Thursday, November 13, 2008
Occasionally, I crave Peruvian food. I crave its soft textures, its rich sauces, its bright colors, and its ability to justify the eating of rice at any given moment.
Living away from my boyfriend has meant more than one hardship in my life for the past three months, not the least of which is the fact that I don’t get to see his parents very much now. No more weekends in the stifling humidity of Ft. Lauderdale. No more late-night trips to the beach. No more home-cooked Peruvian meals. That one is probably the worst. Every time I drive down with Cliff to see his parents, they see to it that we are constantly well-fed (see La Casita de Carmencita for more on this). My all-time favorite non-ceviche dish is aji de gallina, a stew made from boiled and shredded chicken, yellow spicy aji peppers, and bound together with a thicker-than-thick sauce of Parmesan cheese (a vestige remnant of Italian settling in Peru and Argentina), walnuts, evaporated milk, and bread. This is all seasoned with onions, garlic, and plenty of saffron-hued turmeric. Most recipes call for hard boiled egg (one of the only foods in the world that I hate), and kalamata olives. I like boiled red potatoes. Aji de gallina is to die for and is very easy to reheat again and again.
So – I was craving. I haven’t seen Carmen and Hugo since July, and it was high time that I learn to make the aji. I have a Peruvian cookbook that I trust about 50% of the time. And 50% just wasn’t going to be good enough. I needed aji de gallina, and I needed it to be stellar. I needed it to taste like the comforting, yellow food I have come to look forward to when I drive the four (sometimes grueling, sometime quick, depending on how hungry I am) hours to South Florida.
I found another recipe on AllRecipes.com that received 4.5 stars. You can find it here: Aji de Gallina. I printed it out and checked out the nutritional information. I tend to do that these days, now that I work at a nutritionally-conscious food magazine with stringent guidelines for its fare. The single serving of aji de gallina contained 333 calories (not horrible), but the kicker was the 14 grams of fat, and I’m sure a bunch of it is saturated. Ugh. No thank you. But looking at the list of ingredients, I saw that it would be very easy for me to “lighten up” if I wanted to.
I wanted to.
Instead of using one whole loaf of white bread, I switched to half a loaf of whole-wheat bread. The halving of the amount was for two reasons, one: whole wheat bread has a higher gluten content than white bread, so the thickening agents would be more powerful – therefore, less was necessary; and two: someone on the discussion board for the recipe said it tasted too bread-y. Now, I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve had a fragrant bowl full of aji de gallina, the last thing I’ve tasted was the bread. So I took her advice.
I also honed in on a can of fat-free evaporated milk that I found at The Pig. Great find. Will use again.
The aji de gallina tasted great. No bread-y ness. Still that lovely smoky, depth of flavor from the walnuts, turmeric, chicken, Parmesan, and garlic. It’s in my fridge now, waiting for me to come home and sing to it and eat it again. The recipe makes 12 servings, so I have a feeling I’ll be eating it for a few days. Not that I’m sad about that. I’m actually really happy about that.
When I got back to the office this morning, I entered the information for my new recipe in ESHA, the nutritional software most often used to analyze the nutritional value of a recipe. I was incredibly happy with the results of my lightened version of aji de gallina that I almost shouted for glee and did a jig in my dead-quiet office. Even with the addition of a few boiled red potatoes, the meal only cost me 141 calories and 4 grams of fat. Unbelievable.
Now just add some long grain brown rice, and you’re set for life.