Submited by Rita Jimenez
Quinoa with aji colorado or spicy red pepper is one of the defining dishes of Bolivia, where Rita Jimenez was born and raised. For half a century, this abuela has lived in Massachusetts. But whenever she travels to her hometown of Cochabamba, Rita makes sure to load up on this protein-rich staple in her favorite traditional Bolivian meals, including this recipe.
That’s not too hard, thankfully. In Bolivia, aji de quinua, as this dish is called, is on the menu seemingly everywhere—at the homes of the friends and family members she visits and and in her Andes valley hometown’s many excellent restaurants, Rita says.
The word quinoa comes from the Quechua kinwa or kinuwa, the Indigenous name of the seed that flowers from the amaranth family plants that thrive in the Andes regions of Bolivia and Peru. The Incas considered this nourishing ingredient sacred, calling it mother grain. When the Spaniards arrived in Bolivia, they were surprised to see the locals cultivating and eating this strange seed. The Spanish soon replaced it with their go-to grain: wheat, though quinoa remained a staple of the Indigenous community. In the past decades, quinoa has come into its own as a healthy superfood, and its popularity (and price) have exploded.
Quinoa: A Beloved Bolivian Staple
Back home in Bolivia, quinoa is the opposite of trendy. Locals have been eating quinoa since ancient times, says Rita. ”It is so popular in our cuisine.” The quinoa grains must first be rinsed in cold water, to wash away any residue saponin, which can give it a bitter taste. After the seeds cook in a 1:1 ratio with water for 15 minutes, this recipe calls for the quinoa to be mixed with the sautéed onions, tomatoes, colorado or red aji pepper, and garlic. Chopped boiled potatoes and charque or dried beef jerky, a common ingredient in Bolivia, are then added.
Thank you, Rita, for sending Familia Kitchen this family recipe. It is simple and delicioso, and has become one of our weeknight go-tos. Quinoa with aji colorado is just one of the authentic delicacies of her homeland’s cuisine. ”It’s not just because I’m a Bolivian,” says Rita, ”but in Bolivia you eat the best food. We have an endless variety. Nothing is ever lacking.”
For more of Rita’s family-famous recipes, check out her falso conejo — yes, its name means “fake rabbit.” In this much loved, traditional Bolivian dish, beef cutlets are dredged in bread crumbs. The meat is then shallow fried and cooked in a flavorful sauce made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, red or yellow aji peppers, and bright green peas. Both recipes top the list of dishes Rita makes sure to savor every time she goes home.