Papa a la Huancaina

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Papa a la Huancaina is a Peruvian appetizer from the region of Huancayo. The creamy spicy sauce is poured over cold slices of potato, a bed of lettuce and garnished with black Peruvian olives and boiled egg.

overhead shot of papa a la huancaina on plate

Welcome to my favorite childhood meal. As a kid, I remember my mother making this sauce and me sneaking cubes of queso fresco. It was served so regularly in our house, alongside Lomo Saltado, Tallarines Verdes, Ají de Gallina and my favorite all-time beverage, Chicha Morada.

shot of ingredients, labeled

Where is Papa a la Huancaina from?

This Peruvian cold appetizer originated from Huancayo, Peru; the place where my great grandmother and grandmother were born. Huancayo is a city high in the Andes, the place where the indigenous population, the Incas, live.

And while this dish is from Huancayo, papa a la huancaina is made and eaten all throughout Peru. And every city, town, village has their own tweaks and additions to it. This version is what is very typical of what you would see and be served in Lima, Peru.

Peru is known for its sauces. My homemade ají verde sauce is another Peruvian favorite.

sauce ingredients in blender

What does Papa a la Huancaina consist of?

  1. Boiled and then chilled potatoes. Peru is a very rich in its varieties of different potatoes.
  2. A few layers of lettuce. Typically you’ll see the potatoes fanned out onto a bed of iceberg lettuce. I often times like to use red leaf lettuce to be a bit fancier.
  3. Huancaina sauce. This yellow sauce makes the entire dish. It’s a spicy, creamy sauce that has aji amarillo in it, queso blanco/fresco, oil, saltine crackers (yes, that’s right!) and evaporated milk.
  4. Black olives. This briny garnish adds a nice bite/acid to an otherwise creamy dish. I like to use Peruvian black olives which tend to be larger than a kalamata olive but I say use what you can find!
  5. Boiled eggs. This is also a garnish and is SO delicious dipped in the sauce.
overhead of sauce all mixed up

How to Make Papa a la Huancaina

  1. Saute the ají amarillo in some olive oil and add to a blender. Add the onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt to the same pan and saute until softened. Add to the blender.
  2. To the blender, add the queso blanco or queso fresco, evaporated milk, a pinch of kosher salt, and turmeric (if using).
  3. Start the blender.
  4. As it blends, pour in the remaining olive oil.
  5. And then, add a saltine cracker crushed up to give it body and thickness. Give it a taste and add more if needed.
  6. Salt to taste.
  7. Assemble!
  8. Add a few pieces of lettuce to a plate. Top with sliced boiled potatoes.
  9. Pour the sauce on top and garnish with quarters of boiled egg and black Peruvian olives.

Tips and Tricks

  • What should I use if I can’t find aji amarillos? You can use scotch bonnet or another red/yellow colored pepper.
  • Where can I find aji amarillos? You can often times find aji amarillos in any Latin market. I like to buy them in the frozen department. This way I can thaw what I need. You can also buy the paste on Amazon.
  • What if I can’t find queso fresco? In a pinch you can always use feta cheese. It will have more of a tart flavor to it so I would only use this as a last option.
  • How to Freeze this Sauce: Yes! It’s a really good sauce to freeze. I would freeze it for up to 3 months.
overhead shot of plated papa a la huancaina

More Peruvian Recipes

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5 from 4 votes

Papa a la Huancaina Recipe

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Servings: 4
Papa a la Huancaina is a Peruvian appetizer from the region of Huancayo. The creamy spicy sauce is poured over cold slices of potato, a bed of lettuce and garnished with black Peruvian olives and boiled egg.

Equipment

  • 1 blender

Ingredients 

Huancaina Sauce:

  • 2 whole ají amarillo chiles or 1 tablespoon ají amarillo paste
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 yellow or white onion , roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • Kosher salt
  • 12 ounces queso fresco, cut into cubes
  • 1 (5-ounce can) evaporated milk
  • Pinch ground turmeric , (optional)
  • 4 to 5 saltine crackers

For Serving:

  • 4 to 5 leaves iceberg lettuce or butter lettuce, for plating
  • 5 boiled and peeled russet or yellow potatoes, cooled and peeled
  • 1 large boiled egg, quartered
  • 3 to 4 pitted Peruvian black olives or kalamata olives

Instructions 

To Make the Huancaina Sauce:

  • If using whole ají amarillo chiles, thaw them if necessary. And begin by slicing them in half. Remove the stem and seeds.
  • In a small sauté pan, set over medium heat, add a teaspoon of oil, reserving the rest of the olive oil. Cook the ají amarillo chiles until softened. Transfer to a blender. If you’re using paste, you can simply add the paste to a blender and proceed as instructed below.
  • To the same small sauté pan, add the onion, garlic, and pinch of salt. Cook until mostly softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the blender, along with the cubed queso blanco, evaporated milk, and ground turmeric (if using); blend until mostly smooth. With the blender running, slowly add about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add about 3 to 4 crushed saltine crackers and blend again until it reaches a thick rich consistency. Add another cracker if the consistency seems too thin. Salt to taste.

For Serving:

  • Slice the peeled potatoes into 1/4-inch slices. To plate the dish, arrange the leaves of lettuce on a large plate. Fan the sliced potatoes atop the lettuce, and pour the sauce over the potatoes. Garnish with eggs and olives.

Notes

Tips and Tricks:
  • What should I use if I can’t find aji amarillos? You can use scotch bonnet or another red/yellow colored pepper.
  • Where can I find aji amarillos? You can often times find aji amarillos in any Latin market. I like to buy them in the frozen department. This way I can thaw what I need. You can also buy the paste on Amazon.
  • What if I can’t find queso fresco? In a pinch you can always use feta cheese. It will have more of a tart flavor to it so I would only use this as a last option.
  • Can this sauce be frozen? Yes! It’s a really good sauce to freeze. I would freeze it for up to 3 months.
To Make Ahead:
All of these components can be made up to 3 days before and kept in the fridge. You can assemble everything when you’re ready to serve. 

Nutrition

Serving: 4g | Calories: 350kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 34mg | Sodium: 20mg | Potassium: 100mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 200IU | Vitamin C: 1.7mg | Calcium: 100mg | Iron: 0.7mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Peruvian
Like this Recipe? Please Rate & comment below!

Enjoy this step-by-step video of How to Make Papa a la Huancaina:

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Hi! I'm Adrianna and this is my cozy space on the internet that is super-charged by butter, flour and copious amounts of pasta. Stay awhile, will you!

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17 Comments

  1. *Also if you dont see the video you wouldnt know the peppers and onions have to be cooked before blending, just a thouhgt!

  2. Hi, my husband is from Peru and I am Cuban and love all this food! but I have a question, in the video I see you add cooked onions but in the recipe you dont have onions listed, so can you tell me how much onion to add please, love your recipes and how you can change the serving to help you make more. Thank you so much!

  3. This looks amazing and your photos are so appetizing! My boyfriend has eaten this before and was telling me how amazing it is. I want to make it this weekend for him. Looking at the recipe I am a bit confused as to where the habanero pepper goes – is it for garnish or does it get blended in with the sauce? Is the sauce quite spicy? I love your blog!