I was first introduced to the wonders of Peruvian food while living in Santiago, Chile. I was interning for a migrant rights organization run by Peruvians. Every day for lunch I would have some of the most delicious beans, rice, and potatoes I’d ever eaten. But since so many Peruvian recipe are meat-centric, I’ve spent very little time actually trying to learn to cook Peruvian cuisine. I did once before try to make Aji de Gallina using a recipe that called for chicken by replacing the chicken with a store-bought chicken substitute. The result was almost inedible. The fake chicken just wasn’t good enough to eat that much of in a recipe that is basically just chicken and sauce.
My brother bought me The Peruvian Vegan Cookbook by Enid Soto-Lopez and Elias Lopez for Chanukah this year. I saw that it had a recipe for Aji de Gallina using jackfruit, which seemed like a great idea. Jackfruit is much more mellow than store-bought fake meat and I thought it would be less intrusive in this type of meat-focused recipe.
I was so excited to try making the recipe, that I failed to notice that it makes some very strange choices. It somehow completely omits aji, The one truly essential ingredient to this recipe! And of course aji, an orange hot pepper native to Peru, is vegan! Then it adds turmeric, which is apparently an attempt to achieve the original yellow color of the dish without aji. I only realized this half way through making the recipe. I tasted the result without the aji and concluded it was awful. No spice, no tangy flavor. It just tasted like nutritional yeast, which I suppose was being added as a substitute for parmesan.
Normally when making aji de gallina, you’d have to add the peppers early and saute them, which of course was not possible at this stage. However, luckily, due to the difficulty of finding fresh aji in Durham, I had aji paste. I added the paste one tablespoon at a time till I got to my preferred level of spice and flavor. I believe in the end I added about 3-4 tablespoons. The resulting dish actually wasn’t bad. It was pretty flavorful and the jackfruit worked pretty well, even if it was a bit monotonous.
I’m going to try making this again, playing around a bit. I’m going to leave out the nutritional yeast and add the Parmesan instead. I think I’ll just use regular milk instead of almond milk + cashews since I’m not actually vegan. I’d like to try making this using half and half two different meat substitutes to see if I can make it a bit more interesting. I’m going to use half jackfruit and half chick’n seitan using this recipe from the Post-punk Vegan. https://www.theppk.com/2021/01/everyday-pull-apart-chickn-seitan/ We’ll see how it goes.