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Llapingachos (Potato-Cheese Pancakes)

04/13/2010

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about my favorite subject–Ecuador, obviously. But now I have the perfect excuse!

A few weeks ago my friend Miriam hosted a Gourmet dinner (as in the former magazine). Miriam interned there over the summer and when the magazine closed, she felt that a dinner where every dish came from the pages of the magazine would be an appropriate homage. You can read more and see pictures from the dinner at Miriam’s blog here.

When given the task of finding a vegetarian dish from Gourmet for the dinner, I of course honed in on the one Ecuadorian recipe in the archives. Yes, I singled out some others, but as soon as I saw this one, I knew it was the dish I would make.

Being a vegetarian in Ecuador is kind of tricky. I pretty much ate rice, potatoes, and bread in some variety for the majority of my meals. It’s particularly hard when going out to eat in a “typical” restaurant because these establishments serve one soup and one plated meal every day and that’s it. I once got lunch at a roadside lunch restaurant in a small rural town called Tababelo (soon to become well known as it will be home to Quito’s new airport). They had no vegetarian choices to offer me so I was ultimately presented with a bowl of rice with a can of tuna dumped on top. Interesting, but not terrible.

Given the scarcity of non-meat related food items, I was always excited when llapingachos were on the menu. The best way to describe this dish is fried mashed potato patties with cheese inside. Sounds great, right? But an extra twist is that it is often served with a peanut sauce, which might not sound like a natural combination, but is, in fact, delicious. And an excellent bonus for the protein deprived.

This recipe pretty much came out as I had remembered it, although it was definitely nice to eat it alongside fresh salads, tofu, and beans!

Llapingachos (Ecuadorian Potato Cakes)
From Gourmet, serves four

1 1/2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, divided
6 tablespoons annatto oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 medium tomato, chopped
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
6 oz Münster cheese, coarsely grated (2 cups)

Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Cover potatoes with cold water in a medium pot, then stir in 1 teaspoon salt and simmer until very tender, about 18 minutes.

While potatoes simmer, cook garlic and 1/3 cup scallions in 2 tablespoons annatto oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in cumin and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add tomato and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add milk and bring to a bare simmer, then remove from heat and stir in peanut butter until combined well. Keep peanut sauce warm, covered, off heat.

Drain potatoes, then mash in a bowl.

Cook remaining 1/2 cup scallions with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in 2 tablespoons annatto oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until scallions are softened, then stir into potatoes along with cheese. Form potato mixture into 8 balls and flatten each into a 3-inch patty.

Heat 1 tablespoon annatto oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then fry cakes in 2 batches, turning over once, until crusty, about 6 minutes per batch. Add remaining tablespoon annatto oil for second batch.

Gently reheat peanut sauce, thinning to a creamy consistency with a little water if necessary. Season sauce with salt and serve with potato cakes.

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