Spicy Spuds Around the World

Fiery Foods Manager In the Kitchen with Chile Peppers Leave a Comment

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by Dave DeWitt

Spicy Spuds Around the World - Picture by Harald Zoschke


Recipe Index:

South America: Papas Huancaino (Potatoes Huancayo-Style); Mexico: Papitas con Chiltepínes (Diced Potatoes with Chiltepins); The Caribbean: Sancoche; The American Southwest: Papas con Chile Colorado (Potatoes with Red Chile); Europe #1: Paprikash Potatoes; Europe #2: Pikanter Kartoffelsalat (German Potato Salad With A Twist); Europe #3: Gefuellte Backkartoffeln (Stuffed Baked Potatoes – with a spicy twist, too); India: Batate Palya (Potato Curry with Lima Beans); Southeast Asia Sambal Ubi Kentang (Potato Sambal)

How were chile peppers first used in cooking? Food historians speculate that because early civilizations in South America depended on bland tuber crops like such as manioc, jicama, and potatoes, dried chiles were crushed or ground into powders and added to the cooked tubers to spice them up. Curiously, although European chroniclers such as Bernal Díaz and Garcilaso de la Vega reported about chile peppers, tomatoes, and many other foodstuffs, they did not mention the lowly potato. Sophie D. Coe, author of America’s First Cuisines, speculates that the reason the potato was ignored is because the Inca considered it inferior to maize (corn). She notes: “We have archaeological evidence for the Inca resettling conquered tribes off their potato-growing heights into the maize-growing valleys. Despite the fact that the Inca were of highland origin themselves, they consistently exalted maize and ignored what must have been their ancestral staple, the potato.”

We don’t know how the Inca prepared their potatoes, so we must consult modern resources: cookbooks from the region. The theory is that traditional potato recipes have been passed down from generation to generation. I consulted my library and found Arte Culinario Peruano (Peruvian Cooking Art) by Josefina Brusco de Liberti, a small paperback published in the 1950s with Spanish and English on facing pages. More than half of the potato recipes called for ají, the South American word for chile, including Papas a la Huancaina (Potatoes Huancayo-Style) and Papas con Ají (Potatoes with Chile). Certainly, then, chiles are linked with potatoes in the cooking of the Andes.

Although potatoes commonly appear in Mexican cooking today, neither the Aztecs nor the Maya used them in pre-Columbian days. It was the Europeans who introduced potatoes into Mexico and Central America–as well as into Europe and North America. Along with chiles, Portuguese traders brought potatoes to India around 1615 and the two New World crops were combined in various curry combinations.

The Europeans didn’t stop spreading potatoes with India. Although not nearly as popular as rice, they appear combined with chiles in the cuisines of Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Potatoes were introduced into China about the same time but did not become popular until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when French missionaries grew them and touted their importance in feeding the masses. I did a quick index search of my Chinese cookbooks but did not find any potato recipes with chile in them.

Does anyone ever eat a potato without adding something to it? Imagine a beautiful, freshly baked potato right out of the oven. You place it on your plate, cut it open, pick up your fork, and just eat it? I think not. Some butter, perhaps, and salt and cracked black pepper. Or some chive-infused sour cream–but you would never eat an unadorned baked potato. That’s the reason chiles go so well with potatoes–they bring them alive. So the next time you bake one, remember that the healthiest thing you can put on it is…salsa!

Enjoy these spicy spud recipes from around the world. With the exception of two, from German chileheads Harald & Renate Zoschke, they are collected from various cookbooks I have written or co-authored over the years.

South America: Papas Huancaino (Potatoes Huancayo-Style)

This recipe is one version of a popular and traditional potato dish from the highlands of Peru. Many recipes call for a local herb, palillo, which colors the dish a bright yellow; however, turmeric can be substituted. It is originally from the Andes mountain town of Huancayo–the final stop on the world’s highest single-gauge rail line. It is one of Peru’s most popular plates and can be found throughout the country. This dish is typically served with small pieces of corn on the cob. The onions that top the dish are astoundingly good–but oh so simple.

  • Juice of 1 small lemon

  • 1 teaspoon ají chile powder, or substitute New Mexican

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings

  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheese, Monterey Jack or Munster preferred

  • 2 fresh rocoto chiles, halved, seeds and stems removed, or substitute jalapeños

  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

  • 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups half and half

  • 1/3 cup olive oil

  • 8 Bibb (Boston) lettuce leaves

  • 8 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled, and halved lengthwise

  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, halved lengthwise

  • 2 to 3 ears cooked corn on the cob, cut into 8 2-inch sections

  • 1/2 cup sliced black olives

In a ceramic bowl, combine the lemon juice, ground chile, salt, black pepper, and the onion slices. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.

In a blender puree the cheese, fresh chiles, turmeric, and the cream. If the mixture seems too thick, add more cream, a little at a time.

Heat the oil in a skillet. Pour in the cheese-cream mixture and reduce the heat to very low. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly until the sauce is smooth and thick and creamy.

Arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter or on individual plates. Top the leaves with the potatoes, cut side down, and pour the sauce over the potatoes. Garnish the platter or plates with the eggs, corn slices, and the olives.

Drain the onion rings and mop up any excess with paper towels. Arrange the onion rings over the potatoes.

Yield: 8 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Mexico: Papitas con Chiltepínes (Diced Potatoes with Chiltepins)

This recipe is extremely hot and very typical of Sonora, where people make salsa casera with 2 to 3 cups of chiltepins! Serve this with a mild fish or poultry entree. Feel free to reduce the amount of chiltepins, or to substitute 3 tablespoons chipotle powder for a milder, smokier flavor..

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2 inch dice

  • 5 cloves garlic

  • 1/4 cup chiltepín chiles, or subsitute piquins

  • 1 cup water

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saute skillet and add the diced potatoes. Toss and turn the potatoes with a spatula for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add 3 tablespoons of water, and cook the potatoes at a low heat while you are making the chile sauce.

Place the garlic, peppers, water, and salt in a blender and puree thoroughly. Pour this mixture over the potatoes and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Extremely Hot

The Caribbean: Sancoche

Depending on the cook, this rather amazing stew from the eastern Caribbean–particularly Trinidad and Barbados–can contain up to ten starchy ingredients, including yams, tannia, eddoes, taro, cassava, yuca, bananas, potatoes, pumpkin, and plantains. But since many of these ingredients are both hard to find and have similar flavors, I have adjusted the recipe somewhat.

  • 1/2 pound corned beef, cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 1 pound beef, cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 large onions, chopped

  • 2 quarts beef stock

  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

  • 1 cup yellow split peas (or substitute blackeyed peas)

  • 1 cup coconut cream

  • 1 pound sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 2 green plantains, peeled and thickly sliced

  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 2 Congo peppers (habaneros), left whole

  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, saute the corned beef and the other beef cubes in the oil until slightly browned, then add the onions and saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beef stock, the garlic, and the split peas; cover, and simmer for 1 hour.

Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Add more stock if necessary.

Remove the Congo peppers, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot with a crusty French bread..

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

The American Southwest: Papas con Chile Colorado (Potatoes with Red Chile)

Although the word “colorado” here refers to the red color of the chile rather than the state of the same name, this dish is commonly prepared there–and all over the Southwest. Serve these red chile potatoes in place of hash browned potatoes for a terrific Southwestern breakfast.

  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine

  • 1/2 cup chopped onions

  • 1 clove garlic minced

  • 2 tablespoons crushed red New Mexican chile, including the seeds

  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and diced

  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

Saute the onions and garlic in the butter until soft, then add the chile. Toss the potatoes in the mixture.

Place the potatoes on a shallow baking pan with a little water and bake in a 350 degree F. oven until the potatoes are done, about 45 minutes.

Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the potatoes and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Europe #1: Paprikash Potatoes

The addition of sour cream to the sauce in this potato dish is typically Hungarian. It is a hearty side dish that goes well with roast pork and sauerkraut.

  • 1 large onion, sliced into rings

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons bacon drippings or oil

  • 3 tablespoons hot Hungarian paprika

  • 2 teaspoons ground cayenne

  • 1 small bell pepper, stems and seeds removed, diced

  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced

  • 1 cup white wine

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 cup sour cream

In a large, shallow pan, saute the onion and garlic in the bacon drippings until soft. Add the paprika, cayenne, bell pepper, and caraway seeds and saute for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the potatoes, wine, and black pepper. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are done. Add water as necessary but maintain a thick consistency.

Stir in the sour cream and simmer until heated through.

Yield: 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Europe #2: Pikanter Kartoffelsalat (German Potato Salad With A Twist)

There are few recipes more typically German than potato salad. Chileheads Harald and Renate Zoschke gave this national dish a spicy twist. It makes a great complement for Bratwurst from the grill!

  • 2 pounds new potatoes

  • 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped

  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, drained and chopped, reserving adobo sauce

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 2 small pickles, chopped

  • 2 cups high quality mayonnaise

  • 1 cup low fat yogurt

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon of the adobo sauce

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder

  • Sprinkle of sugar

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Chopped chives for garnish

Brush the potatoes thoroughly under running water. Boil the potatoes in their skins in salted water until tender (about 25 minutes). Slice hot into a large bowl.

Add the hard-boiled eggs, chipotle pods, onion, and pickles to the sliced potatoes.

For the dressing, blend mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard, adobo sauce, cayenne powder and sugar very well.

Fold gently into potatoes and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Let sit for at least one hour, refrigerated, so flavors blend well.

Sprinkle with chives and serve at room temperature.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Europe #3: Gefuellte Backkartoffeln (Stuffed and Smoky-Hot Baked Potatoes)

Spicy Baked Potatoes - Picture by Harald Zoschke

Sunday afternoon heaven, according
to Harald and Renate Zoschke, is
watching a soccer game on TV, drinking
beer, and snacking on these spicy baked


Picture by Harald Zoschke

  • 2 dried chipotle pods

  • 1 1/2 pounds.medium potatoes (about 6-7)

  • 1 teaspoon crushed piquin chile

  • 6 tablespoons grated Swiss cheese for the stuffing (if not available, use cheddar)

  • 6 teaspoons milk

  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper and freshly ground nutmeg to taste

  • Optional: 2 ounces lean smoked ham, diced

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 4 tablespoons grated Swiss cheese (to sprinkle on top)

In a bowl, soak the chipotle pods in warm water for about 1 hour, then dice.

Brush potatoes thoroughly under running water and cook with their skins in the microwave until done (typically takes about 10 to 15 minutes but may vary depending on your microwave–check microwave manual).

Let potatoes cool a bit, then cut in half lengthwise. With a spoon, carve out the soft flesh leaving about 1/4″ standing around the edge (try not to puncture the skin). Put aside the resulting “potato bowls.”

In a bowl, mash potato dig-outs using a fork. Mix well with the grated cheese, diced chipotle, and crushed piquin, using just enough milk to get a coarse puree consistency. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste, add diced ham it you choose that option.

Brush outside of potato skins lightly with the vegetable oil, place on an aluminum barbecue tray and fill with the potato-cheese mixture.

Sprinkle grated cheese on top of each stuffed potato half, pressing it down lightly so it won’t fall off.

In the covered grill, cook for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees, until the cheese turns golden brown.

Arrange on plate and serve hot, best with a cool beer or two…

Note: As an alternative, this dish may also be prepared on a baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven, same temperature.

Yield: 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

India: Batate Palya (Potato Curry with Lima Beans)

Use this pungent curry to spice up a breakfast or to accompany the main meal. This simple curry from the Mangalore region in southwestern India makes a colorful, tasty addition to any meal. For a spicier curry, double or triple the amount of cayenne powder.

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil

  • 3 large onions, chopped

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced

  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder

  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

  • 6 large potatoes, peeled and diced

  • 4 large tomatoes, sliced

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 2 cups frozen lima beans

  • Salt to taste

  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves for garnishing

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat for 1 minute, add the onions, and fry them for about 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger and continuing frying for 1 minute.

Add the dry powders, mix well, and then add the potatoes and tomatoes, along with water, and cook, covered, for 12 minutes. Add the lima beans, mix well, and cook for 5 minutes. Just before serving, add the salt and garnish with the cilantro.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Southeast Asia

Sambal Ubi Kentang

(Potato Sambal)

Although many people think of sambals as a spicy condiment or sauce that is added to other dishes, sambals also include side dishes that range in heat from mild to wild, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. This particular Indonesian recipe is a good example of a spicy side dish that is labeled a “sambal.” Serve these spicy, chilled potatoes with a meat dish such as satays.

  • 1 pound new potatoes (all approximately the same size)

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, seeds and stems removed, and minced

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions

  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

  • 2 tablespoons thick coconut milk

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Place the scrubbed potatoes in a large pot and cover them with water. Bring the water to a boil and boil the potatoes, in their skins, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a fork can easily pierce the potato. Drain the potatoes, let them cool, and then peel them.

Place the potatoes in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients, except the cilantro, and mash the potatoes very coarsely.

Mound the potato mixture in a serving bowl, sprinkle with the cilantro, and chill in the refrigerator until serving time.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium


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