Mbejú (or mbeyú) is a traditional dish of Paraguay and northern Argentina. I was as intrigued by its granular appearance as how quick it is to prepare. Mbejú is prepared with cheese and tapioca flour, also called mandioca. It is often served for breakfast and Paraguayans love it!
History of mbejú
Mbejú means “cake” in Guarani, the indigenous American language, that is still used today.
The origin of the recipe dates back to the time before the arrival of settlers in Paraguay, and Jesuit missions. These Jesuit missions were aimed at the evangelization of the indigenous tribes. Also, they took place between the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century in the region of Paraguarí.
At that time, the Guarani people served as intermediaries between settlers and other Native American tribes. They were one of the first peoples to communicate with the settlers. Also, the Guarani culture was very present in South America. In some historical documents of the time of the settlers and the Jesuit missions, it is mentioned several times that the Guarani people prepared traditional pancakes made of corn flour breaded in cassava (mandioca). The original recipe has since evolved. The basis of Guarani gastronomy rested essentially on the following staple foods: maize, cassava, pumpkin and sweet potato. Ingredients were added to the initial recipe of mbejú with the arrival of conquistadors and Jesuits. From then on, those corn cakes started to be served with beef or sheep meat, eggs, milk or cheese.
Mbejú is a dish associated with Guarani mythology and therefore remains one of the oldest recipes of this culture. Along with chipa and sopa paraguaya, mbejú is part of the set of foods called tyrá. Tyrá is a Guarani word for all foods that are consumed to accompany maté, but the mbejú is also consumed with milk, tea, and coffee.
Preparation of mbejú
The traditional mbejú is prepared according to the following steps: First, the starch is crushed with a stick, then sifted and weighed. Shredded cheese (usually queso paraguayo) is then added. This cheese is also used in other traditional recipes, such as the tortilla paraguaya. This preparation is beaten by hand until it reaches a smooth texture that looks like a cream. The salt and milk are then added while continuing to beat. Finally, add the starch and corn flour, mixing the mass roughly between the fingers to obtain the consistency of large breadcrumbs. Mbejú is cooked in a pan, at medium heat for about 3 minutes for perfect baking.
Be careful to cook the mbejú by moving the pan so that it cooks evenly and does not burn in the center. Using a lid or a plate, you turn the mbejú over and extend the cooking for another 3 minutes.
I hope this recipe inspires you as much as it did for me! This flat bread with a crumbly texture is a pure delight and I intend to make it a Sunday brunch staple! You will soon get addicted to this cheesy flat cake.
Enjoy your meal !
- 8 cups cassava flour (tapioca flour)
- 2 cups corn flour (extra fine cornmeal)
- 2 lb queso paraguayo (Paraguayan cheese), grated
- 1 cup unsalted butter (or margarine), melted
- ⅔ cup milk
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup margarine (for cooking)
- 1 pinch salt
- Mix the milk and water. Set aside.
- In a large salad bowl, mix the cassava flour, corn flour and salt.
- Form a well in the center and pour the melted butter, egg and half the mixture of milk and water. Start kneading.
- Gradually add the rest of the milk and water mixture and continue kneading.
- When the ingredients are incorporated and the dough becomes lumpy, add the cheese and continue kneading. The dough must have a sandy consistency.
- Melt ¼ cup margarine on a skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add a little bit of batter to obtain a thickness of about ½ inch.
- Using a spoon, flatten the edges and center of the mbejú.
- After a few minutes, turn the mbejú over to cook on the other side.
- Repeat this process until all the batter is used.