816. Curaçao’s Keshi Yená (Stuffed Cheese)

Pronounced: “Kaaaaysheeeee Yaaaaaynaaaaah”

Frugality is key when it comes to import-dependent island living. Lucky for us, our awesome ancestors have invented creative ways to stretch and recycle provisions… gifting us delicious — yet frugal — dishes.

Dutch cheese (Gouda and Edam) features prominently in our island’s cuisine, despite its sometimes prohibitive cost. Our age-old Keshi Yená  throws a culinary party for the typically discarded cheese rind (red wax removed), stuffing it with a melange of spiced, seasoned meat (typically chicken), raisins, olives, capers, etc resulting in a perfect blend of cultures: “the stolid creaminess of the North meets the lively spiciness of the Southas described by cookbook author and TV personality David Rosengarten.

Aged Gouda cheese wheel.

Aged Gouda cheese wheel.

Nowadays most of us purchase sliced or pre-cut Gouda or Edam cheese, making the round rind shell a thing of (households) past. Nevertheless, traditionalists with a great deal of time and patience may still wish to scoop out a 4 pound Edam or Gouda, taking great care not to pierce its shell. (Bonus mound of cheese can be used for Bala di Keshi or Cheese Pudding!)

The rest of us prefer creating a makeshift “cheese dome” by using two pounds of sharp, aged Edam or Gouda cheese slices to line our cooking container (casserole dish or baking pan) — completely enveloping our seasoned meat mixture with overlapping slices.

A word of caution… Never use soft, young cheese for Keshi Yená, only use the aged, sharp kind.

For the meat filling, rub with the juice of several limes: 1 lb. chicken breasts, 1 lb. chicken thighs [or 2 lbs. ground beef, below recipe refers to chicken stuffing]

Method 1: Season the meat with minced onion, salt and pepper and (beef or poultry) seasoning.

Let stand for several hours. Then arrange the pieces in a shallow baking dish. After browning the chicken under the broiler, bake for 1 hour at 350 F, deboning when cool enough to handle.

Method 2: More frugal preparation; brown the chicken in 3 tablespoons butter, then place in a heavy kettle with: 2 quarts (8 cups) water, 2 tsp. salt, 12 peppercorns, 1 or 2 onions, 1 celery stalk with leaves, 1 bay leaf, bruised.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or just until chicken is tender. Strain and reserve the broth, discarding the vegetables. Debone the chicken and set aside. The broth is not needed for keshi yená and may be used for sópi di yuwana (iguana soup!)

After the chicken has been prepared by one of the above methods, sauté in 2 tablespoons butter:

3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 onions, sliced

1 large green pepper, chopped

1 tbs. parsley, chopped

¼ hot pepper, minced, or a few drops Tabasco sauce

Salt and pepper

Add and stir well:

2 Tbs. ketchup

¼ cup pimento olives, sliced

1 Tbs. capers

¼ cup raisins

2 Tbs. piccalilli  

Simmer until the tomatoes are reduced, about 20 or 30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool.

If keshi yená is to be baked, preheat oven to 350 F; if it is to be steamed, begin heating water in the bottom of the double boiler.

Beat and add to the meat mixture: 3 eggs, reserving about 6 Tbs.

Generously butter a casserole or the top of a double boiler. Before placing the cheese shell in it, spoon 3 tablespoons of the (reserved) beaten eggs into the bottom of the container. Half-fill the cheese shell with meat mixture and add 1 or 2 sliced hard-boiled eggs. Fill shell to the top with remaining meat and cover with the original cap of the Edam cheese (wax removed) or a few slices of cheese.

Drip the remaining 3 tablespoonfuls of beaten egg over the top of the cheese as a sealer. (Place the lid on the double boiler). Set the casserole in a pan of hot water, or the double boiler top over simmering water. Cook for 1 ¼ hours. Reverse keshi yená on a heated platter and keep warm (the cheese becomes hard and unappetizing if permitted to cool too much)

Serves 10-12.


Source: “This is the Way We Cook! (Asina nos ta cushiná) Recipes from outstanding cooks of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao” compiled by Jewell Fenzi (1971)

Keshi Yená at La Bahia. Source: David Rosengarten.

Keshi Yená at La Bahia. Source: David Rosengarten.

Don’t fret if you’re not the cooking type! Local chefs tend to get pretty creative with this awesome age-old recipe.

Simply order this hearty, savory dish at one of our restaurants:

De Gouverneur in Otrobanda

Belle Terrace at the Avila Hotel in Penstraat

La Bahia in Otrobanda

About 1000awesomethingsaboutcuracao

I'm Carolina Gomes-Casseres, the creator of 1000 Awesome Things About Curaçao. I live in Manhattan but sometimes miss my first awesome island. Thanks for visiting!


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