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  • Writer's pictureElise

Cook Book Club: March's ingredient is Garlic. The country: Peru!

Updated: May 8, 2023

This year we are doing things a little differently. Instead of simply a seasoning or spice, we are highlighting entire cultures. Kits will include this spice, a recipe that highlights it, a little history on the spice or recipe, maybe some insight into the culture and some best practices. I'll post the recipes and information here as well, so let's get cooking!

 

Puruvian Cuisine and Aji Verde Overview

Adapted from a number of sites including PeruvianChili.com, EatPeru.com, TheSpruceEats.com and others

I know, I know, another green sauce. I swear I'm not trying to get you sauced. South America just happens to have a strong history of using its produce on its dishes to spice things up. Peru in particular has an ancient history with some of its foods dating back thousands of years, slowly traveling and evolving as their ruling bodies changed. And aji (or chili peppers) in particular have a strong and ancient history, having been used for the past 10,000 years under any number of different names and peppers in general originating in the area.


The chili pepper, and those in its vegetative family of capsicum, was seen in ancient times as a holy symbol and often sacrificed to the gods. There is historical evidence to suggest that the aji pepper, then called the uchu or something to that effect, originated in the area and were a primary foodstuff. This was probably in part because of how nutrient- and vitamin-packed peppers of all kinds are. In fact Peru, being the origin of all things peppers, has the largest variety of native peppers in the world. To this day, very few Peruvian foods do not contain at least some.


Garlic is also an ancient food, one of the oldest horticultural crops in the world. It hails from middle Asia near the -stans. From that region it traveled to India and then Egypt and up into Europe only to be brought over to the "New World" by colonizers looking for a taste of home in an unfamiliar environment.

Aji Verde sauce might not quite be that old, but it is a sauce that pervades Peruvian culture and permeates their cuisine. Think of it as a fusion of traditional Peruvian flavors, especially peppers, with the creaminess of curded European cheeses and the pungent . When colonizers came from Europe, as with many other South American countries, they left an indelible impact both on culture and cuisine.


Pastas, cheeses, garlic, European pastry techniques and European breeds of livestock were combined with the vast varieties of produce that most indigenous South American communities had figured out how to grow and the livestock they chose to raise. Indigenous cuisines also, at least until very recently, were downplayed. Meanwhile colonists found ways to create the dishes of their birthplaces, primarily that of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, using the ingredients produced locally. In fact, if it weren't for the colonization of South America by Europeans, European cuisine wouldn't have tomatoes, peppers, or any of a number of ingredients native to the Americas. And South America wouldn't have rice without African slaves and cheese, beef, pork or chicken without Europeans. In that way, aji verde is a perfect example of how these different cultures affected one another and became something new.

 

Main Event

Aji Verde Sauce

(Spicy Peruvian Green Sauce)

As adapted from Cookie and Kate for use by the Brown Deer Cookbook Club

yield: 1 1/4 cups prep time: 10 MINS total time: 10 MINS


Ingredients

  • ½ cup mayonnaise

  • 2 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro, mostly leaves but small stems are ok (from 1 big bunch of cilantro or 1 ½ medium)

  • 2 medium jalapeños, seeds and membranes removed but reserved, roughly chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

  • ⅓ cup (1 ounce) grated Cotija or Parmesan cheese

  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

Directions

  1. In a food processor or blender, combine all of the ingredients. Blend until the cilantro has broken into very tiny pieces and the sauce is green and mostly smooth (no matter how long you blend it, it will still have some texture to it).

  2. Taste, and adjust if necessary. This sauce is intentionally bold and spicy and I usually think it’s just right as written. However, if the flavor is too overwhelming, blend in 1 tablespoon of olive oil while running the food processor. If it’s not spicy enough, add some of the reserved jalapeño seeds and blend again. If it doesn’t have enough zip, add another tablespoon of lime juice and/or a pinch of salt.

  3. Aji verde keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, for about 1 week.

NOTES

MAKE IT DAIRY FREE: Simply omit the Parmesan. To temper the flavor a bit, drizzle in 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil while running the food processor.

MAKE IT VEGAN: I think you could replace the mayonnaise with equal parts vegan sour cream, and omit the cheese. Or for a similarly creamy cilantro sauce, try my avocado dip. You can add extra jalapeño if you want it to be more spicy.

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