There’s nowhere better to see the diverse influences of Criolla food, traditional Peruvian food, than in the home cooking. As its name suggests, Criolla food in Peru has been shaped by Spanish, African, and Chinese influences (and the list goes on). You see these influences everywhere. For example, Ají peppers, native potatoes (papas), soy sauce, olive oil, wonton wrappers, and hot dogs (salchis) are all staples in the Peruvian pantry. In this ongoing series, we’ll look at some of the common dishes in Criolla home cooking.
I first learned to taste and cook Criolla food in Mamacita Carmen’s house in Cusco. Over the years, Mamacita Carmen taught her adopted daughter, Maria, who in turn taught me. Mamacita’s house is a social hub for friends and family to gather. And when’s there’s people, there’s usually food. The dishes featured in this series are ones that can be made for large groups. The food is generally served for lunch, the most important meal in Peru.
Peruvians love their potatoes and rellenos, which is a whole class of dish where something, usually a vegetable, is stuffed and then cooked. Thus, it makes sense that papa rellena, stuffed mashed potatoes, is a classic dish in the Peruvian home-cooking repertoire.
Our filling was made of ground beef, green beans, carrots, olives, peanuts, and raisins. The exact ingredients vary from house to house, but idea is to have contrasting flavors and have a little bit of a crunch.
The potatoes are mashed into a dough and a couple eggs are added to help the potatoes bind better. We used Compis potatoes, a staple ingredient in Cusco. They have creamy flesh and maintain their texture after cooking, making them a great choice for this dish.
Next, the potatoes are balled and then flattened into a disc.
The stuffing is then placed on top of the disc.
Next is a tricky step where in a fluid motion the dough is shaped into a obloid shape, not unlike a small football. If done right, with a couple of additional pats, the result is seamless. Because it’s Peru, we had at our disposal potatoes that hold their shape well. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to recreate this abroad because the texture of the potatoes do not bind well enough.
Finally, the papas rellenas are pan fried until golden brown.
The papa rellenas are served with salsa criolla, a condiment that goes with just about everything.
The final result is a crispy exterior with a creamy inside and savory meat filling. The acidity and flavors on the salsa criolla provides a refreshing contrast to the meat and potatoes.