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March 19, 2013

Alice Eats: A Little Peruvian

IMG_5366Burlington Winter Farmers Market, every other Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium. Info, 310-5172.

There are lots of favorite foods I grew up eating in the New York City suburbs of Connecticut that I long for living in the Green Mountains — Korean barbecue, great Indian buffets, Greek.

But thanks to another Connecticut kid, there's one itch that I'm now finally getting scratched: Peruvian. Since debuting at last summer's Burlington and Capital City Farmers Markets, Hugo Lara has refined his fare into a thoroughly comforting fusion of Vermont ingredients and Peruvian flavors.

IMG_5368At last Saturday's Burlington Winter Farmers Market, I ate my way through Lara's whole menu and found the concise offerings thoroughly satisfying.

I was most excited to try the chicharrón sandwich. I was initially disappointed that the pork from North Hollow Farm wasn't crispier — after all, chicharrones in their most basic form are essentially pork rinds. However, the slider-sized, crusty bun from Stewart's Bakery added its own crunch to the flavorful pork. So did red onions. Meanwhile, sliced yams lent an earthy sweetness.

And I got to have my first taste of aji in Vermont. The mint-green, mayo-based sauce rests in squeeze bottles on every table at the Peruvian restaurants I frequented back home. I found A Little Peruvian's version a bit light on the jalapeños (some of my favorite restaurants refer to the spicy sauce simply as "picante"), but the tangy, cilantro-flecked sauce still hit the spot.

IMG_5367It also made an appearance on the Lomo Slider. Lomo saltado is one of Peru's standard dishes, but it's actually a fairly recent addition to the cuisine, a fusion of food that came to Peru with Chinese immigrants.

Turns out the yummy stir-fry is a great sandwich topping. This little bun was softer than the one that held the chicharrones. It merged beautifully with the lightly spiced slices of beef and meltingly tender peppers and caramelized onions. A sizable slick of aji and I basically had the world's greatest sausage-and-pepper sandwich ever. But with chunks of beef. Better yet.

IMG_5369And I washed it all down with a drink totally new to me: Emoliente. Lara served the herbal tea either warm or cold.

To combat my waning case of the sniffles, I went for the hot brew. Flaxseeds and barley may not sound like the ingredients for a delicious drink, but the lightly sweetened nectar had a slightly nutty taste that felt almost creamy in my mouth. A slice of lemon added just enough acid to bring it vividly to life.

Sure, I wouldn't have objected to one of the picarones (doughnuts) that Lara served last summer, but I left the market with both stomach and heart warmed. And now I know, when the craving for aji strikes, I need only wait until Saturday.

Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to [email protected].

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