Papa a la Huancaína
Today is a double post!
So, I am an opposite eater. I like ceviche in the winter and lamb stew in the summer. I think it’s because, after a while of eating with the seasons, I start to crave flavours I haven’t visited in ages.
This post pays homage to my love of opposite eating, and to one of my all-time favourite (maybe my most favourite) Peruvian dish: Papa a la Huancaína, served with a chilled glass of chicha morada (recipe here).
Never heard of it? You are not alone. Unless you are Peruvian or know someone who has cooked you Peruvian food, you have probably never experienced the satisfying joy of this simple chilled dish.
Essentially it is a cold, spicy cheese sauce, typically served over cold sliced potatoes, as an appetizer or light lunch. When I am in Peru it is the only thing I want to eat (much to the chagrin of my family). But it is something that can easily be made at home with a quick trip to your local Latin market.
The mandatory component of this sauce is the aji Amarillo pepper. A bright yellow-orange medium to large sized pepper, whose heat it hotter than a jalapeno, but sunny, citrusy and bright. Imagine an orange and a habanero had a delicious pepper baby. Aji Amarillo is an absolute staple in Peruvian cuisine, finding its way into sauces, marinades, soups and stews.
Here my recipe differs a bit from tradition. Any Peruvian reading this will probably think I’ve done a hack-job with this beloved dish, but bear with me, I live in the frozen north!
Huancaína sauce is to be made with queso fresco and fresh aji Amarillo peppers. Well, up here in Canada I find it impossible to source a fresh aji Amarillo, but frozen whole peppers or a paste made out of the peppers can be found at any quality Latin market. Queso fresco is a bit easier to find, but as many Peruvian expats will tell you, feta cheese is a suitable (if not arguably better) alternative, it adds a tang and saltiness that makes this northern version highly addictive. Here I have taken it one step further. Instead of plain old feta, I’ve substituted Macedonian feta, much more creamy and smooth than its Greek counterpart.
Huancaína sauce is typically served over cold sliced potatoes, garnished with sliced black olives and hard-boiled egg pieces. Again this is my go-to comfort (and, err, hangover) food. The spice and saltiness hit the spot every time. But the wonders of Huancaína sauce do not end there! It’s great as a dip for crudité, slathered in a baked potato, as a spread for sandwiches, topping for nachos, or dipping your fries in – basically any way you would use a cheese sauce.
This is a great recipe to whip out at a party as it differs from your traditional dips, is an cinch to make and is sure to satisfy, if not impress.
½ cup of chopped white onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
2-3 aji Amarillo peppers, seeded and chopped or 250 ml jar of aji Amarillo paste
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2/3 cup of condensed milk
250 g of Macedonian feta cheese
2-3 saltine crackers, crushed
Pinch of salt
Sliced boiled potatoes (here I used both purple and Yukon gold)
Set a medium sauté pan over medium heat
Add the oil, onion, garlic and sauté until translucent
Add in the aji Amarillo pepper (if not using the paste) and sauté for 5-10 minutes, until everything is softened
If using the paste, only sauté for 3-5 minutes
Remove from heat and let cool
In a blender, combine the pepper and onion mixture, cheese, condensed milk, crackers and salt and blend until a smooth sauce forms, it should be about the consistency of yogurt
If it is too thick, add more condensed milk, if it is too thin add more saltine crackers
To serve traditionally, pour over chilled, sliced boiled potatoes, garnished with black olives and hard-boiled eggs