You should have seen my face a couple of months ago when my boss told me I had to travel to Peru for work. It was a happy face – too happy, perhaps. It was the face of someone who won the lottery. Why? Because I love Peruvian food. And because I’m a food hedonist. And that’s what Peruvian food is to me: pleasure, joy, and excitement. So I added a few personal days to the trip.
I started out at a hostel in Cusco. On the first morning at breakfast, I waited until every guest had left and approached the chef. Her name is Doris, and she taught me how to make quinoa soup.
Doris Ibarra is from Lucre, a small town outside Cusco. The youngest of 11 children, she learned to cook from her mom, whose repertoire of dishes consisted mainly of the typical ingredients of the Andes: potatoes, corn, quinoa, fava beans, and lots of other legumes – many of which she planted at home.
Doris improved her cooking skills in culinary school, where she learned to master the regional cuisines of her country: mountain, forest, and coast. She also learned about international cuisines. Her dream is to open her own restaurant. But to hone her cooking skills (and to save some money for her future enterprise), she’s taken a job at the hostel serving breakfast every morning. She’s been doing this for two years, and for the past few months has been taking more cooking classes after work. In a year’s time, she says, she’ll be ready to launch her venture. If the breakfast she serves at the hostel is any indication of her cooking skills, she’ll no doubt be successful.
Doris lives on a farm with her husband and three-year-old daughter. They grow potatoes, corn, and fava beans. Doris sells the bulk of her harvest at the San Jeronimo market on Sundays. She keeps the rest for personal consumption.
The thing that is immediately evident when you take stock of the culinary scene in this country is this: Peru is, undeniably, the ultimate farm-to-table experience. Virtually everywhere you eat is a short distance from the place where the ingredients come from. It’s a country covered through and through in small farms. And the abundance of food markets makes it easier for everyone – from the home cook to the restaurant owner – to purchase fresh ingredients directly from farmers like Doris.
Despite her expertise in regional Peruvian dishes and the world’s cuisines, when I asked Doris to teach me her favorite dish, she opted for the simple and comforting quinoa soup. She says it never disappoints, and that it’s the only dish she dares to make for her mom without any fear of disapproval.
I tried it when I got home, and Doris was right, the soup did not disappoint.
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 cup cubed potatoes
- 1 lb lamb meat (optional)
- ½ cup fava beans (frozen is fine)
- ½ cup cubed butternut squash
- ½ cup shredded cabbage
- 2 medium carrots
- 2 celery sticks
- 3 garlic cloves
- Fresh cilantro, dry oregano, salt, black peppercorns
- Boil quinoa and meat in a pressure cooker with plenty of water for 20 minutes. (Do not add salt.)
- While the quinoa cooks, chop the vegetables into similar size pieces.
- When the quinoa is done, add the vegetables in the pot. (Make sure the pressure cooker cools down before opening it.)
- Add also the cilantro, garlic, salt, and peppercorns.
- Simmer until the potatoes are tender.
- Serve in a bowl and sprinkle dry oregano on top.