Puca Picante is a typical dish from Ayacucho, a Southern Andean region famous for its beauty. Puca means red in Quechua, and picante means spicy in Spanish, so the name literally means “spicy red”. The intense color of this preparation may surprise foreigners, but vibrant colors are one of the most distinct characteristics of this part of the country. Just take a look at the clothes locals wear and you will see that bright colors seem to be the rule.
I first tried puca picante a couple years ago, when Amelia, our cook, who is herself from Ayacucho, was trying to think of vegetarian recipes from her childhood that she could share with me. Puca is not exactly a vegetarian dish, several kinds of meat can be added to it, but the base consists of potatoes, beets and peanuts, so it was easy for her to keep it meat-free. I have to admit I hadn’t even heard of this dish, but I loved it!
Unless you’re going to add meat to it, I would recommend eating it as an accompaniment to something else, or with a big salad on the side. I also like to eat it by itself as a light dinner, and maybe add some cooked veggies like broccoli or green beans. Of course, if you’re Peruvian, you probably don’t shy away from eating a double dose of carbs. So the way to eat it would be with rice on the side. This is the way I like it the most, as I love to eat the rice soaked in the puca sauce. This dish is pretty healthy, and I think it’s a great way to add raw beets and nuts to my diet.
Some say the best potatoes to use are small cocktail potatoes, because they release less starch and the preparation becomes smoother. Another way to give it its bright color is to use peeled and pureed airampo, an Andean fruit similar to a prickly pear that is becoming quite fashionable in Lima.
Have a healthy and delicious week!
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 500 grams cubed panceta, beef, or chicken (optional)
- 3 beets, peeled and cut in 4
- ¼ cup toasted peanuts
- 4 medium medium potatoes, peeled and cut in 4
- 1 chopped red onion
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons aji panca paste
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 cup vegetable or other stock (depending on the meat you use)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat half the oil and if using, cook the meat at medium heat. Reserve.
- Heat the rest of the oil and sautee the onion, garlic, chili paste, cumin, salt and pepper at medium/high heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the potatoes and the stock, bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium, and cook with the lid on until the potatoes are cooked (the should be soft when you pinch them with a fork). Add more stock or red wine if it dries out.
- In the meantime, juice the beets if you have a juicer, and then blend the peanuts with the beet juice. Otherwise, blend the peanuts and beets with some water, until smooth.
- When the potatoes are ready, add the beet and peanut juice to the pan, and the cooked meat, if using. Heat through, and season if needed.
- Serve with rice, steamed vegetables, or a salad.