Along with my cravings for Latin American flavors, I was inspired to attempt on my own many things I tasted in Ecuador this summer. One of these I thought I would never be lucky enough to taste again. I was on a late morning bus between cities and starving. Luckily for me, nearly every time buses are stopped, whether waiting in the station or dropping someone off, vendors come aboard trying to sell their goodies, from skewers of roasted pork and plantains, to candy that they shove in your hands and five minutes later either make you pay for it or take it back. So, on this morning an old man walked aboard carrying a large basket covered in a cloth. I was planning to buy whatever it was because I was so hungry, but I saw the man lift up the cloth for a woman in front of me, and what I saw intrigued me. They were steaming, bright yellow and white rolls, very different than anything I had seen in the panaderías on the streets. I asked for one, paid him 50 cents(!) and ripped off a small piece. What a strange texture! It was crispy on the outside, bright yellow and chewy on the inside. At first I didn’t realize it was cheese because I couldn’t see distinct pieces of cheese apart from the dough—it was a uniform consistency. All I knew was that it was warm, salty and delicious, and I gobbled it up and wished the old man was still on board! I had no idea what this bread was called, nor what unique ingredients created its odd texture, so my hopes for ever finding a recipe seemed pretty meager.
Fast forward 3 or so weeks later, and as I’m searching the web for Ecuadorian recipes I come across these ‘pan de yuca’ bites which looked curiously close to what I remember eating on that bus. I was so excited—could this be them?! The recipe was so simple. Tapioca starch, crumbly queso blanco, an egg, baking powder and water. I went to our local international foods market and found tapioca starch, or yuca harina [a very fine white flour], and gave my best guess out of about 30 different quesos.
To make the yuca bites, you simple combine the ingredients and knead into a dough, adding water until it sticks together to form a ball. Pinch off little balls, place in the oven, and in 15 minutes you have little ping pong balls of chewy cheesy bliss!
I knew instantly upon biting into these little rolls that this was it. Success! Just as I remember—except bite-sized and homemade by me (I’m sure the old man’s pan de yucca was homemade as well)! I made mom try them and although she is skeptical about some things I make, she loved the unique texture just as I did. They’re perfect to accompany any Latin-inspired meal, or as a bite to pop in your mouth with coffee or tea. I have Tamara from T’s Tasty Bits, an Ecuadorian cuisine blog, to thank for sharing this recipe. I am so happy to have found it and will definitely make these again and again as long as I can get my hands on some yuca flour!
Pan de Yuca, from T’s Tasty Bits
1 cup tapioca starch
1 cup shredded/crumbled queso blanco (you may also use mozzarella, Oaxaca, or Cotija)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 t baking powder
Preheat the oven at 375F. In a bowl, combine the starch, cheese, egg and baking powder and start kneading into a dough. Since the dough will be crumbly at first, start adding water 1-2 T at a time until it sticks together and forms a ball.
Begin pinching smaller balls off the dough and form little bites, about the size of a ping-pong ball. Place the dough balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately–they’re best when hot!