Today is the birthday (1936) of Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa, 1st Marquis of Vargas Llosa, Peruvian writer, politician, journalist, essayist, college professor, and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Vargas Llosa is one of Latin America’s most significant novelists and essayists, and one of the leading writers of his generation. Some critics consider him to have had a larger international impact and worldwide audience than any other writer of the wave of Latin American literature that began in the mid-20th century (known as the Latin American Boom), with authors such as Octavio Paz, Julio Cortázar, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes.. Upon announcing the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy said it had been given to Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” Vargas Llosa is currently a visiting professor at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University.
Vargas Llosa rose to fame in the 1960s with novels such as The Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros, literally The City and the Dogs, 1963/1966), The Green House (La casa verde, 1965/1968), and the monumental Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversación en la catedral, 1969/1975). He writes prolifically across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. His novels include comedies, murder mysteries, historical novels, and political thrillers. Several, such as Captain Pantoja and the Special Service (1973/1978) and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977/1982), have been adapted as feature films.
Many of Vargas Llosa’s works are influenced by his perception of Peruvian society and his own experiences as a native Peruvian. Increasingly, however, he has expanded his range, and tackled themes that arise from other parts of the world. In his essays, Vargas Llosa has criticized nationalism in different parts of the world, among others, in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. Another change over the course of his career has been a shift from a style and approach associated with a rather conventional and serious literary modernism, to a more playful postmodernism.
I could give you a load of erudite drivel about Vargas Llosa, but I am not going to. Go and read his novels. Instead I am going to give you a few quotes that I find inspiring followed by a couple of favorite Peruvian recipes. I’m very fond of Peru and Peruvian cooking. This first quote is my absolute favorite. Some of the quotes are in translation and some in Spanish. No apologies. The ones in Spanish are untranslatable.
There is one thing I am sure of amid my many uncertainties regarding the literary vocation: deep inside, a writer feels that writing is the best thing that ever happened to him, or could ever happen to him, because as far as he is concerned, writing is the best possible way of life, never mind the social, political, or financial rewards of what he might achieve through it.
Las mentiras machacadas día y noche se vuelven verdades.
In my case, literature is a kind of revenge. It’s something that gives me what real life can’t give me – all the adventures, all the suffering. All the experiences I can only live in the imagination, literature completes.
Memory is a snare, pure and simple; it alters, it subtly rearranges the past to fit the present.
Writers are the exorcists of their own demons.
No matter how ephemeral it is, a novel is something, while despair is nothing.
Es más fácil imaginar la muerte de una persona que la de cien o mil…Multiplicado, el sufrimiento se vuelve abstracto. No es fácil conmoverse por cosas abstractas.
Cuando creí que iba a perder la razón ante tanto sufrimiento. Así descubrí que un ser humano no puede vivir sin creer.
The secret to happiness, at least to peace of mind, is knowing how to separate sex from love. And, if possible, eliminating romantic love from your life, which is the love that makes you suffer. That way, I assure you, you live with greater tranquility and enjoy things more.
The potato is perhaps the most significant cultigen to come out of Peru. There are now over 1,000 varieties worldwide although very few make it to market. Potato production was vital to the development and expansion of the Inca empire. Then, as now, different varieties of potato are grown at different altitudes in the Andes, but all find their way to markets in the main cities.
Causa limeña is a beloved cold potato entree that´s unlike any other dish in the culinary world. The yellow potato and yellow chili pepper mash is assembled in layers, together with chicken, seafood, corn, avocado, olives, and whatever the imagination allows.
6 yellow potatoes (floury texture)
4 piquillo peppers, blended
¼ cup vegetable oil
juice of 3 limes
2 chicken breasts
2 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper
¾ cup mayonnaise
½ celery stick, chopped
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 red onion finely sliced
1 piquillo pepper
1 ají amarillo, (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
salt and pepper
8 quail eggs, hard boiled (or 2 quartered hen’s eggs)
6 black olives, sliced
Scrub potatoes and put in pan; cover with cold water. Put pan over medium high heat. Bring water to a boil, and cook for 20 minutes or until soft, but not mushy. Drain and peel the potatoes while hot, and mash or pass through a potato ricer immediately. The mashed potato should be very fine, without lumps.
Put potatoes in bowl, and add the blended piquillo peppers, vegetable oil, lime juice and salt. Mix well. Keep tasting and adding more of any of the above ingredients to taste. Cover with a kitchen towel, and reserve.
Cook chicken breasts in chicken stock, salt and pepper, over medium heat until cooked through . Cool in stock, and finely chop (or shred). In bowl, combine chicken with mayonnaise, celery, scallion, salt, and pepper.
Lightly oil a large container (you can use a tube pan or a loaf pan) or small pastry rings. Line base with a layer of mashed potato. Cover that layer with chicken salad, and add another layer of potatoes on top. You can prepare this dish up to this point and keep refrigerated to serve later.
Cau cau is a tripe and potatoes dish I love. It’s really pretty basic – potatoes, tripe, and onions. What makes it special is the spice palillo, which gives a special savor and brilliant yellow color to the dish. Turmeric makes a fair substitute (or annatto or saffron). I decided to give you the recipe in Spanish for the hell of it. That’s how I received it. It’s not hard to translate.
½ kilo de mondongo
4 cucharadas de aceite
1 cebolla grande finamente picada
2 ajos molidos
2 cucharadas de ají amarillo
1 ½ kilo de papa cocida y cortada en cuadraditos
½ cucharada de palillo en polvo (o cúrcuma)
2 cucharadas de leche
sal, pimienta y comino al gusto
hierbabuena picada al gusto
Cocinar en agua el mondongo, con la leche y ramita de hierbabuena, hasta que este blando. Cortar en cuadraditos.
Freír con aceite caliente la cebolla, los ajos, el ají, el palillo, la sal, la pimienta y el comino. Agregar el mondongo y las papas cocidas. Dejar cocer unos minutos.
Servir enseguida y si desea puede espolvorear hierbabuena.