Cocoa

Although original from Central America, the Ecuadorian cocoa is considered one of the finest in the world. Around 70% of the fine aroma cocoa world production depends on this Country in the middle of the world. However, it’s not a product that yo see on the tables of the Ecuadorian homes, but something they pull out with tweezers to be expensively sold abroad. Of course it’s not impossible to find inside Ecuador, but I suspect that for the same price that you get it abroad, impeccable quality though!

I bought this 100% cocoa chocolate driven by professional curiosity, and I realized that what they say about curiosity and that cat is true. It was like experiencing the bitter flavor in the purest way possible, like trying in my mouth an inconclusive love or some spiteful tears. I’m sure that combined with other things can make the difference, but chewed like that it’s a real ticket to disgust. In the following recipe I try to achieve the opposite. For the ones who remain curious here’s a video on the history of cocoa:

 

RECIPE -Pork Belly with Canchita Crust, Cocoa and Coconut Rice-

Ingredients

- 100% cocoa chocolate
- Pork belly
- Bicarb
- Chicken or beef stock
- Rice
- Coconut milk
- Canchita
- Breadcrumbs
- Parsley

Procedure

1. Cover the pork belly with bicarb and let it rest for one hour. Rinse the meat and simmer in the stock for 3 to 4 hours.
2. Mash the canchita and mix with the breadcrumbs and chopped parsley. Sprinkle a bit of olive oil in to make a paste.
3. Cook the rice in the coconut milk along with some water so it’s not too thick.
4. Dry well the pork belly and cover with the canchita paste. Place under the grill until its crisp.
5. Melt the chocolate.
6. Serve the pork belly with a drop of chocolate by portion and on a bed of rice.

 

Banana Republic

Ecuador well could be subtitled “Banana Republic”, since it constitutes not only the daily diet of its inhabitants but also the second biggest source of exportation income in the Country after raw petrol. In fact, bananas are known as “the green gold”, becoming the better edible gold in history.

Like the snow for eskimos, for Ecuadorians there are many different kinds of bananas, being the most common the green one, the ripe one and the banano. The green one (plantain) is used to make empanadas and also fried. When it ripens it’s called “maduro” (ripe), and its flavor is sweeter and more tender. Finally the banano is the one you eat raw and which we are more used to. Some other types you might find bananas in are:

 

Chifles

Some kind of banana chips, usually salty. They use the green plantain to make them.

 

Patacones

Some sort of smashed fried bananas, also made from green plantain.

How to make Patacones

1. Peel the green bananas, better with bags on your hands because they release lots of sage.
2. Cut each one in three and deep fry.
3. When they are golden, remove from the pan and smash.
4. Put back in the pan until they crisp up.

 

Bolones

Bolones de verde can be found mainly around the coast line, and can be filled with different ingredients. I’ll leave you with this recipe which is too well explained to even try to improve it in the Recetas de Lalyta

 

CEVICHE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WORLD

When one thinks of ceviche, decisively one thinks of raw and sour. In Ecuador things are different, if not contrary: here the ceviche is cooked and sweet. In some extreme cases, they even serve it with ketchup, sacrilege for many (or everyone), but quite extended. The problem in this case lies in the naming: if this dish wasn’t called ceviche, the expectations wouldn’t look towards the raw and sour, and the memory would be free of prejudices and ready to eat. However, when you are served Ecuadorian ceviche, first one must overcome the disappointment and adapt the appetite to the new presentation. If we define it in the cold light of day, really ceviche here in the middle of the world is a soup of seafood or fish, served kind of cold and curiously combined with tomato, orange and lemon, onion and coriander. In fact the tomato, main character in the Mediterranean cuisine, is native to the aborigine America. The word in itself (tomato) is in náhuatl, one of the mesoamerican languages. Then, why does it seem strange a ceviche in native tomato and not a gazpacho in extrapolated tomato?

 

WE EAT AT... Achiote

Finding Ecuadorian cuisine restaurants (not an inn or a tavern) is really difficult in Ecuador, so if I pass by one which claims to be so, I enter with no doubt. In Achiote everything is served quite elegantly, but taking no risks. It is only a rearrangement of the elements on the plate. This is the case of the llapingachos, perfectly correct on density, after which one is glad to have a drink by hand. The ceviche, however, did have a variation: instead of using tomato, the cold soup that flooded the steamed sea bass and prawns was made of tamarillo (tree tomato), orange, lemon and coriander. The drift is negligible and not quite right, but it gives us hope.

 

The Jungle

“Albert Einstein used to say that common sense is nothing but the accumulation of prejudices that we learn until we become 18 years old. Taste is no stranger to this phenomenon.”

“Ecuador: tradiciones de ayer para la mesa de hoy”, A. T.Pérez, M. Cepeda, H. Miño, ed. Universidad San Francisco de Quito 2012.


The planet’s lung diet should be rather pure, if this adjective can be applied to anything edible, it should be pure and terribly exotic. With this tropical expectations and a bit of hunger I arrive at Ecuador’s jungle region, which limits or melts in a green vision with the Amazon. I ate with surprise and almost none disappointment of the leafy larder, and these are the dishes or discoveries that I found most interesting:

 

Chontacuros

Despite its indigenous name, which confers it a halo of respect, lets not fool ourselves: they are worms. In fact, they are the kind of worms which picture one expects to see next to the “worm” definition in the dictionary. They grow in the Chonta palm tree, hence the name in quichua: chonta’s worms (curo=worm), they have a high protein level because of its natural fat, and, moreover, it helps healing tongue and throat infections, and it relieves asthma, cough and else miracles. Yes, but, you must be wondering, at what price? will the cure be worse than the disease? wouldn’t a normal syrup or a nice worm-free dish be better? The truth is that, once you overcome the visual revulsion, chontacuros are exquisite. Crunchy outside and creamy inside, their taste resembles the chinchulines (chitterlings). Such a shame we’ve been educated on bugs aversion, as edible as they are. More tolerance towards the insects, I claim under the motto Slimy but Tasty.

 

Maito

The Art of Leaf Cooking

Cooking in Leafs is something the Spanish did not bring, and, however, didn’t take with them. It’s something like the jungle corresponding to sous-vide cuisine, because the leafs are completely sealed so when you open them a delicious smoke bomb comes out, and everything is cooked in its juice. The leafs used are called Yaki-panga, very similar to the banana tree ones, and definitely heat resistant. With them they wrap the dinner and let it rest on the fire.

 

Quimbolitos

The quimbolitos are to the tamales what the rice pudding is to the paella. Not every dish has its sweet contrary, but the quimbolitos even translate to English as “sweet tamales”. They are made with butter, lard, corn flour, eggs, white cheese, sugar, raisins and aniseed, and are steamed in achira leafs. They are like little edible gifts, and the tender of the name relates to the tender of the sponge cake.

 

Palm Hearts

Not many people is lucky enough to try fresh palm hearts, and with fresh I mean just pulled out from the ground. In our supermarket world many times we ignore the origin of the food, specially from canned food. I still remember how surprised I was when I first saw a whole tuna, since I used to believe that what was fished were the cans from the bottom of the sea, ¡from the water to the larder! With the palm hearts the surprise was even bigger, because they are not too easy to find as they are native to the Amazon jungle, where one doesn’t take a walk around as often as one wished. Besides they are not always found even in cans due to the over-exploitation of the palm tree which grows right in the middle of the virgin jungle, and it’s not reforested as it should. Owing to this abuse Brazil stopped being the main palm heart exporter, leaving a clear road for Ecuador and Costa Rica.

Fresh palm hearts have a far more delicate flavor than the canned ones, which acquire a sour nuance due to the liquids that preserve them. In fact it’s such a soft flavor, that any strong company would eclipse it, so, in my opinion, it’s best partner would be the fish.

 

RECIPE -Tilapia with Palm Hearts and Passion Fruit Sau

“Traditional Ecuadorian cuisine was not addicted to spices (...), moreover, the excessive use was criticized: “it was not Mary’s cooking but spicy cooking” used to say grandmothers with distaste.”

Ingredients

- Tilapia fish filets
- Palm hearts
- Passion fruit
- Green plantain
- Butter

Procedure

1. Peel the green plantain and cut it like chips.
2. Blend the passion fruit’s pulp and strain so you get no seeds.
3. Fry the plantain chips.
4. Slice the palm hearts and season with lemon and olive oil.
5. Fry the fish in butter on the skin side so it crisps up.
6. On the same pan, heat some butter until it goes brown, and then add the passion fruit pulp and cook till it thickens a bit.
7. Serve the tilapia with the plantain chips and cover with the passion fruit sauce.

 

Seco

If you ask me which is the most typical Ecuadorian dish, here it is. However, the “seco”, although it literally means “dry” in Spanish, is not dry, but they call it so because they let the sauce “dry”, which actually means that they let it reduce. Another theory claims that the seco comes from the English word “second”, as second course, that the gringos used to ask for in yesterday’s Ecuador, and that today is the dish covering the tables, all of the tables.

The components of the seco vary according to the product availability, but it could be said that they all come with rice, salad and some kind of protein with a sauce, either beef, chicken, fish or seafood. It doesn’t have any mystery, the seco is like a typical day’s menu, and its quality is highly variable.

 

RECIPE -Prawn Sango-

by Emilia Bastidas

The word “sango” unfortunately does sound like “fango” (mud in Spanish). In fact, in Countries like Chile, the word means “dense mud”. It might be on purpose given the texture of this dish, which resembles the silt, there’s no point in denying it, but an exquisite silt, if ever there was one. The sango can be of many things, but the most common one is the Ecuadorian prawn one. The latter is quite famous in the South of this continent and its mention provokes saliva and sighs. The prawns are a big source for exportation in the Country, from where they travel mainly to Europe (38% goes to France, Spain and Italy), the US (34%) and Asia (24%, mainly to Vietnam, China and South Korea), according to the National Aquaculture Organization www.cna-ecuador.com . The recipe we have made is by courtesy of Emilia Bastidas, authentic Ecuadorian from the coast:

Ingredients

- Ecuadorian prawns
- Fish (any, better if local)
- Green plantain
- Pepper
- Onion
- Tomato
- Coriander
- Cumin
- Garlic
- Peanut butter
- Peanuts
- Achiote oil
- Rice

Procedure

1. Clean and peel the prawns, keep the shells and heads. Clean and fillet the fish. Keep the spines and head for the stock.
2. Chop the onion, pepper, garlic and tomato, and sauté in achiote oil in a saucepan. Fry the shells and heads on a pan until golden, and incorporate to the saucepan along with the rest of the vegetables. Fill with water just to cover everything and add the spines and fish head. Let it simmer for half an hour.
3. Grate the green plantain and boil in water until it thickens up.
4. Remove the stock from the heat, drain it and put it back on the stove until it reduces to the half.
5. Sauté the onion, garlic and pepper in achiote oil until the onion is transparent. Add a spoonful of cooked green plantain and fry for a few minutes. Beat everything with an electric whisk, adding stock to adjust the texture and peanut butter to adjust the flavor.
6. Cook the rice with the fish stock.
7. Fry the prawns with laminated garlic on achiote oil, and the fish on the skin side so it crisps up.
8. Serve the rice with the prawns and fish, and cover with the sauce and some crushed peanuts.

 

Encocados

Once more we run into what I’ve started to call “fake-friends”. If with our eyes closed we had to guess which is the main ingredients of the encocados, without having any previous culinary knowledge, who wouldn’t say the coca (which around this latitudes is chewed by many mouths). A second attempt would go towards coconut: bingo! The encocado is a dish cooked in coconut milk, usually with prawns or chicken, and served with rice. Is typical from the Pacific coast, from Peru to Colombia, and, within Ecuador, the best well known are from the Esmeraldas region. I can do nothing else but corroborate this fame, entirely justified, of the "Esmeraldian encocado", which became directly my favorite dish of Ecuador, with each one of its characters.

To prepare it you liquefy the coconut along with its own water, then you drain it and add a bit of coconut milk and water. In this mix you cook the prawns or chicken. Last but not least, you add chilangua, which is coriander from Esmeraldas. However, here I post a recipe that seems to adapt better to the common home.

 

Hornados

“As the day goes by, their smiley heads are aligned. They accommodate fresh chilies between their teeth, so their smiles become guffaws”.

Fuente

When you encounter an hornado face to face, it’s inevitable to feel a bit medieval. Although not medieval in the sense of troubadours and knight joustings, but medieval like pig-with-an-apple-in-the-mouth feast, no cutlery. The word “hornado” probably lost an “e” from “horneado” (roasted in Spanish) in the rush of the market, but this lack doesn’t really provide any mystery on the nature of the dish: it is roasted pork (surprise!). It’s very popular around the mountains, because it has too many calories for a coast diet, although you can find it around the whole Country and it usually comes with llapingachos and a side salad.

What surprises me is the size the women’s ovens must be to be able to host whole pigs. Besides, how do they manipulate the animal by themselves? Put it in the oven, take it out, serve it... it must be almost heroic!

If one is feeling anachronistic and wants to try this at home, the best is to follow this humble instructions:

1. Clean the pig leg and score it deeply to spread a paste of salt, black pepper, cumin and mashed garlic.

2. Let it marinade for 24 hours in the fridge.

3. Add beer and let it sit in the fridge for two more days, turning it every 8 hours.

4. The roasting lasts for 2 to 4 hours per kg of pork.

Llapingacho

Despite its determining role in our culture and the surprising variety of dishes for such a small country, Ecuadorian cuisine has followed an erratic development. Its mass consolidation occurred mainly through an informal verbal exchange.”

Ecuador: tradiciones de ayer para la mesa de hoy”, A. T.Pérez, M. Cepeda, H. Miño, ed. Universidad San Francisco de Quito 2012.

When I take a cab, generally I ask the taxi driver. assuming he is local, about his or her favorite dish. In Ecuador, surprisingly, the most common answer is "anything". I don't know if it's because of some lazy thinking that they summon this quick answer, but the truth is that is gives a culinary conformism feeling. What does the lack of favorite food say about the Ecuadorian nature? Is not that I can make a national judgement based on the vague responses of a few tired drivers, but, without wanting it, I find it quite alarming. What do they mean "anything"?

However, the answers vary when I ask about the typical Ecuadorian food. Is maybe the word "favorite" to wide? When I enclose it to "typical", it seems that, suddenly, I speak their language. In Ambato for example, a little town in the mountains, everyone firmly agrees that the Llapingacho defines their appetite. This filling dish, common point between opinions and taxi drivers, consists, in general terms, on potatoes, chorizo, egg and a salad. It can also be referred only to the potatoes, which are cooked shaping the boiled potatoes like a kind of patty, filled with cheese and fried on achiote oil. This oil is typical Ecuadorian, and its red color gives to the potatoes on the pan the golden that reaches the heart before going through the throat. The potatoes must be of the variety "chola", which, in spite of sounding like golden earrings, chewing gum with your mouth open and tracksuits in Spanish (try it, say: PAPA CHOLA aloud), is the one which has the highest amount of starch and therefore the most suitable for this matters in need of agglutinins. 

The llapingacho, in my opinion, is another version of what I would define as "international comforting food", because it fills the hunger and takes you, one way or another, to the sofa. The name might come from the quechua "llapiy", which means to mash according to this blog.