Have you ever moaned at a meal?

6 Jul

I need to learn to trust people’s suggestions more seriously. When I’m told something is really scary, extremely funny, or incredibly delicious, I have to learn to believe it. There are so many things that I have ended up experiencing weeks or months later because I was too stubborn and reluctant to believe them sooner. Who knows the countless things I may have been missing out on! It took me ages to discover Eddie Izzard, watch Yojimbo, eat Armenian food…

It took my sister two weeks to convince me to go to this Peruvian restaurant with her. Two weeks that I will never, EVER GET BACK.

Lomo saltado. Lomo saltado. LOMO SALTADO! I need a tall, dark and delicious Latino man to whisper it in your ear, with the accent and Enrique’s breathiness. Lomo saltado. Oh, baby!!! I have never been more excited about a meal at a restaurant. Mario made my mouth explode and my heart melt. I could have died after that first plate of lomo saltado and have been content with my life– it was just that good. I wish Mario’s Peruvian wasn’t all the way in Los Angeles…

It’s the only Peruvian food I’ve had, but it’s enough to convince me that the country is full of culinary wonders that I must experience and make my own. Lomo saltado is a dish made with tender beef strips, tomatoes, red onions, cilantro and french fries. FRENCH FRIES IN THE SAUTE. How brilliant is that? I was so skeptical at first, reading the menu, cringing at the thought of FRENCH FRIES IN THE SAUTE. They’ll be soggy and disgusting, I thought. But no. They were the perfect vessels for the amazing marinade and still retained some of their classic french fry crunch. I don’t know how they managed.

I also had a really hard time placing what it was that gave the dish this really distinct, addictive umami taste. Every single bite was as interesting and compelling as the first one. I kept flailing my arms and moaning audibly and loudly wondering what went in the dish. My sister kept shushing me because people started looking over. But have you ever had that experience with food where you just can’t help the noise that emerges from you? Noises similar to the ones of sex, but are clearly because of what’s happening between you and the food? Lomo saltado gave me my best foodgasm yet. That’s right. It’s just that good.

I never would have guessed, knowing little of Peruvian history, that there is Chinese influence in the cuisine– soy sauce! The combination of soy sauce, cumin and cinnamon was responsible for the incredible taste of the meat, was the essence absorbed into the fries.

Along with lomo saltado, there was this spicy green sauce it a squeezy bottle that was just such a gorgeous green. Very spicy in a refreshing, very green and brisk way. I want to call it aji, like the peppers it’s made with, but I can’t be sure if that’s its name. So freaking tasty.

Lomo saltado

This is a modified recipe from A Taste of Peru.

Ingredients

Potato Fries
• 2 pounds russet potatoes
• Salt
• Vegetable oil for deep frying, about 1 quart

Beef Stir Fry
• 2 pounds beef tenderloin.
• 3 teaspoons ground cumin
• a pinch of cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 2 tablespoons brown sugar
• Canola or vegetable oil for stir frying
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 1-2 thai red chiles, seeded and finely minced
• salt
• 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
• 2 medium red onions, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise ½ inch thick
• 1 ½ pounds plum tomatoes halved, seeded and cut into sixths
• 3 peruvian yellow hot peppers (ajies), seeded and finely sliced (reserve 1 for garnish)
• 1/4 cup soy sauce
• 6 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro

Instructions

Peel the potatoes. To prevent darkening, immerse peeled potatoes in a bowl of cold water until ready to cut. Cut potatoes into ½ inch strips. Return strips to cold water.

Meanwhile chop all your ingredients for your beef stir-fry.

Slice the meat into ¼ inch thick and cut into ½ inch wide strips. In a large bowl, toss the beef with pepper, cinnamon, cumin, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and half of the soy sauce.

Heat enough oil to cover the base of a large pan or wok and , over medium heat, saute garlic and thai or fresno chile for two minutes. Raise the heat to high heat and working in batches, add beef strips and stir fry until browned, about two minutes per batch. Season with salt. Transfer the beef along with pan juice , garlic and chile to a bowl. Reserve.

Add a little more oil to the pan or wok if necessary and stir fry onion, until barely soft, about one minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add a few drops of vinegar and continue stir-frying until it has evaporated, about another minute. The onion should still have some bite. Remove onion from the pan, set aside and repeat procedure with tomato.

Meanwhile in a heavy deep , straight-sided pot , heat oil to 375 F . To prevent splattering, pat potatoes dry. Using a spoon, carefully add potato strips, a few at a time, to hot oil. Fry for five to six minutes or till crisp and golden brown, turning once.

Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove potatoes from hot oil. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Keep potatoes warm in a 300 F oven while frying remaining potatoes and continue the beef stir-fry.

Return beef, onion and tomato to the pan. Add 2 peruvian ajies, the rest of the soy sauce and brown sugar and cook for ½ minute. Add 2 tablespoon of the chopped cilantro and the potato fries and toss gently. Transfer to a warmed platter, garnish with the rest of the cilantro, the reserved aji and serve immediately, accompanied with white rice.

Serves 6.

Ají sauce

The sauce is normally made with aji chiles, but I’ve done it with jalapeños.

Ingredients

1/2 cup coarsely chopped seeded jalapeño chiles (about 4 large)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped green onions (about 2 large)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped sweet onion
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 head of lettuce, torn into pieces (romaine)
1 garlic clove chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Combine the chiles, green onions, sweet onion, cilantro, lettuce and garlic in the food processor. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the lime juice and mayonnaise, and blend into somewhat smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in salt, pepper, and add more lime juice to taste.

Serve with crusty bread or brioche rolls.


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