Cuñapé and Empanadas
Traditional recipes from our NPH Bolivia kitchen.
October 11, 2016 - Bolivia
“Cuñapé is one of my favorite foods because the dough is really soft, and it’s gooey and cheese on the inside!” Talia* smiled.
Cuñapé is a cheesy breads related to pão de queijo in Brazil and chipás in Argentina and Paraguay. It is one of Bolivia’s most well-known traditional foods. It is made from yucca flour, also known as cassava flour or tapioca flour (tapioca is the starch extract from yucca/cassava), which is one of the most abundant root plants in South America besides potatoes.
One of our home cooks, Julia, explained the recipe for this beloved bread. “The ingredients are half yucca flour, half cheese and that’s it. Then you roll it into a ball, and let it sit for a bit so the dough sets. Cook it at 140 celcius for 45 minutes, or until the outside is crispy.”
“I like making cuñapé because it is more traditional than other dishes we serve,” she continued. “We make a variety of foods for the children such as rice and chicken, chop suey, rice and lentils, and other meats, but you sometimes have to buy more materials for those foreign dishes. We would cook cuñapé every day, or every other day, if we had all the ingredients. Right now yucca flour is not expensive, but finding enough cheese is difficult. We use 10 kilograms of yucca flour and 10 kilograms of cheese to make enough cuñapé for 150 people. We also use the same ingredients to make cheese empanadas, which have the cheese on the inside instead of mixed in to the dough.”
“I prefer cuñapé to empanadas,” Talia reflected. “The cuñapé dough is softer while the empanadas are tougher and have more graininess to them. But I like both of them, of course, because sometimes you get tired of so much rice!”
Julia said the recipe for empanadas is almost the same as for cuñapé. “Instead of mixing the cheese into the dough, we put the cheese on the inside and fold it [the dough] around the cheese. Sometimes we paint a bit of butter on the outside and bake it so that the outside becomes crispy. It’s a common pastry in all of Latin America.”
When asked what her favorite food is Julia replied, “Cuñapé is actually my favorite food. It’s traditional, Bolivian and simple to make. Although it’s a lot of work to make enough for so many people, we are happy to make it for them and give them a bit of Bolivian comfort food.”
*Name changed for privacy.