Chilied Feta Sauce
Wancaina Sauce (Salsa Huancaina in Spanish) is probably one of those foods found every week in a Peruvian household table. It is a basic sauce made with feta-like cheese, farmer’s cheese or any other unripened cheese, olive oil, chillies, garlic and milk.
It is easy, it is delicious, it is very versatile and it is a favourite to bring to picnics too. You can serve it over boiled potatoes as a starter, pour it over pasta as a fantastic side or even use it a dipping sauce for savoury biscuits, crisps or cheese sticks.
The name tell us that the sauce comes from the city of Huancayo (hence the Spanish Huancaina). I am calling it Wancaina in English, so we get the pronunciation right. There are disputes about its origins but everybody seems to agree that there is a strong link with the building of the spectacular Lima-Huancayo railway, built in 1870.
When I first moved to London, I would only do this sauce with Peruvian yellow chillies, which is what we normally do this sauce with. But after some years of experimenting, I have found a really great alternative which tastes as good as the original formula.
I use any orange chilli peppers available. You can use bell peppers like the ones found in most supermarkets or smaller orange sweet peppers, like the ones I found in markets around London, apparently they come from Thailand. In any case, this sauce needs to have a hint of heath, so I always add red hot chilli peppers to make it hotter. Remember to balance these two.
3 big orange or yellow bell peppers / or a similar amount of any smaller orange pepper
3 small hot red chilli peppers /2 if you are using red bird ones
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
200gr of feta cheese, add more or less, depending on how strong you want the flavour to be
2 slices of thick or medium slices of white loaf bread, with its crust removed *
*Slices should be about 1.5 cm, if you only have thin ones, then use three slices. You can also use water biscuits; I normally would add three to four water biscuits to the mix. You may make the wancaina sauce with bread or biscuits anyway. Just keep in mind the proportion of bread – milk – cheese – chilli paste
1 can of evaporated milk. Cans of evaporated milk are pretty standard around the world, so one big can would do
Salt and pepper
Chop the peppers in chunks of 2-3 cm. I normally tend to leave the seeds in as I am too lazy to remove them, but I found out that they add a nice texture to the mix after they have been grinded
Chop the peeled garlic into big chunks. Normally I chop off the basal plate (the part of the bulb that would be joined with the root) and then I turn the knife flat and press the garlic against the chopping board. The skin will be easily removed. Then I will just chop them a couple of times
In a shallow frying pan, fry the chopped peppers and garlic with half a cup of olive oil. Stir constantly as we do not want the peppers or the garlic to overcook. We just want them to release their flavour into the oil and become a bit softer. Add the chopped red hot chilli peppers into the pan. When some peppers or the garlic start to become just a little bit golden/brown it is time to remove them
Put all the content of the pan, including the oil, in a food processor adding salt and pepper to taste and make a paste. This is called chilli paste and can be used as the base for many other dishes – reserve
Cut off the crust from the loaf bread and shred it into a bowl. Add three quarters of the evaporated milk and press with a knife until the bread have almost dissolved into the milk. Reserve for about 10 minutes
In a food processor, add the chilli paste, the bread and milk mix and the feta cheese. Crumb the feta cheese as you put it in
Mix well adding the remaining evaporated milk to loosen the sauce and get the required consistency
At this stage it is important that you add more cheese, salt or milk to achieve the perfect balance of flavours and salt content. Remember feta is already quite salty, so try the cheese you are using before adding extra salt as salt content will vary from cheese to cheese
Listo! The wancaina sauce is ready to be used. You can store it in the fridge for up to 4 days
Hope you enjoy it!
Some Orange Thai Peppers
These peppers are roughly 8cm long. Use few accordingly
Roughly chop the peppers
Chop off basal plate of the garlic
Press it against the chopping board
Easily remove the skin
Roughly chop the peeled garlic
Fry the peppers and garlic in a pan, adding oil
Add some chopped red hot chilies to add some heath
Put all the mix, including the oil, in the food processor with salt and pepper to taste
A beautiful and tasty Chili Paste. This could be the base to many other dishes
Shred the bread into a bowl
Add evaporated milk, half of the can will do
Mash the bread and milk together
You will get a nice mix of bread and milk, still some lumps
I used a standard feta cheese pack
Put the chilli sauce back into the food processor
Add the bread and milk mix
Crumb the feta cheese as you put into the food processor
All ingredients ready to be processed
While processing it, add the remaining evaporated milk to loosen the mix. You may add more milk, feta or even savoury biscuits to the mix to obtain the desired flavour and texture
Wancaina sauce is ready
From chillies, cheese and milk, this sauce goes well with boiled potatoes and topped with hard boiled eggs. Try it also with pasta, meat, or even as a dipping sauce!