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As you have likely discovered, I travel a lot. So it should come as no surprise that we accumulate a ton of airline miles – which makes traveling to exotic locales much more viable. About eight years ago, our accrued mileage was begging to be used so we decided to explore a new area in South America. We were in the mood to explore a new culture and get out into nature. Machu Picchu had always been a dream destination – so we cashed in our miles and headed to Peru. As luck would have it – we timed it perfectly because we were set to depart in January – a mere two weeks before the Machu Picchu hiking trail closed for the year.
I honestly don’t know what we did before the Internet. It makes it so easy to research and plan travel. After just a few hours of perusing various travel sites about Peru, we decided on a 2 ½ week trip encompassing three varied areas: Machu Picchu, Manu (the rain forest), and Arikeepa (in the Southern part of the country). To make our lives easier, we decided to engage a tour company that specialized in the region and, after viewing many websites and noting comments from former clients, we settled on Go South Adventures. Wayne began email correspondence and discovered that this adventure outfit was based in Ballard, Washington – a stone’s throw away from our home in Seattle. Talk about a small world!
The tour company did a marvelous job of providing guides in each location who were intimately familiar with the local cultures. We were able to avoid touristy shops, Americanized restaurants and ho-hum hotels. In other words, we could do this trip OUR way in OUR time frame and be able to tweak our trip if need be. Just our style.
We barely saw Lima when the plane landed at midnight and after a brief rest at a local motel, we departed the following morning to the gateway city of Cuzco. This is common practice and helps people acclimate to the altitude before traveling to Machu Picchu. But more than an intermediate resting stop, Cuzco is a beautiful city. The area has a significant Spanish influence and the streets were lined in cobblestones.
I read in our guidebooks about the public market and was instantly intrigued. We were warned that the market could be highly dangerous, but how could I not experience the huge public marketplace??? Our guide Juan assured us that he would keep an eye out for potentially dangerous situations there and off we walked to the market without purses, backpacks, or fancy clothing. Of all the central marketplaces in the world, this was THE most exciting and diverse. Many of the vendors were wearing native colorful garb – and believe me, it was not to impress the tourists. I suppose most people follow the guidebooks’ advice and steer clear of this market. In fact, we didn’t see any American or even European travelers anywhere near this magical spot. What a shame!
Peruvians grow a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, many of which were on display at the market. We gazed at heaps of various potatoes, numerous types of dried and fresh beans and a variety of meats including baby llama carcasses used for religious ceremonies. Incense filled the air as we walked among countless food stands and stalls bursting with clothing, kitchenware and handmade items. We lingered for more than three hours – it was heaven. The people are so friendly and welcoming. And the food … oh, the food!
One of the best parts of our travels throughout this wonderful country was the bounty of fresh produce. I’m a vegetable fanatic and the multitude and variety was simply incredible. At one of the restaurants I noticed a fresh onion flavor emanating from the plate of roasted potatoes and multicolored fresh beans. So, naturally, I asked the waiter about the dish. The secret? Spring onion infused oil! The vegetables were served at room temperature and were cooked and seasoned to perfection.
To be frank I love roasted vegetables of any kind, but I do tire of the same old preparation, particularly in the winter. This recipe is a close rendition of what I ate in Peru, and I make it now and then – especially in the winter when root vegetables are in season and I’m looking for a way to jazz them up.
Spring Onion Oil
- 1 cup vegetable oil such as canola
- 3 bunches green onions (also known as scallions or spring onions)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Wash and pat dry the green onions. Trim off the roots and the very ends of the green stalks and cut the remaining onions into ⅛ inch slices.
Over high heat, warm the oil in a quart saucepan until very hot. Quickly, with an oven mitt on your hand, add the sliced onions and salt all at once. The oil splatters so have a lid ready to cover the pan just after you add the onions. Continue to fry the onions 2-3 minutes as the edges become brown and the onions get crispy. Turn off the heat and let the scallions continue cooking in the hot oil so that they become golden to dark brown.
Cool to room temperature in a glass jar, and then keep in the refrigerator for up to a month. Use to flavor steamed vegetables or as a condiment for salads, pastas, sandwiches and roasted meats. My favorite preparation is to quickly steam small halved new potatoes, cauliflowerettes, carrots, parsnips, broccoli flowerettes, and cubed yellow pepper. After the vegetables are blanched I plunge them into ice water, and then dry them well on a kitchen towel. Into a casserole dish they go with very little of the onion oil, salt and pepper. It’s a Peruvian-style vegetable dish that cannot be beat!
By the way, I used some of this onion oil in making my crackers and it gave them an unbelievable flavor!