LuAnn's Papa a la Huancaína

Papa a la Huancaína is a Peruvian specialty featuring potatoes topped with a spicy, rich cheese sauce. Traditionally, the sauce is made with Aji Amarillo, a hot yellow chile pepper. For a milder sauce which is more to my family’s liking, I substitute sauteed yellow bell pepper for the Aji Amarillo and may add one or two jalapeno peppers to add a bit of warmth without the burn.

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Papa a la Huancaina may be served chilled, at room temperature or slightly warmed. Depending on the quantities and presentation of the ingredients, it can be served as an appetizer, salad, side dish – or even a one-dish meal.

For a beautiful presentation, place potatoes atop a bed of deep green leafy lettuce, surround with an artful arrangement of hard-cooked eggs, fresh tomatoes, avocados and black olives and garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs.

Ingredients

Potatoes and Eggs

  • 8 large potatoes (Yukon Gold, yellow, red or white potatoes)
  • 8 large eggs

Sauce

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 (sweet) yellow bell peppers, diced
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons aji/yellow hot pepper paste (or 1 to 2 jalapeno peppers), to taste (see Notes)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups evaporated milk, or as needed to obtain desired consistency
  • 8 ounces queso fresco (see Notes)
  • 1 packet Goya Sazon with Cilantro and Annatto (for color)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Ground black or red pepper
  • 12 saltine crackers, or as needed to obtain desired consistency

To serve

  • 8 to 16 large, pretty lettuce leaves, rinsed and patted dry and cut in 1/2-inch "ribbons"
  • 1/2 cup chopped red or sweet onion (or more, to taste)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra sprigs for garnish
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Salt or Adobo seasoning
  • 4 tomatoes, cut in wedges
  • 2 avocados, seeded and peeled, then cut in thin wedges
  • 8 hard-cooked eggs (see above), sliced or cut in wedges
  • 24 to 32 pitted black or natural (green) olives
  • Ground black pepper or paprika
  • Fresh cilantro sprigs

Instructions

Potatoes and Eggs

  1. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan; add water until the potatoes are completely submerged, then bring the water to a boil over high heat. When water is boiling vigorously, reduce the heat to medium-low; cover, then continue cooking at a slow boil just until the potatoes are tender. Do not overcook!
  2. Meanwhile, place the eggs in a separate, smaller saucepan; add water until the eggs are completely submerged, then bring the water to a boil over high heat. When water boils, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 14 to 15 minutes.
  3. After 14 to 15 minutes, remove the saucepan with the eggs from the stove and drain the water. Shake the pan to crack the eggshells, then place the saucepan under cold running water until the eggs have cooled enough to handle. When cooled enough to handle, peel the eggs, then set aside.
  4. When the potatoes are tender, drain the hot water and replace it with cold water and a few ice cubes to cool the potatoes quickly. When cooled enough to handle, peel the potatoes, then set aside.
  5. Meanwhile, make the sauce.

Sauce

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and begin sauteing over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the bell pepper and jalapenos (see Note), then continue sauteing and stirring until the vegetables are nearly tender. Add the minced garlic, then continue sauteing until the vegetables are completely tender but not yet beginning to brown.
  2. Transfer the sauteed vegetables to a blender. Add the milk, cheese and Goya Sazon, then cover and blend until the sauce is velvety smooth. Blend in the crackers, adding one or two at a time, until the sauce reaches the consistency of a medium white sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. The potatoes and sauce may be served while still warmed, at room temperature, or chilled.

To serve

  1. Combine the lettuce ribbons and chopped onions and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Drizzle with lime juice and sprinkle lightly with salt or adobo seasoning, the toss gently until mixed. Line individual plates with a handful of the lettuce mixture.
  2. Cut a peeled potato crosswise in 1/2-inch or slightly thinner slices, then arrange the slices in the center of the plate; repeat, using one potato per plate.
  3. Using about 1/2 cup sauce for each plate, pour the sauce over the potatoes, covering the potatoes as much as possible.
  4. Artfully surround the potatoes and sauce on each plate with 1 hard-cooked egg, sliced, wedges from half a tomato and a quarter of an avocado and 3 or 4 olives. If desired, sprinkle black pepper (or paprika) lightly over all.
  5. Garnish plates with fresh cilantro sprigs.

Yield: 8 generous (one-dish meal) servings

Notes

To reduce the spiciness of the sauce, I use a combination of (sweet) yellow bell peppers and a small amount of aji/hot yellow bell pepper paste (or 1 or 2 jalapeno peppers) rather than the more traditional use of a generous amount of only aji peppers or aji hot yellow bell pepper paste. Aji/hot yellow bell pepper paste can be found in Latin/Mexican markets or online. (I use Goya brand). More readily available jalapenos can be substituted. If using jalapenos, wear gloves to halve the pepper(s), then use a sharp knife to remove the ribs and seeds before chopping. To reduce the spiciness altogether, just eliminate the aji/hot yellow bell pepper paste or jalapenos.

Traditionally, a fresh Mexican cheese called Queso Fresco is used. If unavailable, substitute an equal amount of feta cheese. Muenster or mozzarella cheese can also be used.

Recipe by LuAnn Bermeo, author of Amazing Meals I and II, a two-volume collection of family-approved, plant-based recipes.

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