Pandemic Kitchen, Part 2: My 10 Year Old Chuño
In my last post, I reflected on my fear-based shopping and hoarding practices due to the pandemic. Over the last ten years, I have increased and diversified the types of indigenous ingredients I keep in my pantry. Sadly, my hoarding also included all my revered specialty ingredients as well. I realized that I needed to do some letting go by way of respecting the ingredients. I needed them to be used, utilized, and to allow them to realize their purpose: to be eaten and to nourish us. This brings me to a special product called chuño, or freeze-dried potato whose creation came from the hands of pre-colonial and pre-Incan Peruvians and Bolivians. There are a variety of ways to utilize this special ingredient, whether it be on its own, in soups, stewed in a peanut sauce, or sautéed with aromatics and aji peppers. I've been wanting to become more well-versed in playing with chuño, as it is something that is unusual in a U.S. pantry but it also product that took a lot of work to make and I want to honor it.
My pantry of indigenous American (North and South) ingredients.
Various form of corn, beans, potatoes, seeds and wild rice.
I recently prepped my old house for a new family. I had lived there for a long time as had others, as my ex-husband and I had rented out rooms over the years. When I began cleaning and clearing out the kitchen, the refrigerator reflected this past and was filled with a variety of newer and older discarded foods. The freezer, in particular had some surprising things left behind. While cleaning it out, I discovered a bag of chuño in the way back. The "sell by" date was from 2011, yet I knew, and know, that the ancient way of preserving and freeze-drying potatoes in Peru and Bolivia is sound. I took them home with me and stuck them in yet another freezer. Because, who knew if I could find this again? Save it! Save it! Fast-forward to this week and I realized I still hadn't made anything with them. One dish I knew I would love, and am happy to share with you today is called chuño phuti, in Quechua, or known as chuño rebozado/revuelto con huevo in Spanish. In English, you ask? Egg-battered chuño. The star of the show is the chuño, of course, but also includes eggs, aji pepper paste, and some cheese for good measure. I'll throw down a recipe below, but let's first talk about chuño. It is also known as moraya or tunta.
Chuño is the Quechua word for "frozen potato." Tunta is the Aimara word. Below is a photo of my jar of chuño. Though ten years old -- now taken out of the freezer, released from its bag, and placed in full view so I will not stash it away again -- it is in perfect condition and ready to be eaten. There are two types: black or white. This type would be referred to as moraya because it is the cleaned, white version. It is also the most common type to find as an import in any local bodega that carries Peruvian or Bolivian products.
It is believed that the process of freeze-drying potatoes dates back to 400 B.C. by peoples near Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia, as some potatoes were recovered from a site known as Tiwanaku. In the Andes, temperatures deeply rise and fall in the winter, creating the perfect environment for naturally freeze-drying any type of tuber, really. After the last of the potato harvests, the potatoes are sorted, and those that are not to be used for seeds in the future, and are small, are set aside for freeze-drying to preserve them. In the beginning of winter, the chosen potatoes, skin on, are left outside overnight and allowed to freeze. When the sun rises and reaches its peak, the potatoes, thaw and release their water. The individual tending to them will then create small piles of potatoes and step on them with their bare feet to release more of the water and also assist in removing the skin. They are left to dry for several more days until fully dry. Potatoes preserved in this way can last ten years or more! There are many articles and videos about these impressive preserved foodstuffs. The video I've linked is of a Peruvian woman, who goes by la Cholita Julia, on YouTube, and watching the way she produces them at home is quite fascinating. It makes you realize how much work goes into the ingredients we sometimes take for granted.
The smell, flavor, and texture of chuño after being rehydrated and cooked is different but still really tasty! I marvel at the ingenuity of our ancestors in the way they figured out how to work with nature to honor the purpose of each living thing so that even the foods we eat not only benefit us but benefit the earth from it came. These freeze-dried potatoes where not only picked by hand from the earth, but then kissed by both the moon and sun, to be transformed into something different and special in its own right. So, even though my father jokes that they were forced to eat this as children, I know much of what felt foreign to them was the cultural shift that happened when their family moved from the mountains, where products like this were typical, to a big coastal city. Many cultures around the world have created different ways of preserving foods through dehydrating, pickling, fermenting, and freeze-drying. Our palates, here in the U.S. anyway, have become too accustomed to either on-demand fresh food all-year-round or over-processed canned and boxed foods that trick and addict our tongues to sweet and salty notes. Our palates could be so much more nuanced, if we embrace these preservation methods again and enjoy the umami of such techniques in our foods. Might you take this journey with me to reawaken our palates and remember what our ancestors taught us?
I leave you with this very simple recipe of chuño phuti or chuño rebozado con huevo. Buen provecho amig@s!
Chuño Phuti (Chuño rebozado/revuelto con huevo//Egg-battered chuño) -- Serves 4
7.5 oz chuño (rehydrated 24 hours)
1 medium sized onion, diced
2 tablespoons of avocado oil (or your preferred oil)
1 tablespoon aji amarillo paste
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 eggs, whole
3 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak chuño overnight. Change water at least once, squeezing out the water from the potatoes when doing so. This will take out some of the bitterness.
Once rehydrated, squeeze out the water, and tear into bite-sized pieces.
Boil potatoes in lightly salted water for 20 minutes, or until fork-tender.
Strain potatoes and reserve some of the potato water (1 cup or so).
Heat up a pan with 2 tablespoons of oil. Add onions and sauté until translucent.
Add pepper and aji amarillo paste. Sauté 1 minute.
Add potatoes and salt to taste. Sauté for a couple minutes while flavors come together.
Create a well in the middle of the potatoes and crack the eggs over top. Mix until slightly scrambled, then mix into the potatoes. If the potatoes start tp get too dry, you can add some of the potato water into the pan.
Once eggs have coated the potatoes, you can add cheese (optional) of your choice. Mix until melted.
Just salt, if needed.
Serve alone or as a side.