After an incredibly steep hike up 24th Street, Sam Love and I arrived on the doorstep of Culture Kitchen, a traveling cooking class that hires immigrant women to teach their home recipes and share spicy and savory secrets of their culture.
Using the kitchen that a friend offered up, our chef for the night was Maria, a native of Peru, who gave us a lesson in ceviche -- that beloved raw fish dish one “cooks” in lime juice -- a classic chicken dish called aji de gallina, and sweet filled alfajores.
We all got to work squeezing limes, chopping onions, mixing dough, and swapping travel-food stories. We discovered some great cooking tips, like how to make instant dulce de leche by sticking a can of condensed milk in a boiling pot of water and letting it simmer for a few hours. We also learned how to properly plate Peruvian ceviche, a style that includes two kinds of corn, yam, iceberg lettuce (for show. Ok, I ate it!) and of course delicious white fish, smothered in onions and tangy lime juice.
Two hours after we started, we all sat down at a long communal table, the full moon glistening over the city (the kitchen we were using had the most amazing view. Bonus!), to enjoy the foods of our labor. We asked Maria how she learned to cook and she said that in Peru, her abuela is a master home chef and taught her all these recipes. She also told us that her abuela won't like her sharing them with us. Good cooking is a way to a man's heart and you don't want just anyone to know how to make all the good dishes. Sworn to secrecy, Sam Love and I left that evening with over-stuffed bellies, a few lovely new friends, the recipes to throw a super-authentic Peruvian dinner party (that not even friends of Abuela can replicate) and, I kid you not, leftovers.
For information on the next Culture Kitchen get-together, head to www.culturekitchensf.com