I adore street food. I love everything about it: the hustle and bustle of the street itself, the sizzling smells of the food cart, the cheery conversations with the street chef. Unlike touristy restaurants, street food offers simple, local food, which somehow captures a culture in its buzzing flavors.
From New York City to Marrakesh, wherever I’ve traveled, I’ve eaten street food, from hotdogs to pastillas to msemens (a type of pancake). But it was during my journeys in South America that I fell in love with it. I was on a serious shoestring budget, so sometimes street food was all I could afford. Pretty lucky then, that it’s so good. One of the more ubiquitous snacks on offer is papa rellenas – stuffed potato.
This little parcel of pure comfort and deliciousness could warm even the coldest of Bolivian nights. It is a little, round, crispy thing, but inside, it is fluffy, light potato and a filling of all kinds of wonderful things – olives, raisins, meat, spices. The dish reminded me of the Japanese street food – korokke, although they’re not much the same. They’re both made of potatoes and deep-fried in hot oil.
This flavorful papas rellena is deeply rooted in the culinary traditions of countries like Cuba, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela, where it has become an integral part of the local food culture.
If you cannot go to these countries to taste this street food, you still can stay at home and make it in your kitchen. Here is how to make papas rellenas at home:
- 3 medium potatoes suitable variety for mashing
- 1 small tin kidney beans, drained
- 2 tsps cooked sweetcorn
- Handful of raisins
- A few black olives, quartered.
- 1/2 an onion
- Clove of garlic
- Cumin seeds
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 2 tbsps tomato passata
- ¼ cup milk
- Pinch of salt
- ¼ tsp ground pepper
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ pound ground beef
- Put a large pan of water on to boil. Peel the potatoes, chop into cubes and put into the boiling water. Cover with a lid and reduce heat to simmer.
- While the potatoes are boiling, heat a little oil in a frying pan and add chopped onion and a crushed clove of garlic. When the onion is beginning to soften, add the kidney beans, sweetcorn, raisins and passata. Reduce heat and stir well.
- Add a few cumin seeds, about a tsp of cinnamon and the same of ground ginger, and beef. When the tomato passata has reduced, turn the heat off.
- Tip the mixture above into a bowl. Mix well and add some of the beaten egg.
- When the potatoes have softened, drain and mash with about a tbsp of milk and a dash of salt and pepper. Put everything in the fridge to cool for about half an hour.
- In the meantime, cover a shallow dish with flour.
- When the ingredients are cool, grab a small handful of the potato, make a well in the centre of it and scoop a generous amount of the filling mixture into it. Cover with more potato and gently shape to make it round. Brush with some of the beaten egg, then cover in the flour by rolling it in the dish. Repeat until you have run out of potato.
- Pour vegetable oil into a large, sturdy pot and heat it over medium-high heat until it reaches a temperature of 360°F.
- Put the stuffed potato into a deep fryer and fry for approximately 4 minutes, or until it turns a golden hue, making sure to flip it halfway through for even cooking. Retrieve the potatoes from the oil using a slotted spoon and let them drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
- If you don’t want to use fryer, you can bake those stuffed potatoes at 392°F. Make sure you brush them with oil before putting them in the oven. Put into a foil-lined baking tray and put into the oven for about 45 mins or until getting a golden crisp on the outside.
- Serve with your favorite sauce.
- Sauces such as chimichurri, salsa verde, or a simple garlic aioli
- Rice and beans
- Fried plantains
- Steamed or roasted vegetables, like broccoli, carrots, or bell peppers,
- Tropical fruit salsa like mango, pineapple, and cilantro
The crispy golden shells held all the savory goodness inside, a perfect blend of flavors and textures. Homemade street food – it’s a bit of an experiment, but I had so much fun doing these papas rellenas; I hope you do too.