Deep Fried Challenged

Papa Rellena

Top Left: Make the mashed potato pancakes. Top Right: Add the savory beef filling. Bottom Left: Form the filled dumplings by hand. Bottom Right: Lightly fried result.

I’d like to think that I can cook almost any Peruvian dish, specially ones that truly inspire me or make me salivate at the mere thought of eating them. But I recently realized that I am deep fried challenged, that is, I can’t bring myself to deep fry anything.

French fries? If I cook them, I get them frozen and bake them. Donuts? Do not even think of offering me one of those. Fried chicken? No way. Any exceptions? Of course. Two. Picarones and papas rellenas.

Picarones are sweet potato rings, deep fried and served with syrup. It’s such a rich and yummy dessert that I can only have them once or twice a year. Papas rellenas are fried potato dumplings — literally stuffed potatoes — and a favorite food of my childhood. They are a lot like empanadas, with a savory ground beef filling wrapped in a mashed potato shell. Deep fried and served warm, it’s a perfect comfort food.

So naturally, I tried to make one, but it was much harder than I imagined. I was armed with a few recipes to follow, and my own recollection of how my mom cooked it and what the dish should look like and taste like. But that wasn’t enough. At the moment of deep frying them, my health conscious voice said something like “you can get away with just a light coat of oil in the pan, it’ll be healthier.”

But that didn’t work. The mashed potato shell was too fragile to roll around the pan and I didn’t get the consistency I was after. Only afterwards did I think of trying to bake them, just like an empanada. As far as I know, that’s never been done before, so maybe for this deep fried challenged cook, that will be something new to try.