When I was precisely 16 years and 5 months old I went on a trip to Peru. I remember my age exactly because only my 16 year and 5 month old self would get on a plane to one of the most amazing and culturally rich places in the world, kicking and screaming. It’s quite embarrassing for me to admit it today since I would go absolutely anywhere in a heartbeat, but at the time, I didn’t want to go.
I was the only one left in the house after my older sisters had all moved out and my mom and step-father (a native Peruvian) wanted to bring me along with them to South America. Being the dramatic teenager I was I thought for sure that my life would end immediately if I missed out on three whole weeks of summer happenings in my tiny Ohio town. The idea of doing anything other than painting my fingernails and reading teen magazines did not interest me.
The plan for the trip was to first fly into Lima to stay with some family. After a week of exploring the city we would continue on to a few smaller towns, visit more family, and then eventually end up in Cusco to do a four day hike to Machu Picchu. Which, by the way, I showed up in the Andes mountains for this half of a week long hike up a mountain, never having hiked before, wearing a pair of Sketchers boots, and a backpack full of Seventeen magazines and nail polish. I vividly remember standing on the top of the mountain next to a group of four Frenchmen, who had been training for this hike for months, as I flipped through and re-read my test scores from the “What kind of boyfriend is he” quiz.
Lima, Machu Picchu, Cusco…none of those words really meant anything to me at the time because, not only had I never been to Peru, I had never been out of the country before. I had no idea what it was like to see the world and my expectations were low (how could anything be better than Ohio?). I was skeptical all the way up to, and even after, getting off that plane and stepping foot into Lima. I remember how we sifted through taxi after taxi lined up outside to make sure we got in a legit car since they’ve been known to just slap a “Taxi Cab” sticker on the door to make a few bucks. I remember how I was told that sometimes they’ll even kidnap you and hold you for a ransom to make a few bucks more. I remember how we got in the taxi with a driver going 720 miles an hour, swerving through traffic while almost hitting a man walking a goat on a leash downtown Lima. And then I remember thinking, Oh my god. I’m going to love this place!
It was all so new and exciting and everything about it was intriguing. I especially loved the food. I had never experienced tasting the cuisine and dining cultures of a different group of people before and of all places, Peru seriously does it right. Foods like quinoa and ceviche are everywhere. Fresh avocado, freshly squeezed oj carts going down the streets, I loved every bite of everything I put in my mouth. Even some questionable things that I will refrain from sharing with you!
I am so grateful for the experience and it truly helped shape me into the passionate traveler and food lover that I am today. When I eat foods like quinoa it always makes me nostalgic thinking back to the time when I had it first. Every bite of the mild and nutty grain is better than the next. It’s times like this that food…is more than just food.
Mango and Avocado Quinoa Salad with Blackened Shrimp
Serves 2 large lunch sized portions, or 4 smaller portions
(you can use all water if you prefer, but I think the chicken stock gives it a nice added flavor)
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 large mango, pitted and diced
- 1 large avocado, pitted and diced
- 2 green onions, diced
- Cilantro, a large handful chopped (about ½ cup)
- Freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1-2 tbs olive oil
- ½ tsp cumin
- 1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and devained
- blackening seasoning (or you can buy prepared blackening seasoning)
- 2 tbs olive oil
Begin by rinsing your quinoa under cold water. Next, add your quinoa, water, chicken stock and pinch of salt to a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil and then cover with a lid and turn the heat down to a simmer. Continue to simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
For the shrimp, place all the shrimp in a large ziplock bag, add your blackening seasoning, a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil and shake to coat completely. Heat another tbsp olive oil to medium-high heat in a large pan. Cook the shrimp on each side for just a couple minutes, or until they turn pink. Shrimp cook very quickly, so be sure not to overcook.
Mix the quinoa with the remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper and serve with the shrimp and fresh cilantro garnish