Causa rellena is a classic Peruvian appetizer that takes simple ingredients and transforms them into something elegant and delicious. This pretty layered stack is great for entertaining and more.
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I remember before I first went to Peru, I really knew nothing about the country's cuisine. At that time, it wasn't one that had travelled much at all, and even now you don't see that many Peruvian restaurants, although more are appearing.
For anyone familiar with Peruvian food, though, you'll know it has much to offer. Fresh flavors, with hints of chili and creative combinations that are still relatively simple. This causa rellena is a perfect example.
What does causa rellena mean?
"Causa" means the cause and "rellena" means filled or stuffed. The filled/stuffed part might make sense when you see the dish has a filling between two outer layers, but the 'cause' part requires a look at the dish's history.
What are the origins of this dish?
Exactly how true the story of this dish is hard to know, but accounts are at least relatively consistent. Plus, it makes a good story as you'll see.
This dish is believed to have originated during the War of the Pacific in the late 1800s when Peru and Bolivia formed an alliance against Chile. It's also known as the Saltpeter war as part of the battle was over the land where saltpeter resources lay, a key ingredient in explosives.
Peru was drawn into the conflict between Bolivia and Chile due to an alliance they'd formed and part of the battle was fought high in Peruvian Andes. Resources was short in the largely indigenous Peruvian army, adding additional challenges.
But the women who joined them were resourceful and apparently gathered food donations to help feed the troops. Being in Peru, potatoes were in larger supply, with a few other odds and ends like carrots, lime, chilis and fish (probably preserved in the original version).
This dish is the result. I have to say, it's a creative use of minimal ingredients and the end appearance and flavors are delicious.
Variations in causas
You'll see a few variations in terms of filling in this dish - chicken and tuna are probably the most common but you can see others including other fish or vegetarian versions.
Avocado appears in some versions, particularly when fish is in the filling. Most use some colorful small vegetables too, particularly carrot and peas. Forming layers with lime and chili-seasoned mashed potato is pretty consistent.
This version with a tuna filling is one of the most common. It's really easy to make with only a little cooking required. Plus, apart form the aji amarillo chili, the ingredients are all essentially kitchen staples (and the chili would be in Peru!).
Tips for forming your causa
If you have them, chef rings are the best way to hold everything in place as you form your stack of potato and fillings, but failing that you can use a larger scone/biscuit cutter.
I made these shortly before we moved, when I had already packed up many of my kitchen tools. So, I ended up folding some foil and forming a ring with it. It was a bit more flexible than a mould of some kind, but still worked, if you find yourself in a similar position! I admit, my layers are far from perfectly smooth partly as a result, but they'll pass, I hope you agree.
One of the nice things about this dish is you can easily make it in advance and either cover, if not long, or refrigerate if a few hours.
You can also make it with leftover cooked potatoes (not mashed but baked, boiled or roasted work). Just remove any skin or crisp edges and mash with the lime and chili, as you would with freshly cooked. Note a baked or roasted potato weighs less while boiled weighs more than raw, so you may need to gauge the quantity by eye.
Causa rellena is a dish born from creativity with limited resources, but the fact it remains a national favorite shows how good the result was. Elegant, with tasty flavors, it's great to wow guests or just enjoy yourself whenever suits. It makes a great appetizer, or make it part of a lunch with a few additions.
Try these other classic Peruvian recipes:
- Papa a la Huancaina (another potato dish, but instead it's potato slices topped with a tasty cheese-chili sauce)
- Anticuchos de carne (easy and flavorful chili marinated meat skewers)
- Aji de gallina (Peruvian chicken stew with a creamy chili-cheese sauce that's great for leftover chicken)
- Palta rellena de atun (an easy tuna stuffed avocado that's great for lunch or an appetizer)
- Plus get more South American recipes in the archives.
- 1 lb yellow potatoes 450g
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- ½ teaspoon aji amarillo chili paste
- ½ carrot
- 2 tablespoon peas (frozen and defrosted or canned, or lightly cooked fresh)
- ½ avocado
- 4 oz canned tuna 115g
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon onion finely diced (I like red onion but as you have)
- Peel and dice or slice the potatoes. Boil them until just tender (around 10 minutes but it will depend on the size of the pieces etc so do check regularly with a knife).
- Drain the potatoes, add the lime juice and aji amarillo and mash together. Set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, cut the carrot into a very small dice, around the same size as the peas. Boil both the carrot and peas for a couple minutes until just cooked. Drain and set aside.
- Slice the avocado into relatively thin slices. Flake the tuna and mix with the mayonnaise and onion.
- Take half of the onion and divide it between two chef rings on plates. Top each with half of the carrot and peas then the tuna mixture, and then lay the avocado slices on top to make an even layer.
- Divide the remaining potato between the two stacks and flatten down the top. Remove the chef rings carefully to give the two layered stacks and serve.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
See more ideas using tuna for Fish Friday Foodies:
- Cold Avocado Yakisoba with Chile-Kissed Ahi from Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Deviled Eggs with Tuna, Capers, and Chives from Karen's Kitchen Stories
- Easy Creamy Tuna Noodle Casserole from Making Miracles
- Ginger Sesame Tuna Tartare from Food Lust People Love
- Lightly Seared Yellowfin Tuna atop Greens and Rice Pasta Salad from Of Goats and Greens
- Tuna In Tomato Salad from Sneha's Recipe
- Tuna Reuben from A Day in the Life on the Farm