Tacu Tacu

Colonial-era Afro-descendant women fried leftover rice and canary beans with lard to make tacu tacu, a dish whose name comes from the Quechua word “taku,” which means “mixed.” This is a brunch dish that I learned to cook from my father, and that my father learned to cook from my grandfather. So tacu tacu connects three generations of dads. Today, tacu tacu is part of Peru’s creole cuisine, and there are many variations. I often cook tacu tacu with leftover long-grain white rice and red lentils. I like how the creaminess of the soft cooked lentils holds the rice together. A simple red onion base with aji amarillo adds heat. Pan frying and shaping it into a round cake makes it easy to slice into individual servings. Pickled red onions complement the flavors in the tacu tacu, while coffee and baguette make it a full savory breakfast.

Tacu Tacu / Afro-Peruvian Rice and Lentil Cake

Serves 4

  • 1 cup cooked red lentils, refrigerated overnight
  • ½ cup steamed long-grain white rice, refrigerated overnight
  • 2 tablespoons canola cooking oil
  • ½ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons aji amarillo paste
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste 
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • dash cumin powder
  • dash dry oregano
  • olive oil to drizzle
  • 4 tablespoons pickled red onion
  • 4 cilantro sprigs, leaves only

In a bowl, combine the chilled lentils and rice then use a fork to mash them into a uniform mixture.

In an 8-inch non-stick skillet with cooking oil over medium heat, sauté the onion, garlic, and aji amarillo. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. Stir the onion until it becomes translucent, about 2 minutes.

Add the lentils and rice to the skillet. Use a spatula to fold and mix well with the sautéed onion, about 1 minute. Use a spatula to press down and flatten the rice and lentils mixture into a round cake that covers the entire surface of the skillet. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet with a lid, or with the underside of a quarter sheet pan, to retain heat and moisture. Cook until the bottom of the rice and lentil cake browns, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Uncover the skillet and use the edge of the spatula to separate the round edge of the cake from the side of the skillet. The bottom of the round edge of the cake should be brown. Gently slide the skillet back and forth a few times to loosen the cake from the bottom of the skillet.

Place a flat plate upside down over the skillet. Hold the plate and skillet together and swiftly invert them so that the cake falls gently onto the plate, browned side up. Remove the skillet to uncover the plate. The cake should be about 7 inches in diameter and ½ inch thick.

Slice the rice and lentil cake into four quarter circles and use a spatula to carefully serve the slices on small plates. If the slices break apart, use a spatula to reshape them. Drizzle each slice with olive oil and garnish with pickled red onion and cilantro.