The first time I tried a causa that really stood out from the traditional versions served at Peruvian restaurants, which are almost always filled with fish, seafood, or chicken, was at my favorite health food store in Lima. I was having lunch with some friends in their small patio cafe, and was attracted by the unusual colors of their causa, which was topped with a huge mountain of crunchy alfalfa sprouts. This appetizer happened to be vegan, healthy, and highly pleasant too. It was filled with roasted peppers, cooked tofu, and spinach. Since that day, the sky has been the limit for how unorthodox and creative my causas can get. This vegan version with cooked Mediterranean vegetables is one example, but you can let your imagination run wild and create any version you can dream of.
- 4 medium russet potatoes
- 5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided, plus more for greasing
- ½ zucchini
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ white onion
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms (about ½ pound)
- ¾ cup roasted bell pepper in olive oil, drained and sliced
- 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 6 teaspoons aji amarillo paste (or more if you like spicy food)
- ¾ cup sliced baby artichokes in olive oil (with herbs is fine)
- 4 fresh parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)
- Put the potatoes in a medium-sized pan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, and cook, partially covered, for 25 to 40 minutes, or until you can pierce them with a fork easily. The time will vary depending on the strength of the heat and the size of the potatoes.
- While the potatoes are cooking, grease 4 (2-inch) pastry rings with a little olive oil. Slice the zucchini into thin rounds and chop the garlic and onion finely. Line a plate with paper towels and position it next to the stove.
- Drain the roasted peppers, and process them in a blender with 1 tablespoon water, until smooth. Set aside
- Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a frying pan set over medium heat. Add the zucchini slices in a single layer, and cook for a couple of minutes, or until golden brown on one side. Turn with the help of a spatula and a fork, and cook on the other side for a few more minutes, or until golden brown on the other side. With a spatula, transfer the zucchini to the prepared towel-lined plate, arranging them in a single layer, so that any excess oil and water are absorbed.
- Pour the oil out of the pan and discard. Add 2 more teaspoons olive oil, set the pan over medium heat, and cook the garlic and onion, stirring and shaking the pan, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they become slightly golden brown. Add the mushrooms, season with ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt (depending on your taste), and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Stir for a few minutes, until they become soft. Turn off the heat and cover the pan.
- When the potatoes are ready, drain them, peel them carefully so you don’t burn your hands, and put them into a large bowl. Mash them with a potato masher or fork. When the potato is very well mashed and smooth, add the reserved roasted pepper paste, the lemon juice, 4 tablespoons of the olive oil, the aji amarillo paste (do this little by little, tasting as you go, until you reach the intensity of heat that you like), and 1½ teaspoons salt, or more if needed. Keep mashing until very smooth. You can add more lemon juice, aji amarillo paste, or salt, as needed. You want this dough to be very tasty.
- Wash your hands really well, and knead the potato dough with your hands until very soft and creamy.
- Place a pastry ring on each of 4 plates. Spoon about ¼ cup potato into each ring and press it well with your fingers to flatten and even it out. Top with a layer of zucchini, and then a layer of sliced artichokes. Finish with another layer of potato dough. Press it softly but firmly to make sure it stays in place when you remove the pastry ring.
- Carefully lift the pastry ring with one hand, while pressing the causa softly with your other hand. Top each individual causa with mushrooms, and garnish each with a parsley leaf if you like.
- If you cook the potatoes in advance, you can have this causa ready in very little time. This is a great dish to make if you have leftover cooked potatoes in the fridge. You can also use leftover cooked veggies as a filling.
- If you prefer, add a layer of roasted bell peppers to the filling, instead of turning them into a paste and mixing this with the potato dough.
- If you don’t have individual pastry rings, use a bigger one to make a large causa instead. You can also use a springform pan.