Nancy Campos, a foreign-trained lawyer and recent Touro law school graduate, lives in Kings Park.
How long have you been cooking?
I learned to cook as a necessity. My mother was a wonderful cook, so I just ate what she made. When I got married, my husband was a great cook. So I didn't cook at all. My mother passed away, and my husband and I divorced. One day a friend of the family came from Peru to visit us here, and my sister (who also doesn't cook) and I were looking at each other, like, what are we going to feed him? But he said, "I can cook. I'm going to make tiradito." I saw him do it. I said, "Carlos, this is so easy to do that even I can do it." I tried it with my family. My brothers, nieces, nephews. They are a tough audience. They loved it. They couldn't believe it. That's how it started.
What do you love about Peruvian food?
Peruvian cuisine is about variety, it's about color. You have seafood, meat, chicken. Everything is fresh, even the potatoes. We have over 300 varieties of potatoes. Not only should it be delicious but food should be beautiful. My mother was always about the presentation. The tiradito plate was in the shape of a fish or something beautiful. She looked at the faces of her guests, saw their smiles when they saw the food. That's what I tend to do. I look at their faces and I feel good.
Do you have other favorite Peruvian dishes?
The other night I made lomito, which is a very popular dish that Americans try, along with ceviche, when they go to Peru. It's made with top sirloin, onions and tomatoes. The secret is the skillet has to be really hot. You actually have to put the skillet on the stove and heat it without the oil. When it is smoking, that's when you put the top sirloin in. It takes 2½ minutes to cook. My cousin makes Anticucho, which is cow heart marinated in another kind of pepper and then skewered and barbecued. It is to die for. Causa, which is made by layering mashed yellow potatoes and chicken salad and then chilling it is another good dish for warm weather.
Is tiradito like ceviche, where the lime juice cures the fish
Ceviche is more cooked because you dress it ahead of time. But with tiradito, no. You just pour on the dressing and it is ready to be served right away. This is a dish for somebody who likes fish. There are some Americans who will say, "No, I don't like this," but when they taste it they like it because it is cold and refreshing. People who like sushi will love this dish.
How spicy are Peruvian hot peppers
Don't get scared, because when you try the dressing it will be really spicy. But once you pour it on the fish, within 3 minutes, it isn't as hot. I don't know why. I have had tiradito with other hot peppers, but for me tiradito is all about the yellow pepper.
Can you vary the recipe
If you want to add an Asian twist to your dish, add Peruvian soy sauce, which has a thicker consistency than regular soy sauce (regular soy sauce will work fine also), a few spoonfuls of it and lower the amount of salt.
Any tips for making the recipe
I prepare all of the ingredients and chill them, but put together the dish at the last minute. It's best to whirl the sauce in the blender no more than an hour before serving so it is nice and foamy. And look for limes that are shiny and thin-skinned, because they are the juicy ones.
Tiradito is usually served alone, but if you are worried that it might be too spicy for some of your guests, have boiled, peeled potatoes, cut in half, available for them.
2¼ pounds flounder, sea bass or any other white fish filets
One yellow Peruvian hot pepper (aji amarillo) or 1 tablespoon Peruvian aji amarillo puree. (See note.)
1 tablespoon (1/2 a thumb size) peeled fresh ginger
2 to 3 garlic cloves
Juice from eight juicy medium to large limes
One 7-inch-long celery stalk
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt.
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion, green part only
1. Place the fish in the freezer for 10 minutes or so to firm it up. With a sharp chef's knife, cut on the diagonal into very thin slices. Arrange the slices on a long platter, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to three hours.
2. In a small pot, put the yellow pepper in a little bit of water and boil it or steam it for 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool slightly, open, and remove seeds (the seeds are very spicy).
3. Combine the seeded pepper, ginger, garlic, lime juice, celery and salt in a blender or food and process until foamy and smooth. Refrigerate for up to 1 hour.
4. Just before serving, pour the chilled dressing over the chilled fish and then sprinkle with cilantro and scallions. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Note: Peruvian hot peppers are available in the freezer section of Spanish supermarkets, as is Peruvian aji amarillo puree.