Peruvian ceviche is the new sushi, according to Sanjay Dwivedi, the executive chef at Coya, which has venues in London, Miami, Dubai and, as of last week, at The Galleria in Abu Dhabi.
Coya’s debut in the capital marks the latest in a long list of South American-inspired eateries to have popped up in the UAE in recent months – from Pollo Pollo and Lima to Inka.
The popularity of the food trend seems to rest upon the central pillars of Peruvian cooking, often characterised by a fusion of spicy, sharp and fresh flavours.
Dwivedi explains the key components of the cuisine and its multicultural history of spices and staples, stemming from the indigenous Incas to European and Asian influences.
There are around 300 different types of chillies and all have varying strengths. A good place to start is the aji amarillo, a yellow chilli pepper. I think it is amazing because it is very fruity, with medium spiciness towards the end. Then there’s the small aji limo, which is used a lot in ceviche. There’s also aji rocotos, which are small and extremely hot. And then there’s aji panca which, when dried, is commonly used on skewers of meat in Peru – so that’s how we use it in the UAE, too.
Quinoa is my favourite Peruvian ingredient and salads can use up to three different types at once – the white, the black and red quinoa, for example. It is a superfood and people today know why it is good for them. While quinoa doesn’t have the best taste on its own, what it does so well is soak up other flavours. Add a small amount of tamarind, aji limo, aji amarillo, olive oil, lemon and lime zest and you’re good to go. You can also stir fry it instead of rice. It is simply the best grain for you health-wise.
Few people know that Peru gave potatoes to the world. There are thousands of different types and they’re a huge part of the staple diet. At Peruvian markets you can find every type, shape, size and colour – from red and purple to normal white and Yukon gold ones – which are sun yellow when cooked. In the olden days when there were no fridges, Peruvians used to freeze dry crops of potatoes in the mountains, rehydrating and cooking them in the summer when needed. Peruvian dried potato is called papa seca and it is delicious when paired with truffles and cep purée.
In Peru they eat a lot of cow and ox heart, or anticuchos de corazón, and the taste is amazing. It is great with dried Peruvian chillies when cooked slowly with onions for 2 to 3 hours. Then it is marinated with olive oil, oregano and black pepper before it is cooked in the robata. Peruvians love their meat, just like any South American country, so there’s lots of rib eye, and one of our most popular dishes is spicy beef. It is more towards a Chifa style – meaning Chinese influenced. It is marinated with chillies, garlic, ginger, Sichuan pepper and topped with crispy shallots.
We have sweetcorn and the Peruvians have choclo. The kernels are three times the size of normal sweetcorn and they’re bursting with flavour. They also use purple corn, which is mauve in colour and isn’t edible in itself, but the Peruvians boil it with sugar, pineapple, apple skins, star anise and cloves. They have it as a summer drink; it is the equivalent to Ribena. Personally, I like to make it as a granita with seasonal fruits such as strawberries and raspberries.
Top ceviche tips
Sea bass ceviche by executive chef Sanjay Dwivedi. Courtesy Coya
• Food is not complicated but people can make it complicated. A simple ceviche can basically be made using lime juice, different types of chillies, salt, coriander and the best fish you can buy.
• The ingredients, once combined, do not need to be marinated for anything more than one minute.
• Ceviche is all about how you press the limes and my best advice is to start off with two small bowls. Squeeze one half of the lime into one bowl and the remainder into the other. The first squeeze is gentle and produces sweet juice; the second press will be very sharp and acidic. Always use the first squeeze for ceviche and the second for dressings.
For more details, visit www.coyarestaurant.com