What Is a “Papa Rellena”: Everything You Need to Know.

What Is a "Papa Rellena": Everything You Need to Know

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Papa Rellenas are popular in the Caribbean and South America. Apart from being a common street food in Colombia, the dish that also works as an appetiser is also famous in Cuba, Peru  and Chile as they follow the same concept.

What potato pancakes are to many European countries, Papas Rellenas are to South America and the Caribbean. Papa Rellena literally translates to “stuffed potato,” and that’s exactly what they are.

Even though they originated in Peru, you will find versions of Papas Rellenas from Chile to Cuba. They all follow the same basic concept of fried potato ‘dough’ that has been stuffed with a seasoned ground beef filling.


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But what is Colombian Papa Rellena?

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Papa Rellena is a popular Colombian appetiser that is delicious and filling enough to act as a complete meal. You can make this meal bite-sized or have them extra large for your friends and family. The best thing about this dish is that you can experiment with different ingredients to your liking. 

This dish is among the most popular meals in Latin America.

These fried potato balls will surprise you with their flavourful beef and boiled egg center! The Colombian version of Papas Rellenas is the perfect recipe for a party appetizer or a fun dinner.


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What Is the Origin of Papa Rellena?

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The history of Papa Rellena goes back to the years when there was a Pacific War between Chile and Peru.

A war that took place in 1879 had Peruvian soldiers go for long distances on remote roads to hide from the Chilean soldiers.

The Chilean soldiers wouldn’t know of their position and couldn’t determine where the next attack would occur. 

They often carried different types of food, but they always had ground meat, potatoes, and condiments like spices, salt, and chili.

These Peruvian troops always seasoned their meat and wrapped it in boiled potatoes. 

The combination was protected and covered with some fabric for transportation. During lunch, they would find a place to set up a fire and heat the filled potatoes, also known as papa rellenas. 

When the Peruvian soldiers got back home, they brought this dish with them. Over the years, papa rellenas have become popular in countries like Colombia and Chile

However, they modified the version of the Peruvian papa rellena by adding extra ingredients and spices. 

You’ll notice that the preparation and presentation are different depending on the country you visit.

For example, the Cubans stuff their potato balls with picadillo. a minced meat preparation popular in Spain and Latin America.

Puerto Ricans refer to the dish as Rellena de papa, which they stuff with ground beef and cheese. They then cover the potato balls with raw eggs before rolling them in cornflour and frying them. 


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Making The Potatoes for Papas Rellenas

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All Papas Rellenas start with a simple potato batter. You don’t need much, just potatoes and a little salt, to create the vessel for your filling. (You can even used leftover mashed potatoes!)

While the potato dough is simple, you will want to use Yukon Gold or Red potatoes to make your Papas Rellenas. These potatoes are waxy and will hold together better as a dough. Starchy potatoes like Russets are too fluffy and won’t stick together properly.

One thing to be careful of is to make sure that your potatoes are completely dry before you mash them. Any extra moisture will result in a very sticky dough that becomes hard to work with.

Once the potatoes are boiled, they should be soft enough to mash by hand. While using an electric hand mixer will work, it will make them creamier than necessary. You want a smooth texture that holds together like a batter, but not so smooth that it becomes sticky.

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Papas Rellenas Filling.

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The filling and the coating are what make Colombian Papas Rellenas unique from the other versions. Colombian filling is similar to Peruvian and Chilean filling in that it includes seasoned beef, onion, hard boiled eggs, and smoky cumin. However Colombian filling differs in that it also includes diced tomatoes and rice.

That being said, there are as many versions of Colombian Papas Rellenas as there are cooks making them, so not all versions will be the same. But, in our research, these were the most common elements we came across.

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How to Cook Papas Rellenas

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While all Papas Rellenas are fried, the coating for each region’s adaptation is the other thing that makes them unique. Colombian Papas Rellenas have a characteristic smooth golden exterior that comes from dipping the filled potato balls in a mixture of egg, milk, and flour. This creamy batter gives the potato balls a light crispness when fried and a beautiful golden color.


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Pairing Wine with Papas Rellenas

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Since these Papas Rellenas are typically served with a spicy salsa, we like serving them with a sweeter white wine, like a Reisling, where the sweetness acts as a nice complement to the spice of the salsa. On the beer side, we’d reach for a light and nutty brown ale, whose nuttiness will pair well with the smoky, beef filling.

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