When Betsy and I were in Cuzco preparing for our Incan trail hike, we went out to eat at this pretty fancy place one night.
Keep in mind that fancy in Peru is like $15/person.
Anyway, Betsy got this dish called papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes) and while it was completely delicious, I also thought that it was probably street food that they were just charging more for.
Indeed I was right and over the next many days we saw various street vendors with their little papas rellenas stations selling essentially the same stuffed potatoes for about a tenth of the price.
Street food or fine dining though, these are some seriously delicious items. Although they are a bit of work to make, they are worth it if you have the time.
1) If you have leftover mashed potatoes, they would work best for this dish, but otherwise peel and cube your potatoes and cook them in simmering, salted water (1 tablespoon kosher salt per gallon of water) until they are fork tender, about 10 minutes.
2) Drain potatoes and add in butter and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mash well. Let potatoes cool before using in the recipe.
3) For filling, add diced onion to a medium skillet over medium-high heat with a drizzle of olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt and cook until onions are soft.
4) Add in beef and cook until beef is browned. Drain off any grease that has accumulated and add peppers, garlic, and spices. Continue to cook for a few minutes.
5) Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Let filling cool slightly then mix in grated cheese.
6) Heat at least a few inches of oil to 350 degrees in a large, sturdy pot.
7) To make papas, mix an egg into the cool mashed potato mixture.
8) Then take about 1/4-1/3 of a cup of mashed potatoes in your hand and make a small well in the center. Add a few tablespoons of beef filling. Cover with another small amount of potatoes and carefully mold the potatoes around the filling. Have patience and work slowly!
9) When the potato is formed (it's okay if some filling is showing), coat it well in all-purpose flour and set aside. Repeat until all filling or potatoes are gone.
10) When done, deep-fry potatoes at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes until they are a deep golden brown. Work in batches depending on the size of your pan.
11) Drain potatoes on a paper towel and keep warm in a 250 degree oven.
12) Serve with cucumber salad.
The Mashed Potatoes
On this particular day, I made fresh mashed potatoes for the dish but the absolute best way to make this dish happen is to use leftover mashed potatoes.
If you want to make them fresh, just peel and chop up a few medium-large potatoes.
Simmer the potatoes in lightly salted water for about 10 minutes until they are fork tender. Then drain them and mash them up!
Unfortunately, you’ll need to let these potatoes cool down before proceeding with the recipe which is yet another reason why leftovers are good.
I seasoned my potatoes simply with butter and salt and pepper.
The papas we had in Peru were filled with chicken, but you can almost any filling you can dream up. I went with a ground beef filling cooked down with onions, a spicy pepper and lots of spices.
Just cook the onions in a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat until they are soft, then add the ground beef and cook it until it’s nicely browned. Pour off any extra grease from the beef and add your peppers, garlic, and spices.
Let this cook for a few more minutes so the flavors can mingle.
Then let it cool slightly and stir in your grated cheese.
A Quick Salad
These suckers are easiest to make if both your potatoes and filling are at least room temperature so while you wait for them to cool off go ahead and make the quick cucumber salad.
The salad is nice and crunchy and has some acidity which pairs great with the rich potatoes.
Just toss everything together in a bowl and set it aside until serving time.
Making the Papas Rellenas
While I think you can use almost any mashed potato recipe, it does help to have a slightly drier potato base since you will be shaping them. You’ll also need to add an egg to them so they stick together.
When you’re ready to make your stuffed potatoes, scoop out about 1/4-1/3 cup of potatoes. Scoop it into your hand and make a little well in the center.
Then add a few tablespoons of filling to the potato well. You can really stuff these guys.
Then add enough potatoes to the top and kind of shape the potatoes around the filling until you have what looks like a potato!
Don’t worry if some of the filling is leaking out. Not a big deal.
Before frying these, toss them in a bowl with just all-purpose flour. The flour will stick to the outside and make a light, but important, crust.
I recommend making all the stuffed potatoes and then frying them.
As always, when frying, please use a deep fry thermometer so you can make sure your oil is a perfect 350 degrees.
You’ll want to fry these in batches so you don’t crowd your pan. I recommend doing 3-4 at a time depending on the size of your pan. They will need about 8-10 minutes to get nice and golden brown.
When you pull them out, let them drain on a paper towel for a few minutes and then you can keep them warm in a 250 degree oven.
This was my test run and it came out freakin’ perfect.
My favorite part about these is how they almost just look like whole potatoes but then you fork into one of them and see the beautiful filling.
A vegetarian version of these Papas Rellenas would be great with mushrooms and cheese or maybe black beans and cheese?
These are a bit of work but they really are delicious and would be a really fun appetizer for a party if you’re looking to try something ambitious.
Or you could sell them for $1 a piece on the street and make approximately nothing!