“Summer breeze makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.” The hook of the Seals & Croft song came to mind as I was prepping to write this post. I’m not exactly why it popped up, I started sining along and felt at ease after a day of minor annoyances and pure exhaustion. I grew up listening to this tune and even then felt a strong connection to. As I hummed the chorus, I paused to read the lyrics. Everyone knows the chorus, but I don’t recall ever getting passed that part.
And then I came to this line and it all made sense:
“And I come home from a hard day’s work, and you’re waiting there, not a care in the world. See the smile a-waitin’ in the kitchen, food cookin’ and the plates for two.
What would the odds be? Really? I’m starting to think I have this spiritual claravoyence. There was no reason for that song to have interrupted my thoughts while editing these pictures (and that process was abruptly halted by a yell for dinner and a subsequent phone call). But the picture in the verse depicts exactly what this Peruvian causa invoked today. On the cusp summer with heat waves, picnics, boat rides, sand angels and breezy music, fresh foods that parallel the temperatures and blasé moods are on the default repertoire. Even night in the comfort of your home should offer simplicity and open space to enjoy the textures and scenes.
In my continued exploration of Peruvian cuisine with Sargento, I thought it was a great time to visit the classics plates of the culture. There are seasonal invitations to cook dishes that sustain the season’s spirit. This causa, a cold potato salad ubiquitous throughout the country and in any American-based Peruvian restaurant, is a deconstructed mire poix of some American faves seen at graduation parties, baby showers, etc… There’s the mashed potato, the filling, usually a tuna salad variety, though salmon, chicken and other proteins interchangeable and the myriad of pretty garnishings, most notably boiled eggs.
After eating at Las Canteras in DC a few weeks and seeing the chef’s interpretation of the appetizer, I was inspired to finally dig deep into my unknown creative space and tackle it. I honestly wasn’t too excited about the concept. There was nothing spectacular about a stacked potato salad. The pictures all over the Web say something different. From elaborate fillings and stacking options to super vibrant garnish ingredients and fancy platings styles, the diversity of the dish is enough to at least try it.
I spent a large part of my afternoon debating on the filling. I didn’t want to go the typical tuna route but I wouldn’t have eaten any shellfish concoctions. I briefly considered braised oxtail but the thought of eating that cold was a major turn off. So, tuna it was.
I read over 10 recipes and turned to a modified version of our familie’s famed tuna salad, something we love keeping fresh by the bucket full.
I also played around with the potato mash. Since we’ve all learned by know that aji amarillo is the golden child of Peruvian cuisine, I thought it was only appropriate to spice up the white potatoes. Minced garlic and some olive oil and the mash was silky smooth with a fantastic bite and summery color. I even considered throwing some Sargento cheese into the mix but I wanted to keep this version as pure as possible. At least for my 1st attempt. I’m thinking an extra sharp cheddar would give me more silky smooth appeal. Most causas are topped off with an additional layer of the mash but in keeping with my low-carb diet, I went the simple route and kept the top at my tuna mixture. And I had more fun playing with smaller portion in different shapes.
Joy. Pure awesome summer joy. Nothing about it was complicated. It was simplistically speaking, good. Tasty and attractive.
Diving into a similar yet completely differently rooted cuisine is one of my favorite elements of my work. I know the ingredients, but the combination and marrying of them to create beautiful and tasty dishes is a reason to keep exploring.
On a summer’s night, I’ll be that woman anticipating his presence after a long day at the grind, with an infectious smile on my face, and a table for two with a festive dinner for us to relish in.
PERUVIAN CAUSA de TUNA
- 3 medium white or yellow potatoes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. aji amarillo paste, divided
- salt to taste
Peel, wash and bring potatoes to boil. Remove from heat. In large mixing bowl mash potatoes until completely smooth. Add all ingredients and only 2 tsp. of aji paste and combine well. Chill while making filling.
For tuna filling:
- 12 oz. canned tuna, drained
- 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp. capers, rinsed
- salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl. Chill for 30 minutes.
Fill 3-4" round mold with mashed potato. Top and even with tuna mixture. Top again with equal amount of mashed potato. Carefully remove from mold. Drizzle with remaining aji amarillo paste. Garnish with parsley, black olives, or hard boiled egg. Potato shoe strings are also a nice option as are slices of avocado.
* Chef's notes: Shape potato into desired size or form. Top with desired filling and garnish from there. Skewering olives, cheese and red peppers would be a nice option as well. Sr