Papa Rellena: Stuffed Potato Peruvian Style

My beautiful mother with my childhood poodle, Gigi

Today is Mother’s Day and I can’t see anything more fitting than honoring where I was born: Lima, Peru. Land of the Incas, the delicious Lucuma, Machu Picchu, arid beaches, Lake Titicaca, the Nazca Lines and a huge part of my cultural heritage, the food of Peru is rich, varied, and unmatched. The three major geographical regions, Costa, Sierra y Selva (Coast, Highlands and Jungle) create a diversity of traditions, natural resources and foods. The southern and frigid waters of the Humbolt Current mingle with the warmer northern waters allowing for a confluence of seafood that shame most Japanese sushi.

Naming a national dish can inspire heated argument. Some may claim ceviche, a lime marinated seafood dish with onions and ají (pepper), while others cite ají de gallina (hen in a spicy pepper sauce), causa (a pseudo potato shepherd’s pie), or cuy (roasted guinea pig). At any rate, no one will argue that the national drink is chicha morada (a sweet juice made from purple corn) and for festive occasions, the Pisco Sour.

Tiny Joel enjoying the rough and arid terrains of Sienegilla, a clearing by a brook.

I grew up with a variety of different foods, but one of my favorites was Papa Rellena: a mashed potato shell stuffed with ground beef, hard-boiled egg, olives and raisins sautéed with onions, garlic and spices, deep-fried gently and served with salsa criolla (creole sauce). Of course, I reminisce about the wonderful flavors, but certain that I can recreate the spirit of this down Peru home simple delicacy with simple substitutions.

Start by making the salsa criolla, a staple in every Peruvian table, similar to our status of ketchup, but much, much, much better.

  • 2 medium red onions sliced a la “pluma”
  • 1/2 chili pepper (your choice depending on heat preference)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (I like apple cider vinegar)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper

“Pluma,” meaning feather, is a style of cutting thinly on the half moon. Cut the ends off, then half the onion vertically. Place the onion face down on a cutting board and cut very thinly. You may not be able to get through all the onion, but thats ok. Reserve what you cannot slice a la pluma for the filling.

Red onions a la "pluma." Feather thin cut needed for the salsa criolla

Soak the onions in cold salt water for about 10 minutes to remove any harsh bitterness. Drain, and combine the onions with the rest of the ingredients, season with salt and pepper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for the onions to macerate and the flavors to combine.

Finished salsa criolla, always better after marinating for at least 30 minutes

Papas Rellenas (for about 6)

  • 5 pounds russet potatoes (3 large – 4 medium)
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper

For the dough. There are a wide variety of recipes out there. Some just call for the potatoes, others add seasoning, while some add eggs, cornstarch or both. This recipe ensures the potato stays together well through frying.

Boil the potatoes whole unpeeled for about 45 minutes in salt water until tender. While thats cooking, work on the filling. Let cool slightly and carefully peel while still warm. Pass through a ricer and add the turmeric and salt and pepper.

Passing potatoes through a ricer ensures a smooth consistency

Wait until the potatoes are lukewarm prior to adding the cornstarch. Mix well with your hands.

Filling

  • 1 cup of diced onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 chile pepper (your choice depending on heat preference)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 4 oz cremini mushrooms in small dice
  • 1/2 package tempeh cut thinly and quasi crumbled
  • 1/2 cup raisins soaked for 10 minutes in hot water
  • handful of spinach
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Start by caramelizing the onions in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chili pepper and cook. Add the cumin and paprika and cool briefly to release their flavor and aroma. Add the mushrooms, cook until soft then add the tempeh and raisins.

Crumbling the tempeh

Deglace the pan with a white wine if necessary. Add the spinach and wilt. Add the quinoa and season with salt and pepper.

Filling. Although traditionally ground beef, olives and hardboiled egg is used, this is a hearty and delicious animal friendly substitute

Breading and assembly and frying

  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • dash of cayenne
  • dash of salt
  • 3 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I like Panko)
  • Canola oil for frying

You’ll need three shallow bowls. In one, combine the flour cayenne and salt, in the other, whisk the egg replacer with the water, in the third, the bread crumbs.

Make a 1/2′ round pancake with your hands kneading well to ensure a smooth and homogenous potato dough. Make a slight indentation in the middle for the filling.

1. Start with a 1/2" thick pancake with a slight indentation in the middle

Place a generous amount in the middle of the pancake. Using both hands, fold in the middle, almost like an omelet. The warmth of your hands will make the dough pliable.

2. Place a generous amount in the middle and start closing up using both hands, folding in the middle

Coax any filling back into the center.

3. Close and coax any escaping filling back inside while creating a shape of a potato

Close and knead back and forth to create a very smooth faux potato. This will ensure it won’t fall apart during frying.

4. Close and knead back and forth between the hands to create a smooth faux potato. Pictured here is rough, prior to handling.

Roll in flour, then egg replacer, then bread crumbs. Heat about 1 1/2″ of canola oil in a pot and heat until it reaches 350-375 degrees. Too cold and the potato will fall apart. Too hot, and it will burn and cook too quickly to warm the inside. Cook for just 2-3 minutes while turned to get all sides beautifully golden.

5. Heat about 1 1/2" of canola oil in a pot. Ensure oil is heated well prior to frying. Too cold, it will fall apart. Perfect temperature is between 350 and 375. Use a slotted spoon to place them inside. Fry until golden brown

Set on a paper bag to drain any excess oil. You may keep them warm in a low oven while you finish the rest. Serve on a big place with the salsa criolla.

Gorgeous papa rellena with salsa criolla

When cut….

A gorgeous presentation worthy of the highest praise. Not for long. It will be eaten.

You certainly can experiment with fillings. This is my vegan version. Bon appetite.

Related posts:

Quinoa 107: A few of my favorite things - Falafel Quinoa Cakes
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Purple Basil Coconut Crusted Fried Green Tomatoes with Mango Salsa
Bend me over Sweet Potato Fries with Sassy Ketchup

About this site

VeganGoodEats.com is a compilation of my favorite recipes and experiences. Erasing the stereotype that we eat rabbit food, I hope that the site inspires you to live a cruelty-free life. There is enough to live peacefully and indulgently.

About Joel Luks

Intellectually curious arts advocate. Design junkie & blogger. Creative nutty vegan chef loving all ethnic foods in a quest to ensure vegan food is seen as delicious, varied, and yes, sometimes, indulgent. Classical flutist & sucker for rhythmic music.

I work for CultureMap.com, a Houston-based lifestyle digital magazine, where I report on food, arts, society and city life, produce videos and curate an events guide.

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