Monday, September 22, 2014

Peru Visit - Expoalimentaria 2014

By: Antonio Guadamuz

On my recent visit to Peru I had the pleasure of visiting several amazing farmers and producers who are showcasing the wonderful variety Peru has to offer. My first visit was to the farm of Stefan Bederski near Chincha, which is about 200 kilometers south of Lima. Topara was originally bought by his father back in 1970. Over the course of several decades they have turned over 200 acres of what used to be an arid valley into a lush and productive farm of pecans, fruits, corn, and peppers. They turned these lands into productive farmland by creating a system of reservoirs, reforesting the riverbanks, building the organic matter of their soils and using sound water management polices. 

One of the many reservoirs at Topara.
Pecan trees account for over 80% of Topara’s land use, and I was lucky to see the pecan harvest in full swing. Aside from the ajies and purple corn that Stefan grows for our products, Topara also has a large organic nursery of fruit tress that supplies many farms throughout Peru. 

Pecan shells used for composting and mulching on the farm.

From Chincha I went on to visit Orquidea Chocolates in Tarapoto. It was incredible traveling from the dry, cool costal lands of Chincha to the hot and humid Amazon of Northern Peru.   Orquidea is a chocolate maker that provides technical assistance and social services to its communities of cacao growers. The staff at Orquidea has helped dozens of cacao farmers transition to organic farming practices and actively work with the farmers to maintain organic certification. I had the pleasure of visiting two communities who were all very proud to be part of Orquidea’s cacao growers. Through all this work Orquidea takes the bean to bar philosophy to the next step by focusing on how the cacao is grown. 

Cacao beans fermenting at Orquidea.

View from Orquidea's chocolate factory.
I ended my stay with a visit to Expoalimentaria where I was blown away at the never-ending parade of products. Just when I thought I could not see anything new on the trip, I saw beautiful multi colored beans and corn grown by small mountain communities, a kaleidoscope of tubers cultivated since the time of the Incas, and modern twist on ancient products like chocolate covered Sacha Inchi.  

Sacha Inchi pods.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mesquite Flour Tortillas

Mesquite flour is a wonderfully versatile ingredient. We call milled mesquite "flour" but mesquite actually isn't a grain at all, but a bean that grows on mesquite trees. The beautiful powder that comes from ground and dried mesquite pods is chameleon-like in the kitchen. Its aroma and sweetness lends itself to flavor foods as a spice, but the powder's heft works well as a flour in baked goods. 

The mesquite that goes into Zócalo Gourmet's flour comes from mesquite pods grown in the coastal regions of northern Peru. The pods are long and lean, and contain small beans. Once the pods are harvested, they are dried and milled, and the resulting powder is gluten-free, high in protein and low-glycemic. 

Mesquite flour pairs well with cocoa and cinnamon
Mesquite has flavor notes of cinnamon, caramel and cocoa, so pairing mesquite with these ingredients tends to work well. However, mesquite goes well with savory ingredients too - these mesquite flour tortillas are a great way to try mesquite with both savory and sweet flavors. Fill these with barbecue chicken, leftover lentil sausage stew, or top them with berries and honey for breakfast.

Mesquite Flour Tortillas 

Makes 8-10 9" tortillas

Fruit of choice (sliced nectarines, peaches or berries are wonderful!)
Butter (room temperature)

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, mix whole wheat flour, mesquite flour, cinnamon and salt, Mix in olive oil and then water. 

  2. Knead the dough for about three minutes. It will be fairly sticky. Place in a medium bowl.

  3. Cover the bowl and let it sit for an hour. If you'd like to let it sit overnight - all the better! Resting the dough allows the gluten to hydrate, making the dough less sticky and more elastic. 

  4. When you're ready to make the tortillas, separate the dough into 8-10 smaller balls. 

  5. Heat a skillet on medium heat. Using a cast iron skillet is best, as you can use less oil. 
  6. Put flour down on a wooden board, and flour your rolling pin as well. Roll out each ball into an 1/8″ thick circle (The circles don't have to be perfect - rustic tortillas are beautiful).

  7. Oil your pan (generously if you're not using cast iron), and let the tortilla cook until it's browned nicely, then flip (about a minute on each side). They will have a nice char, which only adds to the flavor. Repeat with the remaining dough.

  8. Serve the tortillas hot and fill with sliced fresh or cooked fruit, and whipped butter with honey and cinnamon. Enjoy! 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gluten-free Blueberry Cobbler

It's summer and the blueberries are out, and that means it's time to head to the kitchen for all manner of blueberry baked goods (and smoothies, and salads, and...). This recipe is terribly simple - a dessert that doesn't require rolling out a crust! The cobbler "crust" in this recipe is made of our quinoa and kañiwa flours and is a flavorful match for the deep flavors of blueberry and the brightness of lemon. Serve with ice cream for a perfect summer night's treat. 

Gluten-free Blueberry Cobbler
Serves 8
5–6 cups ripe blueberries 
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (raw sugar is best)
1/4 cup tapioca starch
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup Zócalo Kañiwa Flour
1 cup Zócalo Quinoa Flour
1¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon Matiz Flor de Sal
1 stick (4 ounces) chilled butter, cut in small pieces
¼ cup milk of choice
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 375°. Put blueberries in a large baking dish (a casserole dish works well), then add lemon juice, lemon zest, ¾ cup of the sugar, ¼ cup tapioca starch, and ¼ teaspoon of the cinnamon and mix together. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until fruit is hot and bubbling.

Meanwhile, mix together remaining flours, ¼ cup sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Use a pastry cutter to work butter into flour mixture until it is the consistency of coarse meal.

Beat milk and eggs together in a small bowl, then add to flour mixture and stir with a fork until just mixed. Drop spoonfuls of the wet dough onto the top of the berries.

Mix together remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle over top of cobbler. Bake until golden, about 30-40 minutes.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Blueberry Kañiwa Muffins (gluten free)

Blueberry Kañiwa Muffins (gluten free)

Dare we say it? These blueberry muffins are much better than the classic wheat variety! Our kañiwa flour lends a rich, caramel-y flavor that is unlike anything you've ever tried in typical store-bought baked goods. They're perfect for a breakfast or a snack, as kañiwa is high in protein and fiber - completely satisfying. Try this recipe, you won't be sorry!  

Whisk together:

1 1/3 cups almond flour or meal 
1 cup Zócalo Kañiwa Flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch or potato starch
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat in (by hand or with a mixer): 

1 1/3 cups organic unrefined brown sugar
2 tablespoons LA Organic olive oil 
1 egg
1/2 cup warm water 
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 

Beat the batter until it is smooth like cake batter. 

Stir in: 

2 cups frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a 12-muffin tin with paper liners or grease each muffin cup generously with coconut oil. Fill each muffin cup with batter. 

Bake in the center of a preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden and firm to the touch. A wooden pick inserted into the center should come out clean.

Cool the muffin pan for five minutes before removing, then gently pop them out and let them cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Celebrating Sweetness

This month we’re highlighting a small company, founded in 2009 by two young entrepreneurs, whose big vision has lifted many families out of poverty in the Huanuco region of Peru. Violeta and Roger, the founders of Agroindustrias Huayallacán, are both the heart and hard work behind Zócalo Whole Fruit Spreads.

Violeta and Roger are from the Huanuco region of Peru where most people live off of potato cultivation. But the market price for potatoes is quite low and unstable, and thus it is difficult for villagers to move beyond subsistence conditions.

Violeta's mother picking sauco berries

Violeta began by selling her mother’s artisanal sauco, or elderberry jam in Lima while getting a higher education. Roger’s education landed him a job with a local non-profit working with villagers to produce elderberry wine. The two met and decided to take their work many steps further. By introducing both sauco and aguaymanto (goldenberry), both native species, to their communities and training the farmers in organic cultivation methods, they have been able to increase the income to these families significantly. They purchase the resulting crops at fair prices and produce fruit spreads and other products for gourmet markets.

The company works in association with two non-profits, Aprovif and Apacarma involving farmers in the communities of Huayallacán and Cancejos. They offer technical support to their farmers, organic certification and a secure market. In addition, the reintroduction of these crops is helping to reverse deforestation in their communities.

The fruit spreads not only do good by promoting economic development in Huanuco villages, but they taste good too! Zócalo Elderberry Fruit Spread is a deep rich sauce with the delectable crunch of whole “sauco” or elderberries. It is a unique spread for toast or paired with cheese and is also great as a cooking sauce. Zócalo Goldenberry Fruit Spread has the unique sweet and sour tang of whole and ground aguaymanto (goldenberries). It pairs well with cheese, meats, and pastries.

So the next time you spread these sweet, rich sauces onto your morning toast or add a dollop to your pork roast (delicious!), think of how much sweetness that bit of jam adds, in more ways than one.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Celebrating Topara Organica

By Christine

Roast Chicken with Aji Amarillo Sauce

This month we’re celebrating a company that has been with Zócalo Gourmet for the last four years, producing organic aji chilies, purple corn, lucuma and yuca in the beautiful green region of Ica in Peru. Topara Organica has made it their mission to cultivate and produce products that represent the rich culinary traditions of Peru while restoring their land and strengthening their local community. Topara, owned by the Bederski family, supplies Zócalo with all of those gorgeous, colorful aji chilies that make up our pastes– in cherry red (aji limo), deep red (aji panca) and brilliant yellow (aji amarillo). Topara has the only certified organic nursery in Peru, and is a champion for organic farming practices through mentorship with neighboring farms and participating in worker exchanges to share knowledge and resources. Outstanding practices result in an outstanding product – and we think you’ll agree that our Zócalo Aji Pastes are the perfect example. They range from mild to spicy, with the mildest being aji panca. Aji amarillo is moderately spicy, and aji lomo packs the greatest spice punch. 

Aji chilies are a staple in Peruvian cuisine, and are used in sauces to flavor meat, poultry, fish and rice. One of the most well-known and adored dishes using aji paste is Papas a la Huancaína. A cheesy sauce with garlic, onions and aji amarillo is poured over potatoes and served – Peruvian comfort food! Another beloved dish is Aji de Gallina (aji chicken), a simple yet delicious combination of shredded chicken served with an aji amarillo sauce over potatoes, boiled eggs and black olives.

I’ve decided to share a simple recipe using a sauce made with aji amarillo on roast chicken. It’s great for an easy Saturday night dinner. The chicken requires little attention – a few hours in the oven, and is served with a flavorful sauce whose spiciness you can vary by using more or less of the aji paste.

Roast Chicken with Aji Amarillo Sauce

Serves 6

One 2-3 pound chicken, washed and giblets removed
Sea salt
5-10 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons La Masia olive oil

2 tablespoons organic ketchup
¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons mayo
3 tablespoons Matiz All i Oli
Juice of 2 limes
2 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Salt and pepper the chicken generously, inside the cavity and outside as well. Slice each garlic clove in half and place underneath the chicken’s skin (it helps to loosen the skin with your fingers first). Rub the chicken all over with the olive oil. Place in a large cast iron skillet or a roasting pan, breast down. Pour one cup of water into the pan and roast for 2 hours, basting every 20 minutes. Roast until the internal temperature reaches 170-180 degrees.

While the chicken roasts, make the aji amarillo sauce by combining the rest of the ingredients in a food processor and blending until smooth. You can vary the level of spice or salt as you like.

Serve the chicken in pieces with the sauce poured over or on the side, or shred the chicken and combine with the sauce before serving. ¡buen provecho!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

We're Celebrating 15 Years!

Looking back, it is hard to imagine that we have been in business for 15 years as of this month, September 2013. So many images come to mind of marathon farm visits, hectic trade shows, bad Spanish translations (mine), and an abundance of good ole’ fashioned real food with people – vendors and customers alike – who are passionate about the food that sustains us, body and soul.  

In September of 1998, Culinary Collective, the parent company of Zócalo Gourmet, was born. My partner Pere Selles and I embarked on a journey we couldn’t have even imagined. What started out as a hobby (really just a quest to get some good Spanish olive oil onto our Seattle table), became a way of life, with annual trips to Spain and Peru in search of traditional foods and a steep learning curve on all things import. Fortunately we found kindred spirits along the way, and none as important as Marion who brought years of sales experience and wisdom to our haphazard ways.

Along the way we have been fortunate to work with people, in all aspects of this business, who share our values, which are based in the belief that food is at the core of health – for our bodies, our environment and our communities. The success of small-scale producers and the continued production of traditional or heritage products is a key ingredient of a resilient community.

In pursuing our mission, we have obtained a non-stop education of priceless value. And it is time to take a moment (or a year) to reflect on where we have been and where we are headed. I invite you to join us during this yearlong journey and beyond. Each month we will be doing in-depth features on the products that we have grown to love, from Blanxart chocolate and Corazón del Sol quince (which have been with us all 15 years) to the newest arrival, LA Organic olive oil. Come along on our journey this year to learn more about our mission and lend a hand in supporting gourmet cultural foods and their small-scale producers!

Betsy Power