Mastering Taste of Peru with Help from Family

By McKay, Gretchen | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 22, 2016 | Go to article overview

Mastering Taste of Peru with Help from Family


McKay, Gretchen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Western Pennsylvania native Katie Choy might never have written a cookbook on Peruvian cuisine if her mother-in-law, Consuelo Choy, hadn't decided to switch out some linens.

During a visit 10 years ago, the elder Choy fell off a ladder at her son's home in Jupiter, Fla., while changing the top sheets on her grandchild's bunk bed. She broke her leg and required surgery.

With limited mobility, it was difficult for the matriarch to cook the foods of her native Lima, Peru, for her extended family. But she could teach her daughter-in-law how to prepare beloved recipes such as Lomo Saltado, a Peruvian-style beef stir fry, and Aji de Gallina, a shredded chicken dish made with peanuts and spicy aji amarillo pepper paste.

Learning to make her dishes, Mrs. Choy had a revelation: She should be writing them down for prosperity, as she'd done with recipes gleaned from her Irish mom and dad's side of the family. As she writes in "Family Secrets: Experience the Flavors of Peru!" (Lydia Inglett, 2015), "I wanted to have a memoir of Consuelo's and [husband] Pancho's creations" to keep them from being lost to the ages.

Over the next decade, she started compiling as many recipes as her mother-in-law could recall, testing and adapting them to the ingredients she could find locally.

This was no small feat, because not only was the former nurse a fairly timid eater into adulthood (she grew up in rural Fombell, Beaver County, where "the most exotic thing we ate was Mexican"), but she also knew nothing of Peru before marrying Rogelio Choy in 1995.

"I grew up with meat, potatoes and vegetables," she said.

To taste her mother-in-law's cooking, though, is to fall in love with big tastes and wonderful spices.

"Peruvian food has so much flavor, and a lot more flair than food in other South American countries," Mrs. Choy said, in large part because of the aji, Peru's somewhat spicy and ubiquitous chili pepper that's the base for a colorful pepper sauce that's key to so many dishes. In writing the cookbook, she hopes her fellow Pittsburghers will become equally enamored with spicy foods.

Home to thousands of varieties of papas, or potatoes, Peru's cuisine is heavy on starches; you'll also find dishes made with beans, rice, quinoa (which has been a staple since pre-Columbian times) and choclo, an Andean corn with large, bulbous kernels that's used to make everything from pastries and beverages to jelly.

What makes the cooking of these traditional ingredients unique, said Mrs. Choy, is that Peruvian cooking borrows from other cuisines, including Spanish, West African and Chinese. (Peru is currently home to the largest ethnic Chinese population in Latin America).

Mrs. Choy is intimately familiar with the Chinese connection to Peru. Although he was born in Peru, her father-in-law, Francisco "Pancho" Choy, was raised by his mother until age 16 in Canton province, and Consuelo, who learned to cook from her Inca mother, blended many of his native Chinese dishes into her daily cooking.

Mrs. Choy said her husband is the one who persuaded her to publish the 50-plus recipes in "Family Secrets" after she'd been working on the collection for about five years. The project became not just her labor of love but also her entire family's; her husband and daughter Francesca did the photography, while son Stefan helped with the writing, and her oldest son, Armand, turned it into an iBook. Her cousin Trudi Miklos of Rochester, Beaver County, did the editing.

There's love, too, for her adopted country, where Consuelo, 92, still lives and cooks. Proceeds from the book, which you can buy on katiechoy.com, benefit the Peruvian American Medical Society, a nonprofit agency providing much needed medical care through permanent clinics and medical missions throughout the country.

"I'm over the moon," said Mrs. Choy. "It turned out better than I dreamed of."

PAPA A LA HUANCAINA

PG tested

Served cold or at room temperature, this potato appetizer is a staple of everyday and holiday meals throughout Peru. …

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