Friday, July 23, 2010

Taste of Peru with these savory beef kebabs

By Helen Klein

My most-recent recipe quest started because my daughter, who’s spending the summer in Peru, raved about some street food she’d eaten in Cuzco: heart on a stick.

I made it clear, pretty much immediately, that she shouldn’t expect me to recreate the dish. However, she said, anticuchos — as the savory snack is known — can also be made with beef. That sounded much better. All I needed to do was find a recipe for the marinade and fire up the grill.

Fortunately, I had help. One of my favorite cookbook authors, Steven Raichlen, has just come out with a new volume, “Planet Barbecue!” (Workman Publishing, $22.95), and right there on page 39, was a recipe for Peruvian Beef Kebabs. It was a fairly straightforward recipe, with easily found alternatives suggested for the difficult-to-locate ingredients, flavorful but not overpowering.

Most of the heat comes from the sauce, so daring eaters can ladle it on while more conservative diners can take a more gingerly approach. Definitely follow Raichlen’s instructions for basting the kebabs; because the meat is thinly sliced, it can dry out quickly.

Peruvian Beef Kebabs

(Serves six as an appetizer, four as a light main course)


4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 tablespoon cumin seeds, or 1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/4 cup ají panca paste, 3 tablespoons Hungarian hot paprika, or 2 canned chipotle peppers with 1 tablespoon of their juices

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons achiote oil or extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for basting

Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper

1-1/2 pounds beef rib eye or sirloin, or 1-1/2 pounds beef heart

Yellow chile peanut sauce (optional)


Heat a dry cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until browned on all sides, two minutes per side, six to eight minutes in all (you can also grill the garlic on a small skewer at a previous grill session). Transfer the garlic to a small bowl and let cool.

Add the cumin seeds, if using, to the hot skillet and toast them over medium heat until the cumin is very fragrant and lightly browned, two to four minutes. Transfer the seeds to a small heatproof bowl and let them cool. Grind the seeds to a fine powder in a spice mill or pound them in a mortar using a pestle. If you are using ground cumin, toast it in the skillet over medium heat until fragrant, one to two minutes.

Place the cooled garlic, ground toasted cumin and ají panca paste (or paprika or chipotles) in a food processor and puree to a fine paste. Gradually work in the wine vinegar and enough achiote oil to make a thick paste. Season the marinade with salt and black pepper to taste; it should be highly seasoned.

If you are using beef hearts, cut them lengthwise into strips that are about one-and-a-half inches wide. Cut each strip crosswise sharply on the diagonal to make pieces about three inches long and one-quarter inch thick. If you are using steak, cut it into pieces of that size. Weave three pieces of meat back and forth on each skewer so the flat side will be exposed to the fire.

Arrange the skewers in a non reactive baking dish. Spread the marinade over the meat with a spoon, thickly coating both sides. If you are using steak, let it marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for two to four hours, turning it once or twice so that the meat marinates evenly. If you are using h beef heart, let it marinate for six to 12 hours in the refrigerator, covered, turning it several times.

When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill. Drain the anticuchos, discarding the marinade. Arrange the anticuchos on the hot grate, with the aluminum foil shield under the exposed ends of the skewers to keep them from burning. Grill the anticuchos until they are sizzling, golden brown, and cooked through, three to four minutes per side (anticuchos are generally eaten medium-well to well done). Baste the anticuchos on the grilled side with achiote oil after three minutes to keep the meat moist (you’ll need about two tablespoons oil). Use the poke test to check for doneness. Serve the anticuchos sizzling hot off the grill with the yellow chile peanut sauce, if desired.

Yellow Chile Peanut Sauce


5 fresh, frozen, or dried Peruvian yellow chiles, or 3/4 cup ají amarillo paste

3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

1 small bunch huacatay, chopped, or 2 tablespoons each finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and spearmint

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, or to taste

Coarse salt (kosher or sea)


If you are using frozen ajís amarillos, let them thaw at room temperature; this will take about one hour. If you are using dried ajís amarillos, soak them in water to cover for two hours, then drain. Stem the chiles and, if a milder sauce is desired, remove the seeds. Place the chiles, peanut butter, and one-half cup of water in a blender and puree until smooth. Blend in the huacatay, running the blender in short bursts.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the chile and peanut puree and cook, stirring often, until the sauce is thick, creamy, and richly flavored, five to eight minutes. Lower the heat as needed; the sauce should simmer gently, not boil. Add the lime juice, if using, and season the sauce with salt to taste and more lime juice if needed; it should be highly seasoned and very hot. Serve the sauce warm or at room temperature. The sauce can be refrigerated, covered, for up to three days.

Raichlen suggests substituting one grilled yellow bell pepper, peeled, cored, seeded, and diced, plus one-half teaspoon cayenne pepper. To test for doneness, Raichlen suggests poking the meat with a forefinger; firm indicates well-done and hard and springy, well-done.


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