|cheesy treat or satellite photo of the moon?|
I fell in with a group of Paraguayans recently, and I have learned that it pays to admit you are hungry when you are around Paraguayans. I am passing the gains along to you.
Have you ever had a cheese rock? If you haven't, you may think that sounds like a terrible name for a food, or really more like an ailment you might develop from eating food that was prepared improperly and which might require brief hospitalization. But if you have had one, chances are you are thinking happy thoughts now that I reminded you of them. Maybe you have had a chance to go the the Big Booty Bakery (that is really the name) in New York City and snag yourself some. Maybe you have spent some time in Brazil, where cheese rocks are known to the people there as "pão de queijo." Of course, the people there do not say "pão de queijo" in a way that might lead you to suspect that they are talking about bread made from cheese and that this is how you spell it. They say something along the lines of "powmkwangjhou." Whatever flair for languages I have has never extended to Portuguese, and many of my beloveds speak it. Though it is merely an observation, and not an unfriendly one, the fact that Portuguese always makes me think of the Lorax ("he sounds as if he had smallish bees up his nose") probably can be traced to sour grapes.
But what all this has to do with Paraguay is that a friendly Paraguayan person made me something she called "embayjew," and which turns out to be called "mbeyu" (not far from Paraquay to Brazil, via the Truffula forest.) I recreated it for my nephew, whose mother--my sister--spent lots of happy time in Brazil and chats away merrily ("jhoojh! jhoojh! owm owm! jhoojh!) with my aunt and cousins while I sit and listen. This is like a flat pmkaykji, said the nephew, whose flair for Portuguese is perhaps less keen even than mine. He is right, though. It's a crispy, flattened one of them there things he means.
One of the many nice things about pão de queijo and mbeyu is that they are gluten-free, and another nice thing is that they are both chewy and crispy--two qualities that often elude GF bakers and eaters alike--and also cheesy, which is always tasty. They are simple to make and require only one odd-seeming ingredient, tapioca flour or starch, which in fact is readily available even if you have never had call to look for it. Both Bob's Red Mill and Ener-G make it and it is generally with all the weird flours in your Gourmet Shoppe or health food emporium, or even a big chain grocery. Most recipes for pão de queijo seem to call for an egg, which my sisters cannot eat, and these little delights do not require one. Furthermore, the Paraguayan angel who whipped these up for me used goat cheese, meaning they are suitable for those who eschew cow dairy, too (see above, "sisters of mine.") I have since made them with all manner of cheeses. They are pretty flexible in this regard, and no more complicated to produce than a pie crust.
1 cup tapioca flour
pinch of salt
3-4 T cool butter, ghee or vegetable shortening (use the lesser amount if you are using soft cheese as well as hard)
a generous cup of coarsely-grated cheddar-like cheese, or about 3/4 c plus 1/4 cup of fresh soft goat cheese
3-4 T cold milk (goat or cow)
Mix the flour and salt together in a medium bowl, then work the butter or shortening into it as you would to make a pie crust. Add the cheese and toss to combine, then add a bit of milk at a time until the dough just comes together when you pinch it. It should still look more crumbly than dough-like.
Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and swirl a bit of butter or ghee or olive oil in it. Take a handful of dough and flatten it into a disk (this recipe will make you two 6-7" cakes, or you can make little wee ones instead). Plop in onto the hot pan and flatten it a bit more. Cook about three minutes, until it is nicely golden, and then flip to repeat for the other side. Eat nice and hot, maybe alongside some soup or just with a drizzle of hot sauce or other condiment that appeals.