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Cook's Corner

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Diana Parker | Journal Gazette
Gomez-Marquez cooks Causa Rellena, a dish of tuna and potatoes.

Peruvian cook kicks up flavor, spice in kitchen

– Jose Gomez-Marquez was born in a small town in the country of Peru. When he was a teenager, he was sent to the city of Lima to continue his education. It was also during that time that Gomez-Marquez began cooking.

“In Peru, we have maids. It’s more affordable. I was born in a small town in the rain forest. I was 15 years old and living with my brother. I was sent to Lima, Peru, for my education.

“We didn’t like the way she (the maid) cooked. She took some days off, and we told her to take more days off,” Gomez-Marquez says, laughing.

Today, Gomez-Marquez and his wife, Catherine Martin, call Fort Wayne home. He works as a machine operator at Mullinix Packages Inc. She teaches Latin at Canterbury School.

After being transferred from Miami to Fort Wayne, Gomez-Marquez, 43, said he found that finding ingredients for his Peruvian dishes proved to be a big challenge.

Peruvian food gets its influence from the Incas, Spain and China. Corn, potatoes and rice are the main foods, and then with the arrival of the Italians after World War I, pasta was introduced to the table.

“When I arrived seven years ago to Fort Wayne, I missed a lot from my food. Most of the food was Mexican, not Peruvian. I started bugging the manager at George’s International,” he says. When the ingredients began to arrive, Catherine said that Jose went out to the Peruvian community and told them that they could find what they needed at George’s.

Q. Who’s your cooking idol?

A. It’s a Peruvian cook, Gaston Acurio. He unites all the Peruvians with food. We had unrest and he said, “Hey, all eating the same food.” Now we have a Mistura, a big food fair, like a festival.

Q. What’s your favorite cooking item?

Jose: The fry pan, yes. We have a dish with beef, onions and tomatoes.

Catherine: It’s a stir-fry with soy sauce and served with French fries.

Jose: Eighty-five percent of our food starts with aji panca, aji amarillo (peppers) and huacatay (black mint). It’s not hot spicy, just flavor.

Q. What one word describes your cooking style?

Jose: Why do I need to define my cooking style? I love to cook.

Catherine: I would say “fun.”

Causa Rellena (Peruvian layered potato dish)

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes

1/2 cup oil

2 or 3 tablespoons aji amarillos chile paste (optional)

1/4 cup lime or lemon juice

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

2 cups filling (see variations below)

2 or 3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into rounds

6 to 8 pitted black olives

Place the potatoes in a large pot of cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and cook the potatoes until they are tender and cooked through. Drain; set aside to cool.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them. Put the potatoes through a ricer or mash until smooth. Stir in the oil, chile paste if using, lime or lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Line a casserole dish or baking pan with plastic wrap, pressing it down to fit the dish. Spread half the potatoes into the bottom of the dish and smooth out. Spread the desired filling evenly over the potatoes. Spread the remaining potatoes evenly over the filling. Chill thoroughly.

Lay a serving platter upside-down over the top of the potato dish. Using both hands, flip the dish and platter over, letting the causa fall onto the platter. Remove and discard the plastic wrap. Garnish the causa decoratively with the hard-boiled eggs and olives and, if you like, a sauce. Cut into portions and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Fillings: Chicken or seafood salads bound together with mayonnaise are common causa fillings. For seafood, try tuna salad, crab salad, shrimp salad, poached or fried fish or seafood, smoked trout or seafood ceviche.

Vegetarian fillings include sliced avocados, sliced or grated cheese, sliced or chopped tomatoes, corn kernels, thinly sliced red onions.

Sauces: Sauces are often drizzled over a finished causa. Try mixing mayonnaise a little lemon juice, ketchup or avocado puree and drizzle it decoratively over and around the causa with a squeeze bottle.

Or make Salsa Huancaina: 12 ounces feta or ricotta cheese; 5 fresh, chopped aji amarillo peppers; 1/2 cup milk; 2 cloves garlic; 1/2 cup oil; salt and pepper. Put the cheese, peppers, milk and garlic into a blender and puree. With the blender still running, drizzle in the oil until the sauce has a creamy consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Aji de Gallina (chicken in pepper sauce)

1 large chicken

1 celery stalk

1 bay leaf

1 carrot, coarsely chopped

8 finely chopped garlic cloves

2 onions, chopped

4 tablespoons ground aji amarillo fresco, fresh yellow aji (chili)

6 slices bread, soaked in 3/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons ground pecans

1/4 cup oil

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

2 pounds boiled potatoes

2 tablespoons ground parmesan cheese

10 black olives, pitted

3 hard-boiled eggs

Chopped parsley

Place chicken in pan with celery, bay leaf, carrot and salt. Cover with hot water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 35 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and shred in large pieces. Save 1/2 cup broth.

In a separate pan, sauté garlic, onion, pepper and aji (chili) until onion is translucent. Add bread soaked in milk and stir. Add broth. If necessary, add milk to reach the desired consistency. Add the shredded chicken, salt and ground pecans.

Place mixture in the center of platter and decorate with potatoes cut in half. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Garnish with olives, hard-boiled eggs cut in half and parsley. Serve with rice. Makes 10 servings.

Ceviche Peruano

2 potatoes

2 sweet potatoes

1 red onion, cut into thin strips

1 cup fresh lime juice

1/2 stalk celery, sliced

1/4 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves

1 pinch ground cumin

1 clove garlic, minced

1 habanero pepper, seeded and minced

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 pound fresh tilapia, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into 1/2 -inch pieces

1 head bibb or Boston lettuce, separated into leaves

Place the potatoes and sweet potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Simmer until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, then drain, and set aside to cool to room temperature. Place the sliced onion in a bowl of warm water, let stand 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, place the lime juice, celery, cilantro, and cumin into the bowl of a blender, and puree until smooth. Pour this mixture into a large glass bowl, and stir in the garlic and habanero pepper. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the diced tilapia and shrimp. Set aside to marinate for an hour, stirring occasionally. The seafood is done once it turns firm and opaque.

To serve, peel the potatoes and cut into slices. Stir the onions into the fish mixture. Line serving bowls with lettuce leaves. Spoon the ceviche with its juice into the bowls and garnish with slices of potato. Makes 8 servings.

Cook’s Corner is a weekly feature. If you know someone to be profiled, write to Cook’s Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-0088; fax 461-8648; or email