Friday, July 15, 2011

Chupe de Camerones

I don't write about my Grandmother nearly as much as I thought I would, or think I should. Not a day goes by where she isn't somewhere on my mind, in a look or a moment, a scent or a sound, but it's hard to put her in words. She was a true force in life and after my Mom, she was my greatest female mentor, both in and out of the kitchen.

My Grandmother lived an amazing life that was transparent in all her adventures... climbing mountains, publishing her writing, marrying a Yankee after mere months of meeting, "rescuing" pre-columbian Incan artifacts, traveling all over the world. But she was also incredible in more obscure ways... being single until her mid 30s, having a child at 36 (now maybe not so amazing but we're talking about the '50s, people), leaving her home country of Chile for Peru and then leaving there for a completely different continent decades later, asthma, breast cancer, maintaining friendships that spanned across decades and countries, being married to my Grandfather for 49 years, taking such pride in herself, her home, her family. Maybe force doesn't even begin to describe her. She was one of a kind.
My take on chupe de camarones
And even though my sisters and I were American- Texan born and bred, she never let us forget our heritage. That where she came from was as much a part of who we were as all the American things we learned by default, and a big part of how she instilled her culture on us was through her food. We grew up gathered as a family around the table eating aji de gallina, ceviche, anticuchos, papa a la huancaina, albondigas, empanadas de pino, mazamorra pudding, crema de castanas; drinking chicha morada, and when we were older, pisco sours. To this day I've never had rice or scrambled eggs that were as good as hers and for the longest time I wasn't able to bring myself to eat arroz con pollo or paella because I was afraid it would erase the memory of how hers tasted.  
It was several factors coming into play the first time I made one of my favorite dishes, aji de gallina. I had finally gotten my hands on aji amarillo (a yellow pepper used frequently in Peruvian cooking), I was sick to death of going to restaurant after restaurant just to leave disappointed, and finally, I realized that my memory was stronger than I gave it credit and I needed to keep trying until I figured out the right combination... thanks mainly to my sister, who employed that tactic in recreating her favorite dish from my Grandmother. And that's what started me down the path to find my own place in cooking the foods of my heritage. 

These days I'm a lot more comfortable making not only close replicas of my Grandmother's meals but also branching out. I've read a lot about Peruvian cuisine and it seems like the one underlying fact is that in Peru everyone has their own way of making something and while I want to make dishes as close to what my Grandmother served us, I also want to embrace the culture she tried so hard to instill as well. It's led me to quinoa, to substituting aji for curry paste and other spices, to using crema de castana for cake fillings and to understanding the importance of parsley. And the other night craving the Peruvian hearty shrimp chowder, chupe de camerones, but wanting it also to be light and healthy, I substituted the traditional corn and potatoes for hominy and quinoa. Authentic? Who knows... if I've learned anything when it comes to Peruvian food, what's authentic to one person can taste completely counterfeit to another. But the underlying flavors were there for me, and that was all that was needed to take me back to a place and a time, with a person I love, that only my memories and taste buds can take me to now.

Chupe de Camerones
2 lbs shrimp with shells (heads if you can find them, I couldn't)
2 c. water
1 c. seafood stock
1 c. vegetable stock
2 Tbl olive oil
1/2 small red onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves- finely chopped
Tbl aji panca chili paste (can substitute tomato paste- which I did) 
heaping tsp aji amarillo paste
1 c. peas, either fresh or frozen
1/4 c. quinoa- rinced under water
1 can of hominy
1 tsp salt (to taste)
1 Tbl parmesan
1 c. evaporated milk
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 c. slow roasted tomatoes
3 eggs- hard boiled 
1 Tbl plus 1 tsp chopped parsley

1. In a deep pot heat the olive oil on medium and to that add the garlic and onion. When onion is translucent, add the oregano, parsley, aji panca/tomato paste and aji amarillo paste. Cook together for 5 minutes

2. Add in all the water and stock and mix well. Add in quinoa and hominy and let simmer and reduce for 45-1hr. 

3. Add in the shrimp (with the shells on to give the soup extra flavor, though it can be a bit messy while eating), the peas, tomatoes, milk and parmesan and cook until the shrimp are pink and just cooked through. Taste for salt. Serve immediately garnished with sliced hard boiled eggs and reserved teaspoon of parsley.

Here also are some great online reads, recipes and more on Peru:

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