Pastel mandi’ó is a delicious snack made from corn flour, cassava (yuca) and a stuffing usually prepared with beef. Aesthetically, they look like their South American cousins, the famous empanadas but with a different basic preparation since the empanadas contain neither corn flour nor cassava, two ingredients largely produced and consumed in Paraguay.
Pastel mandi’ó is the epitome of Paraguayan street food. They are rarely consumed at home because they take a little time to prepare. However, you will find them everywhere in the bars of Asuncion and they are particularly appreciated during the festival of San Juan.
This festival is celebrated for the arrival of the summer solstice. People are lighting bonfires that must give more fire and light than the sun itself. There are many traditional games like the one called pelota tatá in Guarani (pelota del fuego in Spanish), a very old game where the participant must play with a ball covered with oil or burning kerosene. People also jump over bonfires or walk on fiery embers or sometimes ignite the horns of a bull. These games are meant to purify the souls of those who participate.
In the Guarani language, mandi’o means cassava, a plant of the euphorbia family whose root is eaten and whose other name is tapioca, manioc or yuca. Imported from Latin America to Africa in the sixteenth century, cassava has since been widely used in this other part of the world and in Asia. In Congo, its leaves are also used to produce the pondu (or saka-saka). This root-tuber naturally stores starch and sugar that the plant creates during photosynthesis, hence cassava is an extraordinary concentrate of nutrients. It must be consumed cooked because the starch granules resist our digestive enzymes when raw. But once the gelled starch is cooked, it can be perfectly digested. Some anthropologists argue that this nutritional contribution has propelled human evolution from the moment when our primitive ancestors learned to dig the earth to find them. It is imperative to remove the brown envelope around the cassava and keep only the heart which is white as snow. The cassava can then be cooked and used as an accompaniment or be used in the preparation of dishes or dough just like for the pastel mandi’ó of Paraguay.
These little turnovers are typical of the cuisine of the Guarani Indians of Paraguay. The word mandi’o (pronounced mandi’ou) is accentuated on the last vowel, which makes it easy to guess the origin, as Paraguay has two official languages: Spanish and Guarani.
This preparation, although old and imported from other cultures, has found its place in the Paraguayan culinary tradition. These snacks come from the Middle East where their ancestors might be fatay (fatayer) or esfihas. They also resemble borek and may have become popular in Spain after the conquest of Al-Andalus by the Muslims, then taking the name of empanadas, a word of Catalan origin. Carimañola, a similar cassava-based preparation is also popular in Colombia.
With the Spanish colonization in Latin America, we can see how these stuffed snacks found their way in the heart of the Paraguayan forests. In Paraguay, their name gives rise to misunderstandings that can provoke real laughter or interesting diplomatic incidents. Indeed, the word pastel means cake or pie, in other words something sweet while when it comes to empanadas, people immediately understand that we are talking about a savory filling. The word empanada has gradually replaced that of pastel for clarity, but it is not uncommon for a waiter to explain that by ordering an empanadita in Paraguay, you might end up with a cake rather than a pastel mandi’ó.
The particular sweetness of the dough and the explosion of flavors of the stuffing make the pastel mandi’ó truly unique. The cassava really gives the Guarani touch that makes this recipe different from others. They are usually served with hot sauce as is often the case in Paraguayan street food. They are delicious with a refreshing salad as soon as the sunny days arrive and that’s how we ate them.
- 2 lb cassava
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons margarine , melted
- 1¼ cup corn flour , or fine corn meal (+ ¾ cup for the work surface)
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- Fine salt
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- 2 lb beef
- 3 tablespoons rice , soaked for 15 minutes and drained
- 2 onions
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ red bell pepper , chopped
- 3 sprigs parsley , chopped
- 2 hard-boiled eggs , grated
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- In a pressure cooker, place the meat with 2 cloves of garlic, 1 onion and 1 bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 45 minutes.
- Remove the meat from the pressure cooker and reserve the broth.
- Roughly chop the meat.
- Chop the remaining garlic and onion.
- In a Dutch oven, sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and stir well.
- Add the rice and stir well. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add 2 ladles of meat stock, chopped parsley and cumin.
- Cook on low heat until the rice is cooked, about 10 minutes.
- Add the meat and mix well. Adjust the seasoning.
- Place the stuffing in a strainer and drain to get rid of all the liquid. Let cool.
- Mix the boiled eggs with the stuffing.
- Rinse the cassava under cold water. Rub lightly with a brush to remove any dirt that may have stuck to the cassava root.
- Peel with a sturdy vegetable peeler. Cassava should be pristine white at the end of the peeling.
- Cut the peeled cassava into large pieces.
- Place in a saucepan and add enough water to cover. Season with salt and mix.
- Boil the cassava for 30 minutes, or until tender.
- Remove from heat immediately and drain well.
- Purée the cassava.
- Place the cassava and corn flour in a large bowl.
- Add margarine, 1 teaspoon salt, egg and all-purpose flour. Knead well.
- Sprinkle the work surface with corn flour and roll out the dough with a rolling pin to a thickness of ⅛ inch.
- Form discs of dough of about 4 inches diameter.
- Place a teaspoonful of stuffing in the center of each disc of dough.
- Renew the operation until the dough is used up.
- Wet the edges of each disc with water and close in a half-moon shape by pressing on the edges.
- Heat a pot or Dutch oven with a good amount of oil and deep fry the pastels mandi'ó over medium-high heat.
- Serve hot.