Today I am cooking up a vegetarian lomo saltado thanks to some inspiration I found while visiting one of the Chinese markets here in Lima. Exploring ethnic markets may be one of my favorite things to do. In many ways, it can sometimes be like taking a trip to another country without leaving your own city. I would venture to say that just about any “large-ish” city these days has pockets of immigrants living in it.
And depending on the size of the immigrant communities in your area you may or may not have access to certain ingredients. But before you give up, I suggest looking online, as now many ingredients are available to order online have mailed to you.
And it may even be that the cultures represented in your area may be very different from what I found living in New York City or even where I am now in Lima, Peru. Think of it as an adventure as you explore the foods and culture of these communities.
My recent visit to Barrio Chino in Lima, inspired me to makeover a popular dish here that is a fusion of Chinese and Peruvian flavor. Today I will be cooking up and sharing a recipe with you for Vegetarian Lomo Saltado.
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Most large cities around the world these days have areas where immigrants from a single culture tend to collect. To me, New York City which seems to be a collection of many different cultures, is the perfect example of this setup. Of course, the most well-known are Chinatown and Little Italy, but actually there are other communities throughout the area that represent a wide range of different cultures. I lived in an area of Queens called Astoria and for years, it was a haven for many Greek immigrants leading to a wide variety of Greek grocery stores and restaurants in the neighborhood.
I believe this happens primarily because as an immigrant or an expat it’s hard – like really, really hard.
- There are issues with language.
- There are differences in culture.
- Maybe the people in your new country don’t really want you there.
- The food is different.
- At the heart … You are completely “out of your element”.
So, with all that said, it makes complete sense to me that when in a culture different from your own, you may seek out others who come from the same place as you and live in proximity to them. Somehow it makes you feel a bit more connected to “back home”. Adding a bit of comfort to your daily living to be around people who speak like you, cook like you and think like you.
My experience as an expat
Today, I am living a totally different experience. Now I am the one that is the immigrant or the expat living inside a different culture. Here in Lima, there are definitely areas where Americans live in higher concentrations, but there are no American markets that specialize in ingredients from home. Of course, some of the larger grocery stores in these areas are more likely to carry American products but it’s often hit or miss.
Adjusting has been challenging and I still really struggle with the language but overall I have managed fine. And it has been a pleasure enjoying and exploring the foods of Peru and other cultures since I’ve arrived here in Peru.
The Chinese in Peru
One of the groups to immigrate to Peru were the Chinese. The Chinese began to arrive in Peru in the middle of the 1800’s. Mainly as indentured servants to provide labor in Peru after slavery ended. Many of them, after fulfilling their contracts, moved to cities such as Lima. As they settled, they began to intermix and marry with Peruvians and carve out their space here in Peru.
The Chinese have been here for quite a while and their cuisine has infused Peruvian food in many ways combining with Andean and traditional methods of cooking. Chinese-Peruvian flavors are most well known in the fusion called Chifa which means “eat rice” in Chinese.
Some of the most popular dishes include Arroz Chaufa, a Chinese-Peruvian version of fried rice and Tallarin Saltado which is another fusion dish with noodles.
One of my favorites is a Saltado dish which is most typically served with beef and is called Lomo Saltado, though I have often seen versions of it with chicken, veggies or seafood. Basically, it a saute of the meat or veggies served with rice and french fries. I know it sounds like a crazy combination but it is so good!!! And in just a bit I will share with you my version of vegetarian lomo saltado.
A visit to Barrio Chino
I don’t have a Chinese market close to me. But there are two areas here in Lima where there is a concentration of Chinese markets, stores and restaurants. I recently took a trip to the oldest one, Barrio Chino with a friend, Julia, who also took almost all the photos on our visit.
This neighborhood is located close to the historical area of Lima. It’s not really much more than a city block. But full of some really interesting things. And surprisingly I even saw some ingredients common in the United States that I hadn’t seen here since my arrival including butternut squash, kabocha squash and okra.
Plus, I found lots of Chinese ingredients that I had been interested in buying to try out some new stuff here on the blog. So keep you eyes peeled for more dishes with Chinese influence coming to the blog in the next few months.
Noodles are abundant in Barrio Chino and I picked up plain rice noodles, noodles made from camote (sweet potato) and also some regular flour based noodles made with spinach that are perfect in a Ramen bowl.
I also found, Chinese five spice which is called Chinese canela (cinnamon) here in Peru and is a blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise and Szechwan peppercorns.
At the vegetable market I purchased some Baby Bok Choy and got to see many other traditional Chinese vegetables.
Experiencing the flavors of Barrio Chino
The day also included some opportunities to try out some new Chinese flavors and dishes.
For a pre-lunch snack we shared a Minibao which is basically a giant steamed bun with a sweet and spicy filling that we bought from a cart in a tiny alley we discovered.
Later on at lunch time featured Shrimp Shumai and Oolong Tea. And we picked up some desserts (pictured below) to try later with our afternoon coffee. Many Chinese desserts are made with sweet bean paste made from adzuki beans so of course, we had to sample one of those. I have to say that it was good, an interesting flavor and texture. I would eat it again, but I don’t think it’s something I would really ever crave.
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Creating a healthy Asian dish
Filled with inspiration following this visit, I decided it was time to experiment with creating some of my own healthy Asian dishes. But I also wanted to make something that really showed the fusion of Chinese and Peruvian food so I am remaking one of the most popular dishes here in Peru, Lomo Saltado but we are eliminating the lomo (beef) and replacing it with meaty mushrooms for a vegetarian lomo saltado.
I learned some tricks along the way to ensure the creation of a super successful vegetarian Saltado recipe.
- Make sure you get your pan really hot. The oil should almost be smoking before you add the vegetables. This helps to cook the vegetables quickly and keeps them from getting too soggy.
- Don’t cook each set of vegetables too long. You want them to remain a bit crispy.
- Add the liquid right at the end. Just quickly enough to toss with the vegetables. If you allow it to all sit for too long the vegetables will absorb everything and be a bit soggy.
- Toss with the potatoes and cilantro just before serving and eat right away.
Vegetarian Lomo Saltado
- 2 medium red onions cut into 1/3” thick strips
- 4 roma tomatoes sliced in wedges, unpeeled
- 6 cloves garlic crushed and finely chopped, separated
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
- 1 aji limo or other spicy pepper sliced into thin rings*
- 4 T good vinegar red or white
- 4 T reduced sodium soy sauce
- 1 T oyster sauce
- 4-6 portobello mushrooms
- 2 T plus 2 tsp canola oil separated
- 1 cup brown rice
- 2-3 large potatoes
- Wash the potatoes well or you can peel if you prefer. Cut the potatoes into slices about ¼“ thick. Then cut each slice into strips about ¼“ thick. Place potatoes in salted water and allow them to sit for 20 minutes. While they are soaking you can start to prep the veggies for the rest of the dish. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.
- When the time is up on the potatoes, drain them well and pat dry with a paper towel. Place the potatoes in bowl and add 1 tsp canola oil, salt and pepper to taste. Toss well and then transfer to a baking sheet in one layer. Place potatoes in oven and cook for 30-40 minutes turning the potatoes every 10 minutes or so.
- As soon as the potatoes are in the oven, begin to cook the rice. Heat 1 tsp canola oil in a saucepan, add 2 cloves finely chopped garlic to pan and stir for 30 seconds. Add rice and 1¼ cup water to the pan. Heat to boiling, then lower heat and cover with lid. Cook 30 minutes or until rice is tender. Keep an eye on it and add water 1-2 T at a time if needed.
- While the potatoes and rice are cooking, finish prepping all the vegetables as indicated in the ingredient list. The dish cooks quickly so you want to have all your ingredients at hand.
- In a small bowl combine vinegar, soy sauce, aji and oyster sauce. Stir to mix.
- When the potatoes and rice are ready, and you have all your ingredients prepped, heat ½ T canola oil in a large skillet until hot and beginning to smoke a bit. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and cook on each side for just a couple minutes. You want the mushrooms to just begin to soften. When they are ready, remove from heat, transfer to another dish and hold.
- Add remaining 1½ T of canola to the pan. Allow the oil to heat up. When it just begins to smoke, add onions and garlic. Stir quickly as the vegetables are cooking. Once the onions begin to soften, add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes or so stirring frequently. Add the vinegar and soy sauce mixture and cook for 60 seconds continuing to stir frequently. Add the mushrooms back to the pan and cook just until heated, about 60 seconds. Season with salt and pepper.
- When it is ready, remove from heat and toss with the baked fries and cilantro. Serve the saltado immediately with rice.
Variations on vegetarian lomo saltado
*The recipe calls for aji limo which you are unlikely to find outside of Peru. My suggestion is to choose your favorite spicy pepper and use it in place. But if you want a bit of authenticity you can find a aji amarilla paste in latin grocery stores or via Amazon. You can add 1 T in place of the pepper.
You can of course substitute your favorite vegetables in place of the mushrooms when cooking a vegetarian lomo saltado. I think just about anything would really work. However, if you choose veggies that take longer to cook such as broccoli or cauliflower then I suggest partially cooking them before hand in boiling water. Just be sure to drain them really well before adding them to the pan so you don’t add additional moisture.
Another option is to use tofu as a replacement for the beef in your version of vegetarian lomo saltado. You can use the tofu alone or along with your favorite veggies. If you decide to use tofu, I recommend pressing the tofu for about 30-60 minutes prior to serving. Simply wrap it in a towel or cheesecloth and place a heavy book or pot on top. Let it sit there to press some of the water from the tofu. Then cut the tofu up into cubes. Make an extra batch of the liquid from the recipe (minus the peppers) and allow the tofu to marinate for 15 minutes in half of the liquid. In a separate pan, fry the tofu in a bit of oil until the edges crisp up. Add in the final step of the stir fry process where the mushrooms are added.
Other vegetarian meat replacements may work as well such as seitan or tempeh in creating a vegetarian saltado, but I haven’t experimented with them in this dish yet. I suggest following the same process with the tofu. Marinate it and cook separately before adding it to the rest of the dish.
If you like this post and recipe, here are some others with Peruvian and Latin flavors!!