Cachapas + Herby Cilantro Cheeze

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Whelp, here we are, fellow humans. Hi again.

I never thought I’d reboot this blog under the auspices of a, er…global pandemic. It’s a new decade, I’m hitting 30 this year, and the world as we know it is a dumpster fire of absurd proportions. A sea of malodorous, soul-withering flames to be exact. I’ve been quarantining for 40+ days and my olympic talent for procrastination has finally collapsed. Nothing like being confined to 500 square feet in Brooklyn, NY—the fucking epicenter of this crisis in America—to get me writing about food again.

Where has My Vegetable Romance been, you ask? You’re not actually asking that, but nevertheless, my mundane story: I moved to New York City in the summer of 2018. New city, new digs, new job. Apparently this is a package deal that comes with an identity crisis. New York was a beast for this Southern creature of comfort. On the one hand, I’d landed in a food Mecca. “Vegan” adorned practically every cafe menu in beatnik typeface. On the other hand, I was adjusting to living in a city that denies even a whisper of personal space or peace. Then there was the question of what nook to occupy. Let’s be real, this metropolis is infested with vegan lifestyle and foodie (*shudder*) bloggers. To wrap this up, I still kind of don’t know my nook? But hey, the world is disintegrating and Alex Jones is still peddling alt-right snake oil, so I’m not going to worry about my marketing strategy for now.

The irony now is that I am indefinitely banished from society at large. This was a fantasy once upon a time. Fantasy crushed. It is a nightmare now.

Side note: in normal, everyday life I am incredibly privileged. COVID-19 continues to fray whatever fringe of normalcy we’re clinging to and I’m still privileged. I still have my job for the time being and I still have a roof over my head. For whatever humor I inject into my writing here, there is an understanding that I am lucky to even have the capacity to do so. 

OK, let’s get to the food. Food is comfort, when we have an appetite. Food is connection. Food—cooking, consuming, sharing it—is a love language for me. I find myself returning to the food that comforts me most these days, albeit with a limited pantry.

When I think of absolute comfort, I think of the foods I obsessed over as a kid (mostly simple carbohydrates with a high bliss point and, weirdly enough, olives) and cachapas were up there: tender, velvety and crispy, salty-sweet Venezuelan corn pancakes. I’ll credit my BFF since the age of five, Gaby, with this cachapa craze. Gaby and I were attached at the hip in our formative years. We went to the same schools until college and our families were thick as thieves; we got matching henna tattoos and Limited Too outfits in elementary school, we prank called boys we crushed on in middle school. We melted our braincells watching Oprah and Dr. Phil together five days a week, and we split massive trays of nachos while melting those braincells. At the age of 11 she stuck a Cheeto up my nose mid-slumber party and I’ll never forgive her. Despite our different DNA, people often mistook us for siblings.

We’d spend most weekends at each other’s houses, scaring the bejesus out of ourselves late at night with the likes of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark or watching Practical Magic for the thousandth time. Without fail, if the slumber party unfolded at her house, I’d spend the next morning willing my favorite breakfast into existence: a stack of cachapas slathered in butter and washed down with a glass of abi (her family’s own concoction of passion fruit juice + seltzer. Highly recommend.). If her parents happened to have a packet of cachapa mix, we were in business.

As an adult who can no longer will meals into existence, I’ve found through experimentation that you don’t actually need a mix packet to make these. Cachapas have their own regional varieties in Venezuela and I won’t claim that this recipe embodies authenticity, but this version achieves the crunchy exterior and melty mouth feel of what I remember as a kid. To make it a little more interesting I’ve added a couple ingredients that give it deeper umami and complexity: browned onions and nutritional yeast.

Typically cachapas are eaten folded and tucked with fresh white cheese. Here the accompanying cashew cheeze recipe provides bright, herby notes that compliment the richness of these pancakes. While cachapas are shaped like pancakes, the cakes themselves contain no wheat or gluten (yay! yay?), so you can save your rationed all-purpose flour for other dishes. The ingredients are mostly pantry staples with the exception of the masa harina—which I will argue should be one of your pantry staples from here on out. It’s the building block of innumerable Latin American dishes, it’s versatile, and you can buy it easily online and in most Latin American supermarkets.

So, in conclusion, if you’re looking for a cooking project that doesn’t involve a sourdough starter—yes, I am already over your quarantine bread stories on Insta—but offers a new culinary adventure, you have come to the right place. I like these corn bebops for breakfast, I like ’em for dinner. They make for a hearty snack or a filling lunch. You can make them for any meal of the day, and that’s the kind of dish I can get behind.

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Cachapas

Makes 4 large pancakes or six smallish ones. Serves 2.

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels*
  • 1 cup + 1/4 cup unsweetened and unflavored non-dairy milk, divided
  • 1/2 cup masa harina
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1.5 tbs sugar
  • 1 tbs flax meal
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Nutritional yeast (optional)
  • Neutral oil for frying

*If using frozen, thaw prior to making this recipe

Herby Cilantro Cheeze

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
  • 1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 jalapeño
  • 2 tbs water
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs nutritional yeast
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • Salt, to taste
  • A teeny dash of maple syrup (optional)

To make the cheeze, simply throw all of your ingredients in a food processor or high speed blender and blend until smooth. This cheeze is incredibly customizable: add more jalapeño for extra spice, more lime juice for acidity. Less water for a thicker cheeze, or more water for a more pourable cheeze. If you add more liquid, you’ll need to adjust the salt accordingly. You can even try subbing cilantro for other herbs you have on hand and I’m sure it will be delightful. This stores in the fridge for up to a week.

Now for the star of the show: In a large bowl, whisk the flax meal and 1/4 cup of non-dairy milk together and let sit for ten minutes to create the flax egg. This is going to help hold the cachapas together.

While that’s jiving, heat one teaspoon of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and add the onion, sautéing until lightly browned. Make sure to agitate the onions occasionally. This should take 5-6 minutes. Now place the onion, corn, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse several times. You do not want a smooth paste. You’re looking for a wet, slightly textured mix.

Next, pour this mixture into the large bowl with the flax egg. Add the remaining cup of non-dairy milk, the masa harina, and the optional nutritional yeast and stir until you have a well combined batter.

Wipe out the pan you used to brown the onion and preheat over medium-low heat. Add a tablespoon or so of oil and wait until a minute for it to heat (it should be glistening). Now use a measuring cup to add a scant 1/2 cup of batter. If the batter doesn’t spread easily on its own, you can use the measuring cup to gently spread the batter into a flat disc shape. Fry until one side is a deep golden brown, about six or seven minutes, then carefully flip and repeat on the other side. Don’t be timid with the oil and the frying: these are meant to be melt-in-your-mouth pancakes with a crispy, buttery exterior. Live a little!

Serve immediately. You can spread cheeze on each pancake and fold it or you can go the simple route and slather them in vegan butter.

Notes

  • Masa harina. Don’t have it? Like I said above, invest in some, it’s useful! You can also experiment with using other corn flours, but the flavor won’t be the same.
  • The batter: masa harina absorbs moisture quickly and the batter can thicken up more than you want it to. If it seems super thick, add extra water or milk a tablespoon at a time until you get a consistency that is a little thicker than traditional pancake batter.
  • Word of warning: cachapas are not sturdy like traditional pancakes. These guys are quite tender, so take care when flipping that they don’t fall apart.
  • Onion choices: white or yellow, or you can use shallot. The white parts of scallions would work too.
  • Milk choices: soy, almond, or even coconut. Just make sure the milk you use is unsweetened and unflavored. I’ve made these with full fat coconut milk before and it worked beautifully, though it will impart a coconut-y flavor. I usually use soy milk.
  • Oil choices: canola, vegetable, refined coconut, or avocado oil. You can also use vegan butter, which will yield an even more decadent cachapa. Try and stick to oils with a high smoke point.

If you’ve read this far, thank you! If you make this recipe, holler at me with your results. Ditto if you have questions.

Lastly, there are so many people risking their lives on the frontlines of COVID-19, and many other people are forced to risk their lives on the frontlines because of the inequality and injustice in this country. For those privileged enough to retain their jobs and income remotely right now, please join me in donating to Food Well Alliance this week, an organization that builds and supports community gardens, urban farms, and food-producing spaces in metro Atlanta. This type of local support is critical. If you’re passionate about a particular organization that needs funding during this crisis, comment below!

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