La Causa Limeña, a Pre-Columbian Dish
People have been hearing a LOT about Peruvian cuisine over the last 10 years or so and have become quite familiar with a slew of dishes from lomo saltado to our beloved ceviche. Not as many people have been as curious or adventurous about trying la causa limeña. Why? Perhaps the combination of mashed potatoes, seasoned with lime juice and spicy peppers, layered with chicken or seafood salad just isn't a combination you'd consider. Also, it looks a bit like a cake (so my brother told me. Ha!). I am here to tell you, that not only is this tastier than you could imagine, but it is also a fun dish that has pre-Columbian roots with a modern twist. It is great for spring and summer parties or even as a light lunch. Its features two of Peru's well-loved indigenous ingredients -- the potato and aji amarillo (spicy yellow pepper) -- uniting flavors and textures from the mountains as well as the coast.
It is said that before contact with the Spanish, Indigenous peoples of the Andes had a custom of eating mashed potato, crushing and adding in spicy peppers (called ají), and eating it together as its own dish. After contact, during the time of the Viceroyalty, limes were introduced to the region as well as olives and chickens and the rest. Other ingredients were then paired with the mashed potato, now seasoned with both lime and spicy peppers, but it wasn't until the Liberation Expedition of Peru that the dish was re-invented and give its name, as we know it today.
There are two origin stories on how this dish ultimately got its name. One theory is that the word "causa" comes from the Quechua word "kausay" which means "sustenance of life" (referring to the potato). The more prevalent theory is that the name was given to the dish in 1820. During the Liberation Expedition of Peru (to gain independence from Spain), women who supported the movement led by José de San Martín in south of Peru and Simon Bolivar in the north, wanted to create a dish to raise funds for the military. What was created was a layered dish that incorporated the potatoes from the mountains (just as they had been eaten for centuries) paired with fillings with ingredients that came from the coast. They sold them "for the cause" or "por la causa." It then became known as la Causa Limeña. It was from that point causa has been considered a patriotic dish and can now be found in any restaurant across the nation and in any Peruvian restaurant in the U.S.
The fillings for causa can be a chicken salad, tuna salad, quinoa salad (if you want to keep it vegan!), crab salad or, in my recipe below, a shrimp salad. It can be topped with the filling, or filled with the filling, or you can forgo a filling all together. It only depends on your imagination and the way you'd like to present it. I'll show a couple of different options below. My father told me that when he was growing up his mother used to prepare it as they did in Viceroyal times, just mashed potato with the peppers, lime, salt, and sometimes some avocado. He never ate it with a filling at all. The choice is yours! This is a delicious treat for the warmer weather, too, as it is a dish always served cold. While it may have a lot of ingredients, what you put in it is totally up to you! Buen provecho, amig@s!
La causa limeña de camarones - Serves 4-6
1 pound shrimp, cooked and peeled (save a few with tails on for decoration)
6 medium sized potatoes (firm potato is preferred, not russet), skinned and mashed
2 teaspoons of aji amarillo paste
1/2 cup vegetable oil (avocado or canola are good substitutes)
1-2 teaspoons salt
3-4 limes, juiced
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4-1/2 large red onion, small dice
Small handful of cilantro leaves, chopped fine (save a sprig for decoration)
6 cherry tomatoes (or a small tomato variation), diced
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1-2 eggs, boiled and quartered (for decoration)
6 olives (Botija preferred, kalamata is good substitute, for decoration)
2-4 cherry tomatoes, halved (for decoration)
Pinch black pepper
More salt to taste, if needed
Turmeric (for coloring), if needed
Clean potatoes well, add to pot with skin on, and cover with water. Bring to a boil and let cook for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender (pierce with a knife or fork to determine).
In another small pot, add enough water to cover 2 eggs, and place heat on high. When it comes to a boil, add the eggs gently, and cook at a rolling boil for 12 minutes. Immediately strain the hot water out and cover with cold water. Repeat until eggs are fully cooled down. Peel and refrigerate.
In another pot fill enough water to cover shrimp and put on high heat. When it comes to a boil, ad shrimp and cook quickly for 3-4 minutes. You only want them just cooked so they are still tender. Allow to cool and remove shells. Reserve 2 or 3 shrimp with just their tails to use for decoration.
Slice shrimp in half, then chop roughly and reserve. I also left some slice in half in tact to give different textures.
Dice onion, dice tomatoes, chop cilantro (reserve one beautiful spring for decoration), and remove pits from olives (if yours still have them in there). I've shown one technique to easily remove the pits using a straw, above.
In a bowl, mix mayonnaise (start with half to see the consistency, add the rest if needed), cilantro, onion, diced tomatoes, and a dash of salt and pepper. Mix well. Add shrimp and mix. Adjust seasoning or mayonnaise, if needed. Refrigerate.
Slice reserved cherry tomatoes and olives in half, to use as decoration later. Refrigerate.
By now your potatoes should be done. Strain and allow to cool. Peel off skin.
If you have a potato ricer, this is the best tool for the job! Rice those potatoes, and pass them through the ricer 3 times.
Next, add the aji amarillo, 1 teaspoon salt (to start), and lime juice. Start drizzling in the oil little by little. I prefer using my hands to massage the ingredients together, but you could use a spoon. You are done once all the oil is incorporated. Don't over mix of the potatoes or they will become gummy. Add more salt, if needed. I used about 2 teaspoons total.
Now that you've prepared all of your components, it's time for assembly!
In order to layer your causa, you will need something that has sides and which can be stored easily in your refrigerator to allow the dish to set. I used a large dough cutter and extended its heigh by using wax paper. I have also used clear, glass bowls in the past. See below.
Begin in the vessel you plan to use, by layering about 1 inch of mashed potato mixture. Make sure to look at the sides of your container, that the potato is even and there are no gaps again the container (if it's a clear container, pay special attention. If it is not, then this part is not super crucial).
The next layer will be the sliced avocado. Make sure you begin layering on the outside rim first. You want people to be able to see the green of the avocado. Work your way in until you use it all up.
Next, layer the shrimp salad, packing down just a bit to make it even.
Last, finish by adding the last later of mashed potato on top. Wet your finger tips to smooth out the surface as best you can.
Put the cause in the refrigerator for at least a half hour to set.
Once set, you can remove the mold (in my case, I slide the dough cutter up and off, then removed the wax paper) or if in a bowl, simply set out and prepare to decorate!
Use your sliced olives, tomatoes, boiled eggs, cilantro and extra sliced or even diced avocado to build height!
Another option for decoration and flavor is to drizzle a little sauce over top. In my photo I used Crema de Rocoto mixed with a little bit more mayo and water to thin it out.
Refrigerate until ready to serve. Slice it up or scoop it out. You're going to love it!!