Nico

Tacu Tacu

Tacu Tacu

Tacu Tacu

Colonial-era Afro-descendant women fried leftover rice and canary beans with lard to make tacu tacu, a dish whose name comes from the Quechua word “taku,” which means “mixed.” This is a brunch dish that I learned to cook from my father, and that my father learned to cook from my grandfather. So tacu tacu connects three generations of dads. Today, tacu tacu is part of Peru’s creole cuisine, and there are many variations. I often cook tacu tacu with leftover long-grain white rice and red lentils. I like how the creaminess of the soft cooked lentils holds the rice together. A simple red onion base with aji amarillo adds heat. Pan frying and shaping it into a round cake makes it easy to slice into individual servings. Pickled red onions complement the flavors in the tacu tacu, while coffee and baguette make it a full savory breakfast.

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Empanadas sin Carne

Empanadas sin Carne

Empanadas sin Carne

Empanadas are a portable South American classic of baked hand pies with a savory or sweet filling. Thought to originate in northern Spain, colonial foodways brought the empanada to Peru, where creole cooks made it their own. Street food vendors often deep-fry empanadas to order, but I like to bake them—a dozen or more at a time for a potluck or dinner party. Making the dough from scratch is a rewarding effort because each time you knead and roll the dough you’ll build a memory of the scent and texture when the dough is just right, regardless of your kitchen’s humidity. The baked pastry acts as a vehicle for different fillings, and here the classic filling of ground beef is made vegan with a plant-protein substitute. An onion sauté base with garlic, spices, broth, and bay leaf enhances the savory filling; while currants and olives add fruitiness.

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Carapulcra

Carapulcra

Carapulcra

Carapulcra is an ancient stew that the Inca made with papa seca (dehydrated potatoes). Migrant families that moved from the Andes mountains to Lima brought the stew with them. And over time, Lima’s creole cooks added spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and anise. Today, Afro-descendant communities in the town of Chincha south of Lima prepare three carapulcra versions: with papa seca, with fresh potatoes, or with chickpeas. All of these versions are part of the soul food of Black Peru. Here, toasting dry chickpeas adds smoky flavor and crunchy texture, native Peruvian hot peppers aji panca and aji amarillo give heat to the onion aderezo base, and five spice infuses aromatics. Peanut butter makes the stew creamy, while agave and red wine provide balance and depth. Colorful pickled cabbage brightens the dish. Accompany the carapulcra with a side of steamed rice to absorb the stew’s savory juices.

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Quinua con Leche

Quinua con Leche

Quinua con Leche

Arroz con leche, or rice pudding, is ubiquitous in Latinx food culture, but countries around the world—from Asia, and the Middle East, to Europe—prepare their local versions. Spanish colonial foodways introduced arroz con leche to Peru and the dessert is most popular in Lima, where families often serve it as a dessert combinado with mazamorra morada, a purple corn pudding. My travels to the Andes inspired this variation that calls for the ancestral Inca Mother Grain—quinoa—instead of rice. Quinoa is not only the star of this dessert, but also a source of complete protein. Here, oat milk makes the pudding vegan. Cinnamon and fruit peel, prevalent in many Peruvian desserts, provide a warm, sharp, and familiar aroma. To cook this dessert is to bring together the world of Peru’s Andes and the coastal capital. Sweet, creamy, and comforting, this pudding reminds me of home.

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Dulce de Camote

Dulce de Camote

Dulce de Camote

African-American families in the South have baked sweet potato pie for generations. Sweet potatoes are native to the Americas and slaves in North and South America replaced the familiar West African yam with sweet potato in their recipes. In Peru, sweet potato is called “camote,” and it’s popular in sweet and savory dishes. Afro-Peruvian singer Lucila Campos gives the sweet potato musicality in “Saca Camote con el Pie.” The song’s chorus means, “to remove the [buried] sweet potato with your feet,” but it’s really about dancing, about celebrating life, and the lyrics are an allegory to an energetic foot stomping dance. Modern Afro-Peruvian band Novamila fuses traditional Black rhythms with electronica in an updated version of “Camote.” In this sweet potato pudding, soy milk makes it vegan while cinnamon and cloves add spice. Sweet vermouth gives it a boozy aromatic hit. Colorful sprinkles complete the creamy mash.

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