Amazonian people are known to be hot and passionate, but also cheerful and happy. Their most cherished celebration is San Juan day, which is their historic “love, abundance, and fertility festival”, adapted to the Catholic celebration of San Juan that the Spanish conquerors brought with them. A real multicultural celebration. Every tribe and community in the Amazon Jungle celebrates in their own way, and the party goes public in the streets of big and little towns. San Juan also coincides with the Incan Inti-Raymi, (Festival of the Sun), on June 24th.
Hundreds of years ago, the people in the jungle were so happy celebrating this love and fertility festival, that they didn´t notice that the Spanish conquerors had arrived just in time to witness their non-stop party. Chicha, masato (fermented yucca beverage), and many other drinks made with fruits and roots, kept them overly happy and friendly, so it was really easy for the Spanish to take control of this exotic part of the country.
San Juan (or Saint John) is the patron saint for almost all Peruvian-Amazonian people nowadays. A very unique kind of hen and rice tamale, known affectionately as “juane,” after the saint, was created in his honor. Its presentation and flavor is different from other tamales, and the only resemblance it have with them are the leaves that enclose it. For the filling, hens, eggs, rice, wild herbs and other local seasonings are used.
Making juanes is a labor intensive task, but one can buy them in some grocery stores or restaurants. A few months ago, I visited Pura Selva, an authentic restaurant of Amazonian food in Lima, where the owner, Danny Villanueva, a chemist turned chef, greeted me with a juane she prepares daily for her clientele. Unfortunately, she kept the secrets of the preparation to herself. She only agreed to tell me that every day the herbs she uses arrive from the jungle, to give that very special flavor to this traditional and festive dish.
However, I wanted to share a juane recipe with you today, to have a belated San Juan celebration. I found this recipe in the book Cocinas Regionales Peruanas, by Casilda Naar Ruiz, and have to admit I haven’t tried it yet, as I prefer to eat the juanes in places like Pura Selva, where they magically appear on my dish! But if you’re adventurous, here it is. Happy love, abundance, and fertility day, week, month, and year!.
- 1 hen, cut in pieces
- 5 cups water
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cups rice
- 1 cup yucca, grated
- 1 cup lard
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric (1 teaspoon dried)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon cumin (powdered)
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 10 black olives
- 6 eggs
- 4 hard-boiled eggs
- Plantain leaves, or bijao leaves, soaked in boiling water, and dried
- In a heavy saucepan, cook the hen pieces in water with salt and pepper. When tender, take out of the saucepan, and reserve. Strain the stock.
- In the same saucepan over high heat, melt ½ cup of lard, add rice, salt, stir for a few minutes, and add the reserved stock. Lower the heat, and cook the rice, covered, until tender and fluffy. Put the rice in another dish and let cool.
- In the same saucepan over high heat, melt the remaining lard, add onion and garlic, and cook until translucent. Add turmeric, bay leaves, oregano, cumin, pepper, and the reserved hen. It is ready when it has a golden color.
- Take out the meat and combine the spices with the rice. Strain the yucca and add to the rice. Add 6 well-beaten eggs and mix carefully.
- To form the juanes: make a square of two layers of plantain or bijao leaves. In every square put 2 cups rice, a hen piece, ½ hard-boiled eggs, and 2 black olives. Cover with ½ cup of rice. Close the package and tie with string.
- Put in a saucepan with boiling water and cook for 45 minutes. When ready, take out of the saucepan and let cool.
- Serve lukewarm or cold, with ají charapita and coriander leaves.