Causa Rellena

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By Emily Paster

Later this month, I am going to Philadelphia to attend a conference for food bloggers entitled Eat, Write Retreat. I am looking forward to an intense weekend of speakers, demonstrations, great meals and making connections with others in my field. I know that I will learn invaluable techniques to improve my writing, my recipes and my photography.

One of the things that I am looking forward to about Eat, Write, Retreat is networking with the incredible sponsors from kitchenware companies like OXO, Calphalon, Kitchen-Aid, to food board representatives including California raisins, olives and figs and the US Potato Board. It is a treat to work with these kind of sponsors, who are all about making cooking easier and promoting healthy, whole foods grown in the United States.

One of the precursors to the conference is a culinary challenge guaranteed to send all the attendees straight to the kitchen. For the Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge, each conference attendee has been assigned an ingredient — either olives, figs, raisins or potatoes — and asked to create an original appetizer featuring that ingredient. There will be four winners, one for each ingredient, and the prizes are pretty sweet, like a new iPad and $500 worth of OXO kitchen tools.

It what can only be kismet, I was assigned potatoes for my ingredient. Although I am only 1/8 Irish, I am a potato nut. My grandmother's potato salad is literally my favorite food in the world. Mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, latkes for Hanukkah, potato salad in the summer — I love potatoes all year long.

Potatoes have a bad reputation as a fattening starchy food without a lot of nutrition, but it is simply not so. Potatoes are not fattening on their own – they are not responsible for the butter and sour cream we like to put on them — and they provide a lot of key nutrients, including potassium, vitamin C, fiber, iron and vitamin B6. Did you know that a medium-sized potato has only 110 calories, more potassium than a banana and more vitamin C than a tomato? Neither did I until I received my Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge potato box.

One of the things I love about potatoes is how they feature in so many global cuisines. Sure, we think of potatoes as an integral part of European cuisine from pommes frites to gnocchi to German potato dumplings. But potatoes are prominent in Asian and Latin America cuisines as well. One of my favorite Indian dishes, for example, is Aloo Gobi: potatoes and cauliflower in a tomato sauce. And don't forget about samosas! So, for my potato appetizer, I decided to draw on potatoes' versatility and global influence. To that end, I started researching some unusual (to me) potato dishes from different cuisines.

In the course of my research, I learned about a Peruvian appetizer featuring a cold mashed potato cake seasoned with yellow chili pepper paste and lime juice and layered with different fillings. It is known as Causa Rellena. Having received an OXO Adjustable Potato Ricer as part of my Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge box, I knew that a perfectly smooth potato purée was in my reach. So I decided to create my own version of causa rellena with a filling inspired by my grandmother's potato salad.

Causa rellena, in case you are not familiar with it, is a staple of Peruvian cuisine. The cold mashed potato cake is thought to be refreshing in the hot summer weather. According to the definitive guide to New Andean cooking, The Art of Peruvian Cuisine, causa is traditionally stuffed with a variety of seafood fillings. The distinctive yellow color of the mashed potato cake comes from ají amarillo paste, a paste made from the Peruvian yellow chili pepper. It took me quite a while to track down ají amarillo paste; I actually ended up ordering it online. I wanted to make my causa as authentic as possible, but if that is not your goal, you could use a different chili pepper sauce or skip it altogether. The ají amarillo does, however, add a wonderful fruity spiciness to the mashed potato cake.

Causa is a bit labor-intensive, but it makes a stunning presentation. And because it is served cold or room temperature, you can make it in advance, which is always a plus when entertaining. Feel free to customize the filling to your family's taste. Peruvians often use avocado, shrimp and seafood salads. Because my family are not seafood lovers, and I am allergic to shellfish, I used a vegetable filling in a mayonnaise and apple cider vinegar dressing — the dressing from my grandma's potato salad, in fact. Whatever you pick, just make sure that the filling is moist to balance the starchy texture of the causa.

Two pieces of equipment are key here: 1) the OXO Adjustable Potato Ricer and 2) a food mold. I bought an inexpensive food mold set on Amazon and I am glad to have it. You can do so many creative things with these small gadgets and it is fun to make your home cooking look like restaurant food!

Causa Rellena with Vegetable Filling

Makes 3-4 servings

2 large Yukon Gold potatoes
Juice of 1/2  lime
1 TB olive oil
1 TB ají amarillo paste (optional)
1 green pepper, finely diced
1 small red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 TB apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with salted, cold water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Drain. As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and rice them into a large bowl using an OXO Adjustable Potato Ricer. (Do this while the potatoes are warm for best results.) To the riced potatoes, add the lime juice, the olive oil and the ají amarillo paste, if using. Stir the mixture until thoroughly blended. Refrigerate until cool.

While the causa is chilling, make the filling. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, the apple cider vinegar and the salt and pepper. Add the finely diced vegetables and toss to combine.

To make the causa rellena, place a few tablespoons of the mashed potato mixture in the bottom of a tall, cylindrical food mold. Smooth the top. Carefully spoon several teaspoons of the vegetable filling on top of the bottom layer and smooth. Repeat until you have three layers of each, with a layer of the filling on top. Carefully remove the food mold. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate until serving. To serve, place the causa rellena on a small plate. Garnish with a sauce made from ají amarillo paste thinned with a few drops of olive oil.

Even if you don't try causa rellena at home, I hope that you will explore the versatility of the potato by trying some new varieties, like fingerlings or petites, and featuring them in some of your most exotic global dishes.

Full disclosure time: As a registrant for the Eat, Write, Retreat conference, I received several different varieties of potato and several OXO tools, including a potato ricer and three hand-held graters, free of charge in order to facilitate my participation in the Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge. This post constitutes my entry in the contest and I am eligible to receive the prizes mentioned in the post. All opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.

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