Luis and Laura Chirichigno believe in family. They share their home with Luis’ parents and brother, and create homespun meals together on rare days off from their recently opened restaurant, Binigi’s Café and Deli. Their food is quintessentially Peruvian — plenty of roasted pork, chicken, black beans, yuca, sweet potatoes and plantains, as well as citrus, caramel and chocolate-inspired desserts.
The kitchen is modest, with a single iron stove. A substantial-sized deep fryer spattered with the day’s oil stands next to it. Nearby, a large griddle, holding a few half-cooked onions ready to be finished off, gently sizzles. Laura, who usually serves as baker, doubles as sauté cook in her husband’s absence. She lightly tosses sliced peppers and onions for an order of pollo a la brasa, a hot sandwich made of her homemade native bread filled with marinated, roasted chicken and topped with a tangy verde sauce. Smoke rises from the griddle as the sugars work their way out of the sizzling vegetables, creating the dish’s crisp, browned caramelization. Fresh oranges, limes and mangoes are scattered about, waiting to have their juices extracted for marinades, whitefish seviches, pico de gallos and Laura’s luscious keke de naranja — Peruvian orange cake. Soft sounds of an Andean flute echo in the background.
Aromas of cumin, perejil (Peruvian coriander) and panca chiles add to the aroma as Laura places the sandwich in a plastic-lined basket along with a cup of steamed, long-grain rice and paper-thin, fried sweet potatoes. She garnishes the combination with a twisted slice of orange. She later remarks how this dish, like many on the menu, has been passed down through many generations. Her mother-in-law is an amazing cook, she says, and in Lima, where her husband’s family is from, generational cooking is commonplace. Recipes and culinary techniques are handed down from friends, grandparents and parents — some written and some by heart. Cooking methods and ingredients appear simple, yet are saturated with enticing flavor by using “aji’s,” special Peruvian hot peppers which make their way into many authentic dishes. Laura and Luis use more than 12 varieties of these peppers in their cooking.
Guiso, a chicken stew, is a one-dish wonder. It is the food that many Peruvians grew up eating and is filled with lentils, corn and potatoes. Like American stews, the recipe easily varies based on what’s in the pantry. Rice substitutes for lentils and most vegetables incorporate well. Peruvian food is modest, she says: “With Peruvian cakes, you taste the cake, not the sugar.” It is simple, family-based food. Like the crayon art by the couple’s children displayed on the restaurant’s wall, the cuisine retains its innocence and charm with a certain air of sophistication.Binigi’s Cafe & Deli: Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. 7424 Brook Road. 261-2224.
1 cup chicken, uncooked and in large dice, preferably a mixture of white and dark meat
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
2 small onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, julienned
3 med. sized tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 cup chicken broth, preferably homemade
Combine oil and butter in a large pot until hot, but not browned. Add onion and pepper and saute for a few minutes. Add chicken and saute until browned on outside.
Add tomatoes and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes. Then add rice and chicken broth. Bring to a boil uncovered, then reduce to medium low (depends on your oven) and cook until rice is done.
Stir in fresh cilantro just before serving. Taste for salt and pepper.
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