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It's 4 o'clock in the afternoon in Cali, and if you're lucky the famous afternoon brisa caleña (Caleñan breeze) is helping you cool off from the heat of the day. What time is it, then? It´s fritanga time.
For the uninitiated, fritanga is a group of snacks eaten in the late afternoon/evening that share the characteristic of all being fried. Fritanguerias are often nicknamed "The Cholesterol Palace" by their clientele-- and sometimes places will even have a tongue-in-cheek sign that says exactly that. Not to worry, though. Whether you choose to order a couple of empanadas, (fried) ribs, aborrajados (sweet plantain filled with cheese), marranitas (TRIPLE fried green plantain stuffed with chicharron) or papas rellenas (fried, stuffed potatoes), you can wash it all down with a cold Club Colombia beer, or two; it's the perfect combo to ease into the evening as the sun goes down (we're at the equator, remember: the sundown is at 6, year-round).
Though fritanga is not something I eat every day in Cali, it's something I thoroughly enjoy whenever I get the chance. (I'm not going to lie, though, the triple-fried marranitas are really just a bit much for me.) And some fritanga classics can actually be a nice base for a meal, rounded out by a big salad and maybe a soup. Papas rellenas aren't particularly hard to make at home and they work great both as a snack or as the base of a meal. They're made by stuffing mashed potatoes with a filling of rice, meat, peas, egg and hogao, the tomato-onion sauce that is one of the building blocks of Colombian cooking, and when you fry the stuffed potato balls up they even look like whole fried potatoes, so you can trick your family/friends if that's your kind of thing. Whatever you do, make sure you serve them with aji (hot sauce) and cold beer. Good afternoon to you, too.
Papas Rellenas (Stuffed Potatoes)
For the hogao:
1 large tomato
1 large onion
1/3 c. vegetable oil
Heat a smallish saucepan over medium-low heat while you cut the onion into small dice. Add the oil (it seems like a LOT but it really is necessary to get the flavor you want) to the pan and then the chopped onion. Finely chop the tomato and add it to the pan, stirring to combine. Cook for 10-15 minutes, without letting the mixture brown or caramelize, until the tomato has mostly disintegrated and the onion is softish. You should be able to see the oil-- as I said, it will look like a lot, but it really is what you want for the taste to be right. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, stir once, and take off the heat.
To assemble the potatoes:
5 large baking potatoes (russets or something of the like)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika (optional)
1 c. cooked white rice (this recipe will make more than what you need, but it's delicious on its own or with a fried egg on top)
1/2 c. green peas, cooked if fresh or defrosted if frozen (optional)
4 eggs, hard-boiled and cut into quarters
Scrub the potatoes, cut them into large dice (no need to peel them), and place them in a large pot filled with water and a tablespoon of salt. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. When the potatoes are fork-tender and completely cooked through, drain them and make a smooth mash with a fork or potato masher. Let cool so it will be easier for you to handle.
While the potatoes are cooking, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat the vegetable oil. Add in the beef and the salt, cumin, turmeric and smoked paprika. Stir occasionally until the meat is cooked through (until it no longer looks raw) but not dry. Taste for salt and to check that the meat is well-seasoned-- if you find it lacking in flavor, add in a bit more salt and cumin.
Assemble all of your ingredients-- the potato mash, the meat, the rice, the peas, the eggs and the hogao-- around a workspace. Lay a clean plastic bag out on the workspace, and place about 1/3 c. of potato mash onto the bag.
Add a generous tablespoon of meat to the center of the potato, a smaller tablespoon of rice, a teaspoon of peas, a piece of hard-boiled egg and a tablespoon of the hogao. Use the bag to help you form the ball, first pulling up on all the side to make a bowl. Add a bit more mashed potato to cover the top of the mixture, then use the plastic to help you form a continuous potato ball that completely encases the filling. Remove the potato to a plate and continue the same process with the rest of the ingredients.
To fry the potatoes:
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. turmeric
1-1 1/2 c. water
vegetable oil, for frying
In a wide, shallow bowl, combine flour, salt and turmeric, then gradually stir in the water until you have a thick pancake batter (depending on the humidity where you are and the brand of flour you're using you may need more or less water).
Heat a couple of inches of vegetable oil in a smallish pot over medium heat. Prepare a plate lined with paper towels and have it close at hand (this is where the potatoes will go once you've fried them).
Now comes the messy part: take one of the stuffed potatoes and dip it into the batter, making sure to cover it all over. You're probably going to get your hands full of batter as the potato seems to like to stick to the bottom of the bowl-- I ended up just kind of spooning the batter over the potato as I held it in my hand. Drop the battered potato into the oil, being careful not to burn yourself. Fry until golden on one side, then turn the potato over and fry on the other side. When golden all over, remove with a slotted spatula to the paper towel-lined plate.
Serve warm, with ají (traditional Colombian sauce), or any kind of hot sauce like Tabasco. Makes 13-15 papas rellenas.