Full of Peruvian-Chinese cuisine, the recipes inside Family Secrets: Experience the Flavors of Peru all authentic and taught to me by my mother-in-law, Consuelo Aragón de Choy, who resides in La Molina. She is 92 years old and still cooks for her family.
Recently, a woman named Anita Soluna thought my cookbook would make a nice gift for her Peruvian friend, Martha Ochoa in Los Angeles. Martha received it on Thursday and sat down to read it. She initially saw the author’s photo of myself and my mother-in-law, Consuelo. She didn’t think anything of it and kept reading. As she turned to page 8, she couldn’t believe her eyes. There in her hands, were two faces she knew in an instant, a photo of her godparents from so many years ago, my mother-in-law and father-in-law. She has been searching for them for 40 years!
Immediately, she phoned Anita to ask her where she got the book; Anita was equally surprised by this miraculous connection. Anita in turn called my house and spoke with my husband telling him this unbelievable story. My husband quickly phoned Martha, and upon hearing his voice, Martha could not speak. She was overwhelmed with tears and emotion. She finally composed herself and spoke at length with my husband about his parents and family. Martha told him on one of her visits to Peru, she had even gone to Lince, their old neighborhood, knocking on doors trying to find any trace of the Choy family, but to no avail.
We were so thrilled to know that Martha was able to speak with Consuelo after all these years. Consuelo lives in La Molina with her son and is 92 years old. She fondly remembered her little god-daughter, “Martita”!
This is such an amazing and beautiful story, and Martha wants to tell the world. My in-laws were more than Godparents; Martha says their care and kindness helped to shape the person she is today. Martha told me last night, that as she reads through my cookbook, the recipes take her back to Lince and she can smell and taste the flavors of Consuelo’s kitchen, as Martha remembers them as a 5-year-old little girl.
Martha referred to Anita and me as her angels. I don’t believe I am an angel, but I do believe an angel brought us together. Maybe it was Pancho, my father-in-law looking over us from heaven.
Arroz con pollo is a classic Latin dish with many variations. Consuelo’s salsa verde (green sauce) version of chicken and rice is an easy, one pot, delicious meal.
ARROZ CON POLLO
4 cloves garlic
1 large onion, halved
1 teaspoon paprika
4 cups fresh spinach (about 6 ounces)
1⁄2 cup fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons salt, plus extra for sprinkling
Black pepper to taste
2 1⁄2 cups water, divided (see Tips for Success)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6 assorted pieces of chicken 2 cups long grain rice
1⁄2 cup frozen carrots
1⁄2 cup frozen corn
1⁄2 cup frozen peas
Combine garlic, onion, paprika, spinach, cilantro, 2 tsp. salt, pepper, and 1⁄2 cup water in blender. Blend on high until smooth. Measure the amount and set aside.
Sprinkle chicken pieces with a little salt. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and sear chicken, 3 pieces at a time, until skin is brown and crispy; be careful of the splattering oil! Remove and set aside. Drain and discard all but 1 tablespoon of grease.
Return pan to medium-high heat, and add contents of blender. Cook 2-3 minutes, scraping brown bits to deglaze pan and incorporate flavors. Add rice and stir well to coat. Add frozen vegetables and 2 cups water (see Tips for Suc- cess), stir. Place chicken pieces on top and pour in any ac- cumulated juices. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and cover. Maintain simmer for about 30 minutes, or until water is ab- sorbed, rice is fluffy, and chicken is no longer pink.
Serve immediately on warm plates.
Tips for Success
To get the right amount of water, first check your rice instructions to find out the ratio (I typically use long grain white rice with a 2:1 ratio). Measure the contents of liquid in the blender (it should be around 2 cups), and subtract this amount from the total amount of water needed for the rice. For example: when preparing rice with a 2:1 ratio, I would typically use 4 cups of water to 2 cups of rice; but in this recipe, I subtract the 2 cups of liquid in the blender from the total and only add 13⁄4-2 cups of water to pan. I also take into account that the chicken will be releasing juices.
Proceeds from the book benefit the Peruvian American Medical Society, a non-profit agency providing much needed medical care to the underserved of Peru through permanent clinics and medical missions through the country. Family Secrets can be purchased here.