If there’s one dish that most Americans really should know but don’t, it’s causa. It’s everything Americans love: mashed potatoes, tuna (or chicken, or whatever) salad, and potato salad, all in one easy casserole. This could be the perfect all-American dish, except it’s completely Peruvian.
I first learned about the causa many years ago when a Peruvian chef named Felipe, with whom I worked, sometimes cooked it for the staff. Many years later I went to Peru and ate a few samples there. After using causa several times, it becomes clear that it can be of different types, but some features remain unchanged: Causa is always served cold; the causa always has top and bottom layers of mashed potatoes seasoned with lime juice and aji amarillo (spicy Peruvian chili); and causa always contains salad with mayonnaise.
Beyond these basic qualities, the reasons can vary greatly. First, as mentioned, a salad in the middle can be made with a wide range of meats or seafood – tuna, chicken, crab, or other white meat or seafood, although tuna and chicken are the most common. And the composition of this salad may also be slightly different. It can be as simple as meat with a little chopped onion and mayonnaise, but it can also include peas and carrots, or a sliced avocado layer, or diced shrimp, or whatever. Sometimes you will see black olives, or tomatoes, or chili peppers, or hard-boiled egg pieces. Sometimes causa is served as a large casserole (making it the perfect casserole), while other times it is served in more elegant individual servings,
This is the best part of causa: you can and should have a lot of fun with it. Just use the base template as a guide and feel free to play with the rest.
How to cook Causa
The first step is to make mashed potatoes. Peru uses a variety of yellow potatoes that we don’t have in the United States (as do most of the other hundreds and hundreds of types of potatoes that grow in Peru). Anyone not in Peru will have to use what they can find. I have a Peruvian friend who says reddish brown tomatoes are the best option in the US, but I also tested the Yukon gold recipe and they work well too.
Pasta Aji Amarillo
Next, you’ll need aji amarillo pasta, which is made from one of Peru’s most popular chile peppers. You can buy ready-made pasta from well-stocked stores in Latin America, but even better, if you can find it, start with frozen whole aji amarillos; they’ll be in the freezer section of a very, very well-stocked Latin American store.
Simply soak frozen peppers in boiling water for a few minutes to soften, then remove stems and seeds. Put the pulp of the pepper into a blender and let it run until the puree is smooth and smooth; no need to add water or any other liquid. Frozen pepper paste is juicier, brighter, and more complex than what’s in a jar, so it’s worth making if you can find frozen peppers.
Potatoes and toppings
To prepare mashed potatoes, prepare potatoes by either baking, reheating in the microwave, or boiling them. Pass the cooked potato pulp through a meat grinder or food mill, add the aji amarillo paste, lime juice and oil, and mix until the potatoes are an even yellow color. This should be done while the potatoes are still a little hot, as they do not knead well after they have cooled completely. Only after you have mixed everything, the potatoes should be cooled in the refrigerator.
My recipe calls for either tuna or chicken as toppings, but you can of course use other suitable meats such as crab. Whatever you use, mix it with finely chopped white onion and enough mayonnaise to make it soft and spreadable. Add-ons are up to you. Peas and carrots are usually prepared.
To form a causa, you can either make a large casserole in a casserole dish, or separate small ones. Start by evenly spreading the mashed potatoes on the bottom of a baking dish or on a plate, using a ring mold to keep the cylindrical shape. Then add the salad dressing, as well as anything else you’d like to add. Here I show diced shrimp with tuna salad in a casserole dish and thinly sliced avocado with chicken salad on a plate; you can put avocado with tuna or add olives or anything else you like.
On top of this is the final layer of mashed potatoes. To finish, you can decorate the top of the causa with whatever you like by making small patterns with additional ingredients such as olives, diced avocado, tomato slices, drizzle with mayonnaise and sprinkle with fresh herbs.
Once assembled, the casserole-style causa can be refrigerated overnight, making it a great addition to casseroles and the like. This is not an American dish, but it goes well with onion sauce and macaroni and cheese.