International Cooking: Food from Ecuador

Ecuador is located on the northwestern coast of South America, and also includes the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific.

The land used to be the home of various indigenous groups, who gradually became part of the Incan Empire during the 15th century. Spain colonized the territory in the 16th century, and Ecuador did not gain independence as its own sovereign state until 1830.

Ecuador is one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world, meaning it harbors a high percentage of the Earth’s species and that there is a high number of plants and animals only found there.

What Do People Eat in Ecuador?

Ecuadorian cuisine includes many similar dishes to that of their neighbors, making use of readily available ingredients such as plantain, cassava, rice, potatoes, and maize. A wide variety of fresh fruit is also available.

Because Ecuador is such a biodiverse country, cuisine can vary depending on where you are. On the coast, seafood, beef, and chicken are particularly popular, while pork, chicken, beef, and cuy (guinea pig) are more popular in mountainous areas.

A typical meal may start with soup, followed by a dish including rice or pasta and some kind of protein. To finish, you would usually have dessert and coffee. A lot of desserts show a heavy Spanish influence, such as turrones (nougat), arroz con leche (rice pudding), and alfajores (cookies typically filled with dulce de leche, like I made for Argentina).

A few dishes I was interested in making but didn’t fit in this week included a potato and cheese soup, eggs scrambled with plantain and cheese, and shrimp ceviche. The ceviche was particularly appealing to me because I love shrimp, but I’m not sure about eating it ‘cooked’ with just lime juice. However, this particular ceviche uses cooked shrimp, which are then mixed with lime juice, fresh herbs, and vegetables before serving. It’s on my list to try sometime in the future.

What I Made

Llapingachos (Stuffed Potato Patties)

Llapingachos (Stuffed Potato Patties)

These are patties made from mashed potato, onion, and achiote/annato seed for color, stuffed with cheese. Quesillo is the usual cheese used, but I substituted mozzarella which is the more easily obtainable alternative. Once the patties are formed and stuffed, you lightly fry them until browned.

These can be served as an appetizer with a peanut sauce and curtio, which is a pickled onion and tomato mixture. You can also make them part of a full meal, which I did by adding a fried egg and sausage. Avocado is another common accompaniment.

I really liked these, especially with the sauce and curtido. The recipes I used are all from Laylita’s Recipes:

Encebollado de Pescado (Tuna Soup)

Encebollado de Pescado (Tuna Soup)

This is just one of many popular soups in Ecuador. It can be served at any time of the day and is known as one of the best hangover cures. It is actually quite simple, consisting mostly of tuna and cassava, with curtido (pickled onion and tomato) on top.

I was actually planning on buying cassava for this, because I thought they sold it at the supermarket. However, when I looked closer I noticed it was labeled as ‘yucca’ as opposed to ‘yuca’ which is another name for cassava. I thought the root looked right, but I’d never seen actual cassava root before. I thought it strange that the supermarket would make a spelling mistake, and I looked it up quickly on my phone to find out that yucca is a completely different thing. So, I decided to substitute potatoes, which definitely takes away from the authenticity of this dish.

Upon getting home, however, I looked into this further and found that there’s no way the object labeled ‘yucca’ at the supermarket was actually that, because yucca is an ornamental plant without an edible root. Apparently the fruit, flowers, seeds, leaves, and bark have various medicinal purposes, and some can be eaten, but this was definitely a root so it must have been yuca/cassava, mislabeled as yucca. So I could have had cassava in my encebollado after all!

Anyway, this soup was quite good despite its simplicity. The broth is flavored simply, with tomato, onion, cilantro, cumin, and a little cayenne pepper (the recipe actually specified ‘chili powder’ but I feel in this context they meant actual ground chilies). The tuna is cooked in the broth, then removed, and then you add the cassava (in my case potato). When that’s cooked, you break up the tuna into pieces and add it back to the broth before serving with the curtido. You can also serve this with plantain chips or popcorn.

The recipe I used is from Laylita’s Recipes.

Empanadas de Viento (Cheese-Stuffed Pastries)

Empanadas de Viento (Cheese-Stuffed Pastries)

These empanadas are stuffed with cheese, then deep-fried, with a sprinkle of sugar as the finishing touch. I almost decided to bake them instead, but I thought the grease from frying was probably necessary for the sugar to stick and so I gave in and deep-fried them.

These were quite easy to make, easier still if you buy premade empanada disks. I made the dough from scratch, and it’s a pretty standard recipe with flour, butter, salt, baking powder, and water, but there was also a little orange juice which I found interesting. I couldn’t really detect it in the finished product.

The filling is mozzarella, with a little finely chopped onion, which was optional. I would probably skip the onion next time, because I think without it, the addition of the sugar would have worked better. Although these were mostly delicious, I couldn’t help but feel the onion and sugar didn’t really go together.

The recipe I used is from Laylita’s Recipes. Here’s what they look like inside!

Empanadas de Viento (Cheese-Stuffed Pastries)

Seco de Pollo (Chicken Stew)

Seco de Pollo (Chicken Stew)

There are many different stews popular in Ecuador; seco de pollo is just one of them.

I wanted to use whole chicken thighs for this, but unfortunately they were out of stock so I used boneless, skinless thighs instead. To start, you rub the chicken with ground achiote/annato seed, cumin, salt, and pepper. Then you add beer, naranjilla (in my case orange) juice, onion, garlic, tomato, bell pepper, chili, cilantro, parsley, and oregano to a blender and process until you have a smooth sauce. Mine wasn’t perfectly smooth, but I thought a little texture would be fine.

Next, you brown the chicken, before covering with the sauce. The stew then simmers for about an hour. The recipe instructs that if the sauce hasn’t thickened by this point, you can remove the chicken and continue to cook the sauce for a while. I did this but the sauce still didn’t seem to thicken very much. I added a squeeze of fresh orange juice and mixed in some more parsley and cilantro, and the stew was ready. I served it with yellow rice, which is basically just rice cooked with achiote/annato seed for color.

I thought this was alright, but I think it would have been better if the vegetables were diced and sauteed (and maybe blended after if a smooth sauce is desirable in this dish). I think there would have been better flavor that way. I also didn’t really taste the beer or orange juice though I’m sure they contributed some flavor.

If you’d like to make this, the recipe I used is from Laylita’s Recipes.

Bolon de Verde (Stuffed Plantain Balls)

Bolon de Verde (Stuffed Plantain Balls)

Bolon de verde is Ecuador’s national dish, and it consists of pan-fried plantain balls stuffed with either pork or cheese.

I had some pretty big problems with this dish, to the point where I had to make it twice. The first time, I was following a recipe that instructed me to fry green plantain slices for 40 minutes on medium heat until tender but only very lightly golden. Well, about 10 minutes in they were more than lightly golden. I was concerned about them being soft enough, but had to finish cooking at that point or they would be way too crispy to form into balls. After seasoning, I mashed the plantain, but it would not form any kind of ball. The plantain seemed to be cooked through but I think the outsides of the slices were too crispy. It was a total disaster.

I looked at more recipes, and a few did have you boil the plantains instead, which to me seemed a better way of getting the right consistency. But the original recipe had specifically said that the consistency is, in fact, wrong when you do that. In the end, I ended up lightly pan-frying for a few minutes and then boiled until soft. This mixture was easier to form into balls after adding a little water, but once I tried to make a hollow in a ball in order to stuff it, it started falling apart again. I managed to make two balls. One is stuffed with bacon, the other is more of a mixed bacon/plantain ball because it was falling apart so much as I was attempting to stuff it.

Obviously there is something I’m missing here, but I’m not sure what it is and I didn’t have time for more attempts. Someday, maybe! It seems like it would be terribly inaccurate, but I think I could make nicely shaped balls if I made a soft mashed plantain mixture like I did the previous week for the Dominican Republic’s tres golpes.

Final Thoughts

This was a pretty good week. My favorite dish was the llapingachos for sure, with the empanadas de viento being second.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Egypt.

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