It’s funny how the things that should be the easiest to write are sometimes the most difficult. I am woefully late in writing my monthly post for “Around the World in 12 Dishes,” the series in which each month participating bloggers travel the world with their kids by cooking a dish from another country and perhaps reading a book, doing a craft, or learning fun facts about it. While this past month has been quite busy — with the MLK Day of Service Blog Hop, the Black History Blog Hop, and the Showing Kids Love Series — I can’t help but wonder if I was dragging my feet because I was just so nervous about writing about Perú.
Why nervous? Because this is a part of the world very dear to my heart. As much as I love my husband’s homeland of Costa Rica, South America was where, in a way, I started my journey to become the person I am today. Of course, technically this journey started in Bolivia, not Perú, but the two countries have much in common, plus I did make an extended trip to Perú during the time I lived in Bolivia. (Forgive the poor quality of my photos, taken nearly twenty years ago).
So you can see my hesitation at writing a post on this beautiful country. My space here is limited, and my time to prepare this post even more so, so I already know from the start that what I write here will be inadequate to express the feeling of being in the Andes; the rush I felt the first time I saw those incredibly majestic mountains through the window of my bus; how when we finally reached the altiplano (highlands) the view reminded me of the surface of the moon; the way the beauty of that haunting music can hook into your soul; the poverty, yes, the desperate living conditions, yes, but also the warmth of the smiles, the richness of the culture and traditions, and the surprising diversity of the people. (Side note for those of you who also grew up in the US – we are not the only diverse country in the world, no matter what we were taught in grade school!)
Performance by Baha’i youth from Sucre, Bolivia
My main memory of the food in Perú was actually of how different it was from what I had experienced in Bolivia. To understand this, you must keep in mind that I was living at the time in the lowlands of eastern Bolivia, which is strikingly different from the highlands we typically think of. In fact, culturally eastern Bolivia has more in common with neighboring Paraguay or even parts of Brazil. The people are largely (and proudly) mestizo (mixed), though at the time I was there (mid-1990s) more and more of the indigenous from the highlands were migrating to the lowlands for economic reasons.
At a rest stop in the altiplano
Still, the food in eastern Bolivia was very different from the cuisine in the highlands of both Bolivia and Perú, which was again very different from what we sampled once we traveled over the Peruvian Andes and visited coastal Lima, known for its seafood and African influence. Also keep in mind that at the time eastern Bolivia was just beginning to turn into the economic powerhouse it would soon become, thanks to the discovery of natural gas in the region. The first McDonald’s was built there soon after I left, taken by everyone as a sign of things wonderful and modern to come. (Another side note: Rumor had it that McDonald’s imported potatoes into Bolivia to make French fries – even though potatoes originated in this region! Apparently these native crops were considered not uniform enough to make good French fries).
So when we arrived in Lima, fresh from our months in the less developed regions of Bolivia, it was hard not to be starry-eyed. McDonald’s! Pizza! Tall buildings! (I should add that we felt much the same way when we arrived in Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, which, for the record, had had McDonald’s for quite a long time). Needless to say we (being young) were more interested in eating pizza and hamburgers than we were in eating traditional dishes, though I should say we did try these, too. (I seem to recall olive sandwiches…)
Group of Baha’i youth from Bolivia, on our way to a conference in Lima, Peru. Who is that tall white girl in the back?
Eating pizza in Lima, Peru
So when I needed to pick a dish to make, I called on a good friend from Perú and asked for her advice. She told me that most traditional dishes are not quick or easy to make. They are flavorful dishes that require a lot of time and work – not easy to do with a preschooler! Instead, she recommended making quinoa, that versatile, quintessential Andean grain. She often makes a simple but delicious meal of this with her young daughter, adding in vegetables or meat as they choose.
Not having cooked much with quinoa before, I went in search of a recipe, and stumbled on a delightful website for Peruvian recipes: Perú Delights. And the blog truly is a delight to look at – beautiful photos of mouth-watering dishes, some traditional and some with a modern twist. I have several pinned to try another time, but what caught my eye was her recipe for sprouted quinoa milk. I was skeptical that Monkey would try a quinoa dish, but he loves milk and alternative milks, so I thought this would be worth a try. I love milk alternatives but had never heard of quinoa milk, so my curiosity was piqued!
I followed the original recipe closely, so I won’t repeat it here. Monkey was most interested in sprouting the quinoa. This is what it looks like after soaking overnight.
The sprouted quinoa
I definitely recommend using the spiced water – it really does add incredible flavor to the dish!
Getting ready to blend the quinoa with the spiced water
And if you are just starting to incorporate quinoa into your diet, I suggest straining the milk before drinking, though you quinoa lovers out there certainly don’t have to
I really enjoyed this drink, though I couldn’t convince anyone else to try it. I think, as so often is the case with quinoa, it is one of those things that you either love or you won’t even try. But if you like quinoa or just are feeling adventurous, I would definitely try this. It is a delicious alternative to milk, plus it’s super healthy!
For our cultural exploration this month, I revisited materials sent to me by my amazing friend Daria. She is a wonderful musician and an incredible resource on this part of the world (among others!).
She recently produced a album for children with music from this part of the world, also with an e-book (pictured at left). The music, as always, is wonderful, and the book is full of information, but given in a colorful, fun format that is very accessible for children. There are crafts and activities included as well – I’d like to try making the pan flute out of straws!
For more on quinoa, don’t miss this fascinating interview with the Quinoa Ambassador (did you know there was one??) If you prefer, you can also read the original Spanish version.
What have you been exploring with your children lately?
Check out the other participating blogs to see what they have been cooking up:
Adventures In Mommydom, Afterschool for Smarty Pants, All Done Monkey, Crafty Moms Share, Maroc Mama, Creative World of Varya, Glittering Muffins, Kid World Citizen, Mermaids’ Makings, The Educators’ Spin On It and The Mommy Talks.
If you try a dish from Jamaica, we’d love to hear about it! And don’t forget to download this month’s placemat and passport! You can also link up your dish or craft here to share your post on all the participating blogs: