Peruvian food is the jewel in South America’s crown. With so much of the continent being known for stodgy carbs and deep-fried food, Peru offers a much-needed change for the traveller looking to expand their palate! This country boasts 3000 species of potato and 55 varieties of corn, surely there is no better place to do a cooking class!?
Who doesn’t want to spend all their time eating?
During the three months that I have spent in Peru, I have taken every available opportunity to eat. Therefore, it seemed only fitting that I bid the country farewell by stuffing my face in its honour.
We organised a cooking class with Cusco Culinary (located in Cusco, Peru), who gave us the option of a lunch or dinner time lesson. We perused both menus and after a lot of head-scratching and deliberation, settled on the afternoon class which would start at 3 pm.
We were instructed to meet our teacher and chef outside the San Pedro market. As Tim and I approached the gate, a friendly Peruvian and introduced himself as Jesus from Cusco Culinary. He explained that we would be meeting two other students before touring the market to buy our ingredients.
Our cooking class with Cusco Culinary kicks off!
San Pedro Market Tour
After the others arrived and we became a full group, Jesus led us inside the San Pedro market. Having only visited this market once prior to this trip and getting ripped off for a handful of peppers, I will confess I wasn’t super excited about this part of the activity.
However, Jesus flitted around the market with infectious enthusiasm and shared all of his local knowledge with us. He gave us insider tips on how to choose the best quality fruit, offered an estimate of how much things should cost and introduced us to Peruvian food you can only buy in local markets.
Jesus told us that the reason there are so many unique varieties of food in Peru is because of the sheer number of microclimates that exist within the country. This market was a foodie’s paradise!
We spent nearly one hour in the market where Jesus stocked up on fresh ingredients that we would be using in our cooking class. To make things more interesting, he also spoke to many of the vendors and got us samples of different foods to try.
As Jesus is a well-known face in the market, the stall holders were only too happy to oblige and handed over organic chocolate, creamy cheese and sweet bread for us to try. It was a welcome opportunity to sample something with no obligation to buy.
After stocking up on all of the ingredients that we needed for our upcoming Peruvian feast, Jesus led us back to Cusco Culinary HQ for our cooking class.
Our lesson started with an introduction to Peru’s national tipple: the famous Pisco Sour cocktail and one of South America’s best drinks. Traditionally a mix of Pisco, lemon, syrup and egg white, Jesus announced we would be giving the nation’s favourite cocktail a twist. Instead of using lemon to flavour the drink, we would instead be using passionfruit.
Jesus explained to us exactly how to make the Pisco Sour, leading by demonstration. After some vigorous shaking of our cocktail mixers, we poured our very own Pisco Sours. Having tried the Pisco Sour before with lemon, I had always found it to be very sharp and a tad bitter. However, the passionfruit had softened the flavours just enough to make it very pleasant (albeit strong)!
Cheese and potato soufflé
The first dish we would be preparing in our class was cheese and potato soufflé. Here we used two of Peru’s species of potato and layered them two different types of cheese. Naturally, I piled my cheese as high as I could. These took less than five minutes to prepare before being popped in the oven.
Ceviche three ways
Trust me when I say that nobody does ceviche like Peru. Although the origins of ceviche have been long contested between Peru and Ecuador, this dish is such a huge part of Peru’s cultural identity that there is even a celebration annually in its honour. Ceviche is traditionally a mix of raw fish, lime, onion, coriander and chilli.
During our class, we would be making three different types of ceviche: the traditional, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion which is very popular and another with passionfruit.
After mixing the traditional ingredients together, we separated the ceviche into three bowls. One of these would be the traditional ceviche that is most popular in Peru. In the second bowl, we added soy sauce and oyster sauce. This would be the Japanese fusion. In the final dish, we mixed the base with a passionfruit sauce to create a sweeter version of the original. After a short while, the class retired to the dinner table to eat.
I was surprised to say that all of the ceviche options were delicious, even the one with the passionfruit which I didn’t expect to like. After getting our fill of Peru’s famous fish dish, we headed back to our work stations to focus on the next course.
I will admit, I was wondering if we were going to be able to top this seafood heaven!
A mountain of cheese and carbs
After we had indulged in copious amounts of ceviche, we returned to the kitchen to get started on the sauce for our cheesy soufflés. We would be making a traditional Huancaina sauce to go with this dish. The sauce was a mix of yellow pepper, cheese, milk, salt and oil. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make!
Sauce ready, we took our soufflés from the oven and presented them ready for eating. I am not exaggerating when I say that this was one of the best things I ate in Peru. A true delight, this is one dish I am looking forward to recreating at home!
Quinoa: The fashionable choice
Prior to visiting South America, I had never eaten quinoa. I know that this is hard for some people to believe as quinoa has been christened as a superfood. Its health benefits are being promoted worldwide and it has been given a hefty price tag to match!
Even though I am now more familiar with quinoa, I thought it was only used as a dull salad accompaniment or as a breakfast food. It turns out I was very wrong.
The next dish we would be cooking was mushroom quinotto (a cross between quinoa and risotto). I was shocked by just how quick this healthy dish is to cook. Pretty much solely a combination of cheese, quinoa, yellow pepper sauce and milk, we had cooked up five portions of this in around five minutes.
We returned to the table, tucking into the food in front of us. I’ll say it, this dish has made me a complete quinoa convert!
The final flourish
No cooking class would be complete without a good dessert to top it all off and I am pleased to say that Cusco Culinary nailed it again. We peeled and blended lucuma fruit (a fruit that looks like mango but tastes like butterscotch) and used it as a base for our dessert. To get a fruity topping to accompany the lucuma, we mixed chirimoya with heavy cream and served.
This dessert was to die for. It had the rich taste that you would expect from a caramel dessert but with the lightness of an Eton Mess. By this point, I was stuffed but there was no way I was going to leave such a fine dessert unfinished.
After a few pained mouthfuls, I emptied my dish. What a feast!
A taste sensation
Our class at Cusco Culinary was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. Jesus was a fabulous teacher who showed us how to make dishes that I would have never thought myself capable of. All the way through the class, he was helpful, attentive and hugely entertaining, really making the effort to get to know all of his students.
The food that we cooked during the class at Cusco Culinary was honestly some of the best food I have eaten during my three months in Peru. Another huge bonus of the activity is that the education doesn’t just stop when you leave the building.
The very next day, we received all of the recipes for both the lunch and dinner menu via email. This means that you can continue to apply all of the knowledge from the class long after your travels finish.
I will without a doubt be cooking up some Peruvian cuisine on my return to England. However, I did make the mistake of telling my family I had been to a Cusco Culinary class and now I’m down to cook every weekend…
- Read more about travel in Peru here.