Inchicapi, a peanut soup from the Selva of Peru
In 2011 I attended Mistura food festival in Lima, Peru and this is where I first tasted Inchicapi or Inchicapi de gallina. While I had heard of it in culinary school it was not something commonly served in restaurantes turisticos or buffet-style restaurants. Perhaps the reason why is because this style of chicken soup originally comes from the Amazonian region of Peru, known as la Selva, and the national interest in food from the Amazon was just beginning to come to the surface at that time. I wouldn't see it on a menu until a couple years later when I was visiting a friend in Lima who brought me to an Amazonian restaurant. To this day, the memory of that soup I ate at the tail-end of my many hours-long day at Mistura makes me smile. It opened my eyes to the various uses of the peanut in Peruvian cuisine and peaked my curiosity about the foodstuff and its origins.
For more on peanuts see these 2 past recipes: Chicken or the egg...er, peanut first? The savory Chicken Peanut Stew or Carapulcra, an ancient Andean dish.
From 2008 to 2017 Mistura was South America's largest food festival and hosted in Lima for almost 10 years. I was lucky to have attended when I was living in in the capitol during its early years, and before it moved locations and landed on the Costa Verde. While it's been some years since the festival has taken place, I have hopes that it will one day resurface. It brought together hundreds of incredibly talented individuals from the culinary field and gathered thousands of food lovers from all over the world to experience the immense diversity of Peruvian food products, dishes, and material goods. On that sunny September day, I began my day early at the festival and wandered all over trying everything and anything I had the patience to wait in line for (they were LONG!). Towards the end of my day, and as the sun was setting, my friend and I came to a small section that highlighted Amazonian dishes. There were few people left and I remarked I had never had food from the Amazon before (his family originally came from this region). He suggested a couple things, one of which was Inchicapi. When the bowl came, I was surprised by how simple it looked yet how fragrant it was. The liquid was a bit viscous and smelled faintly of peanuts and an herb that I noted was a bit like cilantro. The soup was glorious, the chicken tender, and the yuca melted in my mouth. It is this memory that inspired me to make this soup today.
The word Inchicapi is Quechua for peanut stew. Inchic is "peanut" and api is "stew." In Peru the common word for peanut is "maní," which is actually thought to be derived from the Guaraní language as the word for peanut is "manduvi." Maní is also the Taino word for peanut, also thought to have been derived from the Guaraní language. The peanut is the main flavor of this soup as well as another indigenous foodstuff and herb from the Americas known as sawtooth coriander in English due to the shape of its long leaves. In Peru it is known as sacha culantro or as recao in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. While sacha culantro is most often used in Amazonian cuisine, it is possible it was used more widely throughout the Andes before cilantro was introduced by the Spanish. The two herbs do taste reminiscent of each other though they are completely different plants and not at all related.
I've mentioned in a previous blog recipe that the peanut has its origins in South America but it wasn't known until relatively recently (just over 30 years ago) how important the peanut might have been at one time to ancient Andean peoples. In 1987, Dr. Walter Alva discovered Mochica tombs dating back to about 300 A.D. The tomb of the Lord of Sipán (el Señor de Sipán) featured many objects to honor him, one of which was a gold and silver peanut necklace that adorned his chest (see in photo). For the Moche, it was believed that the peanut symbolized earth and life and death, as the peanut must both come from the earth and return to the earth, as man. [Cool side note: The gold half of the necklace represents male energy and the sun, while the silver half represents female energy and the moon,] Who knew that my first slurp of this soup in 2011 would reveal to me the deep roots of the peanut in my own ancestry. At the time, I had no idea that this legume was indigenous to the Americas!
Without further ado, I share with you my simplified recipe for Inchicapi (though it's not at all that complicated anyhow). I could not find reference to what type of protein might have been used before contact with the Spanish but I imagine it could have been any number of things from the Amazon. Today hen or chicken is used so I chose to use my favorite part of the chicken, the tenderloin, for this recipe for its texture but also the ease in preparing the meat and in eating it too (no bones!). Buen provecho, amig@s!
Inchicapi de pollo - Serves 8
1/2 gallon of water (about 2 liters)
2 lbs chicken tenderloins, cut into bite sized pieces
2 fresh yucas (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into large chunks
1/2-3/4 cup toasted peanuts, soaked for at least 30 minutes
10 sacha culantro/recao leaves (or 1/2 bunch cilantro)
1/2 red onion, cut into large chunks
3 garlic cloves
1 cup of water for pureeing
2/3 cup yellow corn meal, fine grind preferred
1 cup water to dissolve corn meal
Salt to taste
If toasting raw peanuts, you will want them golden and not too dark. Once you start to smell them, you can pull them and the soak them in water for about 30 minutes prior to making puree.
Put water on to boil and add a couple generous pinches of salt.
Once water comes to a boil, add chicken pieces and allow to cook for 20 minutes.
While chicken is cooking, add to a blender: a cup of water, the rehydrated toasted peanuts, the onion, garlic, and sacha culantro or cilantro. Blend until smooth. Depending on the strength of your blender, it might work better to first blend the peanuts and water, then add the remaining ingredients and blend again. Save a couple leaves and slice up to use as a last edition to the soup and/or as a decoration on top.
After chicken is done, add peanut puree to the pot and stir in well. Add a bit more salt to taste. Stir periodically so as the peanut puree thickens the soup it does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook for another 35 minutes.
In a cup add corn meal and water and stir to dissolve.
Prepare yuca by peeling and cutting into chunks.
Once the peanut puree and chicken are done, add corn meal slurry. Stir and allow to thicken for 5 minutes.
Add yuca and let cook for another 25 minutes or until yuca is tender.
Adjust salt if needed.
Note: Frozen yuca can also be used though fresh is preferred.
More notes: People sometimes use turmeric as a colorant to the soup so it appears more yellow. I prefer the natural color of the peanut and sacha culantro. Depending on how much culantro or cilantro you use it may also appear more green in color. Depending on how dark you roast your peanuts the soup may be a pale beige or a darker beige (as with mine today).
Last note: An accompaniment to this soup is to add boiled plantain to the soup (the one in the photo was a bit too ripe so it was not prepared today).