Last Updated on
Causa Rellena, mashed potatoes with Peruvian flair
Peruvians are very proud of their potatoes, and rightly so. The Andean highlands are the birthplace of the humble spud and more than 2,000 types are harvested in the region each year. They come in a dazzling array of colors, shapes and sizes, which you can find at any market, often just laid out on the ground, on top of a piece of bright fabric. Potatoes of all varieties are the basis for many Peruvian dishes, but it is the bright yellow ones which go into making a traditional Causa Rellena.
I had my first taste of Causa Rellena at a chaotic market in the small town of Huaraz, high in the Peruvian Andes. The streets were hot and dirty and I was hungry, so I headed inside to where the food stalls were, where local shoppers and market traders sat on stools, crates or boxes, with bowls of soup and plates of food carefully balanced on their knees. The family I was staying with had told me that Causa was a traditional dish, so when I saw it chalked up for 3 soles – about $1 – I decided to try it.
[pullquote]Undeterred, I went gamely in search of some ajis amarillos, yellow chili peppers, which give the dish a very subtle spice. [/pullquote]A moment later, I was handed a plate with a very pretty piece of this potato pie, topped with a slice of hard-boiled egg and a couple of olives. A creamy tuna-and-avocado filling was sandwiched between the yellow potato. It looked more like a nouvelle cuisine starter than a street-food snack and it was delicious. Causa Rellena is basically a light, fresh and stylish take on the ultimate comfort food: mashed potatoes.
When I got home, armed with a Peruvian recipe book, I decided I just had to try making this dish for myself. I stumbled at the first hurdle. The supermarket in my sleepy English town only stocks sleepy English potatoes – rather paler versions of the bright yellow Yukon variety usually used in Causa. Undeterred, I went gamely in search of some ajis amarillos, yellow chili peppers, which give the dish a very subtle spice. Along the same theme as the potatoes, however, my only option was a rather anemic-looking yellowish chili. I decided it would have to do. Fortunately, the other ingredients were a little more conventional and easier to come by.
I got home and began cooking. I use ‘cooking’ in the loosest possible term, because Causa is a gratifyingly easy dish to prepare. It is served cold, which was strange to my Western palate when I first tried it, but it works well. If you’re inviting friends for dinner, it would make a show-stopping starter, but it’s also great as a light lunch or snack.
It’s a versatile and endlessly customizable dish and mine is a vegetarian, slightly British, very ad-hoc version of the traditional Causa. Here’s how to make it:
Ingredients (serves 6 as a starter)
3 large potatoes, Yukon or other yellow variety if you can get them!
1 yellow chili pepper
2 tbsp of vegetable oil
A little bit of butter
The juice of 1 lemon
For the filling:
2 small avocados, peeled and stoned
3 spring onions
3 tablespoons of crème fraiche
1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
A squeeze of lime juice
For the topping:
1 egg, hard-boiled
A few black olives
A few sprigs of lemon thyme
Peel and chop the potatoes and put in a pan of boiling water. Add a pinch of salt. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the potato chunks are soft. Meanwhile, finely chop the spring onions and dice the avocado. Place in a bowl and mix with the crème fraiche, mayonnaise and lime juice. Put to one side.
Heat some water in a small pan and place an egg in when the water begins to boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about seven minutes, or until the egg is hard-boiled. Remove the egg from the pan and leave to cool in a bowl of cold water.
Finely chop the yellow chili pepper, discarding the seeds. Heat a little of the oil in a pan and sauté the chili until soft. Once the potatoes have softened, drain and return to the pan. Add the chili, the rest of the vegetable oil and a little butter. Mash until light and fluffy.
Spread about half of the mashed potato onto the bottom of a dish. Cover with all of the filling mixture and top with the remaining mashed potato. Smooth the top.
Peel and slice the egg. Decorate the top of the Causa with the slices of egg, black olives and sprigs of lemon thyme. Place it in the fridge to chill thoroughly.
Slice into individual portions, serve cold and enjoy!
Also, you can replace the avocado and spring onion for just about anything you want – traditional fillings include chicken and tuna, but you can be as creative as you like!
Editor’s note: You may also enjoy reading about how Katy learned how to make pottery in Peru