When Spanish conquistadors reached Peru, they found an incredible wealth of new foods. The potato, in particular, impressed them. Spanish soldier, poet, and, later, secular priest Juan de Castellanos, who traveled in South America in the mid-1500s, in comparing the potato to some of the rougher food he had encountered as he explored, declared that it was “a dainty dish even for Spaniards.” The potato’s potential as a means of feeding the masses was immediately recognized, and speculators were soon flooding into Peru, buying potatoes from the Andean natives, then reselling them (at a large profit) to mineworkers back home.
Since the potato is indigenous to Peru, it is not surprising that it still figures largely in the local cuisine. This recipe originates in the city of Arequipa, in southern Peru. It combines Inca traditions (potatoes, peanuts, chilies) with colonial introductions (milk, cheese, eggs and olives). It is delicious, filling, and easy to make. In more aristocratic Peruvian homes, this might be presented before the main course, but for most people, it’s a meal in itself.
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 cup evaporated milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 serrano or jalapeño chilies, seeded
1/2 cup grated Münster cheese
3 to 4 scallions (depending on thickness), including some green
2 lb. small boiling potatoes
4 to 6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 cup ripe olives
parsley or cilantro, to garnish
In a blender or food processor, combine the peanuts, evaporated milk, salt and pepper, chilies, cheese, and onions. Purée until the mixture is about the consistency of heavy mayonnaise.
Scrub the potatoes, cut them into quarters and boil until tender. Drain them, then return to pot. Pour the sauce over the potatoes, add the chopped egg, and mix together. Mound it all onto a platter. Arrange olives around potatoes, decorate with sliced egg, if desired, and garnish with parsley or cilantro. Serves 6.
Notes: I think regular roasted peanuts are better in this recipe than dry-roasted peanuts. (They are also more authentic.) Dry-roasted peanuts have lots of additional seasonings that alter the taste of the dish. You may like the difference, but you might want to try it with regular roasted peanuts first.
When you make this the first time, wait to add salt. The peanuts and cheese are both salty, and you may not need any additional.
I prefer to use small, red, “new” potatoes; they are higher in protein, so they don’t crumble when you use them in a recipe like this. If you use really tiny potatoes, you can just cut them in half. The idea is to have each chunk be about one or two bites.
As for the eggs, use 4 if this is a side dish and 6 if it’s a main course. If you want to present the dish at the table, then slice one egg, rather than chopping it, and use it as a decoration on top of the potatoes.