211 - Memories of Peru
A few years back, I was lucky enough to receive some Peruvian cooking classes in the stunning Andean city of Cusco. My instructor was one of the best caterers in the city, so I knew that when she prepared Causa Limeña (yellow, mashed potato layered dishes served cold) I would be savouring the real deal. There are as many types of Causas as there are regions in Peru. Some like to layer shredded chicken in between the mildly seasoned mashed potato (spiced up by adding aji chilli), while others prefer shrimp or pieces of pork crackling. But true Causa Limeña is either served just as layers of mashed potatoes, garnished with olives, hard boiled eggs and fresh soft cheese, or stuffed with a tuna mixture that sets off the whole combination beautifully.
Here in Toronto, I’ve yet to taste a more faithful reproduction of the traditional than the one on offer at El Plebeyo. Owned by husband and wife team Pepe and Mina Bustamante, this cozy restaurant, whose name pays tribute to a ballad called “The Plebian,” is THE spot for an authentic taste of Peru in Toronto. From preparing freshly made ceviches (lemon-cured fish dishes) to creating home-spun beverages, Mina works the kitchen with ease, while Pepe mingles with guests.
Mina’s is served as a sturdy appetizer with two layers of Golden Yukon mashed potatoes filling in for the hard-to-find yellow Peruvian tuber (Peru, by the way, boasts some four thousand varieties of spuds!). Mixed with some lemon juice, chilli and oil, then layered with tuna, mayonnaise and spices, the dish is topped off with another level of potatoes before garnishing. Some old-timers in Peru told me that this is the dish of choice for Peruvian “ladies who lunch,” others insisted that traditionally, it used to be served with a fillet of white fish on the side. Either way, eaten as an appetizer or as a luncheon main with a crisp, green salad and accompanied by a glass of Chicha Morada (a healthy, sweetened purple maize drink), you’ve got yourself a dish worth sampling again and again. And, considering that El Plebeyo’s treats are a lot closer to home than Cusco or Lima, there is ample opportunity to try, try again!
1453 Bathurst Street
photo credit: Mary Luz Mejia