From Peru, the holiday dish that transformed a Jupiter table

Katie Choy’s crash course in Peruvian cuisine came years ago, when her mother-in-law fell and broke her leg during a visit to her Jupiter home.

Until then, the food of her husband’s homeland seemed almost too complex to master. In her newlywed years, Katie, a Pittsburgh-area native raised on meat and potatoes, would jot notes as she watched her mother-in-law cook. Consuelo Aragon de Choy would create classic Peruvian dishes by fusing earthy Latin American flavors with interesting Asian ingredients, spooning out spicy chile pastes of various hues and intensity.

Spicy, creamy stewed chicken: Peruvian-style aji de gallina. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Spicy, creamy stewed chicken: Peruvian-style aji de gallina. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

But it was when Consuelo could not cook that Katie became her surrogate in the kitchen.

“I’ll teach you,” her mother-in-law would say from her chair, directing Katie to grab pots, open spices, raise and lower the flames on the stove.

Ingredient by ingredient, the dishes would come together on Katie’s stove. Today those dishes fill a large cookbook – Katie Choy’s “Family Secrets: Experience the Flavors of Peru” ($29.99, Lydia Inglett Publishing). But well before the book was published months ago, and well before the Choy family came to expect delicious Peruvian feasts at their Jupiter table at holiday time and, later, on random weeknights, there would be a few disasters in Katie’s kitchen.

One incident involved what is perhaps one of Peru’s more iconic dishes. Once Consuelo went back home to Peru, there was a disastrous attempt to make ají de gallina (creamy stewed chicken in Peruvian yellow pepper sauce). Katie recalls she didn’t have the right ingredients on hand and her substitutions didn’t work out as well.

But once she managed to transcribe the recipe in detail from Consuelo and seek out the authentic ingredients at local specialty markets, Katie not only mastered the traditional Peruvian dish, she devised a crockpot shortcut for the stew she likens to chicken chili.

“It became our holiday meal. We’d have it for Christmas. It was that special meal,” says Katie, a former nurse who met her husband, Dr. Rogelio Choy, while on the job at Jupiter Medical Center.

Cookbook author Katie Choy at her Jupiter home. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Cookbook author Katie Choy at her Jupiter home. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

She was cooking that very dish one night when her husband got home from work and stopped by the stove in admiration.

“He just stood there and he smiled at me. And I said, ‘What are you smiling at?’ And he said ‘I think you’re turning into my mother,’” she recalls.

Some might be mystified at such a remark, but Katie knew exactly what he meant – and she took it to be “the biggest compliment ever.”

Her rendition of the dish had conjured a powerful memory of home and childhood for her husband. It was a gift to both the recipient and the cook.

That crockpot shortcut has turned the dish into an anytime meal for the Choys and their younger children, Francesca, 17, and Stefan, 19. (Their son Armand, 20, lives in San Francisco.)

“I’ll make it on a weekday like nothing,” says Katie, who now blends most of the stew ingredients, pours them into the slow-cooker and tops it with chicken breasts. The flavors intensify as the chicken cooks. “The chicken shreds like a dream. It’s just so good.”

Katie Choy displays the herb paste she blends into her Peruvian ocopa sauce. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Katie Choy displays the herb paste she blends into her Peruvian ocopa sauce. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

More than two decades have passed since she had her first taste of the cuisine that transformed her kitchen. It came in the form of aromatic ocopa sauce, the first thing her mother-in-law cooked on the day she arrived at Katie’s Jupiter home.

“She comes in and she’s unpacking and she’s putting things in the freezer. Then she made this wonderful sauce,” recalls Katie. “I can’t say I remember the exact day that I tasted it, but it was one of those things you don’t forget. We put it over potatoes first. Then, whatever we’d have for dinner, we’d pour it over the top, and it was just so delicious.”

It turns out, her mother-in-law had brought the homemade sauce, frozen, all the way from Peru, and braved a U.S. Customs interrogation before warming up the delicacy on the stove in Jupiter. She had brought it from home because she wasn’t sure she could find the sauce’s key ingredient, a Peruvian herb known as huacatay, in Jupiter.

“At the time, I was unfamiliar with the spice and asked her what it was,” Katie Choy writes in her cookbook. “She leaned over and whispered, ‘It’s similar to marijuana!’ I thought to myself, ‘Hmmm. What is she feeding us?’”

She came to find out, the herb belongs to the marigold, not marijuana, family. And it’s sold locally in a jarred paste.

“We still get a laugh over that one,” she says.

RECIPES

Reprinted with permission from Katie Choy’s “Family Secrets” cookbook.

This kicky Peruvian yellow pepper paste is a key ingredient in aji de gallina. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
This kicky Peruvian yellow pepper paste is a key ingredient in aji de gallina. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

Ají de Gallina

Chicken Chile

Imagine your taste buds coming alive as they savor tender chicken bathed in a nutty cream sauce, followed by a hint of heat. I find it even more delicious the next day, or as a filling in empanadas.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1 whole chicken (3 ½-4 pounds), skin and excess fat removed, and cut into parts

2½ teaspoons salt, divided

1 cup pecans or peanuts (soaked in fresh water for 1 hour or more and drained)

4 slices white bread, crust removed and cubed

1 large yellow onion

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2-4 tablespoons ají amarillo paste, depending on hot you like it (see NOTE below)

3 cloves garlic, pressed

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Prepared white rice, for serving

3 hardboiled eggs, halved, for serving

Peruvian olives (purple-black botija olives)

  1. Place chicken and 1 teaspoon salt in a large pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until no longer pink.
  1. Remove chicken and let cool. Reserve water. Shred or cube chicken and set aside. This step can be done a day ahead and refrigerated.
  1. Blend nuts, bread, and ¾-1 cup reserved chicken water on high until smooth. Remove and set aside. Rinse blender.
  1. Blend onion and ¼-½ cup reserved water until pureed. Remove and set aside.
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add pureed onion and cook 10 minutes, stirring as necessary to keep from sticking.
  1. Add 1 teaspoon salt, ají paste, garlic, nutmeg, and 2/3 cup reserved water, stir and cook another 10 minutes.
  1. Add nut puree and stir and cook about 8-10 minutes.
  1. Stir in evaporated milk, cheese, and chicken. Cook another 5 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve over hot white rice on warm plate, garnished with eggs and olives.

NOTE: Find ají amarillo, or Peruvian yellow pepper paste, wherever Latin foods are sold. In Palm Beach County, it’s available at Presidente, El Bodegon supermarkets or other Latin specialty markets.

COOKING TIPS

  • For an easy shortcut, use a store-bought rotisserie chicken and canned broth. Discard skin, remove meat from bones and shred. Follow with recipe beginning at step 3.
  • Crockpot version: Take 1 teaspoon salt, soaked pecans, bread, oil, onion (quartered), aji paste, garlic and nutmeg, and blend with 2 cups chicken broth until smooth and creamy. Pour ½ into slow-cooker. Lay 4 chicken breasts over sauce and pour remaining sauce over chicken. Cook on medium 4 hours or until chicken is very tender and easily pulls apart. Shred chicken, return to slow-cooker, and stir in evaporated milk and Parmesan cheese. Cook another ½ hour on low. Times may vary according to individual slow-cookers.
Potatoes ladled with Peruvian ocopa sauce are served with a purple Peruvian olive. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Potatoes ladled with Peruvian ocopa sauce are served with a purple Peruvian olive. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

Ocopa con Papas

Potatoes with Cheese Sauce

This was the first Peruvian sauce I ever tasted and loved it immediately. We serve it over everything.

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

4-5 Yukon gold potatoes

3-4 large eggs

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled

¼ cup peanuts or walnuts

1 medium onion, diced small

1-2 tablespoons ají amarillo paste, depending on how hot you like it

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup or more of water

1 pound queso blanco or other fresh cheese

2 tablespoons huacatay paste (sometimes called Peruvian black mint)

3-4 lettuce leaves, washed and dried

Peruvian olives (purple-black botija olives)

Sprinkle of paprika

  1. Place potatoes and eggs in a medium sized pot, cover with cold water, and bring to boil over high heat. Lower heat to maintain simmer and set timer for 9 minutes.
  1. Remove eggs only and plunge into ice water bath. Continue simmering potatoes another 12-15 minutes or until tender. Remove potatoes and set aside to cool.
  1. In medium sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Sauté garlic cloves 2-3 minutes until golden and fragrant, stirring frequently. Be careful not to let them burn, lowering heat if necessary. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside to cool.
  1. Add nuts to already hot and oily pan, and roast over medium heat for several minutes until fragrant and golden. Caution, they can burn quickly. Remove with slotted spoon, and let cool with garlic.
  1. Return already hot pan with oil to medium heat, add a little more oil if necessary, and stir in onion, ají amarillo paste, and salt. Cook until onions are soft, about 5-6 minutes stirring often. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  1. Place garlic, nuts, onion mixture, water, queso blanco, and huacatay paste in blender. Puree until smooth and creamy, adding more water, a little at a time as needed. This sauce becomes very thin when heated, and thickens as it cools.
  1. Pour sauce into medium sauce pan. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  1. Peel eggs and potatoes and slice in halves or quarters. Place atop bed of lettuce along with olives, drizzle with sauce, and sprinkle lightly with paprika.

Serve with additional sauce alongside in serving bowl.

To purchase Katie Choy’s cookbook, visit KatieChoy.com.

Make these easy apple and honey muffins for a sweet Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah arrives Sunday night, just as it seems the world could use a critical dose of sweetness. The Jewish new year, symbolized by the sweetest of foods, is a time for renewal, for family, for matters of the soul and for rivers of honey.

And if something as simple as honey-dipped apples can beckon happiness, imagine those ingredients baked into warm, heady muffins.

If you celebrate Rosh Hashanah, here’s a recipe for some exquisite apple and honey muffins. It comes from “Our Table,” a new kosher cookbook by author and food stylist Renee Mullerpublished by Artscroll ($34.99).

Renee Muller's recipe for Apple and Honey Rosh Hashanah Muffins appears in her upcoming book, "Our Table: Time-Tested Recipes, Memorable Meals.” (Courtesy: Our Table/ Artscroll)
These Apple and Honey Rosh Hashanah Muffins appear in Renee Muller’s book, “Our Table: Time-Tested Recipes, Memorable Meals.” (Courtesy: Our Table/ Artscroll)

The recipe’s use of brewed tea exalts the apple and honey flavors. It’s a holiday winner: Fragrant with cinnamon, the apples and the muffin batter hint of fall.

APPLE AND HONEY ROSH HASHANAH MUFFINS

This recipe is reprinted with permission from “Our Table: Time-Tested Recipes, Memorable Meals,” by Renee Muller (Artscroll/October 2016). It’s freezer-friendly, dairy/pareve.

roshhashanahourtablecoverMuller writes:

“At our house, Rosh Hashanah cannot happen without honey muffins. At least, that’s the way my kids see it. It’s a family project, and by now, a family tradition, too.

“This recipe was given to me by a relative in Israel who bakes them all the time and claims that no matter how many batches she bakes, there are never enough.

“She’s absolutely right. We once baked a quadruple batch of these (sans the apples) for a bake sale on our block and we were left without a crumb!” 

Makes about 48 muffins

For the apples

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

4 Granny Smith apples, diced

4 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the muffins

2 cups prepared tea, lukewarm

2 cups sugar

2 cups oil

2 cups honey

12 eggs

6 cups flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 heaping tablespoons cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.

2. Prepare the apples: In a saucepan, melt butter over a medium-low flame. Add apples, sugar, and cinnamon; cook until apples are fragrant and soften a bit, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

3. Prepare the muffins: In the bowl of a stand mixer, on medium speed, combine tea, sugar, oil, honey, and eggs. Mix until smooth. Reduce speed; gradually add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed.

4. Fill each muffin cup halfway with batter. (I like to use a cupcake pen for this; I find it very helpful.) Top with a teaspoon of prepared apples. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out almost dry with some moist crumbs attached.

Author’s note: “The apples are optional; I find that some children prefer the muffins plain. We add the apple for Rosh Hashanah (very loudly singing, ‘Dip the apple in the hooooneeeyy’ as we do so) but throughout the year, we bake them plain.”

Kitchen tip: I recently discovered an amazing gadget called ‘The Cupcake (or Muffin) Pen.’ It really removes the whole messy aspect of filling cupcake pans with batter. Look for it in specialty equipment stores.”

Glorious gazpacho: coolest cure for sweltering days

You know it’s gazpacho season when a walk around the block feels like a month in the steam room.

Gazpacho not only has magical, swelter-zapping properties, it’s a diverse dish. Sip it smooth or chunky, from a bowl or glass.

GAZPACHO WITH GUSTO — SEE MORE RECIPES HERE!

You won’t need a blender for this chunky rendition. It’s a gazpacho that takes tangy notes from grapefruit. The recipe comes courtesy of our test kitchen consultant, Lenore Pinello, a catering chef and cooking instructor who owns Tequesta’s In the Kitchen cook shop.

When she suggested we make a grapefruit gazpacho for a story several years ago, I puckered at the thought. But her blend of ingredients, gently combined by hand, set the grapefruit in the sweet and spicy company of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and Tabasco.

Chef Lenore 'supremes' grapefruit. (Palm Beach Post file)
Chef Lenore ‘supremes’ grapefruit segments for her gazpacho. (Palm Beach Post file)

The result was not only delicious, but it looked gorgeous in the bowl, all the colors of summer brightly garnished with cilantro.
  

Tequesta test kitchen: Chef Lenore Pinello gathers ingredients for a killer gazpacho. (Palm Beach Post file)
Tequesta test kitchen: Chef Pinello gathers ingredients for a killer gazpacho. (Palm Beach Post file) 

Chunky Grapefruit Gazpacho

Recipe by Chef Lenore Pinello, In The Kitchen, 389 Tequesta Dr., Tequesta; 561-747-7117.

Serves: 4

1 grapefruit, sectioned
2 oranges, sectioned
1 cup tomato, chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons purple onion, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tomato juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Coarsely chop grapefruit and orange sections and place in a large bowl.

2. Gently fold in remaining ingredients and chill for 4 hours. Serve chilled.

Big bowl of sunshine: Chunky Grapefruit Gazpacho. (Palm Beach post file)
Big bowl of sunshine: Chunky Grapefruit Gazpacho. (Palm Beach post file)

   

A dreamy recipe to celebrate National Mousse Day

Daisy Martinez's “Sweet Earth” chocolate mousse cups with chocolate cookie crumbles are topped with edible flowers. (Photo: Joseph De Leo)
Tierrita Dulce: Daisy Martinez’s “Sweet Earth” chocolate mousse cups. (Photo: Joseph De Leo)

Got chocolate mousse on the brain? No wonder: Today is National Mousse Day. Here’s a yummy rendition, created by Daisy Martinez, the talented chef, cookbook author and culinary TV star.

‘TIERRITA DULCE’

(Sweet Earth)

Chocolate Mousse with Chocolate Cookie Crumbles

(Serves 6 to 8, depending on size of pots)

INGREDIENTS:

One 12-ounce bag bittersweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons dark rum

1¼ tablespoons instant espresso powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

3 extra-large eggs, separated

3⁄4 cup sugar

1 cup heavy cream, well chilled

2 packages Oreo Thin Crisps chocolate cookies or 1¼ cups crushed Famous Chocolate Wafers

6 to 8 edible flowers, with stems if possible, or candy flowers (from a bakery supply shop)

TO MAKE:

 

1. Mix the chocolate chips, rum, espresso powder, vanilla, salt, and ¼ cup water in a large heatproof bowl. Set over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the chocolate is melted. Set aside.

2. Using a hand mixer, beat the egg yolks with ¼ cup of the sugar in a medium bowl until they are pale yellow and fluffy and you can see the bottom of the bowl as you beat, about 2 minutes. Fold about one-third of the chocolate mixture into the yolks with a rubber spatula, then fold the yolk mixture into the chocolate remaining in the bowl. Set aside.

3. Wash the beaters and bowl thoroughly and dry them. Beat the egg whites with the remaining ½ cup sugar in a medium bowl until they hold soft peaks when the beaters are lifted. Fold one-third of the whites into the chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula. Once they are incorporated, fold in the remaining whites.

4. Beat the cream in a clean bowl until it holds firm peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold the cream into the chocolate mixture one-third at a time. Divide the mousse among 6 to 8 food-safe flowerpots (see Note) or dessert cups. Chill for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.

5. Put the cookies in a heavy resealable plastic bag. Whack them with a rolling pin into coarse pieces, then roll until fine crumbs. Top each dish of mousse with crumbled chocolate cookies to resemble soil. Finish with the edible flowers, standing them straight up by inserting the stems into the mousse.

NOTE: Food-safe flowerpots are available in specialty bakeware shops, or feel free to use ramekins.

(Prep time: 45 minutes, plus 2 to 24 hours chilling time)

Recipe from “Daisy: Morning, Noon and Night — Bringing Your Family Together with Everyday Latin Dishes” (Atria Books).