Mama's Llapingachos
(Ecuadorian Cheese-Filled Potato Patties)

Llapingachos (Ecuadorian cheese-filled potato patties, pronounced “Yah-peen-GAH-chos”) can be served for breakfast, as a main dish for lunch or supper, or even enjoyed as a snack. Llapingachos are traditionally topped with Salsa de Mani (peanut sauce) and Curtido de Cebolla y Tomate (fresh tomato and onion salad), with sides of eggs (and sometimes sausage and rice), shredded lettuce and thinly sliced avocados. Mama simply served her llapingachos topped with a sunnyside-up egg and a small side salad. Honestly, they’re delicious just by themselves!

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The summer Mama visited us from Ecuador, I spent time cooking at her side, learning to make some of the traditional dishes she had cooked for her family through the years. Mama rarely used a recipe, nor measured anything, save with her hands and eyes! I wanted to use this time to preserve an important part of the Bermeo heritage by saving some of her recipes in written form! Though we couldn’t communicate in words for we spoke different languages, I watched carefully, taking notes, while she as she deftly patted the golden mashed potatoes into rounds….

By following the method described below, with a little practice, you’ll be able to enjoy delicious llapingachos, just like Mama’s! You’ll notice that the ingredient list doesn’t exact measurements, but rather the amounts of each ingredient needed per pattie. Adjust the amounts based on the number of patties required.

Ingredients

Llapingachos

  • Starchy white potatoes, such as Russets (about 4 ounces per pattie)
  • Green/spring onion tops, thinly sliced (a scant tablespoon per serving), optional
  • Sazon Goya Con Culantro y Achiote (for seasoning and color; see Notes)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Shredded mild white cheese such as Mozzarella or Monterey Jack (about 1 ounce per pattie)
  • Flour (for coating patties)
  • Vegetable oil (for frying; I prefer a mild-flavored olive oil)

Suggested sides/accompaniments

  • Salsa de Mani and or Curtido de Cebolla y Tomate (see internet for recipes)
  • Sunnyside-up eggs
  • Vegetarian sausage
  • Cooked rice
  • Salad of shredded lettuce, finely chopped cilantro, and diced tomatoes
  • Avocado slices

Instructions

Prepare the mashed potato mixture

  1. While the potatoes are cooking, slice the onions, if using, and begin preparing any desired sides. (See introduction for suggested accompaniments. Recipes for the peanut sauce and tomato-onion relish can be found online.)
  2. Peel the potatoes, then cut into large (about 1-inch chunks), placing the chunks into a saucepan.
  3. Add water until the potatoes are submerged, salt liberally (about 1 teaspoon per pound of potatoes), then bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low (just high enough to keep the water boiling), then cover the saucepan and cook the potatoes until tender (about 20 minutes).
  4. Drain the water, leaving the potatoes in the saucepan. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes until no lumps remain. Add the sliced green onions, if using.
  5. Stir in enough Sazon Goya to season the potatoes and tint them a sunny yellow-orange color, similar to the color of orange juice. Season to taste with additional salt (although Mama skipped this step, covering and refrigerating the potato mixture for at least 30 minutes may make it easier to shape into patties).

Shape and stuff the llapingachos, repeating steps for each pattie

  1. Arrange patties side-by-side in a single layer on a platter or baking sheet. After shapping, the patties can be fried immediately or covered and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes. Again, this step is not essential; but, it will help the patties hold together when frying.
  2. Gather a fist-sized portion of the mashed potato mixture (about 1/2 cup) in your left hand, then pat and press with your hands, forming the potatoes into a round ball.
  3. Holding the ball in your left hand, use the thumb of your right hand to press a deep depression into the center of the ball.
  4. Still holding the ball in your left hand, use your right hand to gather about 2 to 3 tablespoons of shredded cheese, then press it lightly into the depression. Bring the top edges of the potatoes over the cheese, enclosing the cheese. (Seal completely or some of the melted cheese may seep out as the patties fry). Use both hands to reshape the ball into a flattened pattie, about 3/4-inches thick and 3 inches in diameter.

Fry the llapingachos

Repeat steps until all of the patties are fried, placing the fried patties on the paper-towel lined platter. Last minute preparations of the accompaniments can be completed as the patties are fried.

  1. Lightly brush a large, heavy, flat bottomed skillet or griddle with oil, then heat to medium.
  2. While the skillet or griddle heats, arrange a work area on a nearby counter with the seasoned/colored mashed potatoes, the shredded cheese, a small bowl of flour for dipping the patties and a paper towel-lined platter.
  3. Place several patties in the heated skillet or griddle; cook for 3 or 4 minutes or until the bottoms of the patties are nicely browned. Use a spatula to carefully turn the patties, then continue cooking until the second sides are browned.

Serving

  1. Serve llapingachos with desired accompaniments.

Notes

  • Mama introduced me to Sazon Goya, a Spanish/Latin American seasoning packaged in small foil packets inside a larger colorful cardboard box. It is a staple item in Mexican/Latin American “Mercados” (markets). It can also often be found in larger supermarkets with other Mexican/Latin American food products or purchased online.
  • Sazon Goya is available in several varieties. For llapingachos, be sure to select the box labelled “Con Culantro y Achiote” (Coriander and Annatto). Have extra packets? It can also be used for seasoning/coloring Spanish/Mexican rice, "Arroz con Pollo” (chicken with rice) etc.
  • In my cookbooks, Amazing Meals I and II, I caution that Sazon Goya contains MSG. People who are sensitive to MSG should to avoid its use. (A combination of turmeric and paprika can alternatively be used.)

Vintage, beloved family recipe written and shared by LuAnn Bermeo, author of Amazing Meals I and II, a two-volume set of family-approved plant-based recipes.

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