Peruvian cuisine, tradition and innovation - Rice and lentil Tacu Tacu

Bean Tacu Tacu in San Vincente de Canete

My trip to Peru took me by surprise. I arrived in Lima with the vague knowledge that Gastón Acurio had successfully revived traditional Peruvian cuisine. As soon as I entered the world of New Andean cuisine, ingredients unknown to me tumbled down: tarwi, chuño, quinua, kiwicha, olluco, aji limo, aji panca, aji mirasol, aji amarillo,  rocotto, achira, huacatai…

Peruvian cuisine is tradition and innovation and it is also cultural fusion. Native ingredients and methods are at times re-created and at other times merged with Italian, Chinese and Japanese influences to give sophisticated incarnations.

Acurio’s restaurant Astrid Y Gastón in Lima Peru has made its debut in the rankings and won 42nd place in the world’s top 50 restaurants.  This, together with the government seeking to get Peruvian cuisine declared Unesco’s Cultural Heritage, not only puts Peruvian food on the world map but also pays tribute to the many chefs working there. The gastronomic expansion is such that there are currently over 10 000 young people studying to be involved in the food industry.

One of the merits of New Andean cuisine is that it has rehabilitated simple ingredients such as potatoes and yams, tarwi (lupin), chuño (a type of dried potato,) and quinua. Also notable is Kiwicha a type of wild amaranthus of which seeds can be ground into flour, popped like popcorn, cooked into a porridge, and made into a confectionery. The potato remains the ultimate Andean crop and forms the basis of many Peruvian dishes such as causa, cau cau, and papa huancaina.  
Thousands of potato varieties have been growing in Peru for millennia and in the markets you find stalls specialising in them.

In Arequipa, ‘the white city’ we visited Acurio’s Chi Cha restaurant where the food was exquisite and the service personal and impeccable. We savoured a delicious causa, a dish made with papa amarilla a yellow potato the colour of an egg yolk which when cooked is floury and smooth. 

When I came back to London, I tried to emulate causa and improvised with the ingredients.  I have to admit however that the flavour and texture were different. 
Some other attempts were more successful because the ingredients are easily found, such as Tacu Tacu which in Quechua means ‘mix’.Tacu Tacu is the same principle as a risotto cake made with left over risotto. Only this time, it is two ingredients that are mixed together, either rice and bean or rice and lentils. Tacu Tacu is sautéed in a pan to make a large croquette. This economical and nutritious dish, a staple food for African slaves working the cotton fields goes back to the colonial era. In the new gastronomic trend, Tacu Tacu has been re-invented and served as thin and light croquette topped with fish and seafood sauce.  

Potato varieties in the market at Arequippa

Just about to tuck into this Causa at Chi Cha
Causa cooked by Pilar who patiently listened to my ramblings in broken spanish

Tacu Tacu Amelcochado with seafood and aji amarillo and pisco sauce at El Mercado in Lima

Tacu Tacu 

    It is best to use left-over ingredients, if not, allow cooked rice and lentils to cool before using.

    2 small onions, chopped
    1 small tomato, chopped
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste
    1 red chilli pepper seeded and chopped
    1 small carrot grated,
    150 g cooked rice
    100g cooked lentils, puree
    100 g cooked lentils, whole

    Preparation time: 30 minutes
    Cooking time: 30 minutes
    Serves 6

    1. Cook the rice in water with added salt and crushed garlic.
    2. In a hot pan, sauté the onion for 5 to 6 minutes until it becomes soft. Add shredded carrots and keep cooking on low heat until the vegetables are soft.  You may want to add a couple of teaspoons of stock at this stage to prevent the vegetables form colouring. Add chopped tomatoes and cook for a further 4 minutes. Now, mix with both the pureed and whole lentils. Remove from the heat.
    3. Heat a separate pan, add olive oil and sauté chopped onion and chilli pepper for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the soft rice and cook for a few minutes. 
    4. Add the lentil mixture and cook rice and lentils together for 6 to 7 minutes until tcombined. Remove from the heat and divide into two portions.
    5. Heat more olive oil in a non-stick pan and place one portion of rice and lentil mixture. Flatten with back of spoon and cook on medium to high heat until it becomes crispy and a golden colour. Flip over to the other side and repeat the process.
    6. Cook the remaining portion in the same manner.
    7. Top Tacu Tacu with a fried egg and serve with creole sauce*.
    *Creole sauce: julienne of 1 small onion, julienne of half a yellow pepper, ½ chilli pepper, juice of 1 lime and salt.

    Lentil Tacu Tacu cooked by Pilar

    1 comment:

    1. You'll make tacu tacu with the sauce of seco de cordero on top and a bisteak it is delicious, or you'll stuff tacu tacu with the seafood sauce used for the picante de mariscos. One of the most delicious causa rellena is stuffed with cangrejo claw-meat.


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