Causa rellena is a popular Peruvian appetizer found in local restaurants and on kitchen tables throughout the country. Served cold, it is a colorfully tiered dish of mashed potatoes, avocado, and chicken or tuna (or veggie-friendly alternatives). It’s so easy to make that there’s no reason not to give it a try!
History of causa
Causa literally means “cause” in Spanish. There’s a bit of a debate as to where it got its name. Some believe that the name derives from the Quechua word “kawsay,” which means “food.” However, most Peruvians will tell you that José de San Martín, known as the Protector of Peru, coined the term. Legend has it that during the fight for Peruvian independence from Spain, he called for Peruvians to support the cause for independence by providing food for their soldiers. At this time one of the most common dishes happened to be this very same layered potato dish. From then on, the dish was called causa. (“Rellena” means “stuffed” in Spanish).
- 2 lb yellow potatoes, peeled
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 Tbsp lime juice
- 1-2 Tbsp ají amarillo paste (yellow Peruvian chili pepper)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 200g cooked and shredded chicken breast or tuna
*For vegetarians: Replace with 5 hard boiled eggs, chopped
**For vegans: Replace with 100g cooked carrot & peas, chopped
- 3 Tbsp mayonnaise (or prepare a vegan version)
- 2 tsp lime juice
- ½ red onion, diced
- ½ tomato, diced
- 1 ripe avocado, sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
Peru has a passion for potatoes and who could blame them with a seemingly infinite variety?!
- Peel and boil your potatoes until soft.
Tip: Make sure to use yellow potatoes. They are waxier than white potatoes and hold their form when boiled.
- Mash the potatoes. Then mix in the olive oil, lime juice, ají amarillo, and salt and pepper to form a smooth mixture. Afterward, let cool.
Tip: For extra smoothness, sieve the mixture to remove any fibrous potato.
- In a separate bowl, combine the chicken, tuna, or vegetarian/vegan substitutes with lime juice, mayonnaise, onion, and tomato. Salt and pepper to taste.
- When the potato mixture has cooled to room temperature, evenly spread half of it in the base of a Pyrex dish. Tightly pack the mixture in order to prevent breakages. This will firm up once refrigerated.
Tip: Line a Pyrex dish with cling wrap, leaving extra to overhang. The extra will be used to round off the top layer. This method makes serving easy and mess-free.
- For the next layer, neatly arrange sliced avocado. Then, on top of the avocado, add your chicken, tuna, or veggie-friendly mix. Be careful not to squash the layers below.
- Add the remainder of your potato mixture to form the top layer. If using cling wrap, pull over the top layer to create a brick shape.
- Refrigerate for 3+ hours. When it’s time to serve, turn the causa out onto a plate and unwrap.
Your family and friends will be impressed with the colors and presentation—but they don’t need to know how easy it is to make! With its simple ingredients and mild flavor, it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser, even for kids. Causa rellena is a great introduction to any meal, Peruvian or otherwise. Just be careful not to spoil your appetite for your main dish. Even a small portion can be deceivingly filling!
Want more Peruvian meal inspirations? Make an entire meal with more of Peru’s classic recipes.
A love of foreign languages brought Rachel diving headfirst into that expat life. She has spent the last few years living in Peru, exploring both touristy and off-the-beaten-path destinations throughout the country. Some of her favorite things to do in Peru are hiking, visiting museums, and trying veggie-friendly versions of typical Peruvian dishes.