Victoria Daza: Latina Home-style Chef Talks Peruvian Thanksgiving and Tips
Peruvian American homes are filled with distinctive smells when concocting meals. Onion and lime permeates, but collects in the kitchen. The smell of roasting pork also pervades, and is linked to the sound of preparation: sharp knives striking chopping boards, fresh vegetables snapping, crisp meat crackling, and harmonious conversation. For home-style chef, Victoria Daza, Thanksgiving is not only a time for familial closeness, but for reflection, observations, and acknowledgement of indigenous roots.
"In Peru, where my family is from, Thanksgiving isn't celebrated, because it's based on an American historical event. But, here, we do have a turkey, because that's how traditionally Thanksgiving is done in the U.S. The turkey is seasoned in a very Latin way, we use a lot of mojo - and the seasoning of it is very traditionally Peruvian. We do add things that "traditional" non-Peruvian families don't have at Thanksgiving. For example, we always have pork... and, this year I'm making the ribs," Daza said. "It will have a chipotle-cilantro-lime-beer base. And, my grandmother will making a Peruvian black mint, that's called huacatay...to mimic a feast that is done in Peru called pachamanca."
Huacatay ("wah-ka-tay") is green Peruvian Salsa that's often used to complement meat dishes such as Peruvian-style pollo a la brasa and rotisserie chicken. And, pachamanca, which earns it's name from the Quechua words: "pacha" earth and "manca" - meaning "earthen pot, in a meal cooked underground.
The 25-year-old stated that the preparation of pachamanca has indigenous origins, and has been around since the Inca Empire. Traditionally, pork or chicken is marinated in black mint with a number of other seasonings, and it's cooked with potatoes, sweet potatoes, lima or "habas" and yucca, and then cooked underground, covered in stone.
"The fIre is created via stone and coal, and it gives it a really distinct flavor. When we cook Thanksgiving in the U.S, we season meat the same way we would pachamanca, we just put it in our oven. It still tastes good," Daza said with a smile.
Pachamanca is traditionally a strenuous and involved task, noting that it takes about a day and a half to prepare for, and four hours to cook the meal. The construction requires the effort of a number of people - generally men, to dig and develop the "oven."
"It's a gendered process, when making traditional pachamanca. Men dig the holes in the ground. A bunch of stones are placed, and coconut tree leaves are layered as a base. A pot is placed for the food to cook in. It is then covered by coconut tree leaves and stone."
She mentioned that she wasn't sure how the fire was created, because she could only stick around for so long. Daza added that while men are busy preparing the "earth oven," women are busy chopping and seasoning meat. Generally, an entire pig is used when creating the meal.
Daza and her family typically have pachamanca on Thanksgiving and other special occasions, but was also prepared it last Easter; ironic because that's the time when most give up meat.
"We joke about it, actually, about how we're all sinners," Daza said of her and her family.
Some Thanksgiving traditional recipes aren't as attractive as attractive as turkey, according to Daza.
"I can't speak for every Latino person out there, but, we don't mix sweet with salty food. That isn't an overall rule, but when I came to the U.S. as a child, and I went to school, they gave me that sweet potato dish with marshmallows, and I was like, 'What the he**?' It was mind blowing to me. It was like candy with potatoes, which is supposed to be part of a meal. Also, cranberries with turkey is something that was strange to me...it took me a decade to used to that. I don't like it, but I can eat it now, just to be polite."
While some Latinos aren't keen on the clash of sweet and savory, she remarked that some others do enjoy those types of dishes, and adopted them, making it their own.
"We don't do the marshmallow and sweet potato thing at my house because we're all so freaked out by it; but Salvadorans make cornbread a certain way, and my boyfriend's mother uses sweet potatoes within the cornbread and then puts marshmallows on top of that."
Daza's Thanksgiving experience is similar to that of many Latino Americans, who've contracted a number of U.S. traditions, but tie those traditions in with customs their country of national origin. The marriage of flavors, techniques and ingredients makes for a zesty and enjoyable meal and Thanksgiving day.
Turkey-Day Tips from Victoria Daza:
"Salt turkey overnight and add garlic and paprika, it makes for a juicy turkey and well-seasoned turkey. Also, use a turkey bag."
"Use your thumbs to pierce the turkey, near the breasts, and knead with salt to make sure that the salt gets in there. But make sure not to ruin the presentation, make thumb piercing less noticeable, and near a socket"
"Have something that's homemade and colorful that isn't expected, such as homemade cranberry sauce. When it's colorful and unexpected, people are impressed, particularly when cooking for in-laws."
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