Bocoloes are little pan-fried cake of masa and mashed black beans, typically served as an antojito (appetizer). I learned about them from Diana Kennedy's magnificient My Mexico and thought that I could replace the pork filling with yams, increase the portion, and make an unusual and delicious vegetarian entree.
The cakes came out great; they fry up with a crispy exterior and somewhat creamy inside. If you have had an Indian dosa, which is made from a lentil batter, the crust is kind of like that. Both of my kids loved them too, which was a nice bonus. The older one now calls them "yummy cakes" and is lobbying for a repeat performance.
I served the bocoles with this refreshing jicama, radish and orange salad, and a spoonful of homemade pipian, a type of mole made with pumpkin seeds (pepitas).
Fresh masa is a delight to work with, much nicer than dough made from dry masa harina. Your best bet for finding it is to locate a place that makes fresh corn tortillas (a tortilleria). That should be easy in parts of the country that have large Mexican populations. In Seattle I've had luck at La Bendicion on Beacon Hill, if I ask a day in advance, or I hear you can get it at the The Mexican Grocery in Pike Place. If you don't have fresh masa, just buy masa harina flour and mix it according to the package directions for tortillas.
I also bought pre-made Ducal-brand refried black beans. If you don't have that, simply fry some onion and garlic with canned black beans and then thoroughly puree them with enough liquid to make a smooth paste.
Bocoles (Masa and Black Bean Cakes) with Spicy Yams
Serves 6 as an entree or 12 as an appetizer
Vegetarian, vegan if you omit the crema, and gluten-free
For the yam filling:
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 white onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 medium yams, peeled and finely diced (see below)
- 2 or more jalapeno peppers, minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
For the bocoles:
- 2 pounds (about 4 cups) masa or prepared masa harina, no wetter than necessary
- 2 cups refried black beans (Ducal brand is good or make your own)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- oil for pan frying
- shredded romaine lettuce hearts
- crema or sour cream
- salsa or jicama salad
- optional: mole or pipian sauce
- The easiest way to cut the yams is to make strips using a mandoline and then use a knife to cut the strips into very small cubes. Heat the oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Saute the onion and garlic for 1 minute. Add the yams, jalapeno and cumin and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the yams are fully tender. Taste and adjust seasoning – they will likely need more salt. Feel free to make the filling spicier if that suits you.
- Thoroughly mix the masa, refried beans, baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt. Taste and add more salt if needed. Heat 1/8" of oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Make golf-ball sized balls of the dough and pat them between your hands into a pancake about 1/4" thick or so. Fry for about 3 or 4 minutes until brown on the outside and cooked but still soft on the inside. Diana Kennedy says 7 minutes per side but I found it didn't it take that long; try a tester and see what you like best.
- Serve as soon as possible, on a bed of shredded lettuce, topped with a generous amount of the yam filling, and garnished with crema. Pass the salad or salsa and optional mole on the side.