I’m so not ready for Spring. I know, sounds insane and unnatural. Since I missed 3 solid weeks of winter while traveling, and actually suffered through Melbourne’s heat wave reaching 100F, I still would love to enjoy some chili weather. The thought of hot weather had me a bit anxious just today. I announced to some family how irritable I can get when I’m too hot. So, in my mental clutch of colder weather, I’m clinging to hearty foods still. Nothing too equative with warmer weather. As such, this Peruvian classic potato dish came to the fore while planning my meals for the week. Papas a la huancaína, a cold salad originating in the Huancaína mountains of Peru, is the perfect soul food to keep my appetite in seasonal form.
Though it’s a room-temperature salad, perhaps even cold, the marriage of starchy potatoes and creamy cheese offers a robust filling or serves as a great addition to a lighter main course. Before I bogged down to make this plate as part of my exploration of Peruvian cuisine with Sargento, I did a bit of digging into its history. As of late, I’ve been intrigued with foods history, something I’ve said is vital to making food more attractive — the more you know about it, the more you can appreciate it. I’ve recently steered away from the culinary genesis of many classic dishes I’ve been making, but my complete lack of awareness of this ubiquitous plate, had me deeply provoked.
Not sure how credible the following legend is, but it’s pretty interesting and makes sense. The dish’s name sake, Huancayo, is well known as the home of a the Ferrovias Central train (read this fun recount of a travel writer’s recent ride on the train) that links the central highland ciudad to the country’s capital, Lima. Building the train system took about 35 years. The story alleges that a burly woman brought the men a hearty dish made with rocoto (a spicy pepper) and an unknown variety of cheese spread overtop the papas. The workers appreciated and loved the dish being offered to them so much they started asking “A que hora llega la papa de la Huancaína?” — At what time will the potatoes from Huancaína arrive?! I think I read somewhere they dubbed the generous lady that name. Modern times have substituted the rocoto pepper for the popular aji amarillo, which I have a hard time finding in my markets.
No less, the dish is rooted in the Andean region of Peru, underscoring my point. Even in July, you’ll find snow on mountain peaks as you follow the trains path. Aha! Papas a la huancaína are perfect!
Many of the recipes I researched were made with queso fresco, but I wasn’t quite in the mood for it. Surprisingly, Sargento had an American variety of the Latin cheese in their corporate store. I should have stocked up on some while there. Instead, I was focusing on cheeses I don’t enjoy enough of but have loved in the past. Like Jarlesburg and extra sharp cheddar.
I made a few batches of the spicy cheese sauce before falling in love with a Jarlesburg and Sargento’s natural string cheese based sauce. It may sound a bit “off” but the combination of the nutty flavored Jarlsburg with the sweeter/softer string was perfect to incorporate with milk and hot peppers.
As I plated the salad, it occurred to me how tightly related all foods can be. We’ve all had baked potato loaded with melted cheddar cheese and sour cream. At its core, it’s simply another way of enjoying these two staples. Clearly the American version is a modern, updated, and younger interpretation of the centuries old Peruvian classic.
I just love learning more and more about what I do and serve up those around me! See, isn’t this dish instantly more attractive now that we now a bit about how it was born?
Enjoy and share with the hungry workers next time you do some housework! I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.
Follow the sexy & delicious fun on
Papas a la Huancaína
- 6 white or yellow potatoes, peeled
- 2 eggs
- 2.5 oz. Jarlsburg cheese
- 2.5 oz. string cheese
- 1/2 cup evaporated milk
- 2 Tbsp. yellow chili pepper paste
- 2 Tbsp. canola oil
- 2 Tbsp. Kalamata olive, sliced
- 4 Romain lettuce leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- salt to taste
Bring salted water to boil. Cook potatoes until cooked but not too tender. Remove water, let cool and cut into 1″ pieces. Set aside. While potatoes are cooking, boil 2 eggs. While potatoes and eggs are cooking, make sauce. In food processor or blender, add cheese, milk, chili paste and oil. Blend until you have a smooth cream.
Remove eggs from pot. Peel and let cool. Slice into 1/2″ rounds. On individual serving plate, place lettuce leave. Arrange potatoes as you wish on top of lettuce. Pour cheese sauce over potatoes and thoroughly cover. Garnish with sliced eggs and olives. You can also add fresh chopped parsley.