Mountain Time: The Steadfast Andean Roots of Llapingachos
Crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, llapingachos, or cheese-stuffed potato croquettes, might be described by some Ecuadorians as the country’s de-facto national dish, not least because they’re enjoyed at all hours of the day.
Llapingachos, from the Quechua words llapina (“to smash”) and gacho (“to fry”), are traditionally prepared with ovular, red-skinned, yellow-fleshed potatoes known as chola. The potatoes are boiled; mashed with annatto, for color and a hint of peppery-nutty flavor; formed into patties; stuffed with tropical white cheese; and then griddle-fried in lard. Spooned over the golden-brown croquettes is a creamy, cumin-spiced peanut sauce (salsa de mani) or a pungent Peruvian-chili drizzle (aji criollo). Typical llapingacho accompaniments, which vary depending on the time of serving, include fried eggs, chorizo sausages, avocados, and a tomato-and-onion salad called salsa criolla, the last of which is usually arranged on top of the sauce-dressed croquettes.
Like ajiaco, a Colombian chicken-and-potato soup that features on Laroot’s Traditions menu, llapingachos have pre-Hispanic origins in the Andes, the birthplace of potato cultivation. It’s generally accepted that llapingachos originated in Ambato, the capital city of central Ecuador’s Tungurahua province, where potato cultivation has historically been the livelihood of most rural residents.
Llapingachos can also be prepared authentically with yuca, sometimes referred to as cassava, a starchy tuberous root native to South America. Such is the case with Laroot’s Tierra Alta Salad, a lunch of seared-and-baked llapingachos stuffed with queso and our signature meat alternative mixed from lentils, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin seeds, garlic, and basil; aji amarillo salsa is provided for a burst of fruity heat. Rich in calcium, fiber, beta-carotene, magnesium, and vitamin K, the croquettes adorn the top of a seasonal-vegetable salad, which we recommend enlivening with our jalapeno-spiced avocado dressing. Satiating without being heavy, the Tierra Alta Salad is our tribute to an adaptable ancient tradition that, owing to its comfort-food and hospitality factors, stands no chance of disappearing.