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Bolivian Tea Cakes
As Rommy Holman from Cochabamba, Bolivia, taught Lindsay Sterling
In North Yarmouth, ME, November 2010

Mashed Yuca Cakes in Banana Leaf
Serves 12
Active time 1 hr
Total time 3 hours
1. Preparing the Yuca
3 pounds yuca root, about 4 large roots
You can get Yuca root at Latin, African, or Asian markets, and even sometimes at your local supermarket. They’re the shape of yams or sweet potatoes, but have thick rough brown skin. Cut the yuca into two-inch segments. Wedge a pairing knife between the skin and the flesh, and pry the bark-like skin away from the flesh (as opposed to peeling it). It pops off in chunks easily. Rinse the white pieces in water, put in a pot of water to boil like potatoes. When you can insert a fork or knife easily through a few, they’re done. About fifteen minutes. Also, you’ll notice the edges starting to crack. Drain and let cool to the touch. Going through the center of the each whole root is a fibrous string. You pull this out of your chunks with your fingers or a pairing knife. Mash the remaining yuca, piece by piece in a bowl with a potato masher. For this dough, you only want to use the fresh, soft white parts. Discard or save any hard, waxy or yellow pieces for another use. (They’re great in a shaved cabbage and lime salad, or thrown into soup like you would potatoes.)
2. Preparing the Dough
4 ½ cups mashed yuca root
1 lb. rice flour (she used Bob’s Redmill)*
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup melted Crisco*
1 lb. queso fresco*
1 banana leaf
Into the mixing bowl of mashed yuca, add the rice flour, salt, and sugar. Knead until you mix the ingredients all together. Add milk a little bit at a time – you’re looking for the dough to start to hold together. It’s very thick, put your weight over the bowl as you really press down with your hands. You’ll use about a cup of milk. The dough shouldn’t get outright sticky, but it should barely stick to your hands. Add the melted Crisco and really lean into the dough as you work it. It’ll sound wet/squishy. Good. Now add the cheese and knead some more. The final dough should be thick, slightly sticking on hands. Add more milk if needed to get this consistency. Now, let the dough sit covered in the fridge for 2 hours so that yuca can really suck in the fat. If you cook it right away, the cakes (still delicious) will turn out a little greasy – almost like they’re fried. If you let the dough sit (which I recommend), they turn out more like savory little breads, not greasy at all. Delicious!
3. Making the cakes
Preheat the oven to 350. Use kitchen scissors (I just disinfected some regular scissors I had) and cut rectangles out of the banana leaf. You want them to be about the size of your hand. Then you take enough dough to make a small ball in your hand. Flatten the ball into a little cake and place in the middle of a banana leaf. Fold two corners into the center and press into the middle of the cake. Repeat until you run out of dough. Don’t worry if the banana leaves don’t stick perfectly. In Bolivia they put these little packets right on the floor of a wood fired brick oven. We can just put them on a cookie sheet in the oven for about 20 minutes – until the cakes just start to turn a little golden and the banana leaves overcome you with their fragrance. Serve with tea, coffee, or hot cocoa, for an afternoon snack at 4pm.
4. These keep for about 3 days like bread - covered on the counter. Nice to have!
Serves as many as you want
Takes less than an hour
Rated Super Easy – kid friendly
3 parts queso fresco*
1 part tapioca or manoic starch*
enough milk (couple Tbsps)
Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with pam, butter or Crisco. Now, I’m not going to give you exact measurements. You’re going to cook like Rommy’s mom. She knows the magic proportion for this recipe: 3 parts cheese to 1 part tapioca starch, and she can work with any unit of measure depending on how many people she’s expecting. A unit of measure is anything you have: a tablespoon, a quarter cup, a half-cup, a mug, a cup, a pie plate, or a small pot. She doesn’t need a calculator to change the recipe – she just sticks with the magic proportion! This is so liberating! In a large mix bowl, you simply knead the 3 parts cheese and1 part starch together and then add enough milk or water (it really doesn’t take much) to form uniform dough that doesn’t stick to your hands. If you’re cooking for twelve, I’d try a cup as your unit of measure – 3 cups cheese, 1 cup starch. Make little balls with the dough - about an inch and a half in diameter by rolling dough between your palms. Put a thumbprint in the bottom of each ball (to help with even puffing in the oven) and place finger print side down on a cooking sheet spread like cookies. Bake for 20-25 minutes until they puff up into balls just and just begin to turn golden. Serve with coffee, tea, or cocoa in the afternoon.

Where to Get It or What to Substitute
*Crisco: In Bolivia she uses Fino brand margarena – I’m pretty sure this is margarine. I think any kind of fat would work changing the flavor slightly: melted butter, pork fat, margarine, vegetable oil, but I’ll have to report back.
*Queso Fresco: this is a fresh cheese, crumbly and mild, with a touch of salt in it. You get it at any Latin market. Rommy said don’t get La Ricura brand – that’s different, but usually Mexican queso fresco in the U.S. is like the Bolivian menonita she uses at home. She says, “It tastes like milk.” They use it crumbled on salads, bread, and other foods. I'm going to try Ricotta as a substitute, but I'll have to report back. The mozzerella didn't work. Way too heavy. Update: I just saw some cheese labeled queso fresco that was a hard block, so I guess this cheese isn't standardized yet. What want is something soft but not creamy - crumbly. Podcast engineer Jane Cramer said she used a blend of feta and tofu that worked for the cunapes. Good idea Jane! Substituting just feta would be too salty - the dough is mostly straight cheese.
*Rice Flour. Bob’s Red mill is the brand at my major supermarket. Goya brand sells this, along with some other brands, at immigrant markets. Anywhere in the world rice grows they use this stuff I’m pretty sure, so an African, Asian, or Latin market would be a good bet if you can't find it at the supermarket. I bet amazon sells it!
*Tapioca or Manoic Starch. This is a lot like cornstarch, but it's derived from the yuca root, otherwise known as cassava. Bob's Red Mill makes an American brand. Immigrant markets sell it too. Do not confuse with cassava flour - it's not the same stuff, kind of like cornmeal and cornstarch are both from the same plant but different parts of it.
*Banana Leaves. We do not know what big leaves are in Maine. These GIANT 8 foot long leaves come frozen in a pack, folded up like a piece of fabric. Cut with scissors to desired form. You'll find them in the freezer.
*I found all this stuff at La Bodega Latina on Congress St. across from Maine Medical Center in Portland, ME. If you don't have an immigrant market near you - search online for it. I can also send you stuff if you want. Email me: lindsay@lindsaysterling.com
Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2010