Saturday, April 4, 2009

Peruvian Purple Potato Causa with Octopus

Judy and I took a trip to Peru in February 2009 and came back with a love for Peruvian food. According to Wikipedia, under Peruvian Cuisine, at a prestigious meeting of gastronomes in Madrid in 2006, Lima was named the "Gastronomic Capital of the Americas." Over 2,000 varieties of potato are grown in Peru, with many different colors. Many Peruvian dishes feature potatoes, and one of my favorites is causa. Causa is mashed potatoes mixed with lemon/lime, oil, mayonaise, aji chilis and other ingrediants to add variety, such as chicken and avocado. At the best restaurant we ate at in Peru, Las Brujas de Cachiche, in the Mira Flores area of Lima, we had a buffet which included two types of causa. The best was made with green potatoes and had an octopus filling. It was our favorite dish. The other causa, also good, was made with yellow potatoes. A picture is below. Note, they are partially covered because they are on a dish with other buffet items.
More close to home, at Rico Pollo Peruvian Cuisine in San Bernardino, we had yellow causa with a chicken filling which was very good.

Judy and I were talking about making causa the other day and shortly after ran into some purple potatoes at Clarke's Nutrition Center. It seemed like the opportune time to try, so we purchased them. I looked up several recipes for causa and found that I needed to find a source for aji amarillo, the Peruvian yellow hot pepper that is used in many Peruvian dishes. So I went to lunch at Rico Pollo and asked the proprietor if I could buy some aji from him. He kindly provided me with a pound of frozen peppers and some wonderful guidance in making causa.

The aji were boiled for about 5 minutes. One recipe said to boil them twice, changing the water between boilings, but the packaged peppers were already cooked so I only boiled them once.

Next, the aji were cut lengthwise and the seeds were removed.

The proprietor at Rico Pollo then suggest I fry the aji for about 2 minutes in a small amount of oil, with 2 cloves of garlic (a teaspoon of bottled chopped garlic) and a small amount of onion, then remove the outer skin of the aji. Judy fried the aji and removed the skins as part of the frying process. This apparently helps bring out the taste of the aji.

The aji were then placed in a blender with 2 tablespoons of canola oil and blended. The blended aji shortly turned into a yellow paste.

Simultaneously, the purple potatoes were put on to boil. It was unnerving to see a green color in the boiling water.

Almost as unnerving, was to peel of the purple skin and find purple flesh underneath.

And to mash them and find a purple blob.

In Peru, Judy and I regularly order limon-ade. It was very tart and more like something from limes than from lemons. The causa recipes called for the use of key limes. I could find no fresh key limes, so resorted to bottled. One recipe also suggested using canola oil instead of olive oil, so I did that. Adapting a recipe for purple potato causa with smoked wild trout from Mixtura Restaurant, found on the internet, three cups of mashed purple potatoes, one-quarter cup of key lime juice, one-quarter cup of aji amarillo paste and one-half cup of canola oil were mixed in a bowl. The color combination was quite spectacular.

The key lime juice we purchased was double-strength. So we used half as much and added water. If we were to do it again, we would use the full double-strength. Our causa was not as "lemony" as other causa we have eaten.
I've eaten octopus on many occasions, but I've never cooked it. I bought one frozen un-cooked octopus from Albertsons that weight 1.67 pounds. I figured I would use about a pound, the same amount of smoked trout used in the Mixtura recipe.

Thankfully, the eyes, mouth and beak are removed from the octopus before it is frozen. This seemed like an awful lot of octopus. I figured we would have a lot left over.

One of our surprises was to see how quickly the octopus began to shrink as it cooked. Based on separate internet instructions for cooking octopus, we simmered the octopus for 30 minutes. The octopus is apparently done when the skirt, the thick portion between the head and legs pierces easily with a knife. Getting and keeping an even simmer was difficult as the pot would boil over, then we'd turn it down and it would stop simmering.

As it cooked, it began to turn more purple, perfect for the purple potatoes!

Judy, chomping at the bit for a bite, gives context for the size of the cooked octopus. It has shrunk dramatically.

Judy chopped the entire octopus into small pieces. Amazingly, we only had about 8 ounces when she was finished.

To the octopus, we added one-half cup of chopped celery and one-half cup of chopped red onion.

Next at the suggestion of the proprietor of Rico Pollo who gave them to us, we added 8 chopped Peruvian olives, also appropriately purple. They were similar in consistency to Kalamata olives, but larger and a different taste.

These were mixed with three-quarters of a cup of mayonnaise into a predominantly white mixture, with a purple hue.

Our instructions then said to fill ring molds (3 1/2 inches in diameter, 1 3/4 inches high) to one-fourth height with the potato mixture, patting it down evenly and firmly. In retrospect, we put two much potato in the first level and would have benefited by letting the potato chill somewhat so that it would be more firm and easier to spread.

We then put the mayonnaise/octopus mixture in the middle, supposedly half of the mold, then the last quarter with potato mixture. In retrospect, we put too little of the mayonnaise/octopus mixture into the mold.

Our finished product did not look anywhere as nice as the restaurant causa we have eaten.

We added avocado and boiled egg as garnish on top.

Alas, we learned that our octopus causa was not anywhere as delicious as that we ate in Lima. We also learned that causa is a lot of work to make. It was a fun experience and we learned a lot and will be more appreciative of the work that goes on behind the scenes to make it when we purchase it at a restaurant.


  1. We just ate ours and it was fabulous! It's fun to see the process. Wow, what a ton of work!

  2. Yeah, I have to say that the raw octopus was a bit disgusting. But if you like calamari, you'd love this.