Bocoles (Masa and Black Bean Cakes) with Spicy Yams – Recipe

Bocoles (Masa and Black Bean Cakes) with Spicy Yams

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
  • salt

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
  • salt
  • oil for pan frying

For serving:

  • shredded romaine lettuce hearts
  • crema or sour cream
  • salsa or jicama salad
  • optional: mole or pipian sauce
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Thursday, November 12th, 2009 in Appetizers, Books, Gluten-Free or modifiable, Kid Friendly, Main Courses, Recipes, Vegan or Modifiable.

21 Responses to “Bocoles (Masa and Black Bean Cakes) with Spicy Yams – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    November 12, 2009 at 11:41 am #

    I love black beans and yams together. This dish looks wonderful!

  2. Reply
    November 12, 2009 at 11:44 am #

    These look delicious. Thanks for sharing your vegetarian version…I am excited to try it!

  3. Reply
    November 12, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    This looks really good. I’m always looking for interesting vegetarian main courses. I’ll have to try this out soon.

  4. Reply
    November 13, 2009 at 9:41 am #

    mmm! reading crispy exterior with creamy insides made my mouth water!

  5. Reply
    November 13, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    I love how you’ve substituted yams!

  6. Reply
    November 13, 2009 at 3:06 pm #

    Heh Michael
    My friend Tony, from Chihuahua makes these sans beans in the masa and calls em serapes (sandles I think?) Is it the same thing, do you know?

  7. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    November 13, 2009 at 4:35 pm #

    Without the beans I've seen them called gorditas, but I imagine serapes are similar. The beans really change the flavor and consistency a lot so I think they deserve their own name :). Both are yum!

  8. Reply
    November 16, 2009 at 3:37 pm #

    Made these tonight. Yum! I used canned refried pinto beans instead of black beans, just because that’s what I had. The bocoles came out a little lighter colored than yours, but both my vegetarian house mate and my omnivore house mate loved them. I had some mesclun mix for salad on the side, so I tore up some of that and used it to serve the bocoles on. All of us said, at one point or another, “Gee – I would never dreamed of serving yams with hot peppers and refried beans, but it’s great.” Thanks for another delicious recipe!

  9. Reply
    November 17, 2009 at 9:32 am #

    I went ahead and made the whole meal — the bean-and-corn cakes, the yam “filling”, the chopped romaine on the plate, and a pipian recipe (albeit not a vegetarian one) that I grabbed from elsewhere. My whole family loved it, not only for the taste and presentation, but also from the combination and balance of flavors. Four things:

    1. I couldn’t get the oranges you specified, so I grabbed two other kinds. Their innards were two different shades of orange, with slightly different textures and flavors — a nice feature. If I were doing this again (in summer), I’d use my own radishes (easy for anyone to grow!), so that I could get a variety of color from deep purple to the pink-fading-to-white of some of the french varieties.

    2a. I never did find a cooking temp that I was really happy with; overall, the bean-cakes soaked up more oil than I would have liked, but when I made the oil hotter, they started to burn. (Even oily, they were very good).

    2b: I’ll bet I could prepare the beancakes in much the way we make sweet-potato fries: put ’em on a teflon baking sheet with a little oil, and shove them in a quite hot oven. I’ve got a few leftovers that I didn’t get to cooking last night…perhaps I’ll give it a shot.

    3. I’d love to see you write a bit about how you plan a whole meal — how you decide what goes with what — and how you plan the preparation of a whole meal (“I have to roast those peppers first so I can peel them for the pipian. While they’re roasting I can make the whole salad — it won’t suffer from sitting out waiting while I do the rest. I have to fry some onions for the pipian, and it’ll be easier to do that if I’m not also cooking beancakes at the same time …”).

  10. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    November 17, 2009 at 1:59 pm #

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    Wow, the whole meal… I'm glad you made it and liked it!

    Re your other questions:

    (1) I don't know what kind of oranges you got, but they sound good – and most any kind would be a fine sub in that salad. And a variety of radishes would be beautiful.

    (2a) I agree with you that finding the right temperature for frying the
    bocoles is subtle. I think mine had a slight bit of grease absorbed
    into the outer layer, but not too much. Definitely crisp, not soggy.

    (2b) I think that an oven fry might work – you'd still want to flip them to crisp both sides. If you try it, please let me know. Do you use silpats? If not, get one and it will make this easier.

    (3) That would be a fun series of posts! Too much to write up in a comment but you've got my creative juices flowing.

  11. Reply
    Michael L
    November 20, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    I’m wondering how much trouble you had finding a masa mix without lard in it. I live in Chicago where I can buy masa from dozens of places nearby, but I’ve never been able to find a vegetarian one. Most of the varieties I find are locally produced.

  12. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    November 20, 2009 at 9:18 pm #

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    Masa is normally just the nixtamalized corn (ground with lime)… you would beat lard into it if you were making tradtional tamales but no fat at all if you are making tortillas. It is ground more coarsely for tamales. But in any case, I've never heard of it being sold pre-mixed with lard. If you are talking about dry masa harina, the MaSeCa brand is safe, and I heard Bob's Red Mill makes a good one.

  13. Reply
    December 14, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

    Beautiful and sounding so tasty. Don’t think we can get yams around here, though…We do have sweet potatoes but I think yams are a different kind of vegetable…

  14. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    December 15, 2009 at 9:15 am #

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    They are similar and often confused. You could use sweet potatoes in this dish, just be sure to cook them until they are soft but not completely falling apart.

  15. Reply
    December 15, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

    Thanks Michael, I should try at some point during the winter, in which case I’ll let you know how it goes. Ciao!

  16. Reply
    May 30, 2010 at 7:12 pm #

    Just made these last night– stuck with the masa and black bean cakes, but topped them with chimichurri and cojita cheese instead of the yams (yes, I’m probably missing out, but the BF doesn’t do yams or sweet potatoes) with a simple tomato-avocado salad. Absolutely killer. So glad there’s tons of leftovers…

  17. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    May 30, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    Your variation sounds great!

  18. Reply
    January 5, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    What does the baking powder do in the bocoles?

    • Reply
      January 6, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

      It is intended to lighten them a bit, but I haven’t run a side-by-side to see if it really does much.

  19. Reply
    Chris Kimm
    April 20, 2014 at 6:11 pm #

    We had the bocoles and yams for supper tonight. I wound up using a mix of peppers with the yams (one serrano, one jalapeno and one chipotle) and liked the spicy/smoky effect. We served over more romaine than pictured, with a substantial amount of mole sauce and a dollop of non-fat greek yogurt. I guess we wound up with something that approached an entree salad. Whatever it was we really liked it, and no one left hungry. We will definitely do this again. I think my Masa Harina / black bean mix was wetter than it was supposed to be, though the results were still delicious. Thanks!

    • Reply
      April 21, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

      Agree, yeah, you have to get a bit of feel for how wet the dough should be. Your chili combination sounds nice!

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