Ulluku, olluco, or olluquito, a little tuber with a big punch
There are some dishes that are so old that the written history came long after a dish was created and it doesn't do it justice. The dish I want to talk about today is one that is simple, but packed with nutrition: Guiso de olluquito con carne, or Stewed Olluco with Meat. But before I get into this dish, I want to talk a bit about the ingredients, the dishes variations, and why I cannot make it quite the same here in the U.S. (for now!).
The region of South America now known as Peru and Bolivia is the birthplace of thousands of varieties of tubers, including the papa (potato), miski papa (sweet potato), ulluku (Quechua for olluco), oca, and mashua, to name a few. They range in size, in color, in texture, and each carry a mountain of nutrients. Olluco, or the diminutive olluquito, is one of the most prevalent and widely recognizable tuber, after the potato and oca, in Peruvian restaurants, homes, and kitchens. The olluco plant, like the potato, grows a beautiful leafy-green plant above ground and the yellow and red tubers below. The leaves and tubers are both edible. The leaves are similar to a spinach.
This tuber is often used in stews, soups, made spicy, or mashed as an accompaniment but it can also be eaten raw. Olluco can be prepared alone or with meat. Where I live in the Northeast U.S., I have yet to find it fresh but I can find it many a bodega, or Latin American grocery store, that carries frozen Peruvian products. To make this dish today, I did indeed find some frozen olluco by a well-known and trusted brand Inca's Food. While the texture is a little different than making it with fresh produce, you can still make a delicious, filling, and nutritious dish. I made it this weekend because we had a chilly, rainy weekend here in New England and it hit the spot!
The most common dish in Peru using this tuber is in olluquito con charqui. Charqui is cured (with salt) and dehydrated (with sun) alpaca meat, sometimes llama meat, or in contemporary times, beef or sheep. It is referred to as chalona when made from sheep. It is actually one of the most ancient pre-Columbian dishes, dating back to 4500 BCE. The Quechua word "Ch'arki" is actually where the English word "jerky" comes from! To make this specific dish, the ch'arki is rehydrated and stewed with sliced sticks of olluco. Since I do not have access to ch'arki, I will be using fresh beef loin. When using fresh meat, it is called olluquito con carne (Olluco with meat). Olluco is a great source of protein, iron and vitamin C!
Tubers get a bad rap here in the U.S. because we tend to see them only as carbohydrates but they are so, so much more. This is a deeply satisfying dish that reminds me of my time living in Peru and yet there is something very American about it as well, full continent American. After all, we are a meat and potatoes kind of country and this is just a variation on that, Ha! Buen provecho amig@s!
Guiso de olluco con carne -- 2-4 servings
15 oz sliced olluco (thawed from frozen, strained)
1 lb beef loin, sliced (can also use chicken or lamb)
1 medium red onion, diced
2 teaspoons aji panca paste
1 tablespoon aji amarillo paste
1 tablespoon garlic paste
1 dash cumin
1/2 cup beef stock or water
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pan, heat up oil and begin sautéing diced onion until translucent on medium heat.
Add pepper pastes, garlic, cumin, some salt and pepper. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until very fragrant.
Add sliced meat and cook in aderezo (paste) until almost cooked all the way through, 5 minutes or so.
Add olluco and toss.
Add beef stock and a dash of salt, cover pan and allow to cook for about 5-10 minutes.
Taste and adjust salt, if needed. Add parsley and toss.
This dish is often served with rice.