When I was 8 years old my mother sent my sister and I to live with our paternal grandparents. She was coming to the states to prepare our arrival and she decided that our grandparents should spend some time with us before we moved to the United States.
My grandparents lived in the state of Zulia, which is located in the northwest of Venezuela, around the Marcaibo Lake. This lake is the largest water body of its kind in Latin America and its basin covers one of the largest oil and gas reserves in the Western Hemisphere.
Maracaibo is the state capital and it has the second (Caracas being the first) largest population among Venezuela states. Like any country, each state is known for their own individual personality. Maracuchos (the population of Maracaibo) as they are referred, are loud, talk fast and everyone cuss like sailors – and I mean everyone, toddlers to gradmas.
Maracaibo also has the most varied street food. Every corner has a “bodegita” (small store), which is usually the back of someone’s house in the neighborhood, and they are usually known for some type of food snack or specialty. You will have the bodegita with the empanadas, or the bodegita that sells the raspadiotos (ice cones) or the one that sells the homemade cakes – you can pretty much have a full meal around the neighborhood just by walking it.
I first tried a Patacon in Maracaibo - made from sliced green unripe plantains, which are cut either lengthwise or widthwise and are twice fried. You could eat them as chips or crips. But, in Maracaibo they have elevated them and use them instead of bread – have you ever tried a Patacon hamburger? You have no idea what you are missing.
This is also where tried my first Mandoca as well. These breakfast snacks are a corn ring that can be enjoyed while still hot, with butter and cheese. It is made of corn meal, grated queso blanco (hard, salty, white cheese), sugar or Papelón, which is the molasses-like sugar left over from sugar cane processing and mashed plantain that must be very ripe when used – look for yellow plantains, which is the color in between green (unripe) and black (very ripe)
A couple of weeks ago I was going through my cookbook library and came across the recipe and realized that I had everything I needed to whip them up and that is what I did, for breakfast. They were just as tasty as I remember them – sweet, with a bit of a tang from the queso blanco. They are a cross between a hush puppies and the batter used for corn dogs – which is not a bad thing if you ask me.
I hope you enjoy a bit of my birth country in your kitchen.
MANDOCAS – Sweet Corn Fritters
Makes about 12-15
- 1 yellow plantain
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal
- ¾ cup dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons anise seeds, toasted (optional)
- 8 ounces grated firm white cheese, like farmers cheese or queso blanco, finely grated
- 1/2 cup hot water, approximately
- Canola oil for frying (enough to cover them, about 1-2 cups
Slice plantain crosswise into about 5 pieces, then place in a saucepan and cover with water. Simmer gently until tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Drain and let plantain cool enough to handle, then peel and mash well (or purée in a food processor or blender).
Stir cornmeal, plantain, salt, anise seed, sugar and finely grated cheese together with a wooden spoon. Add water slowly, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until mixture comes together into a dough.
The dough should be soft and knead able, but not sticky. Let dough rest for ten minutes.
Heat several inches of oil to 350 degrees. Divide dough into 16 pieces, and roll each one into a smooth ball. (If dough is too wet and sticky, add more cornmeal).
Take each ball and roll into a log shape with the palms of your hands. Continue to roll into a cylinder on a counter top, until dough cylinder is 6-7 inches long. Bring ends together and overlap them to form a tear-shaped loop. Press ends together. Repeat with other pieces of dough.
Fry loops of dough in oil until dark golden brown, turning once.
Serve mandocas warm, with slices of queso fresco and/or butter.