Peruvian cuisine is filled with surprises, and not just because it has amazing chefs and restaurants among the world’s best. Its traditional food in its street cafes and food stands as well as in its homes constantly brings thrills. Sometimes it is amazingly complex, like the very fine versions of a Huancaina sauce, other times it is as simple as baked potatoes coming from ovens of clods, made on the spot. One example is a dish called solterito, just single.
As if the dish were a bachelor, looking for a bride, or a late-thirties man who does not marry, the dish takes its name. Filled with humor and jest, it can be a main course, a simple accompaniment, or a first course, what the French delightfully call an amuse bouche (amuse or please the mouth). I suspect it is this ability to stand alone when it belongs in a combination that gave it its name given the picaresque humor of Peruvian speech.
Though ostensibly simple, it is not just simple. The earth oven baked potatoes are an example of the classic technique of baking that is inherited from the Incas and before. It is ancient in its roots. The technique of solterito is similarly ancient and one of those inherited from the ancestors, boiling. That is also how it stands alone, the ingredients are either boiled or raw, there is not baked or fried thing among them.
Yet it is filled with subtlety and power and is a delicious repast to help soothe the body after all the rich and complex foods the cuisine also contains.
A basic solterito contains green, fresh broadbeans, such as are just appearing in the markets in Peru. Rural peoples often boil these alone or with potatoes and then do the double peeling they require to eat the big beans one by one.Their meaty flavor soothes, satisfies, and fills. I have eaten many meals this way, seated on the ground peeling potatoes and fava beans with my finger nails, and eating while conversing and laughing with my mates.
But the solterito is more. It also involves a raw onion and both the onion and the beans are slaked in lime juice (although Gastón Acurio and many coastal cooks like vinegar). That is it, although today most versions also add boiled potatoes and carrots along with a diced rocoto pepper. It is a surprising and masterful combination.
In Cusco the main solterito also includes pork jowls, khuchicara as they call it, though this is but one version.
For this article, while in the United States, I made up a solterito base and then added two different things for two different versions, cheese (as many do) and pork (I used a slow braised pork belly since I could not find jowls the day I went to market.) They were simple yet complex and wondrously satisfying. By the way, if you wish vegan versions you just stay with the base of green fava beans, red onions (notice the basic color combinations) in lime juice and a splash of olive oil, accompanied by or with cubes of boiled potatoes added. Perudelights also offers a version with tofu.
So, here is how I made it.
1 package frozen broad beans or, if you are fortunate, about a pound of fresh green broad beans, double peeled.
1 good sized carrot, peeled.
1 or 2 medium sized potatoes, cleaned but unpeeled
1/2 medium sized red onion cut into plumes or julienned
1-2 limes juiced
1 rocoto or other hot pepper minced.
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the carrot and the potato in boiling water until done. I salted my water. Peel and slice. If you wish you can keep the potato whole to function as a companion, slice it, or dice it and add to the combination.
Meanwhile boil your broad beans and do the second peeling, or if using frozen ones, boil according to instructions. (I could not find broad beans the day I made mine in any market, so I used frozen young lima beans—another Peruvian bean—and also some fresh soy beans—edamame, boiled per instructions. Once cooked immediately cool in cold water. Do not over cook. The beans need a certain firmness.
If you wish, you can also add kernels of sweet corn. I did add some frozen white corn, but it was not Peruvian and I found it a distraction.
Assemble the dish by putting all the ingredients together and dress with lime juice to taste, a good splash of EVO, and salt and pepper to taste. Let marinate for fifteen minutes to a half hour or longer. Serve cold.
Solterito with Cheese
Cube about 8 oz. farmer’s cheese and add to the rest to marinate in the lime juice. I used Oaxaca cheese from my farmer’s market even though that is more a kind of mozzarella. But it has delicious, faint sour taste that worked well.
Solterito with Braised Pork Belly
1/2 Lb pork belly
enough water to cover the pork belly
salt if needed
Heat a braising liquid. You can use broth if you wish but I just used water with the seasonings above and brought it to a boil in my dutch oven. I preheated my oven to 325. Once the liquid was boiling I added the pork belly with its skin still intact, and then placed the hot dutch oven in the oven and let braise for 3 and a half hours.
When the pork was done it was tender, almost falling apart tender. I gently removed it from the liquid to stay intact, and chilled it until it was firm enough to slice.
The braised belly was filled with flavor. Once chilled and cubed I added it to the marinating solterito base and let sit for another half hour or so for the flavors to solidify.
I used a purple tomato and a yellow tomato as my accompaniment and served up the cheese solterito on one side with the pork on the other and the sliced potatoes in the middle. It was wonderful. You should try it.