On May 19, Chef Carlos Paredes is teaching us about Peruvian coastal and mountain cooking. We caught up with Carlos to find out more about his hometown, cooking influences, and what to expect in class. 

Papa a la huancaina, a dish you will make with Carlos in his class.

Papa a la huancaina, a dish you will make with Carlos in his class.

Carlos, tell us about your hometown’s cuisine? What about other influences on your cooking style?

I’m a chef from the city of Chiclayo, which is on the North Coast of Peru.  Within Peru la comida chiclayan  is known for its flavor and seasonings, and particular ingredients which aren’t found anywhere else, like loche. We use a lot of aji amarillo and cilantro. Being a coastal town, we cook with a lot of fresh fish and seafood.  I love Peruvian cuisine in general, but I’m really proud of the cuisine from my region.

Since I was young I’ve had a lot of influence from the mountains where my parents are from.  The way of cooking is different there.  It’s simple; just 2 or 3 ingredients in a dish, but cooked how they should be. There’s always fresh baked bread in the morning.  Bread with different kinds of wheat.  Butter just made from the cow.  I always think about my grandmother walking outside and picking mangos, avocados, limes and papaya from her backyard.  You always make food for more people than you think are going to eat because there is always someone arriving to visit you.

What kinds of spices and herbs are common in Peruvian food?

Aji amarillo.

Our traditional cuisine uses hot peppers more than spices.  We use cumin, pepper, paprika and turmeric.  But the most important is the chiles. We use aji amarillo (when dried is called aji mirasol) in almost every dish.  We use aji panca for any kind of stew–be careful because its very powerful!  We use rocoto to make sauce–combined with any herbs.  These chiles don’t just add flavor, they add color, too.  For ceviche, we use aji limo for color and flavor and aji cerezo for heat.  That’s how I make ceviche, but “sobre gustos y sabores no han escrito los autores.”  It’s an art–maybe some people like it one way, and some other way.

We have a lot of herbs, especially in the mountains.  My dad is a person who always cures his sicknesses with medicinal herbs.  He never studied medicine or culinary arts, but he knows.  He always made this soup–chupe verde (green soup) or sopa de siete hierbas (soup of seven herbs) to cure digestive or respiratory problems.  He uses muña, paico, parsley, oregano, spearmint and cilantro with potatoes, fava beans, eggs and fresh cheese.

Ok – what’s the deal with potatoes and Peru? Any tips for how we can spice up our spuds?

The beautiful and surprising array of Peruvian potatoes.

Peru has over 2,000 varieties of potatoes–the highest diversity in the world.  There are different potatoes for mashing, for soups, for stews, for everything. The texture ranges from so dry you need a glass of water to a sliminess similar to okra.  The taste ranges from starchy to sweet. There’s even a potato that’s grown near los Uros which is black inside and out and tastes like dry, rye bread.  My only advice would be to go to Peru and try them all.

Where can we find Peruvian ingredients or get a good Peruvian meal in Somerville?

In Somerville there are two Peruvian restaurants, Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu Chicken grill.  You can try lomo saltado at either one–Machu  Picchu Chicken Grill has a lomo saltado sandwich.  If you can come to the class and learn to make it.  WiIth a few tips, its easy to make this quick, flavorful dish at home.

If you want to try your own aji experiments, you can find aji amarillo (frozen or canned) in El Amigo on Broadway. Aji mirasol (dried aji amarillo) and Aji panca are available in Christina’s Spices and Specialty Foods on Cambridge Street.  You can find almost any type of Peruvian aji or spice in Frio Rico in East Boston. While you are there, stop by Rincon Limeno to try their ceviche!

Is Peruvian food easy to make at home?

Peruvian cuisine wasn’t invented by chefs; it was created by the people.  The techniques and flavors I’ll be sharing have been passed down from generation to generation.  None of the people who I grew up watching cook had been to culinary school but they’re all great cooks.   In this class, I hope to show people how much can be done by treating a few simple ingredients right.  It’s not a problem if people don’t have a lot of experience in the kitchen–they can learn.  I’m a passionate cook, but most important I like to have fun cooking and trying new flavors.  That’s what we’ll do in this class.  Thanks for this opportunity to share my culture and I look forward to cooking with you!

Thanks, Carlos! We are excited to cook with you, too. If you want to join us on May 19, please click on the Buy Now button below.