Peruvian cuisine is as varied and rich as a colorful Andean tapestry. Hearty indigenous ingredients have mixed with Spanish, Japanese and African culinary traditions, resulting in a fusion of cultures and flavors.
Originally published in Taos News
Photos: Katharine Egli
Lima-born chef Roberto Joe Najarro-Huaman has been living in Taos for around five years, but still loves to prepare traditional Peruvian meals—when he can find the ingredients.
“My favorite snack is papas a la Huancaína, Huancayo-style potatoes,” he said. “This is a beautiful appetizer, and easy to prepare if you have ají amarillo, Peruvian yellow peppers, available.”
Though it won’t be exactly the same, jalapeños can be used instead of ají amarillo. Below is the recipe, in case you want to surprise your guests with a special appetizer during the holidays.
A versatile business
Najarro-Huaman has been cooking for as long as he can remember.
“My mother used to have a popular food stand in La Victoria, a Lima neighborhood,” he said. “I remember her scrumptious arroz con pollo, which means rice and chicken cooked together. My mom was a great cook and I learned a lot from her. She is still my inspiration.”
He started his own business in San Juan de Miraflores, a busy Lima area, when he was fresh out of high school. He already had a family and needed to support it.
“I opened a small fish shop called Pescadería Roberto and sold all kinds of fish and seafood,” he said. “I made sure that everything was very fresh, and soon people started coming in. By the time I closed it, I had a steady, loyal clientele who wouldn’t buy their fish anywhere else.”
In Peru, businesses are “quite versatile,” Najarro-Huaman says. He also cooked at Pescadería Roberto and offered typical dishes like fish chicharrón and ceviche. Most people have heard of ceviche—fresh fish marinated in lime juice, served with onions, tomatoes and cilantro. But fish chicharrón?
“It is really fried fish, but we called it ‘chicharrón’ because it looks like fried pork skin,” he explained. “Cut the fish in small pieces, coat them in flour, dip them in beaten eggs, and fry them. They will be crunchy and delicious.”
From Lima to Taos
In 2009 Najarro-Huaman left Peru in search of better opportunities. After living in Miami for several months, he moved to Red River and finally to Taos, where he decided to settle in 2010.
“It’s so quiet and nice here,” he said. “That’s what attracted me in the first place. And then the people. I have made lots of friends and we enjoy trading recipes.”
His biggest challenge has been losing the fear to experiment with new ingredients.
“When you come to another country, it can be difficult at first because you are not only dealing with a different culture and language, but also with different flavors and unfamiliar ingredients,” he said. “I am very thankful to Chef Erick, from The Gorge Bar and Grill, who was a real mentor to me. He taught me everything, from the best way to make pasta to the names of foods and cooking techniques in English.”
Now he feels more confident working with local products.
“My Mexican friends are often surprised by the way I play with dishes that they know because I come up with some interesting combinations,” he said. “I use chile, of course, but also add a Peruvian twist, like a side of quinoa in an enchilada dish.”
The queen of Peruvian cuisine
Potatoes originated in The Andes and were introduced in Europe by the Spaniards in the 16 century.
In Peru, they have “a hundred ways” to prepare them, Najarro-Huaman said. Not surprising, if you consider that there are over 4,000 varieties of potatoes in the Andean highlands of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.
“The potato is called the queen of the Peruvian cuisine,” Najarro-Huaman said. “We have been eating them for thousands of years, since the times of the Incas, in a variety of ways. Here people tend to think of French fries or baked potatoes, but there is a lot more to it.”
A chef’s dream
Najarro-Huaman currently works at Plaza Café at Hotel La Fonda and in Guadalajara Grill.
“I work very hard because I want to bring my four children here,” he said. “They all live in Peru now, but I’d love for them to be in Taos with me.”
To achieve his dream, he hopes to open his own restaurant someday.
“I can offer something that nobody in Taos has,” he said. “It would be a fusion of Peruvian and northern New Mexico cuisine. Everything from chile to chicha (a fermented beverage made from corn or maize), cooked with Andean flavor and heart.”
Plaza Café at Hotel La Fonda is located at 108 South Plaza.
Phone: 575 758 7398
Papas a la Huancaína (Huancayo-style potatoes)
6 yellow potatoes or 8 Yukon Gold potatoes
½ cup ají amarillo paste or 6 jalapeños, seeded
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 soda crackers
6 ounces fresh or Serrano cheese
1 cup evaporated milk
10 black olives
3 hardboiled eggs, cut in slices
8 lettuce leaves
salt and pepper to taste
Boil and peel the potatoes.
Put the ají amarillo paste or seeded jalapeños in the blender, add oil, milk, cheese, crackers, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Blend together until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. It will look like a creamy sauce.
Slice the potatoes.
Cover them with the sauce.
Garnish with lettuce leaves, black olives and hard boiled eggs.