Rise of flavors from Peru
Published: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 11:36 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 11:36 a.m.
As Latin American food finally gains acceptance across the globe, the bold, robust flavors of Peru's cuisine appear to be leading the charge.
Food writers across the country, including a Wall Street Journal reporter, have recently proclaimed the melting-pot cuisine as “the next big thing,” taking over the top spot from global trend-setters like Spain and Korea.
That's not news to Juan Luis Navarro and his son, Juan Jose Navarro Calvo-Perez, who opened Sazon restaurant in Santa Rosa in August 2010 and snagged a “Bib Gourmand” award for good value in the 2012 Michelin Guide.
“The capital of gastronomy in the Americas is Lima, Peru,” Navarro said. “The best ceviche in the world is from Peru, and the secret is the lime. Without the lime, we are lost.”
The businessman, whose brother-in-law owns four Peruvian restaurants in San Francisco, was inspired to open his own restaurant after eating at a Puerto Rican restaurant in Santa Rosa.
“We went, we saw the menu, and we saw that it was packed,” Navarro said. “A few weeks later, I said, ‘Let's open a Peruvian restaurant'”
Sazon means “seasoning,” the unique blend of spices and herbs found in every Peruvian home.
“When you go to eat at your grandma's house, you have your own sazon (pronounced sah-ZAWN),” Navarro said. “We wanted a place that feels homey.”
Navarro's son and friends helped transform a former taqueria/burger joint on Sebastopol Road into a clean, modern space with a high granite counter overlooking an open kitchen.
“The walk-up window in front is all that we kept,” Navarro Calvo-Perez said. “We're working on an outdoor patio for the springtime.”
One of the most popular dishes on the menu is the Anticucho de Corazon, an appetizer of skewered beef hearts, marinated and grilled, then served with Peruvian corn, grilled purple potato and pepper sauces.
Based on the famous yakitori of Japan, the anticucho appetizers are a tasty reminder of the powerful influence Japanese immigrants have had on Peru's cuisine.
Sazon's menu also offers six different kinds of ceviche, Peru's famous cured-seafood salad that has found its way onto high-end restaurant menus across the globe.
The ceviches are made from red onions and cilantro, Cuzco corn and cancha (a toasted corn), sweet potatoes and avocado, prawns and scallops, all smothered in a tasty Leche de Tigre sauce made from fish, lime, peppers and salt.
Along with peppers, seafood, potatoes and three sizes of cancha, Sazon uses a special purple corn that is imported and made into the sweet corn punch known as Chicha Morada.
It's not surprising that Peruvian cuisine has caught the attention of global chefs such as Spain's Ferran Adria. With its fresh ingredients, robust spices and bold acidity, the flavors are spicy but not blow-your-head-off hot.
Adria began shooting a documentary about the Peruvian food scene earlier this year after attending Mistura, a 10-day food festival in Lima that has grown into the most important food event in Latin America.
When the Spanish first arrived in Peru in the early 1500s, they found an already refined food system based on potatoes, corn, tomatoes and sweet peppers grown by the native Quechua culture.
Over the past 500 years, Peruvian cuisine has evolved into a highly developed Creole cuisine, incorporating influences from Spanish explorers, African slaves and Asian immigrants.
Although some modern Peruvian restaurants dabble in fusion fare, Sazon stays true to Peru's authentic dishes and imports many ingredients from the country's coastal, Andean and Amazonian regions.
“We have over 3,000 dishes in Peru, from the three regions,” Navarro said. “All of our dishes (at Sazon) are the flagships of Peru: ceviches (fish marinated in lime), causa limeña (potato cakes), aji de gallina (spicy chicken stew) and lomo saltado (sauteed beef strips with onions and tomatoes).”
Peru grows and harvests its peppers, such as the fruity aji amarillo, along the dry coastal region, where oases are fed by 50 rivers trickling down from the Andes.
The cold Pacific waters have provided Peru with plentiful seafood in the past. But with ocean waters in peril and prices rising, Sazon has opted to import farm-raised tilapia and scallops from Peru.
“It tastes great and it's sustainable,” Navarro Calvo-Perez said. “I want people to be able to come and order different things.”
Sazon imports two kinds of potatoes from Peru. Along with the nutritious quinoa grain, potatoes originated in the cool climate of the Andes mountains.
“There are more than 3,000 types of potatoes in Peru,” Navarro Calvo-Perez said. “They were brought to Europe, where they saved thousands of people from famine.”
From the Amazon region, Peru sources a variety of tropical fruits, including the native camu camu and cherimoya. Desserts at Sazon include fruity ice creams, rice pudding and a Peruvian pastry similar to a funnel cake.
Sazon plans to start baking its own bread this year and has launched a “Pemex” (Peruvian-Mexican) food truck on Corby Avenue, across from the Department of Motor Vehicles, not far from where Navarro used to sell cars.
“My father taught me to go all the way,” Navarro said. “Or don't do it.”
This recipe is from Sazon restaurant in Santa Rosa:
“Papa Rellena is a delicious comfort food, similar to mashed potato pancakes, but with a surprise ground beef center,” said Juan Jose Navarro Calvo-Perez.” In fact, this is an excellent recipe for using up leftover mashed potatoes.
“To make papas rellenas, you first prepare some seasoned ground beef filling, similar to an empanada filling. Then you mold some mashed potatoes around a center of ground beef, and you form the whole thing into an oblong shape - basically you make it look like a potato! Then you fry it in oil until it's golden brown and crispy. Kids love this meal, especially with ketchup.”
Serves 8 to 10 as appetizer
½ cup raisins
3 pounds yellow potatoes
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced aji pepper, or jalapeno
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
1 pound ground beef
1 cup beef broth
Flour for dusting
Salt and pepper to taste
Pace the raisins in a small bowl and pour 1 cup boiling water over them. Let them soak for 10 minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Peel the potatoes and place them in the pot. Cook the potatoes until they are tender when pierced with a fork.
While the potatoes are cooking, cook the onions, garlic, and peppers in the vegetable oil until soft and fragrant.
Add the cumin and paprika and cook 2 minutes more, stirring. Add the ground beef and cook until browned.
Drain the raisins and add them to the ground beef. Add the beef broth and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more, until most of the liquid is gone.
Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let cool.
When the potatoes are cooked, drain them in a colander. Mash the potatoes thoroughly, or pass them through a potato ricer. Season the mashed potatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Chill the potatoes for several hours, or overnight.
Once the potatoes are very cold, stir the egg into the mashed potatoes until well mixed.
Shape the papas rellenas: with floured hands, place about ¼ cup of mashed potatoes in one hand, and make a well in the center. Fill the well with 1-2 tablespoons of the beef mixture. Mold the potatoes around the beef, adding more potatoes if necessary, and shape the whole thing into an oblong potato shape, with slightly pointy ends, about the size of a medium potato.
Repeat with the rest of the mashed potatoes. Coat each stuffed "potato" with flour.
In a deep skillet or deep fat fryer, heat 2 inches of oil to 360 degrees. Fry the potatoes in batches until they are golden brown. Drain them on a plate lined with paper towels.
Keep the potatoes warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve. Serve with salsa.
Salsa Criolla is an onion, pepper and lime salsa that livens up many Peruvian dishes. Slice the onions into thin, half moons, so they look like little feathers. You could also add garlic or tomatoes.
2 red onions, sliced in thin half moons
1 to 2 aji or jalapeno peppers, sliced thinly
1 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak the onions in salt water for 10 minutes. Drain and let dry. Mix onion with the rest of the ingredients. Cover with Saran wrap and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Store in refrigerator.
You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson
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