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David Lissner
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Eat this! Causa, creative potato appetizers from Peru

Between Peruvian Cafe's causa

Between Peruvian Cafe's causa.

What it is: The Peruvian dish causa rellena features cold pureed potatoes flavored with yellow aji chilies and molded into shapes and layered or topped with any of a variety of fillings, such as or black olives. The technique of carefully infusing the yellow pepper and potato is unique to Peruvian cuisine. Different toppings make an attractive display.

Jose Victorio

Jose Victorio

Where it comes from: Several different stories explain the dish’s origins. Some historians say it dates to Peru’s pre-Hispanic period, and the name derives from the Quechua word kausay, which means “life” or “sustenance of life,” a reference to potatoes and chilies as staple crops. Another translates causa as “cause,” and puts its beginnings at the 19th-century War of the Pacific. As Peru’s army, mainly armed with antique rifles, defended against invading Chilean forces, the women who accompanied the soldiers concocted this dish from donations of food they had solicited door to door in the villages, saying, “This is for the cause.”

What to do with it: At Between Peruvian Cafe & Lounge in Wicker Park, Chef Jose Victorio makes several types of causa, such as grilled octopus with botija olive sauce, molding the potatoes into decorative balls, and serves them as a starter. Ideally, these are made with Peruvian potatoes, preferably papa amarilla, but since those aren’t readily available here, Idaho russets will do fine.

Between Cafe & Lounge’s causa
Chef Jose Victorio

Potato base:
4 pounds Idaho potatoes
1/4 cup yellow aji pepper puree
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt


1 pound chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1/4 cup light mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste

8 ounces smoked salmon, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1/2 avocado, mashed
1/4 light mayonnaise
3 basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Make the potato base: Boil the potato until soft; drain, peel and press potato twice though a ricer. For smoothest potatoes, do not mash.
Cool in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Add the pepper puree, lime juice, oil and salt. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate while you make the fillings.

Prepare the fillings: For each type, mix together all ingredients.

Assemble:Roll cooled potato into any shape, such as the small spheres pictured or more traditional rings or discs. Place toppings over the potatoes or sandwich them between two disks. 4 servings.

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