with the expanding interest in Latin cuisine
we North Americans will find the famed ají
chilies in our produce markets. I dont
mean the frozen or canned varieties that
one makes do with when forced. I consider
it a victory when I see something in the
stores that Ive never seen before.
These are tools to me and I want a truckload
The Peruvian Andes are the probable home
of the ají. In her ground-breaking
work Peppers, The Domesticated Capsicums,
Jean Andrews wrote The ají
is so much a part of the diet of natives
of Peru that it must have seemed natural
for the Spanish-trained Indian artist who
painted the Last Supper for
the Cathedral of Cuzco during the seventeenth
century to place a dish of ajís
on the table before Christ and his Apostles
for their last meal.
The Quechua Indians native to Peru call
the ají Kellu-Uchu.
The Quechua word for chile is uchu.
The ají is most often used
in its dried state and is known as cusqueño.
You will be offered a preparation of this
in many Peruvian dishes called ají
amarillo. It is religiously applied
to ceviches and tiraditos and you will find
it with another national dish called cau
cau. I love that name. It is a
dish made from the cows stomach lining.
We are working on our fourth cookbook and
it will be far and away my most ambitious
one yet. It will be called New World
Cuisine: Latin America and the Caribbean.
In my research, travels, reading and interviews
Ive come to the realization that Peruvian
cuisine is possibly the most enticing of
all of the countries Ive studied.
It has to do with the topography of Peru,
as well as the historical and cultural experiences
it has known.
Ive been immersing myself in another
book. Its called The Art of Peruvian
Cuisine ,written by Tony Custer. There
are English language versions available
and if you can find a copy I urge you to
grab it fast. Mr. Custer writes well and
gives plenty of evidence that there is groundbreaking
work going on among the new chefs of Peru.
I am joining them in many ways by working
with one of my favorite new tools: ají.
Im Norman Van Aken and thats
my word on food.