As I traveled around Ecuador, the food I saw most often, from Otavalo’s street markets (where I first tried one) to the restaurants of Quito, was the llapingacho (yop-in-GAH-cho), a potato and cheese cake with as many variations as there are people making them. It was common to see llapingachos on griddles next to fried eggs, a popular accompaniment, or offered with fried platanos or peanut sauce. I also had them as a side dish, along with highly-spiced roast pork and buttery, white hominy. But however they were prepared, they were always wonderful.
The Andes are where potatoes originated, so it is not surprising that Ecuador has them, but the variety and flavor were impressive—many types I’d never tried before. Of the varieties we have here, my choice for this recipe has always been new (red skinned) potatoes, because they have more protein and moisture, and hold together better. Yukon golds would probably be good, too. Russets or baking potatoes, which are dry and crumbly, wouldn’t work quite as well. However, farmers markets are now offering us more varieties than these grocery-store staples. You may want to experiment.
2 lb. red-skinned potatoes (or your preference)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup grated white cheese (Chihuahua, Monterey Jack, Muenster, or the like)
Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Put in a large saucepan with cold water to cover, add a pinch of salt, and bring to the boil. Cook until tender when pricked with a fork (about 20 minutes). Run under cold water, drain, and place in a large mixing bowl. Mash with a potato masher until smooth.
Put a tablespoon of oil in a skillet and sauté the onion over medium heat until golden brown (about 10 minutes). Remove onions to a small bowl.
Shape the mashed potatoes into 12 balls. With each ball, make a hole using your thumbs, then stuff the ball with some of the onion and a tablespoon of grated cheese and close the hole back up. Flatten the ball into a patty about 3 inches in diameter.
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the potato patties in batches of 3 or 4, turning them once, until they are golden brown on both sides (about 3 minutes per side). Add oil to pan as needed for each new batch.
When cooked, you can sprinkle the llapingachos with a little salt to taste. Makes 12.
© 2009 Cynthia Clampitt