Posts Tagged ‘peru’

Peruvian Wine Adventure

March 27, 2010

By Lisa Stefan

Lisa’s adventures take her way down south, to Peru, where, like most other travelers, she heads to the southern portion of the country, where Cusco and Macchu Picchu act like magnets and attract every other foreigner. Most leave back to Lima’s airport and back home. Lisa, victim to her love of wine, takes a detour to check out the Peruvian wine capital, the Ica province….

“…After a week of exploring Cusco and the surrounding Inca ruins by bus, foot, bike and raft and an exhausting 4 day trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I was in serious need of some R&R… and a glass of wine!  So, with 4 extra days to spare on my solo journey to Peru, I hopped on a bus and headed south to Huacachina, a movie-like oasis in Ica.

Ica, located 300 km south of Lima along the Pan-American highway, is considered the premier wine producing area of the country. The area is known by locals as “the land of the sun”, with a hot & dry climate year round this is the perfect place to grow grapes. The area has sandy soil with a rich underground water source that has been tapped for drip irrigation. In addition to grapes, many crops are grown in the area including cotton, asparagus, table grapes and olives.  Though there are traditional wines made in Peru, a large amount of the industry is Pisco production.  Pisco is a distilled spirit, or brandy, made from grapes.  Back in the 1500s the Spaniards brought grapes to the area from Europe, but in the 17th Century the King of Spain banned wine entirely, which forced the locals to come up with another way of making alcohol from the grapes.

The national cocktail of Peru is the Pisco Sour, a scrumptious little concoction containing Pisco, lime juice, egg whites, simple syrup, and regional bitters.  It is served up in local bars and restaurants and even in the local Bodegas (wineries).  I was fortunate enough to taste a few different versions of the national cocktail, and even had a “Pisco Collins” – like a Tom Collins but made with Pisco instead of Gin.

I stayed in Huacachina, the little Oasis in the desert (literally a small green lake surrounded by enormous sand dunes), located about 5km south of the town of Ica, and from there it was easy to hire a local driver to take me and a friend I met at the hotel on a “wine tour”.  Our first stop was at El Catador, a small roadside operation clearly marketed to tourists. The tour guide spoke broken English and spent a good portion of the time trying to charm us foreign ladies.  We were, however, able to see the traditional wine presses –lagares– where the grapes are stomped by foot, and the unique clay pots in which they store wine and pisco. The “wines” were all sweet and unremarkable, however I did pick up a small souvenir bottle of “Perfecto Amor”, a unique dessert wine, a mixture of pisco and sweet white wine (side note – I opened this bottle with a group of wine lovers and there were mixed reviews).

Next we were off to a “real” winery, founded in 1857, Bodegas Vista Alegre.  Pulling up to the 18 foot wooden gate at one notices the contrast between the affluent wine industry and the local agricultural industry.  There is security at the gate, and when you enter through the elegant archway, you enter a completely different environment.  Completely enclosed and separated from the town, one can see the surrounding sand dunes above the walls.  There are green grape vines planted along both sides of the long driveway leading up to the tasting room, and behind the tasting room sits the onsite modern wine making facility.

I took a tour, offered only in Spanish, and though my Spanish is limited, I have done enough winery tours to be able to piece together what was being said.   The wine tasting was held at the end of the tour in the beautifully decorated tasting room/sales office.  I enjoyed the wines and the vistas while a little old man spoke too fast in Spanish for me to understand.  I don’t have notes on the wines as I was in vacation mode on this tour, but Bodega Vista Alegre left a great taste in my mouth, and was a great way to wrap up my time in Peru.

I headed back to Huacachina, did a little dune buggying and sandboarding, went out for a few Pisco Sours and called it a wrap.  I had to head back to Lima the next day to get my flight home and managed to pick up a $40 bottle of 2005 Tacama Cabernet Sauvignon at the duty free shop at the airport. This wine proved to be a beauty.  Dark fruit, currant, cedar & tobacco notes with firm tannins and a lengthy finish.  Too bad you can’t find that one in Canada!

Note of Winecouver. Two Peruvian wineries have products available in Canada (not in BC). Tacama and Tabernero. Tabernero’s Malbec Merlot blend is arguably Peru’s best today. With Argentinian investment and technology, we should expect better wines coming from the Inca nation. Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat are the most promising black grapes. Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier are the white varieties to keep an eye on.

ps. Text and Photos by Lisa Stefan


Arroz con Mariscos: The Easy Alternative to Paella

January 5, 2010

I had the fortune to eat my first real Paella in the place where it was born: Valencia, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. As a first timer, I was intrigued and also a bit weary. You never know if you are going to like a new food, especially, when everyone who told you about it seems to love it. I had had spurious versions in Vancouver’s Hispanic restaurants and I couldn’t say I was too impressed. My hosts were a nice young couple who had visited me in Vancouver years before. They fell in love with our city (how could they not?) and were more than eager to show me their town and its best expressions. I am not the kind of person who can hide his dislike of a dish or wine. So, I was a bit worried I might pull a face when tasting the Paella Valenciana they were so excited to share with me.

Before going on with the story, let’s say that Valencia claims to be the cradle of Paella. That is, the Paella Marinera (marine) that we all know. Rice, saffron, red pepper, mussels, prawns, chicken, chorizo. However, the original Paella, also originated in Valencia but further inland, is made with rabbit, chicken and rosemary as opposed to saffron. The young Spanish couple had made this for me during their visit in Vancouver and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  In the years to come I tried making Paella Marinera several times. Anyone who has attempted this knows how heartbreaking is to find, after spending good money on seafood and a lot of work and time, that the result is not what one expected. Most stoves do not have the right burner size to heat the paella pot homogeneously. Electric elements don’t respond quickly to temperature changes. It is easy to end up with overcooked rice, lumped in one sticky mass. Or even worse, to have uncooked rice on your plate. Because of that I turned to a Peruvian favorite, Arroz con Mariscos (rice and seafood) that is easier to make and is a tasty substitute to Paella.


Start by thawing a bag of seafood mix. Rinse thoroughly with cold tap water. For this amount (approx. 1 lb) chop a medium size onion and a shallot. Sautee in olive oil over medium heat until tender. Add a sprinkle or two of chili flakes and a spoonful of Spanish paprika. Stir well and add the seafood mix. Chop a Roma tomato and add to mix. Pour 1/3 cup of dry white wine, ¼ cup green peas and a bay leaf. Cook in low for 7-10 min. or until seafood is tender. You will know it  is ready because it turns opaque. Remove bay leaf. Meanwhile, cook 2 cups of rice (I normally use rice cooker for convenience). Follow regular water to rice proportions. You can substitute water for fish, chicken or vegetable stock. When rice is almost ready, incorporate to cooked seafood mix and stir. Incorporate 8-12 prawn tails, shell on.  Add half a red bell pepper cut in fine strips on top, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve hot, sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and drops of lemon. This dish is truly enjoyed when paired with a refreshing white wine. Albarino comes to mind, but Fiano, Orvieto or a lean Chardonnay will do well.

Peruvian Cuisine: Aguadito

November 2, 2009

As it is the case of many other Peruvian dishes, this soup is the result of the combination of creativity and necessity. 851_1The word Aguadito translates literally as “little thin stew”, the diminutive form being common in Peru when talking about food. Economy has never been strong for long hauls in that part of the world and the custom of adding water to soups and stews was born spontaneously, as families grew larger and pockets shallower.

At the beginning of the Republic, around the 1830’s, the country’s political life was in complete turmoil and the Caudillos –warlords- fought one another for a chance to place their behinds on the Presidential Chair. On occasion, there were two –and even three- different presidents occupying the Palace of Government in a single year. Conspiracy and intrigue saturated the main cities, in which gun and sword battles full of sound and fury and galloping horses became the order of the day. Each Caudillo had his own personal army, as well as a wife and a number of mistresses, a fact that was not hidden but rather celebrated as an unequivocal sign of manliness, the full expression of the ancestral macho, condition considered indispensable for the exercise of power. More affluent Caudillos could meet their personal armies’ needs. Those less fortunate found hard to pay and feed their soldiery, and frequently they had to stretch their budgets to unimaginable limits.

It is said that one of such leaders, alien to the most basic military training, appointed himself as Mariscal –Marshall- and gathered a ragtag army to fight for a chance at becoming the President of Peru. To feed his ill-prepared troops, he hired a black cook known as the Negra Josefa. The woman was the owner of both extraordinary culinary talent and an indomitable nature. Her mouth was foul and her body, although shapely, was of planetary dimensions. Her hands concocted the most sublime flavors but rumor ran that the Mariscal was not only attracted to her culinary prowess.

From the very beginning, the woman had to find solutions to the scarcity of means that was the hallmark of the Mariscal’s operation. One good day, tired of having to do miracles to feed one hundred men with just a sack of rice and a few chickens, the Negra Josefa took the matters in her hands, and defying all advice given by friend and foe alike, crossed the military camp in a straight line toward the Mariscal’s tent. Full of resolve and anger, she pushed aside two guards who stood by the tent’s entrance. The camp fell silent and everyone listened intently for the oncoming shouting contest. The woman broke into a continuous rant that grew louder and louder, complaining of how she had to work wonders to feed the men and how the Mariscal never gave enough money to buy more groceries and that all she had for the day was two cauldrons full of Arroz con Pollo, and that would never suffice for the whole brigade.

The Mariscal listened to her in silence, and for the first time, overwhelmed as he was with his inability to get more funds to wage a losing war, he exploded in a tenor voice that until then had not been heard by anyone. “Carajo!” (the most sonorous Spanish expletive) he shouted. “Si no te alcanza echale agua!” (why don’t you add water to it!). He looked so menacing and the thunder of his voice was so unexpected that the proud cook cowered, and whispering “Yes, sir” she took off. The Mariscal did not mean what he said, as he knew nothing about cooking.

But the Negra Josefa, seeing the hungry faces of the soldiers took the idea into practice and eked out the Arroz con Pollo with plenty of water. She shredded the chicken and simmered the diluted dish, ending up with a thick soup, which she readily served to the troop, after squeezing a few limes on it and sprinkling it with chopped up aji peppers. When the starving soldiers asked what were they having for their meal the Negra Josefa answered dryly “watery (aguadito) Arroz con Pollo”. The soldiers loved the new preparation and the aguadito portion of the name stuck.

Curious like any good cook, Josefa tried different ingredients and perfected the recipe, which became a well known soup all on its own. The poor Mariscal eventually lost his war for power and was incarcerated for seven long years. During that period his loyal cook visited him every weekend with a pot full of the steaming dish, which he shared with other inmates and with the prison guards. After release, he married the Negra Josefa and helped her roll her cart on the streets, where they sold the best aguadito in town.

Today, the dish is very popular in Peru as a winter meal, but also among revelers who, after an exhausting night of drinking, search for good nourishment. The soup also gained a rather somber notoriety for being served at funerals, after long vigil nights. In its present form it is made with chicken, leftover Christmas roasted turkey or assorted seafood.

Click on link for Recipe

Wine for Aguadito

Pair with a copita (or more) of Peruvian Pisco. Red wine to match this dish: Pinot Noir or a lighter Southern Rhone. For white wine, Alsatian Pinot Gris or a rich Loire dry Chenin Blanc.

Not by Wine Alone….

July 20, 2009

Fish Ceviche for TwoDSC04449

With the summer coming on hard on British Columbians, red wines yield the right of way to a constellation of whites and rosés. Local brews and imports from all over the world offer endless possibilities to the wine enthusiast. What about food? No one should be too excited about oven-roasting a piece of lamb in a day with temperatures well over 25C. Salads and cold dishes are the order of the day. In hot days like these, seafood, preferably slightly cooked or just plain raw acquires an appeal that is hard to match. One of the tastiest seafood dishes is ceviche, basically strips of fish or shellfish marinated in citrus juice and spiced with hot peppers.

Although it is made in a variety of styles, depending on the country where it comes from, Peruvian ceviche shows the highest expression of the seafood flavour, due to its minimalist approach. Central American, Ecuadorian and Mexican ceviches call for long marinating periods that go from one to several hours. Recipes include tomato juice, tomato, avocado, olives, green onion, celery, capers, onion and a whole array of other vegetables and even spices. In Peruvian ceviche the fish meets the citrus juice only minutes before serving. Once on the plate, there is only the fuits de mer, the condiments and a few plumes of crisp red onion.

The Recipe

Half a pound of white fish fillet of, preferably sole or basa–ideally halibut- is cut into strips 1 cm long by 1/2 cm thick. Salt, ground black pepper and chopped hot pepper (all to taste) are then combined in a bowl with the fish strips. Put away in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. The heat will depend on how one likes it. For less hot ceviche, jalapeños works well. Habaneros and red Thai peppers are hotter. Avoid using pre-made hot sauces, as they usually have sugar and vinegar and will overpower the delicate flavours of the seafood.

Bring the ceviche mix out and add lime juice. IThis is a crucial step, because many inexperienced cevicheros over-acidify their dish. Every lime or lemon has different intensity of acidity, so it is better to approach this with caution. Add the juice gradually, stirring the mix. When the juice reaches the level of the fish, add no more. Stir, take back to fridge and let marinade for five minutes, if you are into raw fish (think Sushi) or 15 to 20 minutes if you like it “well done”. The citric acid of the juice will “cook” the fish, turning it an opaque white. Bring the marinade out, stir and taste.

This is the moment to adjust the acidity. Add some more juice if necessary. If it tastes excessively acidic do not panic. Remove some juice with a spoon and replace with cold water. Always adjust the salt after you adjust the acidity. You will find that you need more salt than you would normally use. This is because the intensity of acid and heat numb your taste buds. Adjust heat to taste and return to fridge. Cut very thin slices of red onion and dip in cold, salted water for a few minutes. Take a sprig of cilantro, remove stalk and chop leaves only, very finely. Take ceviche marinade out of fridge, mix in cilantro and serve topped with a handful of (well drained) onion slices. Serve accompanied with boiled and cooled potato, sweet potato or cassava root. Tortilla chips are also an option. Pair with chilled white wine. Torrontés from Argentina, German Riesling (off-dry or halbtrocken Kabinett) and Kiwi or Chilean Sauvignon Blanc are traditional matches. For the more adventurous, a bubbly, like Italian Prosecco or Moscato d’Asti are interesting choices, specially if the garnish is sweet potato. If you like your cebiche really spicy hot, forget about the wine, as your taste buds won’t sense its delicate flavors. Go for a cold beer.