Family Traditions: A Birthday Feast, Peruvian Style

November 6, 2018 Updated: November 6, 2018

Giancarlo Valera, executive chef of Peruvian restaurant Tanta in Chicago, was born and raised in the seaside city of Callao, Peru, the country’s first and most important port. Fresh seafood abounded at the dinner table. But when festivities were in order, Grandma broke out the beef.

In my family, on every special day—like a birthday, celebration, or anniversary—my grandma would always cook asado relleno. I remember playing at my grandpa’s house with my cousins while my grandma was in the kitchen for hours, cooking the asado and baking alfajores (Peruvian cookies filled with dulce de leche).

Asado relleno is a traditional Peruvian criollo dish, a slow-braised eye of round beef filled with raisins, peanuts, and pork meat. It is a comfort food classic, which is very popular among families across Lima.

My grandma used a big piece of beef and made a sofrito with onions, garlic, aji panca (Peruvian red pepper), and pork. After it was cooked, she added raisins and peanuts and opened the beef to fill it with the sofrito. She then would tie the beef and cook it for six hours at a very low temperature. The result is incredible! In my family, we serve the asado with mashed potatoes and white rice mixed with choclo, Peruvian corn.

My whole family has been preparing asado relleno for generations. My grandma learned the recipe from her mom and my mom learned from her. My mom taught me how to prepare it when I was a teenager. We take great pride in serving the best dish for a family member on his or her special day.

For every family member’s birthday, I make a beef asado. I sometimes change the eye of round for another cut of beef, based on what I have available and what I am in the mood for, but the base and flavor is always the same. The beef is so tender, flavorful, and hearty—it reminds me of my most cherished family moments.