Betty Shuell shares her Peruvian food with Metro Detroiters at her restaurant Culantro which is located in Ferndale.
Featured photo courtesy of Culantro Facebook
Betty Shuell is as warm and approachable as the food made from scratch at her restaurant. Culantro, the Peruvian eatery, is in a Ferndale storefront north of Nine Mile Road.
Spanish for cilantro, “it’s a spice that gives a fresh sensation,” Shuell said.
Lively Latin music adds to the ambience Shuell intended when she opened her doors in May 2018. She and a friend painted two Inca-inspired murals and attached treeless branches to beige walls.
Born in Pulcapa, Ucayali, Peru, Shuell is an attorney. She also owned a restaurant while living with her two children and husband in his native Ecuador. The family came to southeast Michigan in 2000, joining a friend. Shuell said she was immediately “impressed with the generosity of Americans” and better opportunities for women.
Shuell earned a nursing degree. While she is working today as a psychiatric nurse in a state hospital, her second husband, John Shuell, and her son, Alvaro Herrera, mind the store. Herrera is among those cooking at Culantro, but “my main cook is Carmen Medina,” Shuell said. Also from Peru, Medina prepares the classic dishes, a few with Betty’s own touches.
Culanto offered nine dishes initially, before adding some popular weekend specials.
Guests order by number at the register and also choose other menu items, such as yucca fries, banana plantains and desserts like passionfruit mousse or flan, a rich custard dessert topped with caramelized sugar.
Peppers, or aji, are an important part of Peruvian cuisine. Carrying varying amounts of heat, Rocoto is a hot pepper used in sauces. Less hot are Panca and Amarillo, the latter yellow pepper giving my Arroz Con Pollo a spicy jolt of flavor.
A friend was enamored with Aji de Gallina, shredded chicken over potatoes in a creamy sauce of walnuts and Amarillo peppers, with hard-boiled egg and black olive garnish.
For Seco a la Nortena, beef stew cuts and Panca chilies are slow-cooked and served with Canario white beans and white rice, topped with salsa Criolla.
Two vegan dishes are available, such as spaghetti tossed in a sauce of basil spinach, Amarillo chilies, onions, garlic and vegetable oil.
My favorite is Pollo la Brasa, available in three sizes with dipping sauces. Chicken is marinated in a blend of 15 spices for 24 hours before slow-roasting in a charcoal oven from Peru. Try it with Peruvian beverages, such as Inca Kola or refreshing, healthy Chicha Morada. It’s blended purple corn, pineapple with its bark, lime juice, cinnamon and cloves.
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