Chefs Pantry | Central

15 Dec 2015
3 min read
Pía León of Lima’s restaurant Central reveals her larder favourites from Peru, as featured in FOUR’s International Edition…

If I had to pick five items from our kitchen, I would have to start by saying this is one of the hardest tasks ever! We are driven by Peruvian biodiversity and the variety of ingredients is so immense I had to think in geographical spaces, rather than in colours or flavours, as probably most cooks would do. So I started with the highest: Amazonia. Between the greenest mountains of San Martín in the northern part of Peru, huge palm trees as tall as 25m produce lots of this incredible tiny fruit that is the ungurahui (Oenocarpus bataua Mart) twice a year. To extract the pulp from this is as tough as it is to collect them. Climbing experts are used on the trip up by surrounding the thick palm stem with arms and legs, while carrying a huge basket! You will mostly find ungurahui after the rainy season (March to July). [You must] extract the pulp by soaking the fruit in warm water, just as the awajunas have been doing for ages. The awajunas is an indigenous native community eight hours by boat from c and is nomad by definition. These people move up in the mountains depending on how high the river water rises. They have made good friends with Ricardo and Carol, agronomist from Lima, interested in the Amazonian fruit supplying chain.

Deep purple in colour, ungurahuis get oxidized pretty quickly so it is best to use them as fresh as possible. The flavour is just amazing, unlike any other fruit you have ever tasted. The texture is creamy and a bit grainy. You will find processed pulp in just a few markets and the fruit itself only by contacting locals from Iquitos, San Martín or Ucayali.

If you go lower to a less dense jungle, you will find yourself in the habitat of the Sacha Inchi to the orient, where the trees go smaller, and the smell of aguajes are all around. (Plukenetia volubilis L.). The oil that is obtained from this sacha inchi seeds is really interesting. Its bitterness goes perfectly with fresh garden leaves and vegetables. Using just a bit. It has become so famous it will not be difficult to find a good quality oil in any Peruvian market.

As we have gone so many times to the Urubamba valley in Cusco, we have seen first hand how the Andean connects with their environment in such a special way… In one of our recent visits, we got in contact with Naida, and she took us to her garden, up in a mountain as high as 3,500m, where this particular tubers where laying over a colourful piece of cloth made with fibers of cabuya. The tubers where lovely yellow mashwas (Tropaelom tuberosusm), that where as big as plum, with a conic shape and a smooth surface. They had been laying under the sun for five days, and there was a couple more days to wait until there were ready. Mashwas are supposed to be dug from the rich soil of the andes, and then exposed to sunlight so that the starches become sugars, and then the flavor is just the best. Creamy and mild, the made an incredible……. In a dish that represents the Naida gardens full of little flowers, and aromatics, roots, and a lot of ancient tradition and agricultural knowledge.

It would be unfair for me to not mention our own orchard. As it happens, our gardener Marino comes from another Cusco valley, so he managed to adapt beautiful quinoas to our coastal soil (right at our second floor). This quinoas have offered us tons of superb little leaves (Chenopodium quinoa) that when combined to other aromatics takes us back to the valley of Quillabamba. There, farmers grow all sorts of fruit, cacao and coffee the old Incan way.

Lastly, as we come from the coast, my larder favourites wouldn’t be complete without seafood. Childhood memories of every Limean kid involve tje beach, eating the freshest fish and seafood, delivering as the fishermen come out of the water. Paracas Clams (Semele sp.)are known for its sweetness and fine texture, intensity and depth. Luis Zapata takes out in the ocean surrounding the Paracas Reserve. It is amazing to watch these guys diving 30ft to find these especial clams. They get blanched and then thinly sliced. After that, leche de tigre made with rocoto chili pepper is spread just enough, so that their sweetness will not get lost.

Find out more about Lia and restaurant Central here…