Our cooking lessons in Lima

We concluded our Cenfotur visit at chef Francisco Lozano’s class on jungle cuisine, where we tasted smoked meat cooked with yuca.

Cooking class in Lima (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Cooking class in Lima
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
When we were invited to a cocktail party for international journalists at Cenfotur, a school of tourism and cuisine in Lima, Peru, we were glad to learn that it included a cooking lesson by veteran chef Nicolai Stakeeff.
Stakeeff taught us how to prepare lomo saltado, or stir-fried beef tenderloin, which may be the best-loved specialty of Peru. First the chef seared bite-size pieces of meat in a skillet over high heat, and then added red onion strips, minced garlic and strips of Peruvian yellow chili peppers called aji amarillo. After sautéing the vegetables briefly, he finished the dish with tomato strips, which he just warmed through, seasoning it with salt, pepper, cumin, soy sauce, wine vinegar and cilantro (fresh coriander); he noted that some chefs add green onions (which Peruvians call Chinese onions), ginger or oyster sauce.With the beef, Stakeeff recommended the traditional accompaniments – French fried yellow potatoes and cooked rice. (See recipe.)
Lomo saltado is indeed delicious when made with top-quality beef, but if a restaurant or cook uses a cheaper cut, the beef can be tough. Our guide Milagros Salome told us about a trick used by Peruvian home cooks for making lomo saltado without using pricey beef tenderloin. They precook a less expensive cut of beef in a pressure cooker, then finish by sautéing it with the vegetables and the seasonings.
Actually, there is an entire family of saltado dishes in Peruvian cuisine. At breakfast in our hotel one day we had chicken saltado, made of bite-sized pieces of chicken sautéed with yellow peppers and tomatoes, seasoned like the classic beef dish. Some make saltado dishes with fish, and others make tallarin saltado – noodles sautéed with similar flavorings, often mixed with diced vegetables, fish or chicken.
For a leaner vegetarian saltado, Manuel Villacorta, author of the just-published Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet, makes garbanzo saltado, or chickpea sauté. He heats a little oil and adds drained canned chickpeas, red onion strips, minced garlic, mild chili paste, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and cumin. After cooking the mixture briefly, he heats tomato strips in it and finishes the dish with cilantro.
He prepares tofu saltado the same way, but first marinates the tofu cubes with soy sauce and cumin.
Chef Stakeeff invited Yakir and me to attend one of his classes for aspiring chefs at the school the following week. At the class, he taught the basics of cooking fish and commented that the fundamental flavorings of Peruvian cuisine are onion, garlic, peppers and stocks. There were both European and Chinese influences on the dishes students were learning. On the menu was a dish of trout fillets coated somewhat like a schnitzel, with flour, eggs and spiced Parmesan cheese in lieu of breadcrumbs. The fish was baked and served with a French-inspired sauce of white wine, lemon juice, butter and capers.
Another dish prepared by the students was poached fish “Oriental- style,” with stir-fried vegetables and a sauce made of sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar. Chinese restaurants in Lima, said Stakeeff, also make this kind of dish with chicken and meat. (See recipe.)
In response to our question as to why Lima is considered the gastronomic capital of the Americas, Stakeeff said that Peru has a wide variety of foods and different culinary traditions – in addition to the Spanish heritage and that of the indigenous peoples, there are Chinese, Japanese, African, Italian and French influences on Peruvian cuisine. “All have contributed to our gastronomy,” he noted. Peru has developed its own cuisine via the gradual incorporation of flavors and techniques from the different groups of people who have lived there.
We concluded our Cenfotur visit at chef Francisco Lozano’s class on jungle cuisine, where we tasted smoked meat cooked with yuca, a starchy tropical tuber also known as cassava, and flavored with brandy made from seven Amazonian plants.
Someday, we hope to come back to take this course.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning cookbook Classic Cooking Techniques.
Fish fillets with stir-fried vegetables, soy sauce and sesame oil
Nicolai Stakeeff made this dish with a fish that resembles cod. You can also use sole or another white-fleshed fish. The chef poached the fish in chicken stock; you can substitute vegetable stock.
Makes 2 servings
❖ ½ long radish
❖ 1 medium carrot, cut in thin strips
❖ ½ sweet red pepper, cut in thin strips
❖ 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
❖ 100 gr. (3½ ounces) snow peas, ends trimmed
❖ 100 gr. (3½ ounces) mushrooms, sliced thin
❖ 1 to 1½ cups chicken stock or vegetable stock or broth
❖ 400 gr. (about 14 ounces) cod fillets, in 2 or 4 pieces
❖ Salt and pepper to taste
❖ 2 to 3 Tbsp. soy sauce, or to taste
❖ 1 to 1½Tbsp. sugar
❖ 1 tsp. Asian (toasted) sesame oil, or to taste
❖ 2 tsp. potato starch or cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp. water
Cut radish in thin strips; soak strips in cold water while cutting remaining vegetables. Remove radish from water and mix with strips of carrot and red pepper.
Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium- high heat until hot. Add radish mixture and stir-fry for about 3 minutes or until vegetables soften; if carrots start to brown too fast, reduce heat. Add snow peas and stir-fry for about 1 minute. Add mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 more minute, or until vegetables are crisp-tender.
Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, bring 1 cup stock to a simmer. Add fish and more stock, if needed, so that fish is barely covered.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Return to a simmer. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat about 5 to 7 minutes, or until color of fish changes throughout; check with a knife.
Carefully remove fish to a plate, cover and keep warm.
Boil stock remaining in pan for 2 to 3 minutes to concentrate its flavor slightly. Measure ¼ cup stock to use in sauce and transfer to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon sesame oil to the bowl, and mix well. Stir potato starch solution until well blended, and stir into sauce mixture.
Add sauce mixture to pan of vegetables and bring to a boil, stirring. Cook for 1 minute or until thickened. Taste, and add more soy sauce, sugar or sesame oil if desired.
To serve, drain any liquid from plate of fish.
Spoon vegetables in sauce over fish, and serve.
Lomo saltado – Peruvian stir-fried beef
The key to success in preparing this dish is to sear the meat over high heat, said Stakeeff. To make the dish, he used beef tenderloin; rib eye or other very tender cuts of beef would be good, too. The chef used Peruvian yellow chilies, which are sweet and slightly hot. Instead, you can use sweet yellow peppers and flavor the dish with hot pepper sauce.
This is the kind of dish that is cooked to order in restaurants, and for that reason the recipe is for one portion. You can multiply the ingredients to make 2 to 4 servings, and use a larger skillet. Serve the beef with rice and fried potato strips.
Makes 1 serving
❖ 150 to 175 gr. (5 to 6 ounces) tender beef, cut in thin slices
❖ 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
❖ 80 gr. (about 3 ounces) red onion, sliced in strips lengthwise
❖ 3 garlic cloves, chopped
❖ ¼ sweet yellow pepper, cut in thin strips
❖ Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
❖ ¼ tsp. ground cumin, or to taste
❖ 2 tsp. white or red wine vinegar
❖ 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
❖ 1 small tomato such as a plum tomato, cut in 8 wedges lengthwise
❖ 4 Tbsp. cilantro leaves
❖ Hot pepper sauce to taste
Cut the beef slices in strips of about 3 x 2 cm. (1.2 x 0.8 inches).
Heat oil in a heavy medium-sized skillet over high heat until very hot. Add beef and sear over high heat, stirring occasionally.
When most of the meat has browned, add onion and garlic and reduce heat to medium. Add yellow pepper, salt, pepper and cumin and cook 2 or 3 minutes, until the onion starts to soften.
Add the vinegar and cook briefly until it evaporates. Add the soy sauce, tomato, hot pepper sauce and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro, and heat through. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add remaining cilantro, toss and serve.