The first time I ate Pastelitos de Yucca was in 1983 in Ecuador. We had just arrived in the country, my two young daughters Naama (2) and Maayan (6 months), my Sister-in-Law “tía Carla” and I. We stayed for a few months at a small local family-run hotel. Every day, the cook prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for us and a few other guests, most of them UN consultants. At night, I was allowed to use their kitchen to warm up the milk for my babies’ bottles, la “pachita.” One day, I asked them if they could pack up a small lunchbox for me as the next day, I would be picked up early to visit an indigenous community in the province of Chimborazo – also the name of the volcano that reigns majestically and threateningly over the region. They said they will leave it in the kitchen for me to pick up the next day.
We left early in the morning. Tia Carla and the girls were still asleep as I got dressed in the dark and left quietly the room for this first field trip. I collected my lunchbox and hopped into the blue Toyota driven by Carlitos. It took us many hours before we reached the community. By then, the sandwich in the lunchbox had been fully consumed/shared between me, Carlitos and the 2 other government officials – our project national counterpart. We were tired and hungry as we arrived at the local community. First there were many introductions and then conversations in Quichua and translations; later on we visited the small school – one classroom where one teacher worked with all grades from 1 to 6 simultaneously – and asked questions about what kids ate at school. Some rice, some days, some beans, sometimes. Breakfast? Some corn meal, sometimes…. It was cold up there in the mountain. As we were about to leave, one old woman ran towards us and said we had to come to her house and eat before we depart. In the dark of her little hut, we were served cooked corn and something I had never had before. A fried something that tasted so yummy. I was so hungry. The woman smiled seeing us devour her food. Outside kids were watching, curious to see how white people – blond ones – behave. I smiled at them, they smiled back. At the same time I felt uncomfortable thinking these kids rarely get to eat these foods. As we left I asked my companions “these fried cakes, how do you call these?” And they said “pastelitos de yucca.”
Many years later Fanny, the young woman who accompanied us in our many journeys in Ecuador, Brazil, Italy and then again Ecuador, taught me the recipe.
You must buy fresh yucca (cassava!). In Ecuador, you never buy it without verifying that its flesh is white. The salesperson breaks the yuca in two parts to show you it is fresh and white and only then can you buy it. You then wash and peel the thick brown rind and then either grate the yucca by hand, so that it feels like a pure, or in a food processor. In this case, there are two processes: first grind it and then puree it, all raw. Add 3 eggs (one for each medium size root), salt, some pepper and a bit of olive oil. Mix well.
In a pan, pour some olive or canola oil to heat and then add large spoonful of the mix in the pan on medium heat. Fry on one side and turn over to fry on the other until they look nicely browned. Serve with any meat or chicken dish with sauce or give it in the hand of your little kid who can run around while holding the “pastelito” in one hand and getting at the same time a good amount of Vitamin C, Potassium, Folate, proteins, Omega 3 and 6, some fatty acids and some Vitamin B-12 and D.
Not too bad… Buen Provecho!