Learning How To Make Traditional Ecuadorian Manioc Bread

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Manioc bread, also called yucca bread

I’ve had good luck learning to make regional flatbreads  —  flour and corn tortillas, pita bread, Indian naan, hoe cakes *, flapjacks. Quick breads like cornbread and biscuits are a breeze because I’ve made them so often. (Learning to make flaky biscuits took several years of trial and error.)

*Hoe cakes are primarily a Southern dish made from cornmeal, water and salt. Field workers would make the patties and cook them on their cleaned hoe blade over a fire.

One of the events of this Amazon trip I looked forward to was making manioc bread from yucca roots. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to make it start to finish — from digging the root, to preparing and baking it.

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The yucca plants are behind me
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Hortensia, the wife of the Shaman, holds a machete to chop away the plant tops. She left 18″ of stem above the ground.

In the video below, William digs up multiple yucca roots. Hortensia removed some of the peel with her machete. Martin and Julia continued the process.

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I’m grating the peeled yucca against a handmade grater — roughened edges are created by puncturing a piece of metal many times with a nail. The grated yucca — wet and incredibly white — falls into a hollowed-out log.

The grated yucca is squeezed tightly in a contraption made from dried leaves (below, on left.) The liquid is caught in a large pan to be used for porridge or soups.

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A dry flour remains after the liquid is removed. Roman, on left, and William aerate the flour through a sifter made from reeds. When the occasional bug would get into the flour, Hortensia expertly removed it.
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Hortensia spread the dry flour on a flat baking pan that had been heated over coals for about 45 minutes.
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I couldn’t figure out how the dry flour — nothing added — would become “bread.” But as it cooked, it began to adhere. Hortensia used a curved piece of wood to flip it. The manioc bread has the coarse texture of burlap.

The cooked bread was torn into pieces, or folded and eaten like a sandwich. It’s served at every meal. Since no salt is added, it’s somewhat bland. The naturally occurring sodium, and the root itself, gave it a flavor I liked.

William told us that the women of the village get together occasionally and make many of these breads on a single day. They spread them out on sand near the river to dry in the sun then stack them in the kitchens. They keep for upwards of three weeks. Before eating, they are reheated on open-air griddles.

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This is Gabriel, the village’s shaman. His neck jewelry consists of the tusks of wild pigs, and dried cacao seeds laced on string. His face is painted with red stripes from the (inedible) fruit of a plant that seemed to be everywhere

Shaman training begins at the age of 15, when they ingest a drink made from hallucinogenic plants. Whenever Gabriel is called to diagnose or treat one of the villagers, he drinks the hallucinogen to connect with the spirits and to engage with the powers of the earth. When he was asked about religion, he laughed, then the interpreter explained, “He doesn’t believe in religion.” I thought that was an interesting response.

I’ve seen yucca root in my local grocery store for years, but didn’t know what it was used for. I plan to make a traditional Ecuadorian meal for my friends, including manioc bread. I hope my cast-iron skillet is up to the task.

 

One thought on “Learning How To Make Traditional Ecuadorian Manioc Bread

  1. Oh, I love every bit of this one, Bart! It lets me feel like I have a real sense of what it was like to be there. I can almost feel the bread in my mouth. And the photo of the shaman is pretty amazing, too. I bet your own bread and your meal will be wonderful. 🙂

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