Thick, creamy, intensely-spiced sauces are an essential component of Peruvian cooking. Dairy, usually some combination of milk and fresh cheese, is blended with flavorful herbs or chiles as well as thickeners like bread, crackers, and nuts. Black mint sauce is one of these canonical sauces. It's traditionally made with huacatay, a mint-like herb that's a member of the marigold family. Black peppermint isn't huacatay, but it's more commonly available in some places and makes for a decent substitute.
Here is my version of black mint sauce, kept on the simple side. You can spoon it on roast chicken, or, as I've done here, on thinly sliced potatoes (another Peruvian staple) and zucchini for a light summery dish. I've opted to use aji amarillo, a mother chile in Peruvian cooking. If you can't find it, a bright chile like aleppo or cayenne would do. The amount here will lend a tinge of chile heat and flavor, but feel free to add more. Alternately, this dish loves some hot sauce—I add plenty tableside.
Black mint is stronger and less floral than typical mint. You can get a rough substitute by combining three parts mint to one part cilantro.
Read more: Spice Hunting: Black Mint
- Yield:Serves 4
- Active time: 40 minutes
- Total time:40 minutes
- 1 cup black mint leaves, packed
- 3 aji amarillo chiles, seeded (if using dried chiles, soak for 20 minutes in hot water)
- 1/2 pound farmer's cheese, cotija, or feta
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3/4 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 4 large zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 1 1/2 pounds waxy potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
Combine black mint, chiles, cheese, garlic, half-and-half, and lemon juice in food processor. Pulse until mixture forms a smooth sauce. Add salt to taste and set aside. Makes about 2 cups of sauce.
In a 12-inch sauté pan, heat two tablespoons oil on medium heat until shimmering, then add potatoes. Gently cook, stirring frequently so to avoid sticking, until potatoes are just cooked through, about ten minutes. Add salt to taste, and remove to a bowl with tongs or a slotted spoon, leaving oil in pan.
Increase heat to high and add two remaining tablespoons oil. Add zucchini and cook over high heat until lightly caramelized around edges, about five minutes. Salt to taste, then return potatoes to pan and cook one additional minute. Serve and top with black mint sauce, and hot sauce if desired.