Peruvian Street Food: Picarones or Squash Sweet Potato Fritters
Dare I say these are the Peruvian version of funnel cake? That would be foodie blasphemy worthy of a spanking. Now you are wondering if I did that on purpose.
A picaronera was the nice lady who stood behind a food stand making these fritters. She would be at almost all school events and holidays frying these fresh for all of us.
Around the corner from our home, another picaronera stood feeding a never ending line of addicts craving her homey delicacies.
My mother and father would gather family and friends and drive to a barbecue type restaurant, my guess was 60 miles out of town, specializing in and only in these picarones.
These were something to be revered as the process was not simple and required planning. With the heat, one did not want to deep fry.
Peru’s Independence Day is coming up: July 28th. Being close to the 4th, I decided that a celebration would not be appropriate without a gentle melange of cultures.
After all, I consider the 4th of July to be about life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. And nothing makes me happier than a reminiscing of the things past. After many years of struggle, I have learned to embraced my diverse background, especially when it comes to food.
- 1 lb sweet potatoes peeled and cubed
- 1 lb yellow or butternut squash, cubed
- 4 whole anise seeds
- 2 tablespoons whole cloves
- 3 sticks of cinnamon
- 1 tablespoons whole allspice
- 4 tablespoons active dry yeast (4 packets)
- 4 teaspoons white sugar
- 1/4 cup of Pisco (Peruvian brandy) or any other
- 2 tablespoons golden flax seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups of flour
The subtlety of spiced flavors comes from high quality ingredients.
Fill a large pot with water and add the anise, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Let boil for 5 minutes to allow the heat to draw as much of the essence of the spices as possible.
Since the sweet potatoes take longer to cook, first at them and boil for 10 minutes.
Add the squash and boil for 20 more minutes.
Remove using a slotted spoon and reserve the cooking liquid.
When cool enough to handle, pass through a ricer or sieve to create a smooth consistency free of fibers, chunks, or any piece of spice that may have escaped or broken off.
Let the mixture cool. You will only use 1 1/2 cups of the squash potato mixture. You may have a little left over.
Combine the yeast, white sugar and 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking liquid, making sure that is lukewarm and between 100 to 115 degrees. Lower temperatures will not activate the yeast and higher ones will kill it. Let sit for 15 minutes to ferment. The mixture will be foamy.
While the yeast is proofing, soak the flaxseeds in 6 tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid for 5 minutes. Blend to create a foamy consistency, which becomes the binding agent replacing the eggs. This adds also a nice nutty flavor.
Add the flax seed mixture to the squash, sweet potatoes and mix with the Pisco and salt.
Blend with the yeast using the dough hook on a mixer. Then add one cup of flour at a time, finishing by mixing for 5 minutes until it becomes shiny, elastic and sticky.
Let it rest for a couple of hours until doubled in size.
While resting you can make the syrup.
Give the dough a quick mix, it will deflate somewhat and thats ok. Prepare a bowl with salted water to form and fry the picarones.
Heat your oil to 375 degrees. Using wet hands, form a thin ring and lay it gently on the cooking oil. The mixture will be very stick and the process is tricky. If you end up with doughnut holes, thats ok, although picarones should really be rings. Once you lay them on the oil, use the back of a wooden spoon to spin them around to give them their desired shape. You must do this at once and quickly, as the dough cooks very fast.
Cook for about 90 seconds on each side, until beautifully golden brown.
Traditionally, picarones are threaded on a wooden spoon and allow to drip over the cooking vessel.
Pile on a plate.
Drizzle with syrup and serve with some more as dipping sauce.
View from top?
- 1 cup muscovado light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup molasses
- Rind of one orange
- Rind of one lime
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tablespoon whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon whole allspice
- 2 cups of water
Muscovado is the closest type of sugar to chancaca, a raw form easily found in South America.
Add all ingredients in a pot.
Add the water, boil, and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes. As it cools, it should resemble a little thinner version of maple syrup. Strain through a sieve to remove any impurities.
Beautifully dark, gorgeous and filled with mysterious flavors.
This dish is so fabulous, I don’t even giggle at chancaca. Otherwise, I would.
Buen provecho! Bon appetite.