the secret for the sauce being so good?”
She responded that many of her clients had asked the same question and that there was no secret. “I just add more peanuts than is normal when preparing the sauce”.
This made me ask more about peanuts and the dishes in which they are used. Besides being a favorite snack since they is sold already toasted and ready to be eaten, they are also used to make ponche, a common hot drink in Cusco. Usually this beverage is made from fava beans and to make it from peanuts you do it in the same way and just substitute them for the beans. In this way you get a very flavorful and inviting hot ponche from maní, as we call peanuts here.
Our revuelto de patitas, or beef knuckle scramble, also relies on peanuts. It is added in the beginning to the aderezo, the basic seasoning concoction also known as a sofrito. This brings flavor to the dish.
Peanuts are also used to make a pipián of cuy, or guinea pig in a nut sauce. They also find there way into the papa a la huancaína in the way we make it here in Cusco, as well as into the aji de gallina we already talked about. These last two dishes do not involve peanuts in Lima but they definitely do here.
Finally and wonderfully, peanuts help make our hot sauces, our uchukutas, amazing. You grind or blend them in and they add a wonderful depth and richness to the hot sauce so that all of your food is just that much more flavorful.
Different sizes of transparent bags filled with peanuts , small, medium, and large, are exhibited in our markets, stores, and super-markets, for cooks and others to buy. They start at 1/S and are sold according to the quantity of peanuts you need and want.