During one of my previous visits to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, I came across a dish served at a Cuban restaurant called Papa Rellena. I had assumed that this dish originated in Cuba. But I eventually learned that it originated elsewhere.
Actually, the Papa Rellena dish originated in Peru. Between 1879 and 1883; the countries of Peru, Chile and Bolivia were engaged in a conflict known as the War of the Pacific. The Peruvian soldiers had to march through extensive lands that were long distances from cities or towns in order to prevent the Chilean forces from discovering their position and where the next attack would come from. Due to these long journeys, the soldiers had to carry previously prepared food that could remain fresh, despite the lack of 20th century preserves.
The Peruvian troops cooked, chopped and seasoned either beef or some other meat. Then, they made dough from the previously cooked potatoes that grew naturally in the Andes Mountains. They formed a hollow in the potato dough and filled it with the cooked meat and sometimes, hard-boiled eggs. Then they would seal the dough, form it into a torpedo shape and fry it. The “Papa Rellenas” or stuffed potatoes were wrapped in cloth and carried by the soldiers. The Papa Rellenas were sometimes accompanied with Salsa Criolla, or an aji sauce. Other Latin American countries like Cuba and Puerto Rico eventually created their own variation on the dish.
Below is a recipe for “Papa Rellena” from the About.com website:
1/2 cup raisins
3 pounds yellow potatoes
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced aji pepper, or jalapeno
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 pound ground beef
1 cup beef broth
Flour for dusting
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the raisins in a small bowl and pour 1 cup boiling water over them. Let them soak for 10 minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Peel the potatoes and place them in the pot. Cook the potatoes until they are tender when pierced with a fork.
While the potatoes are cooking, cook the onions, garlic, and peppers in the vegetable oil until soft and fragrant.
Add the cumin and paprika and cook 2 minutes more, stirring. Add the ground beef and cook until browned.
Drain the raisins and add them to the ground beef. Add the beef broth and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more, until most of the liquid is gone.
Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let cool.
When the potatoes are cooked, drain them in a colander. Mash the potatoes thoroughly, or pass them through a potato ricer. Season the mashed potatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Chill the potatoes for several hours, or overnight.
Once the potatoes are very cold, stir the egg into the mashed potatoes until well mixed.
Shape the papas rellenas: with floured hands, place about 1/4 cup of mashed potatoes in one hand, and make a well in the center. Fill the well with 1-2 tablespoons of the beef mixture. Mold the potatoes around the beef, adding more potatoes if necessary, and shape the whole thing into an oblong potato shape, with slightly pointy ends, about the size of a medium potato.
Repeat with the rest of the mashed potatoes. Coat each stuffed “potato” with flour.
In a deep skillet or deep fat fryer, heat 2 inches of oil to 360 degrees. Fry the potatoes in batches until they are golden brown. Drain them on a plate lined with paper towels.
Keep the potatoes warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.