(by Silvia Luque)
Looking back, I think my mom did not call my sisters and me into the kitchen to cook with her in order to avoid any injury (when we were little, there were a few incidents with burns). Such a missed opportunity—she made the most delicious meals every single day of our lives. From our first years of school, she got up very early in the morning to provide us with a nutritious breakfast and left lunch ready for our return.
My mom is a high school teacher in Peru, but more than a teacher, she is a counselor to her students. She says it was easier to advise her students than to talk to her three daughters. My older sister took on the maternal role when Mom was not home. (She would write rooms of the house on pieces of paper, and the three of us would pick one that would assign us an area to clean.) But we felt spoiled—and not just by Mom’s meals filled with love. We were behind on the use of electronics—no dishwasher or washing machine—so Mom washed our clothes by hand and ironed them. (Eventually she got a washing machine, but she believes the machine does not do as good a job as her own hands.)
She couldn’t say no to us. Whenever she bought something, it had to be three of them for the three of us. But I loved to be the first one (and sometimes the only one) ready to join her when she had errands downtown—I knew she would buy me my favorite pastries from the bakeries by the main square.
Any time anyone in the family gave a party, Mom would cook. It is her tradition and joy to do it herself. This is one of the ways in which we are different—I would prefer not to throw a party just to avoid the massive amount of work. She is more forgiving, peaceful, easygoing. She once dreamed of becoming a nurse, looking out the windows of her university classes at the nursing students in their white uniforms, and indeed inspired my sisters to become nurses. I took a different, perhaps more rebellious route—at first wanting to become a nun but then choosing to study elementary education.
When I left Peru for the United States, I had no idea how to feed myself. (I was like the girl who thinks that dirty clothes come out of the laundry dried and folded). I was trying to cook pasta in cold water, only later learning that I must boil the water first. So I turned to my mom for cooking instructions over the phone. Ironically, I started learning about organic food, and now it is time that I teach my mom to eat better for her health. Her Peruvian specialties such as locro, adobo, calabaza, caldo blanco, and chupe de camarones are still amazing, but she has been changing her diet progressively. We talk on Skype or Google Hangout and learn from each other.
I have always been so grateful to my mom, for her meals, and for filling me up with love. She once pointed out that I always ended a meal by saying, “That was delicious, Mom.” Yes, I did say it, and still will.
Rocoto Relleno with Potato Gratin
10 rocoto peppers
4 t. sugar, divided
1/3 c. vegetable oil
6 T. aji panca (chile) paste
1 lb. sirloin tips, finely cut in small squares
2 bay leaves
2 lb. red onions, diced
2 T. peanuts, toasted and ground
1/2 t. dried oregano
5 black olives, seeded
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 T. parsley, chopped
2 T. black raisins
salt and pepper
3 raw eggs
5 oz. can unsweetened evaporated milk
Cut off and reserve tops of the rocotos, and scrape out the seeds and ribs with a spoon.
(Use rubber gloves and wash your hands well after.)
Put the rocotos in a pan with water to cover and 1 T. sugar.
Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and discard the water.
Add more fresh water, and repeat this process three times.
Drain and cool the rocotos. Reserve.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan over high heat, warm the vegetable oil.
Add the chile paste, beef, and bay leaves.
Sauté until beef is no longer raw.
Add onions, 1 t. sugar, salt and pepper, stirring until onion is cooked.
Add peanuts, oregano, olives, hard-boiled eggs, parsley, raisins, salt and pepper.
Fill the rocotos with this mixture and place in a heatproof glass baking pan.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a bowl, beat 1 egg with evaporated milk, salt and pepper, and pour over the rocotos.
Beat 2 eggs until very thick, and put 1 T. over each rocoto.
Cover with the reserved tops.
Bake for 15 minutes.
For potato gratin:
2 lb. waxy potatoes, boiled, peeled and thickly sliced
8 oz. queso fresco (fresh white cheese) in thick slices
1 t. anise seed
1 1/2 c. unsweetened evaporated milk
1 T. butter
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375 F.
In a buttered baking dish, make one layer of potato slices.
Cover with queso fresco and a sprinkling of anise seed.
Repeat 3 times.
Beat eggs until very thick, and fold in evaporated milk, salt and pepper.
Pour over the potatoes and cheese.
Bake for 40 - 45 minutes until golden.