Recipes from your Bulgarian Aunt

20170923_224400

Lela Stanka has embraced our visit to Nikolaevo by cooking up a storm, and I’ve been watching carefully and taking notes. Without further ado, here are her gifts to us (and you), traditional home cooking from Central Bulgaria. We also got a jar of lutenitsa as a gift from Lela Stanka, but that’s ours and we’re not sharing.

Rose Hip Tea

20170922_091709

A ubiquitous recipe throughout European cultures that has been mostly forgotten in the present day but makes the perfect entry into foraging and wild food. Wild rose hips collected in the late summer and autumn are steeped in hot water overnight to make a tangy, floral tea.

– 1/2 cup rose hips (make sure they have no holes)
– 1 1/2 cups water

  1. Rinse the rose hips and cut them in half of crush them. The goal is to break the skin. If you were careless and collected ones with holes, you might find some grubs here.
  2. Put rose hips into water and boil. You can let it steep overnight if you want it to be stronger
  3. Pour through a sieve and serve.

Lutenitsa

This traditional Bulgarian pepper spread is AMAZING. This spread pairs well with practically anything savory, from rice and bread to eggs and meat. It’s like the Ajvar that’s served in much of the Balkans, but better (I may be biased). The best Lutenitsa is homemade, and while we didn’t have time to make it with Lela Stanka, I did get her to share the family recipe:

Makes 12 14-oz. jars of Lutenitsa

– 100 sweet peppers, about as big as an average adult hand
– 2 small or 1 medium-sized eggplant
– 5-6 medium-sized carrots
– 1 8 oz can of tomato paste (note: hers is homemade and contains no salt, so she recommended lowering the salt content below to make up for salt in store-bought tomato pastes)
– 2-3 tbsp salt
– 3-4 tbsp sugar
– 3-4 cloves garlic
– 1 cup vegetable oil

Roast and peel peppers:

  1. This step is pretty time-intensive, so it’s often done in batches or the day before. Put peppers in a covered dish and roast in an oven or pepper-roaster (these are store-bought or homemade ovens common in Bulgaria). Let them steam for 2-3 hours, until limp, then remove and let cool.
  2. Once cool, peel the peppers. Dip fingers in a dish of cold water and peel the skins from each pepper, then pull the stem and seeds from the top of the pepper. Discard skins, pepper stems, and seeds. Place the peeled peppers on a plate or flat surface for a few hours, dumping off liquid from the peppers as it collects.

Make sauce:

  1. Roast eggplants in the oven. Make cuts in their sides before roasting them to prevent explosion, and remove them from the oven when they start to get dark spots and feel soft. After removing them from the oven, put them on a plate to let the juice drain out for an hour. Move eggplants to a new plate and dump the eggplant juice (it’s bitter).
  2. Cut carrots and boil until soft
  3. Combine the veggies. Grind the roasted peppers with the roasted eggplant and boiled carrots. When mostly mashed, add the tomato paste. Put it in a big pot and mix in salt/sugar to taste.
  4. Heat mixture over medium heat, stirring in oil in 1/4 cup amounts. When the mixture starts boiling, reduce to a simmer.
  5. Mash the garlic into a paste. When the sauce in the pot has a jam-like consistency, turn off heat, add the garlic paste, and mix thoroughly.
  6. Transfer sauce to jars and follow your standard steps for canning. Lela Stanka boils her jars for 30 mins.

Village Potatoes

20170923_194251

These are your standard roasted potatoes, but with Bulgarian spices and seasonings.

– 15 small to medium-sized potatoes
– 1 tsp cumin
– 2 tbsp Bulgarian oregano
– 1 tbsp regular oregano
– 1 tsp tumeric
– 1 tsp curry powder
– 1 tsp salt
– Cooking oil
– Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Peel potatoes, and cut into thick ~1 cm wedges. Put potato wedges into a pot.
  2. Put enough water into a pot to cover, add ~1 tsp of salt
  3. Bring potatoes to a boil and cook for ~5 min.
  4. Pour oil into the bottom of a roasting pan. Mix spices together, and then mix into the oil in the pan.
  5. Using a strainer or slotted spoon, transfer potatoes into roasting pan and mix.
  6. Bake at 220-230 Celsius, until golden brown.

Breaded and baked squash

20170923_192929

When you want to eat veggies but don’t want them raw in a salad or boiled and limp, breading and roasting comes to the rescue! The spices used in village potatoes (above) could also be used here.

– 1 large zucchini
– 2+ tsps Flour
– Cooking oil
– Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Peel zucchini and cut in half perpendicular to its length. Then slice lengthwise to make flat, thin strips.
  2. Put 1-2 tbsp oil and 2 tsps flower into a baking pan
  3. Dip zucchini strips into flour, then layer into baking pan
  4. When done layering, sprinkle a couple teaspoons of oil on top, then sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste
  5. Bake in oven at 220-230 C for ~20 min, until zucchini have golden-brown spots
  6. After removing from the oven, season with crushed garlic and salt, then serve with yogurt

Feta cheese bread

20170924_101236

This bread is one of Stoytcho’s favorite childhood memories. It’s like a savory cinnamon roll filled with feta cheese. A few non-traditional twists on this (like adding dill or other herbs with the feta) would probably also be delicious.

– 2-3 tsps sugar
– 1 cube of yeast (1 tbsp yeast; or a standard 2.25 tsp yeast packet in other countries) – water
– Flour
– 3 eggs
– Salt
– Melted butter
– 6-8 oz of Feta cheese (12 oz if you want more cheesy)

  1. Activate yeast. Mash the yeast cube/mix dried yeast into 1/2 cup of water with 2-3 tsps of sugar, and then add 1/4 cup flour. In a separate small bowl, beat 3 eggs with a bit of salt.
  2. In 5-10 mins, when yeast is bubbly and eggs have rested for a bit, mix the two together
  3. Add 7 tbsp of oil into the mix, then add ~2 cups + 2 tsps of water and 2-3 tsps of salt. Mix.
  4. Then add 4-5 c flour and a bit more water (you can tell this is exact), then mix with your hands to remove lumps. It will be sticky.
  5. Then add flour until it reaches a dough consistency but is still a bit sticky
  6. Knead for 5-10 mins
  7. Oil the sides of a deep bowl, then place dough in it and cover with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled. You can also put it in the fridge overnight; it will keep for about 2 days
  8. Oil or butter a baking dish.
  9. Split the dough in half and roll one half into a large round-ish sheet. Then roll the second half out in another place. Spread melted butter on top of one rolled-out piece dough, and then crumble feta cheese over it. Place the other rolled-out piece of dough on top of the butter and cheese and press down slightly to flatten.
  10. Poke a hole through in the center of the dough circle through to the other side. Begin pulling the dough from the bottom side up through the hole, rolling the dough outward from the hole to the edges of the dough sheets. This will form a ring of rolled dough.
  11. Cut the rolled dough into cinnamon bun-like wedges and place in greased baking dish. When done, cover and let rise again for 30 mins to an hour
  12. Preheat oven to 200 C. Put the rolls in the oven and bake for 10 mins, then reduce heat to 175 C and bake for another 20 mins or until buns are golden brown on top. Remove and serve toasty warm, or when they’ve cooled with fresh yogurt.

For those who found the assembly description confusing:

Below is the step-by-step of assembly in pictures. I suspect this assembly method would also work wonderfully for babka, cinnamon rolls, or other such rolled desserts.

20170923_223913
Roll out both halves of the dough. Brush one piece with butter and sprinke feta over it, then place second layer of dough on top.
20170923_223958
Poke a whole and begin pulling layer beneath up and out, rolling dough outward from the center.
20170923_224002
Continue rolling dough outward from the center hole.
20170923_224103
Form into a ring shape, squeezing to make sure distribution of cheese and dough is mostly even.
20170923_224205
Slice rolls from the ring shape and place in greased pan.

Specialty dish : Yaki Curry

IMG_6044
Kokura’s cool shopping center.

Next in our Japan tour we visited Kokura, city of anime, a snazzy castle, strange pasta-headed statues, and, supposedly, one of the best nighttime harbor views in Japan. This last was not true, at least not in any way we could discern. Yes, it’s a harbor, and yes, it has cool flames from off gassing. But it’s dark and quiet with a very industrial feel. Maybe the locals dig it more than we did.

IMG_6068
A claw machine with Neko Atsume cats! Yes, we tried it.

The anime related things were fun. There’s a manga museum and a toy/books/everything-else mega store. There’s statues of anime characters dotting the train station, and statues of figures with pasta for heads on the city bridge.

IMG_5986

The castle is a restoration of an older building, and now it houses a museum on how the city was founded and what life was like before. It seems like every castle-turned-museum in Japan has the same theme, but it’s still interesting to see. The moving diorama is pretty unique.

IMG_6002

The real draw to Kokura (for us) is actually the tiny seaside town of Mojiko. It’s less than half an hour by local train and it is the home of fried Japanese curry. It also has a charming dock-side promenade and interesting drawings of squid by the station, but the curry is what we came for.

IMG_6077

Japanese curry is fairly well known around the world. It’s about as thick as some of the Indian curries, thicker than the south-east asian curries, and it is usually not anywhere near as spicy. It’s very commonly served with breaded fried chicken or pork – katsu kare or cutlet curry.

IMG_6073
Kid’s drawings of squid decorate the outside wall of the station.

In Mojiko they have what they call “fried curry” as their regional specialty. A dozen shops near the station – the center of town – serve it, and from what we could tell they all smelled great. We tried two of the restaurants and they were both amazing.

IMG_6114

The basic idea of fried curry is to take a small dish, chop up vegetables, meats, and whatever other additions you want, cover it in a deep layer of curry sauce, cover that with cheese, and then broil the whole thing until the ingredients cook and the cheese starts bubbling and crisping.

IMG_6079

It’s a great idea. We love the taste of Japanese curry dishes, and this style is right up there with the best of them. It becomes a more varied dish with different flavors and textures mixing and melting together. Sort of like the difference between pasta and lasagna – the same ingredients, but the preparation style changes everything.

You can find recipes for this style of curry online by searching for ‘yaki curry’ or ‘yaki kare’ recipes. This one looks good, but different from what we tried.

If I were to try and recreate what we had that night, I’d go for the vegetarian version. Get together :

2 potatoes
1 eggplant
2 carrots
1 pepper
1 large onion (yellow or white)

Prepare a box of Golden Curry, whichever spicy level you prefer. This is super simple, just follow the instructions on the box. Dice the vegetables and cook them with the curry as the box says.

Take the cooked curry and pour it into a 8×12 ovensafe dish. Some people will put a layer of steamed rice under the vegetables, but ours came with rice on the side, so it’s entirely optional.

Cover the curry with a few oz of shredded mozzarella (and/or cheddar).

Set the oven to broil and put the pan in for five minutes. This will give the cheese a chance to bubble and brown a bit.

Remove from the oven before the cheese starts turning black, let cool for just a minute, then serve frighteningly hot. Our curries came out bubbling and trying to eat them without burning ourselves was part of the experience.

Happy cooking!

IMG_6109

Two Drinks from Indonesia

In our travel through Java we almost accidentally got to try two of the most popular drinks in the country. Despite being widely available and delicious, I think it’s entirely possible to go visit the islands and miss these because they’re so ubiquitous they’re not advertised in any way – they just are.

IMG_1505

The first is a a summertime treat that’s close to a milkshake and perfect during the sweltering heat of .. all the seasons in Indonesia.  It’s called soda gembira, and its key points are : pink, fizzy, and  sweet (overwhelmingly so in restaurants). We had it for the first time at a stall in the near-Prambanan food market, where Natalie decided to try something random for breakfast. I was suspicious but soon ordered one for myself. This drink is childhood-level tasty. The recipe is extremely simple. The amount of syrup and condensed milk dictate how sweet and milky it will be, while more soda water dilutes the taste. We like the soda to be cold to begin with, but it’s not required. Ingredients (for our level of sweetness):

  • 1/8 cup condensed milk
  • 1/8 cup red syrup*
  • 1 cup soda water

Pour the milk into a tall glass, then the syrup. Fill to near the top with soda, throw in an ice cube or two, mix well and enjoy. About the syrup : it’s main quality is that it should be red. In Indonesia the two most popular choices seem to be rose syrup and coco-pandan syrup. I’m pretty sure strawberry syrup (or even strawberry milk) will work just fine, as well as cherry, or really any fruity syrup. If you want to try the real thing, coco-pandan syrup is available in specialty stores and Indonesian markets in the States. You can also make it at home with this recipe.


The second drink is a warm and spicy milk and ginger concoction that remains our favorite drink of the trip. Susu jahe – that is, milk and ginger, is readily available in any of the cities we visited and seems to come in a million variations. Most common is a pre-boiled ginger concentrate and milk, but some stalls serve a crushed root of ginger in a glass of hot milk, while some boil the ginger in the milk for a bit, then serve. They all come out good with the exception of crushed ginger in hot milk – it’s ok, but not gingery enough. STMJ is a semi-available and far better version, and our favorite drink. It takes a bit more preparation and isn’t suited to fast-paced street markets. Nearly every food area will have a susu jahe cart, not so with STMJ. Indeed, we actually only found one – the night market at Blok M, at the south end of the 1 bus line. There the pace is slower and the STMJ cart serves most of the market.

IMG_20170422_205548

The acronym stands for Susu (milk) Telur (egg) Madu (honey) and Jahe (ginger). It takes a bit more work than a standard susu-jahe but boy is it ever worth it. Even adding honey to the standard susu jahe is a step up, but the egg takes it to another level.

The ingredients for this one are right in the name :

  • ginger syrup
  • milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon honey (or more, this is to taste)
  • ground cardamom, cloves, cinnamon to taste.

We based the syrup on the excellent ginger milk tea recipe from this site, filled with recipes of Indonesian dishes. There are a number of ways to make this, including this recipe which shows a typical process, but we replicated the way we saw it made at the food market.

Start by heating up the ginger syrup and milk to a boil. Pour the two liquids into a glass, about half-way to two-thirds, then stir in the honey. The egg yolk comes last. Pour a bit of the hot mix into a small cup and whisk the yolk in. Keep adding from the ginger-milk until the yolk is foamy and somewhat heated. This is done to prevent the yolk from cooking rapidly and turning into flakes. Lastly, Whisk the yolk into the rest of the drink. The people that were making ours just put the whisk into the cup and spun it between their hands. They also added the amazing touch of torching the top of the drink to give it a creme brulee taste. Sprinkle your choice of spices on top and enjoy.

 

Valentine’s Day dinner

02-IMG_8210

On the road out of Auckland, headed to the eastern shores of the North Island, we encountered a very long and flat beach. We mostly stopped there because our app said there was a bathroom there. There was one, and there were also groups of people walking around with buckets on the beach. This is always of interest to us – people with buckets means something worth collecting is nearby.

04-IMG_8213

We asked a local with a full bucket and quickly found out the thing worth collecting was cockles. There’s a sign on the road that says you should only take fifty cockles per person, far more than a feast calls for. Our friend told us they and many other families gathered up bucketfuls for their gatherings. We’re not much into mollusks but we have a hard time passing up foraged food. There’s a satisfaction in cooking and eating something you found and gathered yourself, though for us it’s normally mushrooms and berries.

01-IMG_8207

We headed right down to the waterline, pokey spiral shells under our feet. When we got there, we realized we had no way to hold the cockles we found. Back to the car, then back to the waterline, this time with supplies in hand. A trowel to help with digging and a waterproof bag to hold the cockles. It turns out, as expected, that the waterproof bag holds water in almost equally as well as it keeps it out. It also, thankfully, doesn’t retain smells.

07-IMG_8219

It took us a while to find our first cockles. At first we only saw these spiral shells up and down the beach, making a life in the soft mud. Figuring that we had no idea what to look for, we found holes left by other cockle hunters. When we found our first tiny cockle we were ecstatic. In the bag it goes! Then came another, and another, and at the next hole came five more. Pretty soon we were bogged down in cockles, picking and choosing the largest and freshest looking.

03-IMG_8212

While foraging we found other sea life, this time sadly dead. I’d never seen the underside of a starfish so this was pretty interesting.

06-IMG_8215

About half an hour later, we were proficient cockle hunters. The best method we found was to abandon the trowel and sift through the mud with bare hands. Grab a cockle, fling it into a nearby pile. When the pile gets big enough, pick out the five or ten biggest ones. To call this hunting is a stretch. The cockles are more plentiful than a berries in the summer, have no thorns, don’t hide well like mushrooms, and can’t run away.

08-IMG_8220

We wound up with fifty medium to large sized cockles and some seawater in our bag. We decided to leave the smallest ones to keep growing, and not take too many for just the two of us. It turned out that fifty was a good number for two people. If we go hunting again we would probably take the same amount. Overharvesting is really the thing to avoid. The cockle population can support a fair amount of hunting, but too much will cause population collapse. In certain parts of New Zealand they are under threat, with various monitoring and closure measures being taken to protect them.

11-IMG_8227

12-IMG_8228

Bag of cockles in hand, we hit the road. While wondering how to cook them, looking up recipes, and managing the slight flow of water out of the bag, we came on a very curious sight. A hoard-flock of birds were camped out on the shore. It was like something out of a migrating animals documentary. They are the Variable Oystercatcher, and they were previously hunted, now protected with numbers rising. I could not find information on why or how a single flock got so huge, but there they were. The best thing about roadtrips is finding the unexpected around the next bend.

13-IMG_8309

A night and a day passed. Adventures were had and Valentine’s Day evening came. Our recipe called for lemon, butter, and white wine. We’d luckily picked up a bottle of white on the outset of the trip, and the local minimart offered a lemon and a tub of garlic butter. Our cockles had been fed some crackers to help get the sand out, to a mild degree of success. Everything was ready for dinner, except us.

15-IMG_8312

While I’ve spent time on a farm and know where the bacon comes from, killing my own meat is still a relative rarity. Natalie similarly hadn’t hunted an animal since childhood, so we were both a bit hesitant. We took a moment, said thank you to the cockles for providing our meal, then put them in the simmering wine and butter. To cook cockles you essentially steam them for a few minutes until they open. Those that don’t open are not good to eat.

16-IMG_8313

This is what they look like when they’re done. The meat comes out with just a slight pull. The cockles were delicious and every bit worth the time to gather and cook. They tasted better than cockles from the supermarket or at a restaurant, fresher and less chewy, without the sometimes overwhelming ocean-water taste. If you’re in the area I would highly recommend stopping for a quick cook-out. Beaches all along the eastern shore have them, ours was near Coromandel.

17-IMG_8315

As good of a Valentine’s dinner as we could ask for. Candle courtesy of an early “in case of emergency” purchase on my part, which baffled Natalie at the time.

Arica’s empanadas

20-IMG_20170128_123728

Okay everyone, I’m here to report that Arica has some of the HUUUUUGEST, AMAZINGEST empanadas ever. We’ve had empanadas throughout the Americas, from Mexico down to Peru. But these one are ridiculously good, and the fact that they’re served up at a quiet, hole-in-the-wall spot makes them all the more amazing.

We found this place by just wandering around, and the menu was all of four things listed on a spray-painted wooden sign out front. We went in and asked for one of each, and have photographed them in all their glory, just for you:

13-IMG_20170128_121755 The Salteña

A hot, rich beef stew with spices and olives wrapped in a toasted crust. Meat, cumin, and chili powder are the main flavors while the olives round it out with some sour-saltiness. Watch out though; the olives still have their pits.

15-IMG_20170128_122325The Empanada

Though less stew-like than the Saltena, the spiced ground meat in the Empanada is rich and juicy. Combine this with the starchy joy of potatoes and the a fried egg (also miraculously baked into the empanada) and you’ve got yourself a meal.

19-IMG_20170128_123222 The Napolitana

We’ve been told that Chile is culinarily one of the “more European-style” countries, and the Napolitana is more of a European-style pastry. With ham and cheese for filling in a flaky crust, this one is like eating a ham pizza without the marinara sauce.

21-IMG_20170128_123818The Queso

Simple is sometimes best, and the queso is a straight cheese filling in toasty empanada crust. The cheese is salty and light, making it the perfect light snack. Or, if you bring your own jam and make an amazing sweet-and-salty dessert.

In Arica and looking to get your mitts on some of these empanadas? Caupolicán is here!

17-IMG_20170128_122917

Not in Arica and longing for your own empanada goodness? Make your own using one of the recipes here:

Bolivian Salteñas

Argenitnian Empanadas

Empanadas de Queso

Arequipa Food Tour

15-IMG_6354

After the long Salkantay Trek and a few days of recuperation in Cusco, we bussed on to Arequipa in the south of Peru.

Since we were in town for only about 48 hours, we opted not to spend tons of time travelling to Arequpia’s most famous destinations, like Toro Muerto’s petroglyphs (2 hours away by car) or the splendor of Colca Canyon (5 hours away by car). Instead, we walked around the tour and ate ourselves silly. Arequipa, after all, is also famous for food. So here’s a meal-by-meal narrative for you to enjoy:

Arrival – 6:30 am – the avocado-egg ciabatta sandwich

Augh, it’s so late. Or is it early? It’s early. We’ve arrived. 10 hours in a Cruz del Sur bus from Cusco to Arequipa is unkind, at least to short folk. Stoytcho reports sleeping some, but Natalie slept not an hour, as she couldn’t reach the floor and kept sliding out of her seat. We collect our baggage and grab a collectivo to Arequipa’s Plaza del Armas where we snag a hostel for only 50 soles—and we can check in immediately. After dropping off our stuff, we head out and encounter our first gem: fried egg sandwiches sold from small tables. There’s avocado underneath, and combined they make a killer combo for only 2.50 soles (USD $0.75) a sandwich.

01-IMG_20170125_091315

Breakfast, Part II – 8:00 am – fresh steamed tamales with ???? ceviche

Sleep-deprived, we stagger around the Plaza del Armas and then wander down Mercaderes, not looking for anything in particular. The delicious smell of steamed masa draws us to small restaurant, and for 4 soles we get two fresh tamale. “Salada?” the shopkeeper asks politely. “Uh…sure?” we reply. She heaps on what looks like a salad of sliced red onion, tomatoes, cilantro, and what look like bits of meat. Some kind of ceviche? Away from the shop, we sample cautiously:

02-IMG_6457

Natalie: What is this?

Stoytcho: It’s really chewy.

Natalie: It’s not bad. But there’s a lot of sinew and ligaments. I think that’s part of a bone. I… don’t think this is fish ceviche.

Stoytcho: Yeah, I think I’m done with it. I’ll eat the onions.

Natalie: …wait, is this chicken?

We ate what we could and then stumbled back to the hostel for sleep.

Lunch at a picanteria – 2:00 pm – La Capitana’s Double Menu

A few hours of sleep does wonders, and we wake up much more aware of the city. Given that Arequipa is famous for its picanterias, Stoytcho uses the internet to track one down: La Capitana. It’s located on Los Arces street in Cayma, several minutes’ walk from the Plaza area. We get lost along the way, overshooting it by several streets, and have to backtrack. Finally, on our second sweep of the street we find the sign “La Capitana” hanging over an arch and an old man acting as attendant waves us in. The interior is casual, with strangers sitting together on long picnic tables to enjoy lunch.

06-IMG_6368

We sit down at a table and stare blankly at the menu. Yep, we don’t recognize anything except the word “gaseosa” (soda). Oh, also there’s a dish called “Americano”, and Natalie remembers reading somewhere that this is a mixed plate that lets you sample a variety of dishes. We try to order it when the waitress comes by. “No”, she insists, “you want the Double. I’ll bring it to you.” Stoytcho asks the difference and finds out that it’s the same type of sampler, but with enough food for two. “Sure, okay,” we agree.

03-IMG_6360

The food arrives on four plates, accompanied by a glass of chicha—a local specialty made from fermented corn juice. Some folks online claimed it tasted like bitter beer, so Natalie is wary. We sample some:

Stoytcho: This doesn’t taste like bitter beer. It tastes like a fermented cranberry juice.

Natalie: Yeah, this isn’t bitter at all. This tastes almost like raspberries, like a Lambic.

04-IMG_6362

The rest of the food is equally amazing. Pastel de tallarin al horno, the casserole of noodles and cheese covered with eggs that apparently tastes just like Stoytcho’s favorite breakfast food in Bulgaria (yufka). Ají de Calabaza, the yellow stew that’s tastes of vaguely cheesy squash. Saltero de queso, which acts almost as a delicious vegetarian ceviche. And estofado de res, an amazingly savory chunk of stewed meat served over rice. We of course didn’t know any of this until we politely asked the person eating next to us what we were eating.

The Food Never Stops – 3:00 pm – Bakery Tour

Although we waddled out of La Capitana totally full, half an hour’s rest in the nearby Parque Senor de la Cana solved that. We watched young lovers relax and pigeons be dicks and eat flowers. Then we decided the next logical step after all that good food was to keep eating good food. So we used Google Maps to locate all the nearest panaderias and plotted a course up Trinidad Moran and then east on Avenido Ejercito, taking us back to the Plaza Del Armas area while hitting a couple of different bakeries. 14-IMG_6462

We visited four different bakeries and sampled dessert or bread at each. La Miel had an amazing variant on chicha made from fermented maracuya (passionfruit juice), while Astoria Bakery had a lovely variant on crème brulee with the lightness of a flan. And Croissant had croissants and mini French loafs that smelled divine.

13-IMG_20170124_172021

Maté man – 5:45 pm – We get fresh-mixed maté in the street

Sweet tooth sated, we found ourselves back in the Plaza area and head toward Parque Selva Alegre, mostly because of the name. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to go to Park Happy Jungle? We get there only to find it’s only open on the weekends! This is apparently a thing in Arequipe, as the general public (obviously) doesn’t go to parks during the week due to work. We are a bit saddened, but on our way back we run into a man selling mate tea from a cart:

07-IMG_6413

He makes us a glass of the hot herbal concoction mixed with lemon juice and linseed jelly for 1 sol. In the chilling early evening it is lovely, and we stand there sharing the glass for a few minutes.

08-IMG_6416

Then Natalie gets out the empty water 1 liter bottle. “How much to fill this?” Turns out it’s 3 soles (less than $1 USD). We leave with a liter of the godly stuff, and head back to the hostel for a rest.

Potato Party – 8:00 pm – We sample 7 different kinds of potatoes

After all the amazing food, we are a bit at a loss of what to do for dinner. We look up popular restaurants in Arequipa and after weeding out the overly-fancy expensive ones, we settle on Hatunpa. Hatunpa is a themed restaurant, but instead of being themed around a cuisine it’s themed around Peru’s gift to the world: potatoes. All the different kinds of potatoes you can imagine. When we arrive, our host asks us our nationalities and gets us little flags for our table—he even has one for Bulgaria (Stoytcho is overjoyed). 09-IMG_6423

We order the seco de pollo and ají de gallina, each with seven different kinds of potatoes. Camote, a sweet potato with a bright yellow-orange flesh, is Natalie’s favorite. Then there are the waxier white potatoes, the buttery gold potatoes, and the purple potatoes that have an earthier flavor. We round the whole meal out with another glass of chicha and a glass of something new, Ponche de Guindas. It’s a rich cherry-flavored beverage made with little native Peruvian cherries, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves, and it tastes like paradise—the perfect way to round out a meal.

10-IMG_6430

After dinner, it’s back to the hostel for a night of full sleep. Equally precious, sweet sleep.

Dreaming of dining like us? Here are some links to recipes so you can fabricate your own feast:

Pastel de Tallarin

Estofado de Res

Aji de Gallina

Chicha

Ponche de Guindas

19-IMG_20170125_160845
I’ll be back for this cake, one day…

You Gotta Try This: Spiced Poached Figs with Cheese

IMG_3702

Somewhere in the streets of Quito’s old center, lost between a cathedral and an arts market, we found something that smelled like everything you’d want of a winter treat. Pulling back a lid, a vendor released a warm fog scented with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and fruit from her oversized cauldron. We peered inside and found scores of figs simmering gently in syrup. We had to have one. Or maybe two.

IMG_3704

Okay, we ended up having three. But in our defense, these fig sandwiches are AMAZING! In exchange for $1, the vendor made us a sandwich filled with the poached figs, some slices of fresh cheese, and a few generous spoonfuls of the fig syrup on a crusty sandwich roll. Taking a bite of it blends all of the flavors – the sourness of the figs melts into the slight sharpness of the cheese and the burnt sugar on the syrup melds with the earthiness of the figs, while highlights of cloves and cinnamon dance on your tongue.

IMG_3705

Google searches after the fact revealed that this dish, poached figs with cheese or “Dulce De Higos”, is a national pastime in Ecuador. It’s readily available in nearly every dining establishment, to from the family table to the local restaurant to the country’s hautest eateries. And while it’s served as a sandwich on the street, it also takes the role as an appetizer or dessert in other places. Seriously, if you find yourself in Ecuador, you don’t have an excuse to not try this dish.

For those of you unable to find your way to Ecuador, never fear! Further Googling turned up what appears to be the only recipe for Dulce De Higos on the whole internet (psst, the recipe is in this link). It’s from Ecuadorean food blogger Layla Pujol, so I’m betting it’s pretty legit. It’s also ridiculously simple to make, although a bit time consuming (~3 hours of work spread over 2 days). Some thoughts on the recipe:

  • Panela is a raw semi-processed sugar sold in giant bricks or cones at Latin markets. If you can’t find this, you can substitute light brown (more sugar flavor) or dark brown (more molasses flavor) to your tastes.
  • Fresh figs can be hard to come by, but they’re probably a necessity for this recipe. If you insist on trying this with dry figs, you may want to puree the figs after boiling and create a preserve instead.
  • Layla’s recipe calls for “cinnamon, cloves, and other spices” but doesn’t list how much. I’d start with 2 3-inch cinnamon sticks and 6 to 12 cloves for the recipe’s final volume (4 to 6 cups), which are my estimates from making applesauce and chai tea. A few cardamom pods or star anise might also make great additions.
  • These figs pair best with a fresh but somewhat firm cheese, and Layla’s recipe calls for quesillo or queso fresco. She mentions mozzarella too, but I’d worry about a texture clash since that tends to be more rubbery. If you can’t find queso fresco, a ricotta cheese would also work well. Or you could make your own queso fresco!
  • If you absolutely must have some kind of bread/crust with it, this would probably also make an amazing pie/galette/dumpling filling.

I’m filing this recipe away until we return from our world travels, but if you try it in the meantime let me know how it turns out!

A thing called Trits

Here in Costa Rica they have this thing called Trits, which is an ice cream sandwich cookie-type thing that’s awesome and amazing, and not just because you desperate for some cool relief in the tropical heat. It comes in a little tub that looks like this:

IMG_1955
The delicious tub of Trits

You pop it open, and you can either use a spoon to eat it directly out to the tub, or you can flip it upside down and the entire cookie sandwich plops down into your hand.

IMG_1959
There’s usually another half-sandwich there, I just couldn’t wait. 

You take a bite, and the sugary goodness hits you. There’s the cheap vanilla ice cream, a layer of chocolate syrup, and a perfectly chewy cookie on either side that’s salted to offset the sweetness of the ice cream filling. For me the cookie is the best part, but all together in one bite is where everything really shines.

Though they’re a bit expensive (900+ colones or $1.80+ USD), Stoytcho and I have had nearly half a dozen since we discovered them 4 days ago, and I’m already looking for ways to replicate them when I get back to the States since of course there’s only one guy in the U.S. that has a permit to import them and he’s in New Jersey.

Want to try one? Here’s a recipe for them, although I have three suggestions for improvement:

  1. Use ingredient substitutions to make the cookie softer, for example by subbing white sugar for brown sugar. Serious Eats has some suggestions here. You could also sub in margarine for butter, since this is what Trits officially uses.
  2. Add salt to the cookie. I’ve never encountered a cookie recipe without salt (unless it used salted peanut butter). Even if crushed graham cracker is the base, consider adding 1/8 to 1/4 tsp salt.
  3. Don’t forget the layer of chocolate syrup! The standard Hershey’s will work here, and for a Trits it goes only on the inside of one cookie, although you’re making your own so do what you want. Go crazy and put it on both! Or you could sub it out for some homemade/store-bought dulce de leche or cajeta (provided it’s something that doesn’t get too hard/chewy with freezing).

Enjoy!

– Natalie