From Venezuela to your own kitchen: a delicious, traditional yoyo
Fried plantain combined with cheese (and bacon!) makes for tasty finger food
Rolando Sandrea, chef/owner of Avila Arepa on Edmonton's Whyte Avenue, has always seen meals as mandatory family time, in the best way.
When he was growing up in Venezuela, his parents refused to start dinner until the whole family was present, and that's exactly how everyone liked it.
Every member of the family had a role to play, from something as simple as setting the table to the actual cooking process.
"My mom would be the one planning the daily meals, so she would go to our garden for fresh fruits and veggies for the meal of the day," says Sandrea. "Her meals were less complex than my dad's but everything was made from scratch.
"My dad would take the lead on more complex dishes for special occasions. Although he is a medical doctor, the kitchen has always been his hobby, especially baking and making hors d'oeuvres. He is a fan of the French food, so his food would always have that European flair."
Sandrea says for a while, after his dad was finished work at the clinic with his patients, he volunteered his time in the kitchen of a French restaurant just to learn the tricks.
With that example, it's no wonder this chef has the passion for food that he does.
After receiving a layoff from his profession as a chemical engineer, Sandrea decided to pursue his dream of sharing that passion for traditional Venezuelan street foods in his own restaurant.
Both at home and at the restaurant, Sandrea focuses on simplicity and quality ingredients while indulging his love of combining the traditional with new techniques and ingredients.
For him, there really isn't a lot of difference between cooking in the restaurant and cooking at home for family.
"Both at home and in the restaurant, I invest a lot of care and passion into the food making," he says. "I enjoy every step of the way, so regardless if I'm cooking for my kids at home or for our patrons in the restaurant, I always look for their satisfaction and happiness."
One of the dishes he has fond memories of is called yoyo, a little sandwich of sorts made with ripe plantain, usually stuffed with ham and cheese, then deep fried. Sandrea decided to swap the ham for bacon. "Who doesn't love bacon?" he asks, rhetorically.
The trick to the perfect yoyo is choosing the right plantain.
"The darker and softer the better," Sandrea says. "Don't be afraid to get the darkest plantain of the lot. A ripe plantain is naturally sweeter, so its flavour would contrast with the saltiness of the bacon and the cheese.
"Yoyo is a traditional simple dish very close to my heart, because my abuelita [grandma] used to make them for me for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. It is a traditional Venezuelan finger food that combines a few simple quality ingredients made with love. Everything a home meal should be.
"In my food I see from my dad the willingness to try new techniques and ingredients, and from my mom the simplicity and the freshness. Cooking for people to me represents good times, good memories, laughter and joy."
For the yoyos
- 2 ripe plantains
- 400 grams Akawi or halloumi cheese
- 400 grams thick-cut bacon
- 1 egg
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 cups canola oil, enough for frying
- toothpicks to hold the plantains
- ½ cup grated feta cheese (topping)
For the syrup
- 250 grams raw cane sugar
- 100 millilitres water
Peel and cut the ripe plantains in strips, about 0.5 centimetres thick and 8 centimetres long.
Fry the plantains with enough oil until getting a light brown color, (approximately 400° F).
Cut the Akawi cheese close to the same dimensions as the plantains. Reserve.
Separately, fry the bacon until crisp. Reserve.
Mix egg, flour and salt to achieve a thick batter consistency.
Assemble the yoyos as follows:
- Fried plantain bottom
- Fried plantain top
- Hold it together using a toothpick
Dip yoyos in the batter until they are fully covered with the mix, and deep fry them until golden brown.
Remember to remove the toothpicks before serving.
For the syrup
In a small pan, put the grated sugar cane and water to high heat until you get syrup consistency (approximately 220° F)
Cut each yoyo in half, then top with the syrup and feta cheese. Serve warm.