flavor of fall

winter squash

Working at a pumpkin market down the street this fall, I’ve had a chance to taste my share of different pumpkin and squash varieties (the farmer grows over 30). They range in color – from steel blue to burning hot orange – size, shape, ugliness, skin type – pimply and lumpy to smooth as plastic – and of course the taste and texture of their nutritious flesh. I did a taste test of a few that I had never tried, but my preference still goes back to my all-along favorite: the kabocha type.

Kabocha or Japanese pumpkins have a dense, dry yet silky texture and sweet but mild taste, resembling to me a pumpkin and sweet potato combined. They make the creamiest hearty soups when pureed and melt in your mouth when roasted or baked in chunks. My favorite way to enjoy it remains the simplest: chunks of baked squash drizzled in good olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. As simple as possible to let the flavor and texture of the squash shine.

pumpkin varieties

When talking pumpkin recipes with David (the farmer), he said he likes to stuff acorn squash with mac n’ cheese and bake it. Uh, why hadn’t I ever thought of that? Homemade macaroni + cheese is something I allllways look forward to in the fall (but secretly wish included more vegetables :), and I can never get enough of winter squash. So combine the two? Done.

mac n cheese ready for the oven Continue reading

pan de yuca

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!

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