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.
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.
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.
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.
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.