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Yucatán - Yucatecan Stuffed Cheese Recipe

After a success or two and countless failures, I have given up cooking this Yucatecan speciality in its traditional form, ie a whole Edam cheese hollowed out and stuffed, and now make it in layers, rather like a lasagne – far from authentic but still very good and considerably cheaper and easier than the real thing. It is a strange dish, where disparate ingredients come together in some incomprehensible culinary alchemy and result in a whole full of flavour and contrasts.


Queso Edam © Philip Hood

K’ool or Kol Blanco translates from the Maya as white gravy and is a habitual accompaniment, along with a tomato sauce. The broth created by simmering the meat is strained off and combined with flour to make a pale, slightly insipid gravy. This lack of colour however can only be achieved if the meat is boiled – and I prefer to brown the meat in order to increase the savouriness of the overall dish, and my k’ool is therefore golden.

Kol is conventionally enhanced by the addition of a whole Yucatecan chilli known as xcatik. It is long and yellow, with a heat ranging from mild to medium, accentuated by scorching it in a dry frying pan; in its absence, I use a jalapeño or serrano, depending on the heat I want. A further enrichment to both the K’ool and the picadillo itself is the use of lard, very post-Hispanic and time-honoured but not to everyone’s taste. I have found that duck or goose fat rather than lard works very well in Mexican dishes, and this is no exception. The banana leaf wrapping is optional but does contribute.

Yucatecan Stuffed Cheese Recipe – Queso Relleno Yucateco

Serves 6/8

For the picadillo:-
30 ml/2 tbsp duck or goose fat, or lard
200 g/7 oz onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
400 g/14 oz minced/ground pork
400 g/14 oz minced/ground beef
100 g/4 oz red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
2 bay leaves
50 g/2 oz raisins
5 ml/1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
5 ml/1 tsp ground cinnamon
5 cloves
600 ml/1 pint/2 ½ cups water
15 ml/2 tsp bouillon powder
5 ml/1 tsp wine or cider vinegar
30 ml/2 tbsp capers, rinsed and squeezed dry
75 g/3 oz pitted/stoned green olives, quartered
25 g/1 oz toasted flaked almonds
3 hardboiled eggs
2 banana leaves, about 45 cm/18 in long (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the tomato sauce:-
1 kg/2 ¼ lb tomatoes
15 ml/1 tbsp duck or goose fat, or lard
250 g/9 oz onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
75 g/3 oz red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the K’ool:-
1 jalapeño chilli
15 ml/1 tbsp duck or goose fat, or lard
100 g/4 oz onions, peeled and finely chopped
30 ml/2 tbsp plain flour
Pinch saffron
Sea salt

250 g/9 oz grated or sliced Edam cheese

For the picadillo, heat the fat in a large frying pan and add the onions and garlic. Fry gently, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent. Stir in the pork, beef and red pepper, turn up the heat, and cook, stirring often and breaking up any lumps with the back of a wooden spoon, until the meat starts to colour. Stir in the raisins, herbs and spices and cook for a further two or three minutes. Add the water, bouillon and vinegar, salt and plenty of pepper, bring to the boil and simmer for fifteen minutes. Strain off the stock and reserve.

Carefully split the hardboiled eggs and remove the yolk. Coarsely chop the whites and add them to the picadillo along with the capers, olives and almonds.

For the tomato sauce, blend the tomatoes until fairly smooth. Set aside 375 ml/13 fl oz/1 1/3 cups. Heat the fat in a saucepan and add the onions, garlic and red pepper and cook gently until softened and just starting to brown. Season and stir in the remaining tomato purée. Simmer gently for about thirty minutes, until thickened. Check the seasoning.

Stir the 375 ml of tomato purée into the picadillo and check the seasoning.

Heat a small dry pan over medium heat and place the jalapeño chilli in it. Toast, turning it regularly, until lightly charred all over. Set aside.

Heat the fat for the K’ool in a small saucepan, add the onions and cook gently until translucent. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the stock from the picadillo bit by bit, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Season, add the whole chilli and the saffron, and simmer gently for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Check the seasoning.

Grease a 2 litres/3 1/2 pints/8 cups gratin dish and line it with the banana leaves, leaving an overhang to fold up and over. Spread one third of the cheese over the leaves. Spoon over half the picadillo. Cut the egg yolks in half and arrange them in a row down the middle. Cover with one third of the cheese, then the remaining picadillo and finally the last of the cheese. Fold the banana leaves up and over. Wrap in kitchen foil.

The Queso Relleno can be prepared up to this point ahead of time and refrigerated. Bring back to room temperature before baking.

Preheat the oven to 180oC/350oF/gas 4/fan oven 160oC. Bake the Queso for 30 minutes. Peel back the banana leaves. Turn the oven up to 200oC/400oF/gas 6/fan oven 180oC and cook for a further fifteen minutes until the cheese is golden and the filling bubbling.

Reheat the two sauces.

Serve the Queso Relleno with the tomato sauce and K’ool.

Buén provecho!


Chilli and Chocolate Stars of the Mexican Cocina by Isabel Hood is available from Amazon.co.uk

Just The Two of Us Entertaining Each Other by Isabel Hood is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

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