Papas a la Huancaína

Papas a la Huancaína

This classic Peruvian version of cheese-topped tubers delivers
you to the heart of the Andes with a soulful marriage of two
indigenous ingredients: potatoes and the ají amarillo pepper.

Some say papas a la Huancaína was invented in Chosica, a suburb of Lima, but folklore claims it was invented by a woman from Huancayo, a city in the Mantaro valley and the final stop for a train route from Lima. While the railroad was being built in the late 19th century, women competed with each other to sell workers food – usually potatoes. One marketsavvy señora doctored hers with a unique sauce and it went on to become a hit.

You’ll need
6 potatoes
2–3 ají amarillo peppers
2 tbs vegetable oil
225g (½lb) queso fresco, or
farmer’s cheese, crumbled
(a reduced-salt feta, mild
goat’s cheese or ricotta
salata can be substituted)
2–3 cups (500–750mL)
evaporated milk
4 saltine crackers
Salt and pepper to taste
3 eggs, hard-boiled
¼ cup (a handful) of whole
black Spanish olives

Cooking Method
1 Scrub, boil and peel potatoes. Allow them to cool and cut in thick slices lengthwise. Arrange on serving plate(s) on top of a few lettuce leaves.
2 Wash and cut the peppers, stripping out the ribs and most of the seeds. Cut into large pieces and saute gently in 1 tsp oil for a few minutes until they begin to soften.
3 Put the peppers, cheese, evaporated milk, remaining oil and saltine crackers into a blender and process until you have a fairly thick sauce. Add extra evaporated milk if the mixture is too thick or saltines if it’s too runny. Season with a dash of salt and pepper.
4 Pour the sauce over the potatoes. Cut the eggs in half and arrange on the plate, along with a few olives.

Tasting notes
Sauntering around Huancayo’s Feria Dominical Sunday market high in the Andes, taking in the array of colourful handicrafts, you’re feeling peckish, and stop for a plate of papas. That first forkful of cheese topped potato soothes your palate as the velvety sauce envelops the potato and dissolves on your tongue – there’s no hard work involved here. Give yourself a moment to detect the unique fruit and grassiness of the Peruvian ají pepper, which shines through before it kicks your tongue on the way down. Add a bit of olive, egg and lettuce for your second bite and you’ll get a well-choreographed dance of sweet, salty, smooth and crunchy. Take a sip of chicha de jora (corn beer) and repeat.

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