Peru’s Tempting Tacu Tacu

by Liz Caskey on July 8, 2011

Rice, beans, and chili come together to form a one-dish comfort meal

Tacu Tacu is my current food obsession. It drives me crazy as it combines my two favorite carbs (beans and rice) into one chili-laden savory “tamale”. I used to only order it when we went out for Peruvian since my perception was that it was difficult to recreate at home. Wrong! When researching, testing, and writing our cookbook, Knack South American Cooking, this was one of the recipes that was an immediate home run.

Of humble origins in Lima, it was molded and mashed together from leftovers and primarily eaten by the African population. It is savory, earthy Peruvian comfort food hailing from the coastal region. On a plate, its appearance is similar to a gigantic tamale-shaped mound of rice and beans.

Tacu Tacu’s exterior should be toasty and golden, and have a slight crispness to it. The inside should be tender and piquant. Be sure to use day-old rice and beans with their broth. In the absence of broth, use chicken stock to flavor the legumes as they are cooked and mashed. The sofrito, frying, of the shallots and garlic with chili sauce infuse this dish. Focus on technique, like a Spanish tortilla, it is simple but takes patience to master.

Tacu Tacu is served alone or with savory seafood sauces or and served as a side to fried fish, and in a very common version, served a lo pobre, with seared streak, fried egg, and plantain. Other toppings can range from ají de gallina to sauteeed shrimp, seared corvina with sauce or on its own it is delicious. Don’t want to make it at home? Places like La Mar or any bonified Peruvian restaurant will serve this up.  Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons oil

4 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 cups cooked pinto beans

1⁄2 cup water or chicken stock

2 cups cooked white rice

1 tablespoon Peruvian yellow chili paste (ají amarillo)

salt/pepper to taste

Method:

• Caramelize onion in hot oil for 3 minutes. Add garlic and fry 30 seconds. Incor- porate cooked beans with stock; cook 3 minutes.

• Mash beans in pan with a masher to form a paste. Fold in yellow chili paste. In a separate bowl, add rice. Fold mashed beans to rice. Mix until uniform.

• Sautee rice-bean mixture. Add oil to pan. Begin to work mixture into an oval form using a spoon. The sides should be lightly browned.

Tips: Sauté the Beans

• For a quick shortcut, use cooked or canned beans that are creamy, like can- nelini or pinto varieties.

• Let the beans absorb the stock to become very moist and easily mash into a paste.

• Taste the mixture for salt once mashed.

• As you cook, keep the heat on medium-low so that the beans slowly absorb the water and don’t lose liquid to evaporation.

Tips: Form & Flip the Cake

• Slowly pat the mixture into an oval shape. Do not move it immediately; let it brown for a few minutes.

• Carefully flip bean cake using a spatula, or with a quick shaking of the pan to loosen the crust.

• You can also split the mixture and make smaller cakes for individual por- tions or to serve as a side dish.

• Try substituting cooked lentils for the beans.

Green Light:  To avoid headaches with food sticking to pans, purchase nonstick pans that are large enough for whole meals or can be used to make an omelet. A good nonstick pan has a baked-in enamel that makes it hard to chip or scratch. This will greatly reduce the amount of oil used, making it ideal for low-fat cooking. Be sure to discard pans with a chipped coating.

Recipe Variation:  Make a heartier meal with this variation called a lo pobre, or Poor Man’s Tacu Tacu. Follow the recipe below for the Tacu Tacu base. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil. When hot, add a 1/4-inch-thick steak, seasoned with salt and pepper; sear 2 to 3 minutes per side. Reserve. In the same skillet, add 1 tablespoon oil and 1 egg. Fry egg until egg whites set; season. To serve, place Tacu Tacu on a plate and cover with steak, then egg.

{ 2 comments }

JenV July 8, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Ah, tacu tacu! When I was a vegetarian in Lima 10 years-ago (I’ve since regressed back to my carnivorous ways) tacu-tacu was my favorite comfort food from my neighborhood cafe. I loved the contrast between the sweet plantains and the savory rice and beans. It’s great to see the recipe on paper, so to speak; we’ll have to try making it at home.

danperlman July 9, 2011 at 8:18 am

I love tacu-tacu a lo pobre! It’s comfort food at its best.

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