Peru is filled with foods not found in most of the rest of the world, often filled with great nutritional value and great flavor. One of these is the tarwi. A relative of the domestic lupine, it is an important food in Peru’s highlands. You can find it in the markets and neighborhood stores. Besides tarwi, it is also called chocho and in Aymara they call it tauri.
Tarwi is native to the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. It requires climates that are mild to chilly for its best production. It grows between 2000 and 3800 meters above sea level. To grow well, it needs well-drained soils since other wise the base of the plan can easily rot.
Our farmers plant tarwi in in the rainy season since at that time there is sufficient water for it to grow without need of additional irrigation. The tarwi plant can reach one to two meters tall. Its flowers are a beautiful blue to dark purple.
The seeds look like beans, since tarwi and beans are both legumes. They are white and have a dark eyelet on one of the sides. We eat the tarwi seeds. They need to be soaked in many changes of water over a longish period of time. Otherwise, like some other South American food plants, they have a bitter substance considered poisonous.
The large markets of Vinochanchón and Cascaparo are were you can always find tarwi, although it is usually available as well in neighborhood markets. The vendors sell it in piles of different prices, roughly according to weight. You can buy it in its natural form or pre-soaked. You can also buy it ground and mixed with huacatay. In this way it is ready to go right in the pot to make the segundo de tarwi, the tarwi main course.
When I was a boy, one of my favorite meals was tarwi. My mother would send me to go buy tarwi ground with a little huacatay and a portion of cheese. She had a casero, a vendor with whom she always did business. He always had the tarwi ready. At his stand he would be soaking it in water, peeling it for different preparations, and grinding it with huacatay herb.
Many people buy tarwi every day. They say it is a source of good nourishment, since it has lots of nutrients and protein. Besides, children love it. Tarwi can also be used in a wide variety of dishes, both to kick up their nutrient content as well as to provide a richer flavor.
We can also mention some of the standard dishes made with tarwi. These include the main dish of tarwi (segundo de tarwi) served with rice, tarwi with mormontoy, and others. In Cuzco’s popular restaurants you can often find a segundo made from tarwi. It may not be made every day but is served at least once a month.