Peruvian purple potatoes with Crema de Rocoto

Eight years ago, I got my first real college job. One that does not include taking orders behind a counter. At that new job, I developed a strong friendship with a girl from Peru. She spoke very little English, and I knew very few words in Spanish, yet somehow, we hit it off.

Once she invited me over to a family barbecue, I think it was for her daughters birthday. It was so sweet of her to include me, but honestly it was an awkward affair
- as most of her family only spoke Spanish, and I, with a friend, did not. We smiled at each other, and tried to make conversation using gestures and the random words we did know in each others language.

In the end we sort of gave up and just enjoyed the food. Me and my friend at one table, and the family at another. I remember we had chicken, potatoes and salad. And I cannot recall the details of those dishes, but one thing that has stayed vivid in my memory, was the sauce my friend made to accompany the plates.

It was a bright red sauce, creamy and spicy, and I couldn't get enough. My friend still laughs at me for how much of the sauce I ate. She says that when I like something, I do not hesitate if it's spicy or fatty- I just want more. Now our friendship has evolved, we have learned enough of the others language to hold a good conversation, good enough to giggle about the awkwardness of that day. And good enough for her to give me the recipe to that sauce. The sauce that I now know to be Crema Rocoto.

Rocoto, which they also use to season their ceviche, is a hot Peruvian pepper, that can be found in the frozen ethnic section of most metropolitan grocery stores. It has an amazing flavor, and is very hot. That is not an understatement, it is really, really hot. The smell of it can make you cough and be sure to wash your hands after handling it. If you cannot find rocoto, you can try another spicy pepper. Peruvians do not think you can substitute it with any other. I am not sure I completely agree, but I have yet to stray from their stern advice.

Peruvian Potatoes with Crema de Rocoto
serves 2-4
8-10 purple/blue potatoes
2 eggs
6 leaves green lettuce
6 oz queso fresco, cubed
4-8 salty saltine crackers, broken
up to 1/2 cup milk
2 Tbs Olive oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
up to 1 rocoto pepper, seeded and de-veined

In a large pot, boil the potatoes until soft. Be careful not to over cook-they tend to fall apart if cooked too long. In another pot, boil the eggs. Once the water has come to a boil, cook for eight minutes longer. In the meantime, mix the cheese, four crackers, oil, red bell pepper, and about 1/2 of the rocoto in a blender. Add about half the amount of milk and blend. If it is too thick to blend add more milk. Blend until combined. Taste, and adjust flavor. If it is not very spicy, add more rocoto, a quarter at a time. If is is too thin in consistency, add more queso and crackers. Adjust until you have found the right balance in flavors. Be careful not to add too many saltine crackers as they have a distictive taste that can stand out if too many are added. Also be very careful to wash your hands after handling the rocoto, it is very spicy! In a serving platter, arrange the lettuce leaves, add the cooked potatoes, cubed, and the hard boiled egg on top. Top with the crema de rocoto and serve. Best if served right when the potatoes are hot, and be sure to bring extra crema to the table as I am positive you will be adding more.