Recipes from Marche, Italy

For this entry, I made two recipes. Neither of them were especially good, but I don't blame the people who posted the original recipes or any of the traditions they came from, I blame myself and my propensity for Googling things that might kill me.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Brodetto

A seafood stew with mussels and clams, minus the Vibrio.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Filone Casereccio

An Italian bread that will come out much better than mine did if you use fresh brewer's yeast and steam.

Recipes from Malta

This is actually the third time I’ve cooked a meal from Malta. The first time, I cooked the meal and then just did not write the blog post. Years went by.

Recipes from Malta: Imqarrun

Imquarrum (also called Imqarrun il-forn) is descended from a dish served in Sicily, but the Maltese have adopted it as a traditional staple. The key to making this dish is to be patient.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Recipes from El Salvador

I think this week was a first, though I'd have to go back through my entire Travel by Stove history to know for sure. But I'm pretty sure I haven't ever done a totally vegetarian meal for this blog before.

Which is almost a little shameful when I think about it, because in poorer nations meat isn't readily available, so vegetarian meals are the norm (though not necessarily by choice). I enjoy meat, though, so I generally don't pick the vegetarian meals.

I do not know what happened to the depth of field in this photo.

On paper, El Salvador isn't really poor—it is the third largest economy in Central America. In reality, of course, there is a huge divide between the wealthy and everyone else, with per capita income actually ranking at the fifth lowest in the Western Hemisphere. El Salvador is also the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America--as far as square mileage goes, it has 8,124 of them, which makes it roughly the same size as Massachusetts.

Do you see that dark spec in Central America?
No, it is not dust on your screen--it's El Salvador.

For all that small land area, though, El Salvador has a lot of cool stuff. Of the eight species of sea turtle that exist in the entire world, six of them nest on the El Salvadorian coast. El Salvador is also home to that coolest of wildcats, the ocelot.  It has 22 active and inactive volcanoes, (which I suppose is only cool if they aren't posing an immediate danger to people or property). And El Salvador is home to a ton of Mayan ruins, like Tazumal, Joya De Ceren and Casa Blanca.

Chalchuapa, Santa Ana, El Salvador. Photo Credit: otrarove via Compfight cc

It probably won't surprise you to hear that the cuisine of El Salvador depends heavily on corn and beans. For my selections this week I didn't actually deviate too far from that, choosing one of El Salvador's most popular dishes as my main course:

  • 3 cup instant masa
  • 2 cups water (more if needed)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 14 oz refried beans
  • 1 cup queso fresco or mozzarella, finely grated
  • 1 to 2 tbsp water
  • Vegetable oil
This recipe came from "Kitchen Conundrum," which isn't technically a Salvadorian resource. However, this particular blog entry featured recipes from the author's Salvadorian friend, so I have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

Now here I should take note that pupusas aren't always vegetarian. Nor, do I gather, are they usually vegetarian. In fact I originally downloaded a recipe for the pork filling that typically goes inside of them, but decided in the end that I wasn't going to have time to do the pork. Which was fine, because I liked this version, but in the interests of full disclosure there are plenty of other takes on pupusas that aren't strictly vegetarian.

To go with this recipe, I made the Salvadorian salad that you would generally find next to pupusas (this recipe also came from Kitchen Conundrum):

  • 1/2 head of cabbage, shredded
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 jalapeño or Serrano pepper, minced or 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Now another disclaimer: Salvadorian curtido is not very similar to the curtido we had the other day in Ecuador. And also, it's usually fermented. I don't personally do fermenting, because I don't like the idea of accidentally poisoning my family if things go wrong. Though maybe I have entirely the wrong idea about fermenting, but still. So I liked this version because it didn't ask me to leave anything out in the sun for several days. And because it came from the blog author's Salvadorian friend, I'm still going to claim it's authentic.

Because I was feeling ambitious, I decided to make my own refried beans using the technique I found at Postres de la Cipota, a blog authored by an American who is married to a Salvadorian.

Refried Beans
  • 1 lb small red beans
  • Water to cover
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • Salt to taste
Now I will say that I'm not sure about those last three ingredients, because La Cipota's recipe is actually spread across two posts. One mentions the spices, and the other doesn't talk about them at all. I did the beans without the spices, but if I had it to do over again I would have added them because (duh) the beans all by themselves weren't particularly interesting.

And some garnish (also from Postres de la Cipota):

Salsa Roja
  • 8 small,  red tomatoes
  • 1 can peeled, whole tomatoes
  • 1/4 white onion
  • 1/4 green bell pepper
  • 3 or 4 sprigs of cilantro
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 to 3 tbsp Caldo de Pollo*
  • 2 tbsp oil
* Caldo de Pollo is a brand name, and it's actually just chicken bouillon. I very much doubt that brand is important, though I did happen to already have some on hand.

And now for the finale:

Quesadilla Salvadorena

No! This is not two flour tortillas filled with melted cheese and other random ingredients. No, it is not. Salvadorian quesadillas are totally unique, and nothing like you would get at Chevy's Mexican Restaurant. Or any other Mexican restaurant. In fact, Salvadorian quesadilla is a dessert. Here are the ingredients (also from Postres de la Cipota):
  • 1 cup rice flour*
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 4 oz Parmesan cheese
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 stick salted butter, melted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Sesame seeds
*La Cipota also says you can use Bisquick, which is what I did because I couldn't find the rice flour that I thought I had in my cupboard.

Now another disclaimer: in the original recipe, sour cream and Parmesan cheese are alternative ingredients to the Salvadorian versions (crema and queso duro, respectively). If you can find these in the US, use them, but I don't think it's cheating to use the alternatives since they are evidently pretty similar to the traditional stuff.

So yes! This was another huge time-suck of a meal, but it was worth it. Here goes, starting with the refried beans:

Boil the small red beans with the spices for three hours or until soft, adding more water as necessary. Then drain and remove half of them to a blender (you can add a little water until the puree gets to the right consistency). Mix the pureed beans with the whole beans and cook over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't stick (I added a little oil to my skillet).

OK, now let's get the red sauce and curtido out of the way:

Put all the ingredients for the salsa roja into a blender and puree until you get a smooth sauce. Transfer to a pot and pour another tbsp of oil over. Heat over a medium-high flame until boiling, then shut off the heat and keep warm until ready to serve.

To make the curtido, first boil the water. Put the cabbage and carrots in a heat-proof container and pour the water over. Let stand for 10 minutes, then drain. Try to get out as much of the water as you can.

Transfer the cabbage and carrots to a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour. Chill and serve.

Now for the pupusas:

Put the masa in a bowl and slowly add the water with some salt and pepper. Knead until you get a smooth ball. The dough should not crumble when you handle it—if it does, add more water.

In a separate bowl, mix the cheese with the water and mash it until you get a cheesy paste. Now add the beans and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Put the vegetable oil on your hands and pick up a golf-ball sized chunk of dough. Roll it into a ball and then make a little well in it with your thumb.

The "well" thing wasn't working out for me, so I made mine into little bowls.

Put a tablespoon of the bean mixture into the well, then seal and flatten into a round patty. Make sure there is plenty of oil on the patty.

 You can probably see what a mess this is going to make.
Yes, this is exactly as tricky as it sounds like it is. I had bean and cheese mixture seeping out everywhere. My finished pupusas still tasted fine, so I tried to ignore their ugliness.

Now heat a large frying pan over a medium flame and add one of the pupusas (if they are well-coated in oil you don't need to add oil to the pan). Fry them until they are golden on both sides, taking care when you turn them. Serve warm with the curtido and salsa.

Now for the quesadilla:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until firm, but stop before you start to get stiff peaks. Set aside.

Now use the mixer to cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. One at a time, add the egg yolks. Keep mixing until creamy. Gradually add the cheese.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the sour cream and baking powder. Sift the flour/Bisquick over the mixture and blend gently until everything is well-incorporated. Then fold in the egg whites.

Pour the batter into a 9x13 inch glass baking dish and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.

Bake for 38 minutes. Yes, that made me laugh, too. I guess if you were using La Cipota's oven, that's how long you would bake it. In my oven it took more like 45 or 50 minutes. I was worried, too, because the center was still jiggly after about 45 minutes and everything else was turning a deep brown. I was starting to have arepa flashbacks, so I just shut off the oven and left the quesadilla in there while it cooled, which has worked for me in the past when I'm having some trouble getting that center to bake. Fortunately it worked this time, too, and I ended up with nearly perfect quesadilla.

 Serious yumminess.

So here's how my no-meat Salvadorian meal went over:

I put the plates down and Hailey looked at hers with suspicion. She asked me what it was and I said "pupusas." She then looked at me with shock and horror and shrieked "It has POO in it??"

OK so I guess I was more than a little dismayed to learn that my daughter thinks my cooking is so bad that it might actually have poo in it, but I had to move on. Here's what everyone else thought:

The kids were split down the middle about the pupusas. My more adventurous kids (Natalie and Henry) ate them and enjoyed them. Dylan and Hailey (obviously) did not eat them. In fact, Hailey declared that I should never again cook another vegetarian meal, because evidently this was the only meatless meal she could even fathom, which tells me I probably ought to be doing Meatless Mondays or something.

I liked them. A lot. And I liked the salsa, too, even though it had nothing spicy in it. The curtido was really good, too, a lot like sauerkraut but not as strong. I figured Dylan, who is a self-professed sauerkraut fan, would enjoy it too but he didn't. Well, there's no predicting what kids will eat I guess.

And now for the quesadilla. Knowing my feelings about cheese, I'm sure you will not be shocked to learn that I loved, loved, loved this dessert. The first bite, though, was really strange. You don't usually expect your dessert to be cheesy, and this was definitely cheesy. It was a strong, salty cheese flavor, too, but it paired surprisingly well with the sweetness of the cake. Even Hailey ate this cake, and when I told her it had cheese in it she did not run screaming from the room but actually asked if she could have another piece.

So that's El Salvador, and I can definitely say I'll be making quesadillas again. In fact I've already shared the recipe with some friends, who were likewise intrigued by the blend of cheese and sweet. I love it when I find a gem.

Next week: England. Yes! My husband's homeland.

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Recipes from Egypt

I love Middle Eastern food, so I felt pretty at home this week. I have to say though, the main dish I ended up cooking turned out to be kind of a weird one.

I'm sure you already know something about Egypt, because everyone does. Land of the pyramids, pharaohs and Indiana Jones, you probably picture windswept dunes, camels and mummies whenever you think of it. At least I do, because I watch too much Discovery Channel.

Photo Credit: WanderingtheWorld ( via Compfight cc

What you may not know is that with a population of 82 million, Egypt is not only one of the most populous nations in Africa, but also the 15th most populous country in the world. Most Egyptians live near the Nile River, since those windswept dunes of your imagination (or maybe just mine) make up most of the rest of its territory.

One of the reasons why we hear so much about Egypt is because it has been inhabited since 10,000 years BC, which as far as human history is concerned is a very, very long time. The people of Ancient Egypt were masters of architecture—that's why monuments such as the Sphinx and the pyramids at Giza are still standing, thousands of years after they were built. This makes it a mecca for archeologists as well as a source of great cultural interest and, of course, tourism.

So Egypt's culinary history is about as long and diverse as the rest of its history, which means that it was refreshingly easy to do the research for this meal. Traditionally, Egyptians have eaten a lot of vegetarian dishes—not for health reasons, of course, but because meat is very expensive for the majority of the population. I did not choose a vegetarian meal, though, because I found a chicken dish that seemed really interesting. Here it is:

Circassian-Style Chicken (Sherkasia)
(From Egypt Daily News)

For the chicken:
  • 6 lbs chicken leg quarters
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 small onions, sliced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, peeled and chopped with salt
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp Near East or Aleppo pepper, or more to taste
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • 2 1/4 cups shelled walnuts
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

For the red-tinted oil:
  • 1 tbsp walnut oil
  • 1/4 tsp Near East or Aleppo pepper
And on the side:

Couscous with Currants and Cumin
(From Tour Egypt)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1 tsp cumin seed, toasted
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • Salt
  • Hot chili flakes
And some bread:

Eeish Baladi (Egyptian Bread)
(Also from Egypt Daily News)
  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
OK, first the bread, which is very straightforward:

Dissolve the yeast in a little bit of the water and let stand until frothy. Meanwhile, mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture and and the rest of the water.

Knead until you get a smooth dough, then separate into six pieces. On a floured surface, roll the pieces into balls, then flatten with the palm of your hand. Let rise in a warm place until doubled (one to two hours).

Bake on a greased baking sheet at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until brown.

Now for the chicken:

Eek! A spider! Oh, it's just saffron.

Heat the oil in a large pot and brown the chicken on both sides. Add 2 tsp of the garlic with the salt, pepper and saffron.

Pour the water over the chicken and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the chicken is tender.

While the chicken is cooking, toast the flour in a dry pan over low heat until it turns a light brown color. Keep stirring so it doesn't burn. Add the pepper and allspice and stir for another 30 seconds, then remove from heat and set aside.

This is toasted flour.

When the chicken has finished cooking, take it out of the pot (make sure to reserve the broth) and then remove the skin and bones. Now, here the recipe says to "cut into smaller serving pieces," which is next to impossible if you are, well, me. So instead of larger pieces I just had bite-sized chunks, because my meat fell apart as I was trying to remove the skin and bones.

Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the chicken and transfer it to a large bowl. Now strain the broth and skim the oil off the top (you should have about 3 1/2 cups of broth, I had a little more). Mix the rest of the garlic with 1 cup of broth and pour it over the chicken.

Now put the walnuts and seasoned, toasted flour into a food processor and pulse until you get very fine crumbs.

Add another cup of the chicken broth and keep processing until you the mixture becomes a smooth paste. Then add the rest of the broth, mixing to make a sauce with a creamy consistency.

Transfer the sauce to the skillet where you cooked your chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Pour the broth off the chicken pieces and then transfer them to a 9x13 casserole dish. Add a cup of the walnut sauce and the lemon juice and toss to combine.

Add a little bit of water to the walnut sauce to thin it out somewhat, then add salt to taste. Pour over the chicken.

Now, here's where the recipe said to put the whole thing in the fridge for two days. Since it was blog night (oh when will I learn to read these recipes in advance) I didn't have two days. But I will tell you that I did this with the leftovers and did not personally feel like it made a whole lot of difference to the flavor. So I don't think you need to do this, though it may not be as authentic to skip this step.

Make the red-tinted oil by heating the walnut oil in a small pan with the Near East pepper. You want the mixture to sizzle just a little bit, then remove it from the heat.

Meanwhile you'll be reheating your chicken, which may or may not have been sitting in your fridge for two days, in a 350 degree oven until warm, but not hot. Drizzle the oil over the finished dish and serve.

So yeah, a little weird. Now for the couscous:

Boil the water and add the couscous and currants. Remove from heat and cover for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute the onion, garlic and ginger in the oil over a medium-high flame, until the onions are translucent. Add the cumin seeds and keep stirring for another minute.

Remove the lid from the couscous and fluff with a fork. Add the onion mixture, the orange zest and the cilantro. Stir in a little salt and the hot pepper flakes to taste.

I really liked the chicken, but everyone else was pretty so-so about it. The flavor was pretty mild, though the garlic and lemon gave it extra points. I think Martin was expecting a more wowing culinary experience, so he wasn't terribly excited by it. Plus he doesn't particularly like dark meat, which I don't personally understand because I think dark meat has loads more flavor than white. But anyway …

The bread was boring. No way around it. It could have used some more salt to make it less bland, but I'm not sure huge flavor is really its purpose. If Egyptian bread has the same roots as Indian nan, it's just meant to mop up sauce and therefore doesn't need a whole lot of flavor of its own (actually, nan has a ton more flavor, but there you go). My kids liked it though. Of course, they slathered it in butter which is probably not terribly traditional, though I guess I can't say for sure.

The couscous was pretty good—Martin's favorite part of the meal. Personally I thought it tasted a little bitter, which is probably due to overzealous zesting (my fault). I do like couscous with fruit of any kind, so cooking this again another time may be in my future.

There's Egypt, then. I think I expected more, but that's probably because that whole romantic Egyptian ancient history thing made me expect food that reflected some of that romance. Oh well, every culinary experience can't be worthy of the Discover Channel, I guess.

Next week: El Salvador

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Recipes from Ecuador

Traditional food isn't always delicious to us Westerners. That's because people living in poorer nations often just don't have the resources you need to dress up a meal, such as spices, herbs or even just ordinary table salt. For these people, something as basic as meat, onions and rice make a delicious meal because a delicious meal is really anything that fills up your belly.

Then there's Ecuador. Now, you can't really say that Ecuador is a particularly wealthy nation (in terms of GDP the US ranks 8th while Ecuador is all the way down at 91). But it is a growing nation: the 8th largest economy in Latin America with a growth rate of 7.8% in 2012. Extreme poverty in Ecuador has declined by leaps and bounds since the turn of the century; in 2001 it was a whopping 40% and now it is down to 17.4%.

The nation of Ecuador includes the Galápagos Islands, made famous of course by Charles Darwin, and is one of 17 "megadiverse countries"—those countries that harbor the majority of the Earth's species—as identified by Conservation International in 1998.

Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador. Photo Credit: shapeshift via Compfight cc

So this also means that Ecuadorians have access to lots of yummy ingredients, partly because the terrain, altitude and agriculture varies greatly from one part of the country to the next.  Seafood, for example, is predictably popular on the coast, while meat and potatoes is preferred in the mountains and tropical fare such as cassava and bananas is commonly eaten in the rainforest.

So when researching Ecuador I landed almost immediately on one blog and then did not go any farther than that. Because every single thing on this blog looked super awesomely yummy. In fact, I downloaded far more recipes than I could use for this one entry, and I plan to make all of them offline at some point or another.

Here's the blog, since she deserves pretty much all the credit for this entry:

Laylita's Recipes (Note: I had to take remove the link because of a malware warning)

All you have to do is land on her homepage and I promise you'll get sucked in by all the amazing pictures of colorful and delicious looking recipes. If you have any kind of fondness for Latin American food, you will love this website.

So anyway, I chose about a million recipes and then somehow managed to narrow it down to these six (six!):

Arroz Marinero

This is very similar to a Spanish paella, only with different spices. Here are the ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • 2 cups long grain rice
  • 2  1/4 cups seafood stock
  • 3 tbsp sunflower, peanut or light olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 heads garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp achiote powder
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
  • 4 lbs seafood: shrimp, calamari, scallops, mussels, clams, crab or whitefish*
  • Salt and pepper to taste
* Based on what I can tell from this and other versions of this recipe, arroz marinero is generally made with a mixture of different seafood, which may include some or all of what I've listed above. I think you can be flexible on what you decide to use, though every recipe I saw included the mussels, clams, calamari and shrimp with some variation of everything else.

The arroz marinero is served with these two garnishes/sauces:

Aji Criollo
  • 4 hot peppers (I used jalapenos, but you could use serranos if you wanted it spicier)
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Juice from 1/2 lime (or lemon)
  • 3 tbs finely chopped white or green onion
  • Salt to taste

Curtido de Cebolla y Tomate
  • 2 small red onions, thinly sliced
  • Juice of 3 limes
  • 1 tbsp sunflower or canola oil
  • 3 tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp salt (more to taste)
The curtido also goes with this recipe:

  • 5 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp ground achiote
  • 1 cup grated Mozzarella or Fontina cheese
  • Salt to taste
And you also really, really need this to put on top of the llapingachos:

Salsa de Mani
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened peanut butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup white onion, finely diced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground achiote
  • 2 tbsp peanut oil or butter
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp white onions, finely minced or sliced
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped (optional)
  • Salt to taste
And in case you aren't already exhausted, here's the dessert:

Raspberry, Goat Cheese and Almond Empanadas
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 sticks butter, cut into 16 pieces
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 to 4 tbsp cold water
  • 12 oz raspberries
  • 11 oz plain goat cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbs orange zest
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1/4 cup demerara sugar

OK, yes, three of these recipes are sauces. Delicious, super-yummy sauces.

Anyway, I started with the dessert, as I often do, since it can almost always be made ahead. Here's how it's done:

First mix the dry ingredients together, then add the butter and eggs, gradually adding the water until you get a nice smooth dough. Divide the dough into two balls and flatten with the palm of your hand, then put them in the fridge for a half hour or so.

Meanwhile, mix the goat cheese with the sugar, vanilla and orange zest.

After the dough has chilled, transfer it to a floured surface and roll out to maybe 1/8 inch thick. Cut the dough up into small disks (I thought my biscuit cutter was a bit too small so I used a glass). Stop eating the dough or you won't have enough to make the empanadas. Whisk the egg white and yolk lightly in two separate bowls.
Now place a teaspoon or two (depending on the size of your disks) of the goat cheese mixture sort of off-center on each disk.

Sprinkle with the sliced almonds and add two raspberries.

Paint the edges of the disk with the egg white and then fold the dough over, pinching to seal. Press down with a fork along the edges and then cut three tiny slits in the top to (theoretically) help stop your empanadas from exploding in the oven. Now brush with the egg yolk and then sprinkle with some more almonds and the demerara sugar.

Return the empanadas to the fridge for another 30 minutes, then transfer to a preheated oven and bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until they turn a nice golden brown color.

Now let's do the sauces, since they can be made ahead too.

To make the aji criollo, just put everything except the chopped white onions and salt in a blender or food processor and blend until you get a smooth sauce. Now add the onions and salt. Done!

Now for the curtido:

First sprinkle the onions with 1 tbsp salt and set aside for 10 minutes or so. I think this helps draw out some of the liquid in the onion, which I'm guessing makes them crispier though that is a hugely uneducated guess. Now pour lukewarm water over the onions and let sit for 10 additional minutes. Rinse and drain.

Put the onions in a bowl with the lime juice and oil and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Just before you are ready to serve, take them out of the fridge and add the tomatoes and the cilantro. Adjust the salt to taste and serve.

Finally, the salsa de mani:

Mix the peanut butter with half of the milk and stir until dissolved.

Melt the butter/oil over medium heat and then add the onion, achiote, cumin and salt. Keep stirring until the onions are translucent.

Add the peanut butter/milk mixture and the rest of the milk. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, then add the boiled egg, cilantro and onions. (Note: you may need to add a little more milk to thin the sauce).

Since the potato dough for the llapingachos has to sit at room temperature for a while, I'm going to have you do that next.

First boil and drain the potatoes. Now you need to heat the oil over a medium to high flame and add the onions and achiote. Cook until the onions are translucent.

Mash the potatoes (don't add any milk or butter, just mash them) and then add the onion/achiote mixture. Add salt to taste, then let the mixture set at room temperature for one hour.

Roll the potato dough into balls about the size of golf balls. Make a hole in each one with your finger (they will fall apart a bit when you do this, so its best to cup them in your hand and then press them back into shape as necessary) and then stuff the grated cheese into each hole. Close up the holes and gently press each ball into a flat patty. Put in the fridge for another half hour to hour.

Now cook each patty on a dry, nonstick frying pan. If you use oil these things will fall apart, so just cook them right on the nonstick surface. And don't be tempted to press down on them or they will crumble. You need to make sure they are the right shape before they go in the pan. When brown on one side, turn them over gently and brown the other side.

Top with the salsa de mani and onion curtido.

OK, if you haven't already dropped dead I just have one more thing for you to do—the main course. Here goes:

Heat the first measure of oil over a medium flame and add the onion and garlic. Keep stirring until the onion is translucent.

Now add the rice and stir. You want every grain of rice to be covered with oil.

Next add the broth and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until the broth is absorbed, then reduce the heat as low as it will go. Cover the pot and let simmer for 15 minutes, or until the rice is al-dente.

Now heat that second measure of oil and add the rest of the chopped onions and the two whole heads of crushed garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent. Now add the spices, half of the cilantro and the bell pepper. Cook for five more minutes, stirring often.

Here's where you add the seafood. Start with the stuff that will take longer to cook, such as the white fish, the shellfish and large shrimp.

Gradually add the rest of the seafood and stir for three or four minutes.  Transfer the rice to the pot and mix well. Keep stirring until everything is cooked through.

Add the rest of the cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.

OK so I'm sure you're wondering if it was all worth it. And yes, yes it was. This meal was truly as delicious as it looked like it was going to be, and though my back ached for three days after all that time in the kitchen it was more than worth all the effort.

The arroz marinero was excellent and probably came out better than any paella I've ever made. The rice was really light and fluffy (which is because of the cooking technique of boiling off the stock and then simmering) and the spices made the dish different enough that I didn't actually feel like I was eating some variation of a paella. Martin enjoyed this dish too which is saying something since he doesn't tend to love seafood, though he'll usually eat it without too much complaint. I really enjoyed the aji criollo on top of this dish, which was really spicy and made for a delicious twist on seafood, which I don't often eat with a spicy accompaniment.

The llapingachos, well, what can I say about them. I've never had so much success with a mashed-fried-patty anything, and I think Laylita was seriously on to something when she hit on frying these in a dry pan. Next time I try making one of those infamous bean patty things which seem to be so popular in Caribbean nations, I'm going to do it this way to see if I can get an actual patty instead of a pile of greasy mush. But beyond that, the llapingachos were also really tasty. I could have put more cheese in them because as they were they really just barely tasted of cheese, which is a crime against cheese. But topped with the salsa de mani and the curtido they were still irresistible. I wish I'd made more of them. Tons more.

And just for a laugh, here's what my kids' plates looked like:

 And yes, they looked pretty much exactly the same at the end of the meal, too.

As for the goat cheese empanadas—well, I once loved goat cheese but let me just say that norovirus and goat cheese aren't really a good combination (and I'll leave it at that). Ever since that experience I've kind of not really liked goat cheese anymore, but in this recipe it was pretty good. I think I would have preferred to make these empanadas with cream cheese but that is wholly because of my own negative experiences. Goat cheese lovers will love this recipe, I promise. Even my kids loved it. Hailey was shocked to learn she'd just eaten goat cheese and still wanted more. And that is really saying a lot.

So if I had to pick a country in South America to visit, I think Ecuador would be right up there at the top of my list, though I doubt I would do much more than eat the whole time I was there. Well, maybe I would visit the beach while eating. Or eat as I explored Galápagos. You get the idea.

Next week: Egypt

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

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