An Expert Review About Peru

Sometimes I like to think about paths that get us to meeting different people. My husband and I, for instance, were born on different continents and learned different languages as we grew up. And then by several twists of fate, we both ended up in Texas. We met, we dated, we married! That is probably the very shortest version of that story but it can suffice for now. 

My husband was born and raised in Peru, until his family moved to the U.S. when he was in elementary school. Though they have lived in the States for years and years now, he and his family still hold tightly to their Peruvian roots, traditions, and foods - and who can blame them? And so this installment of "Eating Around the World" is brought to you in part by my wonderful husband and in-laws!  

 Lima, Peru - Photo by  Dan Gold

Lima, Peru - Photo by Dan Gold

One thing - I'm going to be changing things up a bit around here. I’ll still be providing background info and recipes from each country, but I’ll also be featuring stories and/or interviews with people from these various countries as much as possible. After all, the food is good and fun to make, but I'm really here for the people. Fortunately for me I now know many Peruvians, most of whom are excellent cooks!

 Maras, Peru - Photo by  Pedro Lastra

Maras, Peru - Photo by Pedro Lastra

Peru sits on the west coast of South America, and is the third largest country there. Its ancient people (Inca, Nasca, Moche, and others) are well-known for their elaborate architecture, roadways, and agricultural systems, all developed long before Europeans “discovered” South America and its people. Those who came later to Peru in the 1500s are important for its history and culture, too. My husband often tells me about his ancestors from Spain, Africa and China. While many African and Chinese people were brought to Peru as indentured servants or slaves, that kind of work there was short-lived and many former slaves eventually married native Peruvians. The customs of all of these groups of people have trickled down through generations, creating a rich and diverse culture that still permeates the cultural landscape of Peru and its families today.

There are three general regions into which Peru is divided - the coast (la costa), the highlands (la sierra), and the jungle (la selva). As you might imagine, each of these regions has unique landscapes, customs, and (what I'm particularly interested in) cooking styles. The recipe I have for you today is called Papa Rellena and it's a popular street food you can pick up all over the country. We invited Eddy's parents over this fall so we could cook and enjoy this meal together! His mom was gracious enough to give me the recipe, even though she doesn't use recipes - a skill I always hope to acquire. This one is delicious but a bit labor intensive so get ready! 

Before we get there, though, I had some questions for my favorite Peruvian in hopes he could help us better understand his home country and the memories of it that he loves. I also have some prayer points for us!

Eddy and I have talked a lot about his childhood in Peru, and many of his experiences there. He grew up in Lima near the beach and enjoyed food fresh from the market (I'm talking freshly caught fish, and freshly butchered chickens, among other things). He started school young because his parents both worked - at age three my little Einstein started first grade! I have heard many times over how different Peruvian and U.S. schools are, and how much more challenged he felt in Peru simply based on how their curriculum was designed. I know how many siblings his parents have, what their home in Peru was like, and that the best brownies he's ever had were from his mom's office. But would you believe I've never asked him what he misses most about Peru? (Insert ashamed emoji).

Somehow I never thought to ask! I have always thought he missed his family most of all, an assumption likely based on my own experience of moving far away from my family. Turns out this assumption was right! Almost every story Eddy tells me about Peru involves his family. Cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles, his parents and sister - they all cycle in and out of his stories. I haven't had the chance to meet many of his family members yet, but I already have glimpses of what they're like from his childhood memories. I'm excited to one day visit the places he lived and played as a child and meet the family he loves and misses so much!

Aside from his family, his favorite memories from Peru are distinct because of its culture. He remembers people being open and welcoming, always outside visiting with one another - friends and strangers alike. There were parties and dancing and life centered on time with other people. This way of life has made an evident impact on Eddy and his family - they are some of the most welcoming and friendly people I know, and no gathering is complete without dancing! His dad told me recently, "If there's no dancing, it's not a party," a fact I'm still getting used to!

Before a trip to Kenya in 2016 I read a book called "Foreign to Familiar" (not sponsored, just a good book), which outlined how climate seems to affect culture. People living in colder climates tend to be more reserved and perhaps distant, and are ruled more by the clock. In comparison, people living in warmer climates are more relaxed with just about everything - punctuality is not a priority, unexpected guests are welcomed happily, and connections with other people are prized over work results. These are generalizations of course, but the trends are there. Marrying into a "warm culture" family often has this Midwest girl taking deep breaths and learning to relax about the appropriate time for dinner and the importance of dancing at family gatherings.

My next question to Eddy was, "Do you feel welcome here?" His response: "Most of the time." There have been scenarios since moving to the U.S. when he felt different, distinct from the people around him, both in positive and negative ways. It's encouraging to know that most of the time he feels like he belongs! But I also distinctly remember conversations in which he told me there were points in his life where he didn't feel like he belonged anywhere - the U.S. isn't always welcoming to immigrants, but he's spent more of his life here than in Peru. 

When we learn more about these different cultures, we can better understand people different from us - and that is hugely important! Even if you look just like your neighbor, their background and ancestry means they have different experiences than you and might just see the world differently. It's no secret the differences of opinion can cause great divides in society. If we can take some time to get to know people, we can understand their thoughts and actions, and hopefully build better relationships and stronger communities!

 Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina

Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina

A summation of the prayer needs listed on Operation World's outline of Peru would be to pray for the extremes of society. Poverty, remote tribes, and a firmly rooted tradition of Catholicism are all obstacles against which we are urged to pray. 

  • Slums and increasing numbers of street children are concerns specifically in the more populated and urban areas of the country. Obviously the safety of people there is of great concern, and so be praying for provision of basic needs and protection for the weakest populations there, as well as for the growing Christian church to step in and help work for change in their community. 
  • While the majority of Peruvians are Christian, there remain unreached groups of people especially in small tribal areas of the country. Not only are these people often wary of outsiders, they are also hard to reach geographically. 
  • Finally, Catholicism is particularly common among the higher socioeconomic brackets. Both of these characteristics (Catholic, wealthier) have been known to isolate these people from other Christians as well as other groups of people throughout Peru. Let's pray that the Spirit of God would grip people from all classes and drive them to understand and share the gospel, and to be generous to those in need!

Now without further ado, I give you....

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  • 2 eggs
  • 3 pounds yellow potatoes (or about 6 medium potatoes) (we used one full bag)
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup flour (for dusting; or more as needed)
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

  1. Cook one of the eggs in boiling water until hard-boiled and set aside. Reserve the other egg.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the unpeeled potatoes until they are tender when pierced with a fork.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, cook the onions and garlic in vegetable oil until soft and fragrant. Add the cumin and paprika to the onions and cook 2 more minutes, stirring. Add the ground beef and cook until browned.
  4. Add the raisins and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until most of the liquid is gone. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let cool.
  5. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them in a colander. When they are cool enough to handle, peel them, and then mash the potatoes thoroughly (or pass them through a potato ricer). Season the mashed potatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Chill the potatoes.
  6. Once the potatoes are very cold, stir the reserved egg into the mashed potatoes until well mixed.  Peel the hard boiled egg and chop into about 6 pieces.
  7. Shape the papas rellenas: with floured hands, place about 1/4 cup of mashed potatoes in one hand, and make a well in the center. Fill the well with 1-2 Tbs of the beef mixture and a piece of hard-boiled egg (optional). Mold the potatoes around the beef, adding more potatoes if necessary to fully enclose the filling, and shape the whole thing into an oblong potato shape, with slightly pointy ends, about the size of a medium potato. Repeat with the rest of the mashed potatoes.
  8. Coat each stuffed "potato" generously with flour.In a deep skillet or deep-fat fryer, heat 2 inches of oil to 360F. Fry the potatoes in batches until they are golden brown. Drain them on a plate lined with paper towels.
  9. Serve with lettuce and onion salad (thinly sliced red onions with lemon juice)

When we made ours, we boiled a whole bag of potatoes along with three eggs. We also added olives to some of our rellenas so feel free to experiment a bit with the filling! 

This recipe is great for a finger food option or appetizer, but can be served as the main dish as well. Have fun with it, and enjoy this little taste of Peru! 


“Peru: General Information.” Peru: General Information, Peruanos En Stanford, 2004, web.stanford.edu/group/peruanos/informa/general.htm.