Last Friday I tried the Cusco cooking class we offer. This is a relaxing, fun way to spend three-quarters of a day, eat well and learn how to make some tasty iconic Peruvian dishes.
Ever since Peru rose to fame as a culinary destination, we have been getting the odd request for Cusco cooking classes. It was one of the most fun days I had spent in twelve years here.
We met the group at their hotel at 9 am then wandered to the San Pedro market. Over a hundred years old, this famous market is an eye-opener for those who only ever buy things from supermarkets. Meat does not come in packets here, it quite blatantly comes from a once live animal. Bloody cow heads, large bull testicles, whole pigs on hooks, meat does not come fresher than this.
The market is divided into sections – cheese section, meat section, fish sections, vegetable section, bread section, soup section, juice section and so on. Each stall sells things at the same price as the next. There is no bartering here. In a town where commercial rents run into thousands of dollars, the ladies here pay no more than 120 soles per year for their small stand. This is where the town’s chefs come each morning to buy the freshest ingredients.
Aside from food, you can also find everything you need to make offerings or spells. Spells to make people love you spells to make your back better, spells to bring you money, spells for just about anything you want.
A twenty-minute drive took us above Cusco, onto to the hills near Sacsayhuaman. An unassuming gate opened to reveal a beautiful rustic cooking area in a sunny garden. An organic allotment, lovely wooden furniture and a very clean and spacious kitchen made for a peaceful setting amidst the birdsong. A far cry from the hustle and bustle of Cusco.
Any good chef knows that the secret to keeping people happy is to give them a drink. A series of large glass bottles held macerated piscos. Each bottle had slices of local fruit immersed in Pisco. You chose your flavour and then proceeded to make your very own flavoured Pisco Sour. I mixed strawberry and chilli flavoured pisco to delicious effect.
Then we made Causa. Traditionally made with yellow potatoes, we made a rather more arty version than is made in most homes. Grating the cooked peeled potatoes, adding some lime juice, we then rolled it in a bamboo mat and cut three slices which we balanced on sploshes of tangy tamarind sauce.
Next came the Ceviche -Peru’s national dish. This is quick and easy. Slice some fresh trout, toss with lime juice, chillis, salt and pepper, garlic and ginger and some ice cubes to keep it from cooking too fast. In a few minutes, it is ready. We spooned it into our causa towers and decorated with strips of fried camote. Then sat down to eat. Delicious.
After this, the main course – take an alpaca fillet, add a couple of sage leaves, salt and pepper and roll in bacon. Pin and put in the oven. This we served with quinotto. Like risotto but made with the famous Peruvian grain – quinoa which had been pre-cooked and drained. Sauté some bacon and onions, add the quinoa, add a bit of wine, then butter then cream and serve on a plate we had decorated with some liquidised yellow chilli paste. Take the alpaca out of the oven and away you go.
The meal was topped off with a selection of tropical fruits that we had bought in the market earlier.
A 15-minute drive down to town for 3 pm. It was a truly fabulous day, in great company, with great food. Highly recommended.0