This Brazilian appetizer gets its name from the hot peppers in the filling. Be sure to use fresh tuna, if available, because the hot pepper marinade permeates the raw fish and gives it a more pungent flavor. The combination of sweet potato, cornmeal, and tuna may seem strange at first, but just one bite will convince you otherwise. “Fantastic” will be your response. Double the recipe if you are planning a party. These pastries, along with soup and salad, also make a nice lunch.—Cherie Hamilton
For the pastry
2 large sweet potatoes, unpeeled (about 2 1/2 pounds)
2 cups finely ground yellow cornmeal or regular cornmeal
For the filling
1 pound fresh tuna, chopped fine by hand, or 2 (6-ounce) cans tuna
1 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons red-pepper flakes, or 2 chile peppers, finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 large tomato, finely chopped
2 teaspoons tomato paste
Vegetable oil for frying
Make the pastry
1. Wash potatoes and place in a 5-quart pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender (about 30 minutes). When potatoes are done, remove from pot, cool, and save the water. Peel potatoes, cut into cubes, and mash until all lumps disappear.
2. With a wooden spoon, stir in cornmeal, 1/2 cup at a time. Continue to add flour until mixture forms a soft dough. If dough becomes too dry, add a teaspoon or two of the water from the boiled potatoes. Roll dough into a ball, cover with a damp cloth, and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
Make the filling
1. Place tuna in a small bowl. Add salt, red-pepper flakes, garlic, and vinegar and mix well. Marinate tuna for 30 minutes.
2. Heat oil in medium fry pan, add chopped onion and saute until soft and transparent. Add tomato and tomato paste, mix well, and simmer 5 minutes or until tomato is soft. Stir in the tuna mixture and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes (or, if using canned tuna, until mixture is heated through). Add water from potatoes, as needed, so that the mixture remains moist. Remove from heat and cool.
3. Remove dough from refrigerator. Spread a sheet of plastic wrap on counter. Place 1 heaping tablespoonful of dough, about the size of a golf ball, in the center of the plastic wrap. Press with the heel of your hand to form a circle 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough. Fold plastic and dough over filling to form half circle. Pull back plastic and pinch edges of dough to seal. Repeat with remaining filling and dough.
4. Heat 1 inch of oil in a large skillet to a temperature of 350°F (180°C) or until a test piece of pastry sizzles. Fry pastries until golden, about 3 minutes each side. Drain on paper towels and serve warm or at room temperature.
Cornmeal: I have made this recipe with both finely ground cornmeal (harina) and regular cornmeal. The regular cornmeal gives a coarser texture to the dough and a more substantial pastry. The harina makes a lighter dough.
Recipe © 2001 Cherie Y. Hamilton. All rights reserved.