Golden like the Inca sun, soft and warm like the embrace of your people. On opening it we discover a treasure filled with tradition, flavor, and love (cariño) where we can recognize our traditions and techniques of different cultures in each bite. This and much more is our Andean stuffed potato (papa rellena).
The history of this delicious treat takes us to 1879 in the height of the War of the Pacific. Peruvian soldiers needed to march long distances that became journeys through extensive lands that were distant from cities or towns. So that the Chilean forces would not find out their position and know where the next attack would come from, the soldiers had to carry pre-made food. But there was no way to easily preserve it like we have today with cans, coolers, and so on.
Using their ingenuity they would cook beef or other meat, prepared in a rough chop or grind, seasoned and cooked. Then they made a kind of dough with previously cooked potatoes. In the potato dough they formed a hollow in which they placed the seasoned meat. They would seal it and form the potato in thick torpedo shapes which they fried to develop a resistant skin. The fried, stuffed potatoes they then wrapped in stretches of cloth, such as kerchiefs. In this way, when mealtime arrived they just pulled back the wraps and ate the stuffed potatoes.
After the soldiers returned home, this food became more and more known. Families incorporated this simple recipe into their repertoires of food. Its quality was not good, because during the war they did not have time nor utensils to prepare it in a more refined fashion. Once home, however, the soldiers’ wives could work the recipe and improve it. They added to it cooked eggs, raisins, olives, fine herbs, and obtained a juicy consistency for the meat. They reinforced the dough with a mixture of potatoes to get a better consistency and flavor. They also added a bit of flour and egg whites so the skin would be crispy and it would have an even, golden color.
They also began to think that it would be good to accompany the stuffed potato with a salsa criolla, a creole sauce, made of onion, limo peppers, and cilantro bathed in lime juice. This sauce would give it a fresh touch. To finish they would add a typical lima-style hot sauce made with ground rocotos and yellow peppers. They developed the style in which the dish is served today in homes and restaurants.
The dish is so loved that people take care, even in the form in which they ask for it. They speak with warmth (cariño) and say “I want a papita (dear potato) but with a lot of aji (hot pepper). This is a classic phrase in Lima.
In addition, the finest chefs of Peru have incorporated this dish in their talks on Peruvian gastronomy that they perform throughout the world. In this way people everywhere have the opportunity to try this fabulous dish. It is no longer just for Peruvians.
Recipe for Papas Rellenas, Stuffed Potatoes
¼ cup raisins
1 kilo (2.2 lbs) potato preferably half Yungay and half Canchán
Salt to taste
4 eggs (1 fresh and 3 cooked)
6 tbs oil
½ kilo ground beef
1 cup finely diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper or paprika
6 botija olives
½ c peeled, seeded, and diced tomato
1 tsp minced parsley
1 tsp minced cilantro
Rinse the potatoes and cook them in a pot with water and salt. Once cooked, remove from the heat and peel. Pass them through a potato press and let them cool. Mix them into a dough with a fresh egg, salt, and pepper until they are soft. Separate.
To prepare the filling, add two tablespoons of oil to a medium fry pan. Fry the onion until golden and add the garlic. Then add the ground beef and the diced tomatoes. Cook for five minutes and add the parsley, cilantro, diced olives, three cooked, diced eggs, and the raisins. Season with salt, pepper, and the paprika.
Flour your hands and then take a portion of the potatoes (1/2 cup approximately) and put it in the palm of your hand. Flatten it. Then place a portion of the filling (1 tbs.). Fold the potato over the filling and seal by pressing on the edges. Give it an oval shape. Dredge the potato combination in flour and, if you wish, you can also dip it in a beaten egg. Repeat until you have used all the potato mixture.
Heat 4 tbs. of oil in a fry pan. Fry the potato ovals until they are golden, turning them with caution.
Serve with a creole sauce and with a hot sauce.