It seems that our previous foodie post, the oh-so-delicioso Spanish Tortilla, was super popular with our Andes Not The Mint dot com fans. So! After a particularly tasty celebratory meal for Semana Santa (Holy Week) held at the Sucre Spanish School (and because Mark’s teacher was kind of enough to share the recipe), we thought we’d post another step-by-step “How To” for your cooking and eating pleasure. Today, you’ll be making Aji de Arvejas, a nutrient-packed Bolivian dish that has a little bit of everything for the enthusiastic palate.
Throughout the Andean nations of Bolivian, Ecuador and Peru, aji (the pepper) is a base for a variety of dishes. You might find aji de pollo, res, or any other meat-laden combination. Different peppers are used for different dishes. The comparatively mild and sweet yellow aji is used with poultry while the more assertive red aji is used for beef dishes. As previously noted, people from Sucre do not eat meat each Friday after Easter. As such, Aji de Arvejas is a traditional holiday plate that we were gladly able to partake in. Use your imagination; you can make an Aji de Whatever You Want! The two of us were thinking Aji de Tofu might be kinda nice.
Serving size: 2 full plates
Prep time: 25 minutes (approx.)
Cooking time: 30 – 45 minutes (approx.)
Waiting time: none!
2 large potatoes
1 cup small-sized pasta (elbow macaroni, gnocchetti, conchiglie, or the like), toasted*
1 ½ cup fresh peas
olive or sunflower oil
5 T aji rojo en polvo**
1 – 1 ½ cup(s) boiling water
3 T olive oil
¼ t cumin
¼ t pepper
salt, to taste
1 clove garlic (optional)
1 sweet red pepper (optional)
1 frying pan
2 medium-sized saucepans***
3 small-sized saucepans***
1 chopping knife & cutting board
1. First, do all the prep work. Peel the potatoes. Finely chop the garlic. De-seed and puree the sweet pepper. If you’re using fresh herbs, chop them. Make a paste of the aji rojo en polvo by adding a teaspoon or two of water until the mixture is, well, paste-like. Set all aside.
2. In a small saucepan, boil the eggs until they are hard-boiled. Peel and set aside. While the eggs are boiling, boil the potatoes until they are soft, and the peas—each in separate saucepans, as the potatoes will take a lot longer to cook. (A very important note about the peas: I don’t like peas. Never have. But I liked these particular peas. Why? Because they didn’t come from the freezer section in the supermarket. They were fresh. Plus, they were only slightly undercooked at this stage. DO NOT LET YOUR PEAS GET MUSHY!) Drain and set aside.
3. Begin making the sauce. In a medium saucepan, add 3 tablespoons of oil under light heat. Add the aji paste and cook for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup boiling water (yes, the water should be already boiling.); cumin; black pepper; salt; and optional (but highly-recommended) ingredients: chopped garlic, sweet pepper puree, and, if you please, the herbs of your choosing. (We used a little fresh oregano.) Stir and keep stirring for 30 minutes. If the sauce reduces too much, periodically add water.
4. While the sauce is cooking, toast the pasta in an oiled frying pan until brown, but not burnt. Then boil pasta as you normally would until ready to eat (al dente!).
It should look like this when it’s done:
5. Back to the sauce! After 30 minutes, add the slightly-undercooked (still crispy! I mean it!) peas and cook for 2 minutes.
6. Now, you’re ready to plate your meal. Slice both the potatoes and hard-boiled eggs in half. Plate the pasta first, in the middle of the plate. Put the potatoes on each side, the eggs at the top, and ladle the Aji de Arvejas (sauce) on top. Salt-and-pepper as you see fit. Wipe off any excess goo on your plate so it looks presentable.
As always, enjoy your meal (Provecho!). Comments and adjustments are always welcome.
* What’s the deal with toasting pasta? We tried making pasta several times before learning this most-important of Andean tricks. We’re no chemists, but essentially the reason one toasts before boiling is that at high altitudes, water requires more energy to achieve and sustain a boiling temperature. The effect this has on your pasta, rice, quinoa, etc., is that, without toasting, they will turn to mulch when you cook them. Although this technique was born of necessity, people here enjoy the taste of toasted grains.
** This ingredient is a semi-sweet, mildly spicy pepper that one can purchase either dried whole or, as we’ve used, previously ground into a powder. When using whole dried peppers, it is necessary to first remove the stems and seeds before grinding into a powder. We don’t believe Bolivian aji dulce is available in New York, but I have seen Ecuadorian and Peruvian products for sale in markets in New York City. You may purchase Ecuadorian or Peruvian aji either in powdered form or in a paste sold in jars.
*** Feel free to reuse the saucepans. 5 saucepans seems like a ridiculous amount, no?
You do step by step cooking posts so naturally. Love the all the photos of the saucepans in action. Looks delicious –
Sasha wants a version with, ahem, breast milk.
Great photos………………..I think this dish looks more
labor intensive than it sounds.
You two win the Chef Award!!!
love mom w.
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