I feel like I haven’t blogged in months but it’s only been two weeks or so. But I guess moving to a new country will make you feel like you’ve been that much farther away from the rest of the world. I’ve been in Peru for about a week and it has been a total change of scenery from the bustling, busy, ever-moving, traffic-jammed Sao Paulo. I’m in Cajamarca, in the Northern Andes of Peru, a town of about 200,000 also known for its local specialty of fried guinea pig, its booming Golden Berry farming (Golden Berry, also known as “Incan Berry” or “Pichuberry” was declared one of the superfoods of 2014 in the Huffington Post and withholds a wide range of nutritional benefits), its local dairy and its thermal springs installed in a gem of well-preserved Incan ruins. Not too bad, right? And people, it couldn’t get any more authentic, or “paleo” might I say, than this. Not that I’m living in prehistoric times, Cajamarca is a rather modern, albeit small and traditional, town. But it’s ironic how after talking about the benefits of a paleo diet and lifestyle for months, life put me in a place where I could actually walk the talk.
I start my day at around 7 AM at the sound of my all-natural, “paleo” alarm, the friendly neighborhood roosters. I then move on to shower in ice-cold water, just like our ancestors did when there was no electricity wouldn’t you say? I’m slowly starting to figure out how the hot water works, give it another week or so. Then I make my way down the stairs of my 300 year old, Spanish colonial house (yes, I get to brag because I just told you I showered with cold water in a mountainous climate) and, one of the most blissful moments of my day, I make myself a pot of coffee with the fabulous french press that I found in the kitchen on my arrival. People, not only do I have a french press, I’m living in a region where one of the world’s best coffees is produced! And that, my friends, has turned my already prized morning coffee ritual upside down. When I get more accustomed to the early temperatures, I think I’ll even go enjoy my coffee on the rooftoop which has this stunning view of the central Plaza de Armas and the surrounding Andes.
Now my first days in Cajamarca were somewhat bewildering. I wondered what I had gotten myself into, especially when my luggage stayed stuck in Lima and I had no change of clothes for two days. I started asking myself why I had traded Brazilian Caipirinhas, the fabulous cosmopolitan nightlife of Sao Paulo and samba for little hole in the wall restaurants that smelled like frying oil, risky mototaxis and Peruvian countryside chants. And then I took a deep breath of pure Andean air, reasoned myself with meditative thoughts of “you’ve done this before, you’re going to be just fine” and started noticing the beauty of what was surrounding me. And after just a few days, I now feel completely thrilled to be here. When you arrive in a new place and you’re surrounded by unknown, it’s all about finding your little comfort spots, taking it one step at a time, rejoicing in those little victories (like finding the local organic store) and not feeling freaked out by your own presence, which can be a little overwhelming when you don’t know anyone else. It’s ok to not have many friends at first, you’ll notice the kindness of strangers a thousand times more than if you did.
And instead of getting myself down about all the things that I had left in Brazil, I started noticing all the new things I had access to here that I didn’t have in Brazil. For starters, the food. It’s been painful to say goodbye to the incredible meat and endless supply of coconuts in Brazil, but on the other hand I have super cheap and incredibly tasty wild-caught fish here (prices ranging from 5 to 10 USD per kilo). The region also produces amazing coffee, cacao (which I buy raw for about 2 dollars per 100g), and pastured dairy products. Yesterday, I bought 100% grass-fed local butter, I’m telling you, I had never really tasted butter until now! It tasted as if it had just been freshly churned that same morning. And then there’s the huge variety of local vegetables such as sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, avocado, cassava and fruit such as plantains, black cherries and gooseberries, as well as fresh ginger root, turmeric, hundreds of types of local chilli peppers and raw honey taken straight from the beehive, down the mountain and to the little grocery store across my house. I’m living the farm-to-table dream!
I’ve also taken up a yoga class twice a week that costs almost nothing (gotta love those prices in Peru), started a functional training course at the gym which is a new and exciting way to exercise and which I am loving, and mapped out the different places in the region I want to travel to on weekends. Oh, and there’s work! I almost forgot. Work is wonderful and exciting, I have many projects coming up including working with some major development organizations and doing field studies with small producers in Peru that are going to keep me busy and on the road traveling in the next few months. So all in all, I’m doing fine and everything is going great. Life has handed me a great job opportunity along with a very welcome wind of change and some rest from busy city life to experience living in a place I would otherwise probably never have gone to.
On to what you probably came here for, this recipe. Now while curry isn’t really in fashion in local cuisine here, I could call this my “local Cajamarca products curry” because it’s everything I found in my local market, and I was happening to crave a good curry for dinner after my first functional training class the other night. It was intense and I needed to replenish. Fish curry is a favorite of mine, but I had never tried it with sweet potato. Where. Have. I. Been. I used Basa fish, a plump, tender and meaty fish that works perfectly for stew and soup recipes. This curry takes all in all 20 minutes to put together and is so satisfying after a good workout or for entertaining a crowd of friends. Now since I don’t have any friends here to cook for yet, it had to be for the former. But maybe my yoga buddies will want a taste of this soon. Just give it time.
Basa Fish and Sweet Potato Curry
2-3 (about 1.5 lbs or 650g) Basa fish fillets (or any other firm white fish such as sea bass, halibut, cod…)
1 medium red onion
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
3 cups of fresh spinach
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp curry blend (a mixture of ground coriander, turmeric, cardamom, cumin, dry mustard and cayenne, recipe to make your own here)
2 cups vegetable broth (I use Rapunzel organic vegan broth)
1 cup coconut milk
2 tbsp coconut oil, for cooking
Chopped chilli pepper of your choice for spicier taste (I used about 1/2 of a Poblano green chilli, which yielded a mildly spicy curry)
Fresh cilantro and lemon wedges for garnish
1. Chop the onion, mince the garlic and ginger and peel and dice the sweet potato.
2. In a large pot, heat coconut oil and cook the onion for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, chopped chilli pepper (if using) and the spices and stir around for a 2 minutes until fragrant, without burning.
3. Add the sweet potato and pour over the broth. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes.
4. Cut the fish fillets into medium-sized pieces and season with a little salt and pepper. Add to the stew, along with the coconut milk, and cook for 10 minutes. Wash the spinach leaves and stir them in towards the end. Turn off heat, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes before serving with fresh cilantro and lemon wedges.
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