Engagement : Love Session of Beth and Johnny making a traditional Peruvian dinner together.
The night before Beth and Johnny’s wedding, they invited me to their rental home to have their love session in the kitchen. Sounds kinda . . . delicious, right? Well, it was. Beth and Johnny met in Peru and while they were there, they enjoyed spending time together making meals. So, when I asked Beth what she wanted to do for their get to know you session, she decided that cooking together was the best way to tell their story. Of course, not only did I love this session for the originality but also the amazing food.
This corn is called choclo. In the Andean Mountains it is typically served hot with a slice of fresh farm cheese on top. It has HUGE kernels. Like nothing I’ve ever seen. Like American corn on steroids. Beth and Johnny are holding aji’s which means chili pepper and the peppers used to make the ceviche are called aji limo.
I learned something new . . . did you know if you slice red onion thinly and put it in a water bath it cuts the sharp onion smell and taste and turns them sweeter. I’ve tried this at home and it’s such a cool tip. Beth is washing squid. When they are at the stove she’s frying up calamari coated in panko.
The drink is called chichi mirada. Morada means purple. The drink is made by boiling dried cob of purple corn with apple, pineapple, cinnamon and clove and then sweetened with sugar. Delicious!
This dish is what they plated for me. Ceviche with sweet potatoes, the choclo and dried corn called cancha chump. Cancha is like popcorn. It is toasted in a bit of oil and then salted. Beth says it’s really great to throw into soups too.
I had to get these two outside after all that cooking and before the sunset.
“I began traveling to Peru in 2007 and learned to cook in Lima while studying immersion Spanish in one of the districts on the coast. The first person to teach me was the cook at the hostel where I was holed up for a few months. She taught me to prepare dishes flavored with sauces ranging from red chili peppers to cilantro.
In Lima, the main meal is served at lunchtime. It’s called Menu (pronounced ‘meh-new’) and is a full-course meal of soup or salad, entrée and beverage all for around 3 bucks. What is most striking is that Peruvian meals are always served with potato and rice. Two starches – it still makes me full just thinking about it, but the tradition comes from the Andean mountains where people work incredibly hard in the fields and have to come in to replenish before heading back out in the afternoon.
When I met Johnny, I spent stretches of time in Lima with him. We had this incredibly humble apartment with a tiny galley kitchen, situated in a comfortable neighborhood. Since his work took him all over Lima by day, I used to walk alone to one of several markets to buy fresh produce to prepare lunch for us. Lima is famous for its hole-in-the-wall indoor markets of fruits, veggies, meat, poultry and fish. Peru has several-thousand varieties of potatoes, many of which are only available in the mountains. My favorite is papa amarilla (yellow potato), so named for its meat, not its skin. They are creamy and buttery beyond belief and best cooked by steaming in a bit of water so they don’t fall apart.
I spent the weekdays whipping up meals and on the weekend we would look forward to Saturday nights when Johnny finally ended his work week. For some unknown reason, we started a tradition of making Italian dishes, I guess to break out of the weekly routine. We have a bottle of wine and catch up on life. On Sundays sometimes Johnny would make ceviche, the dish that we prepared for this photo session.
Now, Johnny will tell you that he doesn’t like to cook. And that is true. But what he does do is he puts his heart into it. He loves to eat and treasures his native foods as most Peruvians do. He knows a ton about the origin and history of Peruvian products, where the different dishes come from (the coast, the mountains, or the rainforest) and what ingredients go into them. He also has great instincts in the kitchen from having watched him mom prepare thousands of meals for his family and as a local food vendor.
We found a common ground in the kitchen. A place for me to learn and a place for him to share what he knows about Peruvian cuisine. Now that he is here with me in the United States, it is somewhat of a role reversal for the moment. He is the one in immersion language class and I’m out and about during the day. We have lunch together a few days a week and he is always the chef. Most of our meals are still Peruvian dishes.
So, this is how we came to know one another, spending time in the kitchen talking and cooking. In Lima, Johnny always told me that he loved my food. And everything he makes tastes delicious. I guess it comes down to the reason why, which as Johnny say, “When you put your heart into something, it adds a ton of flavor.””
Such a delightful and calm way to spend the eve of your wedding day. Thank you Beth and Johnny for sharing your cooking and evening with me.
xoxo . . .