By Debra Liu
In the past few years, quinoa’s popularity in the US has exploded and now, this healthy, gluten-free, protein-packed grain even has its own weeklong celebration, Peruvian Quinoa Week, which launched on 4/28 and will last until Saturday, 5/3.
Quinoa has been cultivated in Peru for 3000 years and Peruvian Quinoa Week is an opportunity for restaurants to showcase some of the innovative and interesting ways to cook this ancient grain. During this week, eight of New York City’s and New Jersey’s premiere Peruvian and Pan-Latin restaurants, in collaboration with the Trade Commission of Peru in New York, will offer decadent quinoa dishes for lunch and dinner.
Raymi and Panca are just two of the restaurants in NYC participating. Erik Ramirez, Executive Chef of Raymi, says that it’s the biodiversity of Peru and the unique regions, the coast, the Andes, and the jungles that makes Peru’s food products and its cuisine so special. Richard Wu, owner of Panca, has the exact same sentiment. To Richard, the rich flavors of the ingredients such as Peruvian peppers and herbs and the many different ethnicities in the country make the cuisine incredibly fused and unique.
As quinoa lovers, we didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity to discover amazing quinoa dishes, so we headed over to Panca and literally, our taste-buds were blown away by the creative ways quinoa was incorporated into both savory and sweet dishes by Panca’s Executive Chef Ezequiel Valencia, who prepared 5 mouthwatering dishes for us to try.
We began our culinary journey with two beautiful towers, one was a red and black quinoa tower topped with chicken salad and the other was a causa (Peruvian yellow potato) tower topped with guacamole, shrimp, and drizzled with leche de tigre. Next up, was a perfectly grilled anticucho (veal’s heart), made with Peruvian pepper, and served with yuca fries and Huacatay sauce.
Afterwards, we enjoyed Tiradito de Pescado con Crispy de Quinoa, a sashimi style fluke gorgeously served in an orange bath of Aji Amarillo and Rocoto sauces with Peruvian corn and topped with crispy quinoa. The textures in this dish were complex but worked well together; the sashimi was smooth, the Peruvian corn was rich and chewier than American corn, and the crispy Quinoa added a nice touch of, yes, crispiness.
Our last savory dish was Lomo Saltado, a traditional Peruvian dish with Chinese influences. One of the most popular offerings at Panca, Lomo Saltado is a stir fry of strips of beef marinated in soy and oyster sauce, typically served with rice (for this week, quinoa replaced the rice).
We topped off our food journey with the most decadent flan ever, generously doused in caramel sauce. The bottom and top of the creamy flan was covered in crispy white and red quinoa, which provided an added texture and color to the dessert.
Although the flan was the perfect end to a beautiful and tasty adventure, it was just the beginning of our love for Panca – a hidden gem in the West Village that proves just how exquisite Peruvian cuisine is and how quinoa has no boundaries.