Peru: Papas a la Huancaína (Aji Amarillo)
I am lucky enough to have Twitter followers from around the world, so I often turn to them for inspiration for my #GentGoesGlobal series. One of my followers told me that he swore he would eat nothing but papas a la huancaína for the rest of his life when he lived in Peru. It was an obsession. I decided to check it out, as I was taken aback by the ferocity of his love.
Reader, I was not disappointed. Buttery yellow and gently spicy aji amarillo coating tender potatoes is my kind of party. As a vegetarian, you have certain stereotypes of cuisines that may be off limits to you. Latin American food is definitely perceived as meat-heavy in the mainstream US consciousness. A lot of this stems from meat-centered Mexican food, Argentina’s beef exports, Cuba’s famous whole-pig roasts, and even Brazilian steakhouses. But when you peer through the blood-stained stereotypes there are a variety of delicious and innovative vegetarian (and even vegan) dishes. Papas a la huancaína are one of my favorite examples of this.
The history behind papas a la huancaína is muddier than the Ucayali River. What is known is that the name stems from the city of Huancayo in the highlands of Peru. The most popular of origin stories dictates that a woman from Huancayo sold this dish to workers on the Trans-Andean Railway that was built to connect Huancayo to the capital of Lima. The workers grew to love this dish and started asking where the “papas de la Huancaína” were, or the “potatoes from Huancayo.” The name stuck as the dish became a staple in the capital when workers returned.
Whether this is true or not, the story is a good one and brings to mind the origins of pizza or soparnik – common people eating really good food. That’s what papas a la huancaína are, plain and simple: really good food. As a bonus, they are simple to make. The recipe on this one speaks for itself with no real need of extra notation so I will leave you to it. The sauce makes a great topping from anything to pizza to tamales to pasta. If you’re a huge fan of spicy food, up the amount of yellow chile in it. If you’re squeamish, add less and let the evaporated milk shine through. The world is your oyster – and hell, it probably goes well on oysters too.
I’ve got more in store for you soon from South America, and I even have a deeper dive into the veganization of Latin food planned. Stay tuned and subscribe to the blog so that you never miss a beat. Until next time, here’s to good drinking, great eating, and even better living.
Papas a la Huancaína
- 1/2 cup aji amarillo paste
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 6 buttery crackers (I used Ritz)
- 8 oz queso fresco (can substitute feta or mozarella if needed)
- 4 cloves garlic
- salt (to taste)
- 8 medium yellow potatoes
- In a food processor or blender, combine all of the ingredients except the salt and potatoes. Blend until smooth. Add salt to taste. Set aside.
- Boil the potatoes in salted water for about 20-25 minutes, until they are fork tender.
- Split the potatoes and cover in a generous amount of sauce. Serve as directed in the notes for an authentic presentation and enjoy with your favorite meal!
- This recipe is adapted from the one here, and I recommend this blog if you want to explore more Peruvian cuisine!
- Papas a la huancaína are typically served with lettuce, black olives, and slices of hard-boiled eggs. I took them naked, but these are the serving suggestions to make it as authentic as possible.