Thursday, October 14, 2010

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Ecuador


My culinary travels find me in Ecuador, a small South American country with diverse geographical regions, whether it is the coastal region along the Pacific Ocean, the high elevation of the Andes mountains or the rainforests.  Along the coasts, the food centers around fish, beans and plaintains.  As you move inland and into the Andres mountains, the cuisine changes to meat and rice.

While my culinary challenge requires me only to make a main dish, I wanted to create a meal that would require me to cook outside of my comfort zone.  Ecuador presents such a challenge because one of the quintessential dishes is Ceviche de Corvina or Sea Bass Ceviche.  There is some debate as to whether ceviche originated in Ecuador or Peru, but what is not disputed is that ceviche in each country is different.  In Ecuador, ceviche is typically fish or shirmp, but it is usually steamed for a couple of minutes before citrus is added.  In Peru, the fish or shrimp is raw when the citrus is added.  So, for my first time at making ceviche, Ecuador provides a good starting point since I would not be making ceviche from raw seafood.  In addition, I decided to make my own aji criollo, which is an Ecuadorian hot sauce to serve as a condiment with the fish.

To complete the meal, I decided to make a soup called Locro, which is a soup of potatoes, milk, and cheese and a drink called Cuaker, which is a pineapple oat drink.  All together, the warm soup and drink contrasted with the ceviche and the aji criollo made for some wonderful contrasts and an excellent meal.

THE APPETIZER



 LOCRO (Creamy Potato Soup)
Adapted from Ecuador Channel
Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 pounds of potatoes (I used Yukon Gold)
2 tablespoons of butter
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup light cream
1/4 pound of Munster cheese
Salt to taste
2 cups of water

Directions:
1. Saute the onions.  Melt the butter in a sauce pan and add the paprika.   Add onions and saute until translucent.

2.  Make the soup.  Add the water and bring to boil.  Then add the potatoes and reduce the heat, allowing the potatoes to simmer for about 15 minutes.

3.  Add the milk and cream.  Before the potatoes are fully cooked, add the milk and cream.  Stir occasionally to make sure that it is blended.

4.  Add the cheese.  When the potatoes start to brake up, add the cheese.  Salt to taste.

THE CONDIMENT


AJI CRIOLLO (Ecuadorian Hot Sauce)
Adapted from Laylita's recipes

Ingredients:
4 red or green chiles, seeded (red ones are hotter)
1/2 bunch of cilantro
1/2 cup of water
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup of lemon or lime juice
3 tablespoons of finely chopped onion
Salt, to taste.

Directions:
1. Add the chilies, cilantro, water, garlic and lime juice in a food processor.  Blend thoroughly.

2.  Pour the blended mixture in a bowl.  Add the onions and salt, to taste.

THE MAIN DISH

And on to the main dish, Ceviche de Corvina or Sea Bass Ceviche.  This is an excellent dish that is relatively easy to make.  For the fish, I used Branzino, which is a Mediterranean Sea Bass, with very flaky flesh and without a very fishy taste. 

CEVICHE DE CORVINA (SEA BASS CEVICHE)
Adapted from Galapagos Travel
Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 fillets of sea bass (Branzino, Black, etc.)
1 red pepper, sliced thinly
1 small bunch of parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons of cooking oil
1 teaspoon of aji criollo
4 tablespoons of lemon juice
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste

Directions:
1.  Steam the fish.  Steam the sea bass for 3 minutes.  Turn once during steaming.  Once the flesh is white, remove the fish and place in a glass dish.

2. Prepare the citrus marinade.  In a bowl. mix the lemon juice, oil, parsley, aji criollo, onion, salt and pepper.

3.  Marinade the fish.  Pour the mixture over the sea bass and coat the fish thoroughly.  Let the sea bass stand for one hour.

THE BEVERAGE

Finally, this great meal needs a beverage.  I came across a recipe on Whats4eats.com for Cuaker, an Ecuadoran oatmeal beverage.  Cuaker is the Spanish word for "Quaker," as in Quaker oats.  According to Whats4eats.com, oat-based beverages are popular in Central and South America.  The concept of an "oatmeal beverage" fascinates me, so I decided to make the beverage.  The key to this recipe is to use real oats, not the instant kind.  I used steel cut oats to make the Cuaker for this meal.


CUAKER (Oatmeal Beverage)
Adapted from Whats4eats.com
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 Pineapple, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 cup of oats
1/2 cup of sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
5 cups of water

Directions:
1.  Boil the ingredients.  Add all of the ingredients to a pot and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat medium-low and let the ingredients simmer for about 20 minutes.  Stir frequently.

2.  Strain the ingredients.  Remove the pineapple and cinnamon sticks.  Strain the remainnig liquid, pressing down on the oats to extract all of the liquid.  Discard the oats.

3.  Serve.  Serve the beverage chilled or warm.  (I prefer it served warm.)

*     *     *

Well, I have to say that this was a very good meal.  I learned about making ceviche and learned that I probably should have let it stand in the citrus for a little longer, but it was still good.  The locro was also very good and is an ideal soup for a cool, rainy day, which was today.  But, the star of the meal was the Cuaker, which is very good and, actually, would make a great holiday drink.

With my cooking adventures in Ecuador coming to an end, I need to start planning the next stop.  I can't wait.  Till next time....

ENJOY!

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