Sounds great, doesn't it? It sounds great... No, not so much really. To be truthful, I doubt my parenting skills (every day). I really doubt my patience. How do I keep this five-and-a-half year old from getting bored (and worse, getting into trouble)? How do I keep from tearing my hair out? How do we keep the boy from losing all the progress he made in his Montessori school this spring? And how do I keep him from watching TV and playing video games all summer while I try to work?
Then I got the idea. I was inspired by this Washington Post story about the Spanish-themed buffet at the Garden Cafe of the National Gallery of Art and the Joan Miro exhibit. I liked the idea of the food connecting with the exhibit. That could be cool. Each week, we have a different country as the theme: We try the food. We go to relevant exhibits. We learn about the country: the history, the geography. We use all that as a basis for regular lessons in writing, reading, math, and science. We make art in the style of the country. We listen to the music! Hey, this could be kind of fun!
So I let my son pick the first country on our "Grand Tour." He picked Peru (where one of his teachers, Miss Rosy, is from). Eek, I thought, I know next to nothing about Peru. But now I am so incredibly happy and grateful he picked Peru. I've learned so much! What a fascinating country! When can we go? Incas, Nazca lines, a coastal desert, the root of all potatodom and all tomatodom, Machu Picchu, Andes, and the Amazonian rain forest.
It turns out Peruvian food is at least as diverse as its landscape. Thousands of varieties of potatoes, tomato species that exist nowhere else, fish, fruit, not to mention the variety of ethnic influences on the cuisine from all over the globe. What do I pick to make and eat?
Ceviche, which may be the dish most associated with Peru, is intriguing but not necessarily a dish you want to introduce to a five-year old. Furthermore, because it requires such extreme freshness of seafood and such a deft hand with acid and spices, it didn't seem like a good place to start as a beginner. I wanted something traditional, somewhat easy, definitely Peruvian, but not so far out there I wouldn't be able to get my son to try it. A friend suggested lomo saltado, a beef stir-fry dish with fried potatoes. So I started looking into what makes the dish. From a few different sources,* I gathered these basic features of the dish:
- It's a stirfry, reflecting the fact that Peru boasts one of the larger ethnic Chinese communities outside China in the world.
- It includes potatoes and is typically served with rice. So yes, that's two, let me say it again, two starches in one dish.
- The main ingredients are almost always beef strips, onion, tomatoes, fried potatoes, soy sauce, and vinegar. Often included are either parsley or cilantro. Sometimes cumin is included, sometimes not.
- Aji amarillo, a yellow Peruvian pepper is often included, but sadly I couldn't find one.
- 1/2 bag of frozen French fries (I know, I totally cheated on this, but at least they were organic and included very few ingredients)
- 3 Tbsps vegetable oil
- 1 lb of grass-fed stir-fry beef in thin strips
- 1 red onion, sliced thinly
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 tomatoes, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
- 2-3 Tbsps soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- salt and pepper
Before we get into the specifics, here's a general tip about any stirfry: Always make sure that all your ingredients are prepared and ready to go. Stirfrys are one kind of dish where mise en place is critical. So, assuming your ingredients are all chopped and measured and peeled and sliced and ready, here are the instructions:
- Cook the French fries according to package instructions.
- Heat the oil in a wok or another thick-bottomed pot on high heat. The oil should be very hot.
- Add the meat to the oil (be careful about getting splattered!). Stirring quickly, let it cook for 1 minute.
- Add the onions to the pan. Let it cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, garlic, cumin, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, and parsley to the wok, stir quickly and let it all cook for about 2 minutes.
- Taste the sauce, add more soy sauce, salt, and pepper to taste.
- Serve the stirfried meat over the French fries with white rice on the side. Sprinkle a little fresh parsley over the top.