Tacu Tacu (Afro-Peruvian Fried Rice & Lentil Cake)

June 20, 2021
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom. Prop Stylist: Andrea Foti Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog
  • Prep time 12 hours
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

Across Latin America, rice and beans are a staple rooted in slavery—and each country has its own version. Spain’s colonial foodways may have introduced ingredients like rice to the Americas, but it was Black slaves who cooked bean stews. In Peru, Afro-descended women fried leftover rice and canary beans with lard to make tacu tacu, a dish whose name comes from the Quechua word taku, which means “mixed.” Today, tacu tacu is part of Peru’s creole cuisine, and there are many popular variations. Montaditos are tacu tacu fritters topped with steak, fried egg, or shrimp; tacu tacu relleno is tossed, rolled, and shaped like an ellipsoid stuffed with seafood sauce. I often cook a vegan tacu tacu with leftovers of long-grain white rice and red lentils, and I like how the creaminess of the soft cooked lentils holds the rice together. The recipe describes a basic lentil preparation; and you can omit the aromatics for simplicity. A red onion aderezo with ají amarillo—Peru’s native yellow hot pepper—adds heat. And shaping it like a round cake makes it easy to slice into several servings for sharing. Tangy salsa criolla topping, or pickled red onions, complements the flavors in the tacu tacu, while coffee and baguette make it a full savory breakfast.
Nico Vera

What You'll Need
  • Lentils
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup dried red lentils
  • Tacu Tacu
  • 1 cup cooked red lentils, refrigerated overnight
  • 1/2 cup cooked long-grain white rice, refrigerated overnight
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ají amarillo paste
  • 1 pinch cumin powder
  • 1 pinch dried oregano
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
  • 1/4 cup pickled red onion, for garnish (optional)
  • 4 sprigs cilantro sprigs, leaves only, for garnish (optional)
  1. In a 3-quart pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste, then sauté until the onion becomes translucent. Add the lentils and 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the lentils uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, until the mixture is creamy but not loose. Once cool, reserve 1 cup of the cooked lentils to refrigerate overnight for tacu tacu (the recipe makes 2 cups).
  2. In a bowl, combine the chilled leftover lentils and rice, using a fork to mash into a uniform mixture.
  3. In an 8-inch nonstick (or carbon steel) skillet, heat the neutral oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, ají amarillo, cumin, and oregano, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the onion becomes translucent, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the lentils and rice to the skillet. Use a spatula to fold and mix well with the sautéed onion mixture until any excess moisture from the lentils has evaporated, about 1 minute.
  5. Use a spatula to press down and flatten the rice and lentil mixture into a round “cake” that covers the entire surface of the skillet. The cake should be about 7 inches in diameter and ½ inch thick.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the skillet with a lid or with the underside of a quarter sheet pan to retain heat and moisture. Cook until the bottom of the rice and lentil cake is golden brown, about 10 minutes. If you don't see oil bubbling around the edges of the skillet, add a little more oil. Turn off the heat.
  7. Uncover the skillet and use the edge of the spatula to separate the edge of the cake from the side of the skillet—the bottom should be brown. Gently slide the skillet back and forth a few times to loosen it from the bottom of the skillet.
  8. Place a flat plate upside down over the skillet. Hold the plate and skillet together and swiftly invert them so that the cake falls gently onto the plate, browned side up. Remove the skillet to uncover the plate.
  9. Slice the rice and lentil cake into quarters and use a spatula to carefully serve the slices on small plates. If the slices break apart, use the spatula to reshape them. Drizzle each slice with olive oil and top with pickled red onion and cilantro.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Nico Vera
    Nico Vera
  • Tashipluto
  • Joan Summers
    Joan Summers
  • Danielle

13 Reviews

Tashipluto October 6, 2021
Is there a recipe for the pickled red onions with Amarillo?
Nico V. October 6, 2021
I haven't published a recipe for salsa criolla, but this one by Gaston Acurio looks good. ¡Buen provecho!
Joan S. June 22, 2021
This looks like a wonderful, flavorful and easy recipe to make. I can't wait to try it. I loved the short story about this recipe and your family.
Nico V. June 22, 2021
Thank you! I hope you enjoy cooking the dish, buen provecho!
Danielle June 20, 2021
This looks amazing. I can’t wait to try this!
Nico V. June 21, 2021
Thank you, buen provecho!
maggie June 20, 2021
I’m a little confused. Do you cook the lentils separately? And what do you do with the rest of the lentils (the ones that haven’t been refrigerated overnight) 🤔
Danielle June 20, 2021
I think step 1 happens the night before and you can probably eat the other lentils however you’d like :)
Nico V. June 21, 2021
Hi, thanks for your question. Yes, you cook the lentils ahead of time, the day before. The recipe calls only for 1 cup so can reserve the remainder lentils for another recipe (or to make more tacu tacu!)
J.B. S. June 15, 2021
So, this may be from a different region, but it is def not how my mother made it. For any of those wanting another version, try: Day old rice (nice and sturdy and a little dry), black beans, stiff refried beans, fresh pressed or grated garlic, aji amarillo, and salt. Add as much or as little of each to taste and to form a mix sturdy enough to form balls and then fry those suckers in lard just like smash burgers (though not quite as thin), pressing down to get all those craggly sides and flat bottoms all nice and crispy. Then, serve with fried eggs, either fresh bananas or nice and sweet fried plantains, and salsa criolla (which is simply some soaked, thin-sliced red onions mixed with thinly slice aji amarillo, lime juice, and cilantro). It is a cheap, delicious, easy meal. Enjoy! :))))
Nico V. June 15, 2021
This sounds like a great montadito variation! Love the combo of black and refried beans too, cheers!
Tomoose June 14, 2021
Made this tonight but added celery & red pepper for more veg. Also used Korean hot paste since I didn't have what was called for in recipe. Should have added more rice as it was too loose to cut into wedges but looked nice when I flipped it onto the plate. Topped it off with fresh herbs from my balcony garden. Thanks for the recipe!
Nico V. June 15, 2021
My pleasure! Your version sounds creative, spicy, and delicious, cheers!