Papas con maní
Papas con maní (“potatoes with peanuts”) is a sort of Andean-Peruvian comfort food. Put simply, you make a creamy savory sauce out of ground toasted peanuts, and then serve it hot over sliced potatoes. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the dish; it’s not a side-dish. The fact that the sauce is a dense mix of peanuts and whole milk means that—combined with the potatoes—you’ll be full after finishing a plate of it. It makes a great vegetarian meal, as it’s meat-free but packed with protein (and a fair bit of fat, admittedly). You can still serve it as a side-dish, obviously, but you’ll want to use small portions so you don’t overwhelm the main dish(es).
This dish has been a favorite at my Peruvian Food Orgies, among vegetarians and carnivores alike. It’s sort of like eating potatoes with molten peanut butter than has been flavored with garlic and onions. Delicious.
At its most basic, papas con maní is as simple as preparing an aderezo (seasoning base) of onions, garlic, and ají amarillo (Peruvian yellow hot peppers) in oil; then you add ground peanuts and stir until the flavors have combined; and then you start adding milk to the mixture—stirring constantly—until the peanut mixture turns creamy and soft. Separately (and even the day before, if you like) you boil potatoes, slice them into thick medallions, and then cover them in the maní sauce. It’s that simple!
There aren’t many variations to this recipe, so the recipe archetype above is pretty much a complete description. You can fiddle with the proportions of peanuts, milk, hot peppers, garlic, and onions to get varying intensities of flavor, although I’d suggest following my proportions the first time you make this, before you start adapting the recipe. Some recipes use peanut butter instead of ground toasted peanuts; the traditionalist and the slow-foodist in me kinda sees this as cheating, but I suppose this is OK if you’re in a hurry or you don’t have a food processor to prepare the peanuts. Using peanut butter changes the texture and the fat content of the recipe, though, so you’ll need to make some adjustments (see “Tips” below). I can also think of a few additions that you could make to the recipe, such as adding a bit of sweetness (molasses, maybe?) or some herbs (basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.) or sprinkling the finished product with chives or green onions…but the recipe itself is quite simple and should really stay that way.
- Using Peanut Butter as a Shortcut:
- Use “crunchy” style peanut butter, which will help you obtain a texture similar to the traditional recipe.
- You should substitute the same weight of peanut butter for peanuts, rather than volume. Otherwise, things will be waaaay too dense.
- Peanut butter already has extra fat to give it that velvety texture, so you should reduce the amount of olive oil you use by maybe 25%, and be prepared to use less milk to finish the sauce.
- USE WHOLE MILK. Avoid the temptation to be “healthy” and cut the milk-fat here. The sauce won’t become as creamy as it should be, it would taste the same, and you’ll still be filling yourself with tons of calories. Do it right and just eat a smaller portion.
- Finding or substituting AJI AMARILLO:
- like I’ve said in previous recipes on here, ají amarillo is a crucial flavor base to Peruvian cuisine, but there are a few things you can do to improvise if you can’t find the real stuff
- you can often find ají amarillo (sometimes called ají mirasol or ají escabeche) in grocery stores that specialize in South American foodstuffs. In Chicago, for example, I can find these peppers in frozen, canned, and paste form at La Unica latin grocery at 1515 West Devon Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60660-1313
- if you can’t find whole peppers, substitute a couple of tablespoons of the paste, which is often easier to find
- if you can’t even find the paste, then use jalapeños or some other medium-hot peppers (I find peron/locoto peppers to also work well, when I can find them).
Ingredients & Equipment
- a food processor or grinder (keep in mind that peanuts get stickier as they are ground, so a vase-mount blender is a bad idea; stick to something with horizontal blades)
- if you have a big mortar and pestle and are feeling athletic/traditional, toss a bit of coarse salt in the bottom of your mortar, add the peanuts in batches, and pound away until you have a fine powder or paste.
- a large, wide-bottomed pan / skillet
- 1/2-cup of oil (I use olive oil, but any mild-flavored oil will do)
- 1/2-kg. (500 g. / approx 1 lb.) of peanuts, toasted and ground (if you buy them already toasted, make sure they’re UNSALTED)
- 1 medium onion (any color, really), diced as finely as you can
- 3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed or diced finely
- 2-3 ají amarillos (Peruvian yellow hot peppers), de-seeded, de-veined, and diced finely
- A LOT of whole milk. The amount you’ll need can vary, but you should have at least 2 litres (1/2-gallon) of milk on hand
- potatoes (preferably waxy ones that keep their shape), sliced thickly (as wide as your finger) or diced into large cubes
- garnish with hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half
1. Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat and add the onions, hot peppers (ají amarillo), and garlic. Sprinkle lightly with salt (to draw out juices and help prevent burning). Mix until everything is coated with oil, and then leave to simmer over medium-low heat while you prepare the peanuts.
2. Time to prepare your ground peanuts! (If you’re using peanut butter, just wait about 10-15 in sheepish silence while your aderezo of onion, garlic, and pepper cooks in the pan.) Put the peanuts in a food processor or grinder and grind down to a rather fine powder. To avoid turning it into a sticky goo and jamming up your food processor, I recommend starting with relatively small batches of peanuts (about 1 handful) and using many short pulses to grind, rather than constantly keeping the blades moving. What you want is something similar to the second picture below.
5. Begin adding milk, about 1 cup at a time. Stir this constantly, as the milk will scald and burn to the bottom very easily. When you first add milk, a strange thing will happen: the peanuts will create an emulsion between the oil and the water in the milk, and everything will suddenly thicken until it’s practically solid. Your job is to keep adding milk and stirring until you have a sauce with a creamy consistency. As the peanuts cook, they absorb more and more liquid, so the creamy texture will quickly return to super-thick. Just keep adding milk until it stays creamy. You’ll be surprised by how much milk it takes. If you run out of milk, some warm water will do.
6. As soon as you have a creamy texture that you could imagine pouring over potatoes, remove from heat, stir in any remaining liquid, and leave to settle for about 5 minutes.
7. Serve over boiled and sliced potatoes. The potatoes can be cold or hot, although I prefer when they’re hot, as that keeps the sauce warm, too. The maní sauce can be kept refrigerated and re-heated as needed for a few days, but by the 6th or 7th day, it’ll start to go off. Also, the sauce can be easily frozen, but you’ll need to stir it well when you re-heat it.