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Papas Rellenas (cuban potato meatballs)

Prep Time:

30 Minutes

Cook Time:

20 Minutes





About the Recipe

Papas Rellenas are a traditional Cuban snack. The fried mashed potato balls are filled with ground beef and other fillings for a delicious appetizer or main dish. It’s easy to adjust these to your liking – no two recipes are exactly the same!


Mashed Potatoes

  • 4 large potatoes about 2 pounds (or about 4 cups if already prepared)

  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 2 egg yolks lightly beaten, (reserve whites)

  • 1/4 cup whole milk (add slowly as you might not use it all)

  • Salt and pepper to taste.



  • 1 pound ground beef

  • 1 medium onion diced

  • 3 cloves garlic minced

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika or more to taste

  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin or more to taste

  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper

  • 10 Spanish olives finely chopped

  • 2 Tablespoons juice from olives

  • oil for frying


As an Amazon Affiliate, I may earn commission on qualifying purchases.What are Papas Rellenas?

Papas Rellenas are Cuban potato balls. Our closest friends are 100% Cuban-American and I’ve learned that every Cuban party has trays of papas rellenas and croquettas (ham filled potato balls).

The mashed potato balls are stuffed with picadillo – a filling made with ground meat, tomatoes, and other ingredients that vary by region. Every family has their own “secret” recipe for picadillo. Some recipes call for green peppers, some call for green olives with pimentos, some for tomato paste, and others for wine and tomato sauce. 

For my papas rellenas recipe, I wanted to give the picadillo a hint of smokiness. I added some smoked paprika and a pinch of cayenne. 

The stuffed potato balls can be served as an appetizer or main dish. This is also a great recipe to use up leftover mashed potatoes. And the shape of papas rellenas also makes a perfect hand-held school lunch.

How to Make Papas Rellenas

I learned how to make potato croquettes in cooking school, which are basically mashed potatoes with egg yolks, formed into cylinders, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. These potato meatballs are similar.

First you’ll need a batch of cold, firm, mashed potatoes. If using leftover mashed potatoes, warm them slightly and add beaten egg yolks. Or you can make the potatoes as instructed in the recipe below and store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the papas rellenas.

Using about ¼ cup of stiff, cold potatoes, form a ball. Flatten the ball a bit and make a hollow indentation.

Put about 1 tablespoon of the picadillo inside the indentation, then enclose the meat inside the potatoes, forming a ball.

Roll each ball in egg, then in breading, and place on a baking sheet. Chill 2 to 4 hours.

Repeat with remaining potatoes and meat.

Heat oil in a deep-fat fryer or deep frying pan. I used a deep frying pan and about 1 1/2 inches of oil. 

When oil is hot, carefully place 2 or 3 balls in the pan. Using a slotted spoon, turn until the potato balls are golden brown on all sides, 2 or 3 minutes. Transfer to a clean baking sheet lined with paper towels.

Keep them warm in the oven until all papas are fried.

Can You Freeze Papas Rellenas?

Yes! You can freeze them two ways. First, prepare them up to the breading, wrap well and freeze. This is the way I prefer, as they will taste freshest when cooked. Allow them to thaw in the refrigerator before frying them. 

You can also freeze them after they are cooked, but I only do this if we have leftovers.



Mashed Potatoes

  1. Boil potatoes in salted water until fork tender, then drain. Mash potatoes into a large bowl. Add butter and milk, mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Potatoes should be fairly stiff so they can hold their shape

  2. Stir in beaten yolks. Cool or refrigerate potatoes. These should be stiffer than regular mashed potatoes. They can be made a day before.


  1. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook for a few minutes until translucent. Next, add garlic, continuing to stir until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.

  2. Add ground beef stirring to break up meat.

  3. Add paprika, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook until beef is brown throughout. Add chopped olives and juice. Stir and adjust seasoning to taste, adding more if necessary.


  1. Mix 1/4 cup all purpose flour and 1 cup bread crumbs in a shallow bowl.

  2. Beat the 2 egg whites and 1 egg and place in a bowl.

Assembling the Papas Rellenas

  1. Using about 1/4 cup stiff, cold mashed potatoes, form into a ball.

  2. Flatten the ball and make a hollow.

  3. Put about 1 tablespoon picadillo inside the indentation.

  4. Enclose meat in potatoes, forming into a ball. Place on a baking sheet.

  5. Repeat with remaining potatoes and meat.

  6. Roll each ball in egg mixture then in breading. Place on a baking sheet. Chill 2 to 4 hours.

  7. Heat oil in a deep-fat fryer or deep frying pan. I used a deep frying pan and about 1 1/2 inches of oil. When oil is hot, carefully place 2 or 3 balls in a pan, using a slotted spoon and turn until golden brown on all sides, 2 or 3 minutes. Transfer to a clean baking sheet lined with paper towels.

  8. Hold in a warm oven until all the papas are fried. Makes approximately 2 dozen, depending on the size.

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