1985 was a big year for me, for I traveled to Peru that summer to study food, while later in September I went to Paris, with the intent of moving my business there. (Read more about my time in France in Balsamic Vinaigrette, 2016/08/22.)
My jocund days in Peru were filled with the warm blazing sun, but nights were very cold, as July brings winter to this nation in the southern hemisphere.
Machu Picchu met my love for mountains in a grand way. The ancient trail leading to these ruins made for an arduous climb; we got off the train and labored, with copious sweat, for hours to complete its last leg. What a memorable day!
My far-reaching, historical catering business was three years old during my time in South America-in the 1980’s-and my mind was a sponge for details about food. While there, every morsel that went into my mouth came out as a comment in my journal. Most of this keen eating took place in inexpensive cafes, where chickens were always roasting on open hearths. The better of these humble restaurants had guinea pig and Cebiche, raw white fish “cooked” in lemon juice. Street vendors’ food also provided me with rich information, but my greatest joy was the private dinner invitations I received, to both rich and poor homes. Note: there are only these two classes there.
Karen, my then neighbor in Billings, Montana, and her Peruvian boyfriend inspired me to make this colorful sojourn. Indeed Chino’s family blessed my trip: I may not be alive today, but for them, as great trauma occurred for me in this country. Fortunately for me, his family was extremely influential; for instance, his second cousin was president during my visit. (This man was ousted a number of days after I left; Chino’s brother-in-law was murdered by terrorists several months later.)
My trouble came when I and my traveling companion, a longtime friend from Paris, let down our guards. We always covered each other’s backs in the marketplace, as robbery is ever-present in this poor nation; we, however, went our separate ways one day in Cusco. On my own, I was mesmerized by the wide array of vendor’s goods: blankets on the ground displayed raw meats, brightly dressed women loudly announced their vibrant vegetables, modest pots and pans were set up elsewhere. Stopping I indulged in a delicious, doughnut-like pastry; next, I reached for my funds to buy freshly squeezed orange juice. My wallet was gone!
Absolutely everything of importance was in it: my passport, money, travelers’ checks, credit cards, and return ticket home. This unseasoned traveler was without identity and provision in a volatile place.
God’s grace got me to my homeland safely through a multitude of miracles. The last of these happened just hours before my plane’s departure, for the president of Aero Peru, a friend of Chino’s family, reinstated my plane ticket at this critical moment.
Even before I experienced this culture, my repertoire of catered meals included a Peruvian dinner. The background for this authentic repast came from a cook book, from that country, shared by Chino’s girlfriend; nevertheless, this account was strictly for the upper class. For hors d’ouvres at these events, I used the youth’s favored dish Ocopa-chunks of boiled, bland purple potatoes, topped with cheese, walnuts, mild chiles, and eggs. The main course boasted of Aji de Gallina, an incredible walnut chicken. Dessert was Suspiro Limeno, a light, airy custard; the feast ended with Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco. To this day, these chocolate/coconut balls are the finishing touch at ever meal I host.
Chocolate has an interesting history. Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez introduced cocao beans to Europe in 1528, when he returned from “New Spain”. There the Aztecs mixed cocao paste with spices to make a thick drink. In their convent at Oaxaca, creative Spanish nuns added sugar, which made this chocolate beverage even more palatable. 1
Chocolate was highly prized then and still is today; these superb, truffle-like candies-a rich man’s food in Peru-will please any chocolate lover. This recipe is simple and foolproof; don’t miss this delectable treat.
- James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), p. 89.
Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco (Peruvian chocolate/coconut balls) Yields: about 6 dozen balls. Total prep time: 45 min.
12 oz unsweetened chocolate (Baker’s works well.)
1-14 oz can sweetened condensed milk (It’s important to use Borden’s Eagle Brand.)
2 tsp butter
2 c unsweetened fine-flake coconut (Available in bulk at our local Winco and other supermarkets.)
- Break chocolate into pieces in a medium-size, heavy-bottom saucepan.
- Add butter, melt slowly over low heat. Watch carefully, so as not to burn.
- Meanwhile open the can of milk and place 1/2 c of coconut in a measuring cup. Set aside.
- When chocolate is completely melted, quickly add condensed milk.
- Stir over low heat for about 30 seconds; it will start forming a soft ball. Toward the end of the 30 seconds, stir in the coconut. Do not overcook, or chocolate will be dry. Immediately remove from heat after these 30 seconds; continue to stir vigorously until soft ball is formed all the way. See photo.
- Cool just enough for handling.
- Place 1/2 c of coconut in a small bowl. (You will add more coconut to the dish as needed.) Form small balls of chocolate and roll in coconut, placing them in an 8×8 inch pan.
- Chill chocolate for several hours; then, transfer balls to a freezer-storage bag. These will keep for a very long time, if you double the bag for long-term freezing.
- Excellent chocolate, so easy, absolutely foolproof.