Ecuador

Hola! This weekend found us in the Americas again, in our first “E” country, Ecuador. Even though the country is a neighbor of Peru, a country that my family has ties to, I didn’t know much about Ecuador, except that it grows a lot of bananas.

Ecuador is in the northwestern part of the South American continent, and as you may have already guessed from its name, it’s at the equator (“Ecuador” is Spanish for “equator”). And as we were finding recipes and grocery shopping, it became pretty evident that this small country (roughly the size of the state of Colorado) has more than just bananas. While not everything in the picture below was made in Ecuador or with Ecuadorian ingredients, this is just some of what we bought for our recipes this weekend.

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VámanosLet’s go!

On Saturday morning, I made us mote pillo for breakfast, a dish with hominy and scrambled eggs. If you haven’t had hominy before, it’s dried corn that’s been soaked in mineral lime–you can often find it in the canned goods section near the beans. We ate our mote pillo with slices of queso fresco.

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After our desayuno (breakfast), we got our Ecuador overview from Barby on Geography Now! We learned that Ecuador is rather unusual for being a small country with four very different geographic regions: the coastal area, the Andean highlands, the Amazon jungle, and the Galapagos Islands region.

We watched two travel videos after Geography Now: an episode from a BBC series called Fast Track, and part of an episode on Quito (Ecuador’s capital city) from the Travel Channel show Passport to Latin America. 

For lunch, I made locro de papapotato and cheese soup, and menestra de lentejas, lentil stew. We had some sliced avocado with both the potato soup and lentils and also had some white rice with the lentils.

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After lunch, Derek prepared a ceviche as part of our dinner later in the evening. I’ve always associated ceviche with fish and shrimp marinated in lime juice for long periods of time, but Derek found a recipe for vegetarian ceviche using chocho beans (also known as lupini beans). Since the ceviche needed to marinate for a few hours, he made it early in the afternoon so that it would be ready to eat by dinnertime.

I ran an errand in the afternoon, and when I came back, Derek made us an Ecuadorian beverage called cuáker, made from oats, pineapple and sugar, which we drank warm. We also enjoyed some chocolate made from Ecuadorian cacao, one bar from Trader Joe’s single origin Chocolate Passport collection, and one from a small-batch chocolatier, Askinosie Chocolate. (We had received quite a bit of chocolate for Christmas, and conveniently for us, these two bars were of Ecuadorian origin.)

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The cuáker recipe says to discard the oats and pineapple solids after straining the beverage liquid, but we didn’t want to be wasteful, so we also ate the oats (which was pretty much oatmeal by this point) and pineapple slices separately.

While the ceviche for dinner was already taken care of, Derek also baked some ripe plantains and stuffed them with cheese, following this recipe. For our after-dinner dessert, I started working on the dulce de zapallo, caramelized squash in syrup, since it needed a long time to simmer.

We ate the ceviche first, topped with plantain chips and some toasted corn nuts. If I had to describe the ceviche in one word, it would be “intense.” I’ve had fish ceviche before, a long time ago before I became a vegetarian, but I wasn’t prepared for how citrusy and salty our chocho ceviche was. While we had made a point of not being wasteful earlier with the cuáker and drinking/eating both the liquid and solids, I didn’t drink the juice from my ceviche–too strong. Luckily, the plantains made an easy-to-eat and comforting second course.

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After dinner, we watched the movie Crónicas, about a Miami television journalist’s investigation of the rape and murder of children in an Ecuadorian village. American movie watchers might recognize John Leguizamo in the starring role, and Alfred Molina in a few brief scenes.

We had some of our caramelized squash dessert after finishing the movie. The recipe recommended serving the dish with some white cheese to offset the sweetness of the squash, and I’m glad that we followed that suggestion.

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On Sunday morning we had more mote pillo and queso fresco, and tried the cuáker cold, thinned with some pineapple juice, and the end result was still tasty. Since the videos we watched the day before didn’t talk too much about the Galapagos Islands, we watched a David Attenborough piece on evolution in the archipelago.

For lunch, we enjoyed more potato soup and lentil stew with rice, and then watched two more short documentaries, one on Ecuadorian Americans, and the other on American expats in Ecuador, who are drawn to the country’s lower cost of living and more relaxed lifestyle.

When it was time for dinner again, we helped ourselves to more ceviche, and the remaining cheese-stuffed plantains. We also enjoyed some more caramelized squash for dessert a little later in the evening.

Gracias, Ecuador. We ate very well this weekend, and had a lot of interesting material to watch and reflect on. Next up, we’re leaving the Americas and headed for the Middle East for our next country, Egypt. Adios! 

– Jess

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