I’ll admit it. My spring semester didn’t go as planned. But then again, in this crazy year of 2020, whose spring has? I thought I would still be in Ecuador during this time. I thought I would be learning Spanish, giving art classes to students, and spending time with my Ecuadorian host family. I thought I would be exploring the downtown of Cuenca or hiking through the highland terrain of Cajas National Park. But here I am, back home because a global pandemic had a different plan for my gap year.
Of course I am disappointed that my time in Ecuador was cut short, but I am also incredibly thankful to have spent the two months I did learning and growing in an international setting. And that growth hasn’t stopped upon returning home. It’s been different for sure, but I’ve tried to continue my path of learning through online Spanish classes and conversations with my Ecuadorian friends and family members. But most importantly, I’ve been keeping up my “studies” of Ecuadorian cuisine.
During quarantine, it seems cooking (and baking) has become the new favorite pastime of many Americans. I have never been a cook (unless you count peanut butter jelly sandwiches and scrambled eggs as cooking phenomena), but I decided there was no better time than a stay-at-home order to try something new. Ambitiously, I decided to recreate several of my favorite Ecuadorian dishes in my American kitchen.
Surprisingly, with help from my family, we accomplished the impossible: a somewhat authentic, astonishingly tasty Ecuadorian meal. I’ve included my adapted recipes; in case you’re interested or have the inclination to become an amateur Ecuadorian chef this quarantine. ¡Buen provecho!
Llapingachos: Potato pancakes
- 6 russet potatoes, peeled
- 1 white onion, finely chopped
- Typically, achiote is used, but I substituted 1 tsp cumin, ¼ tsp turmeric, and ¼ tsp paprika
- Around 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, shredded
- Salt and pepper
- Vegetable oil
- Flour, if needed
- Peel the russet potatoes and boil until soft.
- As the potatoes are boiling, add oil and chopped onions to a skillet. Cook until the onions are translucent and soft. Pro tip from my mom: to keep them from burning, add a little vegetable or chicken stock to the onions as they cook.
- Once the onions are soft, add the seasoning (cumin, turmeric, and paprika). This will create a refrito, or a “flavor base,” that is then added to the potatoes.
- Now, mash the potatoes until smooth and add in the onions.
- Once mixed, shape the potato mixture into small cup-like structures with a pocket in the center. Fill this pocket with cheese and cover with more of the potato. Once fully covered, shape the round ball into more of a patty shape. If the potato mixture is too crumbly, try adding some flour.
- When the patties are ready, cook them on a skillet until golden brown. This is probably the hardest step as the potato pancakes never really “firm-up.” However, we found that using canola oil and heating it up before putting the patties on the skillet makes the process a lot easier. Don’t be afraid to add a lot of oil!
- I like to eat llapingachos with avocado slices and curtido recipe included below, but lots of Ecuadorians eat them with salsa de mani (peanut sauce).
Curtido de cebolla y tomate: Onion and tomato salad
- 1 large red onion
- 6 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 large tomatoes
- 5 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 1 tbsp salt
- Cut the onion into very thin slices (we used a mandoline slicer) and place in a bowl.
- Cover the onions with the tablespoon of salt and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes.
- After this, cover the onions with water and let sit for 10-15 minutes again. Rinse the onions and drain.
- Add the lime juice and a pinch of salt to the onions and let sit for 45 minutes. The onions should lose most of their acidic flavor.
- Once the onions are ready, cut the tomatoes into thin slices (again, we used a mandoline slicer to get them thin).
- Add the tomatoes, oil, and cilantro to the onion and lime mixture. Serve with the llapingachos and avocado slices.
Morocho: Ecuadorian sweet drink with corn
- 1 can white hominy corn (can be found at most groceries stores in the Mexican aisle)
- 6 cups milk
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1/3 cup sugar
- Place the can of hominy (after being washed and strained) into a pot. Add the milk and cinnamon sticks.
- Cook on low heat for about 3 hours, stirring every now and then.
- After 3 hours or so, add the sugar and cook for 30-45 more minutes. The more time simmering will increase the cinnamon flavor.
- Serve warm.