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 Gal├ípagos 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:


  1. So happy I'm subscribed to this blog. Can't wait for next week!

  2. So glad you're reading! Thanks for the post!


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