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Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Visit to Peru and Peruvian Causa Recipe

Peru exceeded my expectations. From a top notch city to hidden Incan ruins in the cloud forest to poverty huts in Puerto Maldanado to "occasional" electricity in the Amazon jungle, our 10 day trip melted our fast paced, stressed lifestyle away.

Nestled on small cliffs at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Lima proved to be fun city with gorgeous views. Do make time to visit two of our favorite places: Huaca Pucllana for dinner and La Emolienteria for wheel barrel chairs and infused Pisco. Make to time walk along the rocky beach and watch the surfers ride the waves.

Cusco is a large, friendly mountain city surrounded by Incan ruins. We experienced our first semi-pro soccer match here, complete with armed gaurds and home cooked food for sale. Don't miss Mueso de Pisco for taste-shattering infused Pisco drinks and The Chocolate Museum where you will make chocolate starting with roasting the cocoa beans. Visit Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse, Marcelo Batata and Nuna Raymi for super yummy typical Peruvian fare you can trust. And for that one morning when you just need a more usual breakfast to soak up all the Pisco drinks, Jack's is the place. Life in Cusco is similar yet different. Boys and girls wear school uniforms, attend separate schools and the day is broken into 3 time frames: morning school is reserved for the smartest kids, the afternoon slot held for the 'average' students while the evening slot is attended by the less fortunate families who needed their children to work during the day.

Machupicchu is spectacular. Stunning really. Wondering through this hidden city,...feeling the life that once was... is a moving experience. Excavation is still underway to uncover even more, but the amount of visitors will soon be heavily regulated so plan ahead. Remember to stamp your passport!

The Amazon Jungle did not disappoint with brutal humidity, multiple daily rain showers, and plenty of animals including tarantula sightings, piranha, capybara (the worlds largest rodent), butterflies, fire ants, poisonous dart frogs, caiman, parrots and even the more loveable monkeys. Mosquito nets are above every bed with the warning to tuck the netting in rather than just let it hang around the edges. Locals know which plants to use for poisonous snake bites and to rid the body of Candiru fish (the creepy little fish that will swim into your pee-pee hole and lodge itself there with hooks.). My suggestion is that if you feel the need to swim in the Amazon river, don't go naked and definitely do not pee in the water! 

Important points to note during a visit to Peru is that the water is undrinkable outside of Lima, even the locals must boil it first. Anticipate quite a bit of travel including planes, trains and automobiles; a guide is highly recommended. If you make a visit to the jungle, the absolute best thing you can do coming out of the jungle is grabbing a seriously cold beer at the JVL Burger Snack shop at the Puerto Maldonado airport (it's the only shop once through security.)  After being in the hot jungle with warm beer and iceless gin and tonics, you will thank me. It is the coldest beer you'll ever remember.

Peruvians have a healthy lifestyle in that they eat from the earth rather than from preservative-laden  bags and cans found on American shelves. Lunch is a bigger meal than the evening one and dessert is rare. The streets are filled with open markets of fresh fruits, fish and even meats. All meals contain rice and potatoes. While Peru is home to over 4,000 potato varieties as the Incans adapted potato growing at every altitude level, the rice was influenced by Chinese immigrants.

Lomo saltado was a favorite meal of choice which is essentially a beef stir fry mixed with french fries. Pisco, similar to brandy or grappa, is the national drink. Homemade corn beer is quite sour but the strawberry corn beer goes down smooth.  Papa Rellena is a deep fried stuffed potato ball that is worth the extra calories. Ceviche is readily available, even in the mountain towns. Quinoa is prevalent and often found as a coating to chicken while Cuy (roasted guinea pig) is a standard. Causa (pronounced 'cow-sa') proved to the one of our favorite dishes- maybe for the history of it (women wrapped proteins in potatoes for soldiers during the war and it was said to be 'for the cause') or maybe we liked it because it's really just a simple potato sandwich. Causa can be filled with anything  from tuna to chicken and then decorated with hard boiled eggs. Below is my version of the Causa with two different fillings: one to represent Peru and one to represent Chicago. It's the best of both places.

Covered in bug bites, a suitcase of damp, smelly clothes, lethargic from jungle heat and a touch of stomach virus, I still found Peru amazing and it will live on in my Fat and Happy spirit.

Fat and Happy Food Blog Tips and Techniques:  Causa was usually served as mini, individually formed rounds like in the photo above, but for ease I also made them into a larger square form using a Tupperware container.

Peruvian Causa

4 Yukon gold potatoes
1/4 cup chopped parsley and cilantro (mixed)
2 Tbls butter or oil
1/2 lime
 1 tsp aji Amarillo (yellow Peruvian hot pepper paste), optional
Broth or milk as needed to mix
Salt and pepper to taste

Clean and peel the potatoes. Mash with the parsley, oil, lime and Amarillo- adding in a touch of broth as needed to achieve a smooth consistency.
Shrimp Causa 

  1/2 lb shrimp, cleaned and deveined
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow pepper, chopped
2 Tbls red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup diced asparagus
2 Tbls butter or oil
1/2 lime
1 ripe mango
1 avocado

Melt the butter or oil in a pan, add shrimp, garlic and asparagus. Cook until the shrimp turns pink. Remove the shrimp and chop. Toss all the ingredients together (shrimp, asparagus, peppers and onions) and squeeze the lime over the top. Set aside.
 Peel the mango and blend until smooth.

Causa filled with Sausage and Peppers

 2 spicy Italian turkey sausages
1/2 red pepper, sliced thin
1/2 yellow pepper, sliced thin
1/2 white onion, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
2 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp dried basil
1 Tbls coconut oil

In a medium sauce pan, saute the peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and basil until softened. Remove the turkey sausages from the casing, crumble and add to the pan. Cook until the sausage is done, add in a little of water to keep the pan moistened and to achieve a tiny bit of sauce.

Putting it all together:

Sausage and Peppers Causa:  In a shallow dish, spread one layer of potato on the bottom. Add a layer of the Sausage and Peppers, top with a second layer of potatoes. Turn out on a platter and enjoy! I prefer this served warm; reheat as needed after unmolding while putting the shrimp version together.

Shrimp Causa: In a shallow dish, spread one layer of potato on the bottom. Slice the avocado and layer on top of the potatoes. Place the shrimp on that layer then top with a second layer of potatoes.  Turn out on a platter, cover with the fresh mango sauce and enjoy! This is served best room temperature with fresh squeeze of lime.

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