Though well known throughout the world, the peanut, called maní in South American Spanish, forms a key part of Cuzco’s cuisine. We eat it raw, toasted, or fried. It is seemingly everywhere.
Peanut’s omnipresence is not surprising since scholars claim it was domesticated in the lowlands of near the Andes, in Bolivia or Paraguay. Wherever people first began cultivating it, peanuts were soon eaten by the people of the Andes. Peanuts are well represented in the pottery of the Moche from the coast, for example.
This member of the legume family, is one of the most used foods in Cuzco. It enriches our cuisine and gives a magical depth to dishes such as the aji de gallina, the papa a la huancaina, the pipian de cuy, the revuelto de patitas, and the rocoto relleno. It also stars in our hot sauces (uchukutas). The peanuts tone down the heat of the hot peppers and imparts a richness to the sauces.
In Cuzco, like in other parts of the highlands, we love peanuts so much that we include them in dishes, such as some of the above, that on the coast do not involve this. Though peanuts have thousands of years of history in our cuisine, the Spanish name comes from the taino Indians that the Spanish first encountered in the Caribbean.
To make a pipian de cuy you first have to grind the peanuts on a batan, a grinding stone, into a smooth mass. Once your “dressing”, as we call the sauteed mixture of onions and garlic and seasonings, in this case cumin, is ready you add the peanuts. They make the dish come together.
Pipian is a Spanish word that refers to sauces for meats made with nuts. In this case the meat is guinea pig, our Cuzco staple, and the sauce requires peanuts.
Once the sauce has come together you add the pieces of pre-cooked cuy, guinea pig. To serve the dish you decorate the plate with boiled potatoes and a rice prepared by toasting it before boiling, which we call arroz graneado.
The women who make this dish professionally and sell it in traditional establishments, generally sell it for some S/ 10, around $4 US. You can also make this dish at home. It is very easy and is wonderful on the weekend to enjoy with your family when they come together. We like its served with a barley tea and lime.
For a revuelto de patitas, a scramble of beef feet, the process is the same. You first make the sauce and to it you add potatoes in small cubes of potatoes, prefried, Then you add the cooked beef feet, whose meat is very tender. This dish is served with rice. If we can draw forth the desired taste, the plate is so delicious it absolutely makes you liick your fingers in pleasure.
To make a rocoto relleno you do the same process, once again. You add the ground peanuts to the dressing. However for this dish, before preparing the dressing you need seed the rocotos and wash then in boiling water to take away some of their intense heat. The you fill them with the dressing to which you will have added finely minced carrots and potatoes, as well as precooked ground beef or minced beef. You warm them togetner and then stuff the peppers with this mixture. Then you dust the peppers with flour and beaten egg. These you fry in a pan with a god quantity of oil, in order to cook them thoroughly and brown well the outer mixture. Once ready you serve the stuffed rocotos with boiled potatoes.
You can find this dish on almost ever corner of our markets as well as inside them. The prices is generally only S/ 2, about $0.80 US, per pepper.
Given how important this legume is for us, I asked the caseras, the vendors, of the Cascaparo market where they bring this amazing legume from. They said it comes from different places. Much comes from Cuzco’s tropics in the area of the city of Quillabamba. From that region we get many of our fruits, our coffee, and more. It is some 9 hours from Cuzco by bus. The vendors are generous in answering my questions.
When I was a child I loved to eat peanuts. I would go down to the markets with my parents and they would always buy me some to eat as a snack , since a small mound costs only S 0.50, about $0.20 US.
My favorite dish was papas a la huancaina, or potatoes huancayo style. I felt like I would die if I could not have that dish. I would never stop asking my mom when she was going to make the dish. When the day arrived I would get up very early to help my mom with going to the market to get the ingredients. She told me that the most important ingredients were peanuts, followed by potatoes, cheese, dried bread, milk, lettuce, olives, eggs, and yellow aji (a hot pepper).
I would watch my mom make the dish. It was not difficullt. My mom would say even if you do not know how to cook, the secret is that you prepare the food with lots of love. As soon as the plate was on the table I began to devour it. I would eat three whole plates full. That is how much I loved it. Then I could feel happy, after enjoying this delicious dish that filled me with so much passion.
Peanuts are easily found in the city of Cuzco. They are sold in all the markets and in some stores. A mound will run you about one sol these days, about fourty US cents, and bags start around half a sol, about twenty US cents. The vendors are so nice they give you tips on preparing the food in all its variety.
Papas a la Huancaina (Huancayo Style Potatoes)
5 yellow ajies (yellow hot peppers)
1 slice of fresh cheese
1 package of soda crackers of 3 dried rolls
1 small can of milk
2 mounds of toasted peanuts
olives according to taste
1 egg, boiled and sliced
1 kilo of canchan potatoes or other boiling potatoes
lettuce to cover four plates
Liquify the peppers together with the cheese, the milk, the bread, and the peanuts.
Then boil the potatoes until done and wash the lettuce well. When everything is ready serve the dish by covering the plate with lettuce leaves, then add potatoes to each plate on which you put the huancaina sauce. Finally you decorate each serving with sliced eggs and an olive (or more if you wish). Now it is ready for you and your family to enjoy.