aerial illustration of a family gathering eating and sharing food.

By Aemilius Milo

“Bini’s Momo Party” Illustration by Jennifer Bloome

Stepping into my Abuelita Nelly’s home was always a special kind of aromatic experience. One I never realized I’d have to go without one day, or at least couldn’t fathom that day would come so soon. It’s been a few years now since she stopped cooking for our big family occasions, mostly because it’s a big job y ya’stá cansada, so the adult kids and grandkids have taken up the duties. But also because bit by bit, she started forgetting her recipes and began missing ingredients here and there.

Helping my Abuelita in the kitchen at 8 years old is one of my earliest memories of cooking; witnessing how raw ingredients became nourishing and delicious meals for 10 or more of us at a time. People often ask me how I gauge the amount of ingredients I need to cook large meals. Of course, cooking requires plenty of calculating and measurements, but – for me – a special part of preparing food, is harnessing my intuition and the knowledge  I learned from my Abuelita (as well as my father, and my ancestors too). I remember one of my main jobs, as her little kitchen helper, was taking the sweet green peas out of their pods; my tiny hands carefully picking them out one by one. As a kid, this wasn’t a task I was excited about but it’s remained a special memory I cherish now and certainly don’t take for granted. A fun fact my Abuelita recently shared, is that it wasn’t until she emigrated here from Peru in her early 20’s, that she taught herself how to cook—for survival. I have no doubt the ancestors were flowing through her as she created what came to be her menú. She made sopas, y caldos, y guisos, y tallarines, the best garlic rice ever, and my absolute favorite dish she would cook for me on my birthday: escabeche de pollo. I’ll also never forget her desserts, on the rare occasions she made them, mazamorra morada and budín, goodness in your mouth like nothing else. She would make so much more than just this shortlist.

I miss her cooking. When I eat or smell something that reminds me of her food, my eyes well up, and when I make something and hit those flavor notes she was so good at creating, I can’t help but feel like she’ll always be with me here, in every kitchen I step into. 

One dish she was especially good at was Papa a la Huancaína. Recently it hit me that I no longer follow her recipe, and I can’t even describe the sadness that came over me with this realization. I’ve had to develop my own take on it, either for meeting specific dietary requirements, or achieving a higher-yielding recipe, yet, hers will always be my starting point and foundation for flavor and taste. My abuelita’s Papa a la Huancaína was perfect and I now want to share it with the world, so it lives on forever.

(yields 6-8 appetizer-size servings)

equipment necessary
blender, stove top, medium/large boiling pot

sauce ingredients
1 cup of oil (vegetable, or another light tasting oil of your preference)
1 egg (raw)
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp of ají amariilo, paste or fresh/frozen
(Peruvian hot pepper, can be measured to taste/spice level)
Salt and Black Pepper, pinch of each or measured to taste
½ - 1 lime, squeezed fresh
1 tub/500g light ricotta cheese, fresh and water drained

complete dish and garnish ingredients
6-8 yukon gold potatoes, boiled, peeled, cooled and sliced
3-4 hard boiled eggs
*iceberg lettuce and Kalamata olives optional

In blender, pour in the cup of oil and cracked raw egg, blend to a mayonnaise consistency.
Next, in the same blender with the now whipped base, add the garlic, half of the cheese,
and the ají amarillo – blend to smooth/creamy consistency.
Squeeze half of the lime in the blender into sauce, add the remainder of cheese, with salt and black pepper-
blend again to the same smooth/creamy consistency.
If sauce requires more liquid to reach smooth and creamy, squeeze in remaining half of lime and/or add a small splash of either
milk/cream/evaporated milk/nut milks of your preference – continue to add as needed to reach that final consistency.
If sauce gets too thin, blend with small chunks of a boiled potato at a time. 

Once sauce is complete, line dish/plate/bowl with lettuce if desired,
place potatoes (boiled, peeled, cooled and sliced) and pour sauce over top. Garnish with half
a hardboiled egg, and 1-2 Kalamata olives, and enjoy my abuelita Nelly’s specialty – Papa a la Huancaína.  

Aemilius Milo is an accomplished performance artist, organizer, and social entrepreneur. Following a decade involved in Queer/Trans performance theatre spaces in tkaronto, in the fall of 2018 Milo officially launched Comiditas; a small food business/catering company specializing in Peruvian food creations, with a focus on community engagement. They hope to continue expanding Comiditas sustainably and mindfully, in a variety of ways and directions, remaining active in communities for many years to come. IG:@foodbycomiditas

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