I’m Feeling Hot, Hot …

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Chef Victor Alvarez in the organic garden of Tambo Del Inka.
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Chef Wilfred Das and Ana C Vidal on superfood, Quinoa

Three  very delicious reasons are pumping up my adrenalin: the hot, fiery chillies of Peru, the healthy quinoa here, and now that I’m back in Chennai… our very own “Whats Hot Tasting session”  yesterday.

DELICIOUS AND NUTRITIOUS

I’ve always loved the nutty flavour and texture of Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). Most people call it a grain, but it’s actually a seed — grown more than 7000 years ago in the Andes Mountains. And  it is in Peru that I get to know it in all it’s glory. Did you know that  it’s the same family as beetroots and spinach?  Enlightening me on this is the well informed chef Wilfred Santana Dass and the everhelpful Ana C Vidal.

Chef Wilfred Das, a Malaysian by birth has not only worked for Sultan of Brunei, Sheikh of Dubai, cooked for Kings and queens and Michael Jackson, but now as   executive chef of Lima’s stylish and sprawling Westin is fully conversant with Peruvian cuisine. Here, I  trip out on his 777″SuperFoodsRx, an amazing menu created together with doctors and nutritionists; antioxidant rich and naturally low in calories.I love the fact that quinoa has the highest protein content (amongst all grains and seeds) it is also rich in fiber and vitamins, minerals and iron. Here’s the best part, it is easy to digest and is gluten free.

Chef Das shares his tips on cooking quinoa. It’s like cooking rice, Don’t throw away the water, after soaking it, reduce the water in the cooking pot. He also recommends soaking it overnight  (1 cup quinoa in 3 cups water).

CHILLI MAGIC

It is on the way to the Machu Picchu, in the Sacred valley that I am thrilled to learn all about Peruvian gastronomy and the amazing chillies that sparkle it.  All this in the sprawling organic garden of the  beautiful “hunting lodge”-style  Tambo Del Inka, set in extensive grounds beside the Urubamba River, amid the

Inca terraces, valleys and rivers and Inca ruins. I visit  the ancient salt mines  at Maras (world famous Maras salt) but most of all it’s chef Victor Alvarez’s cooking and the sharing of his extensive knowledge of Peruvian cuisine that dazzles. The brilliant young chef makes the time to explain the basic of Peruvian bio diversity.   The intense fragrance and tastes of herbs, from huacatay ( its a cross between cilantro and rosemary) or Munya  to the widely used tree tomato and avocado. Fascinating colors and flavours of chillies. The  Aji Amarillo (pronounced Ahi Amariyyo) the most commonly used deep orange colored has a  searing, clear pungency. The Aji Panca is used almost daily for making aji sauces, to flavor most fish dishes, and is popular as a powder to sprinkle over pizza (like oregano). Its the Aji Limo which is the hottest and is used in the making of ceviches. There are a huge number of chillies like the fat round plump Aji Rocoto to the slim, slender Aji Limo. They shine and gleam and sparkle our food with their flavour and heat.

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