Fun fact: This country boasts an astounding 774 soup varieties.
If you fancy yourself a globetrotting food lover, then you shouldn't be surprised to know that it is Ecuador that offers this grand amount. While I haven't had the pleasure of visiting this South American country (yet!), I was able to live vicariously through its cuisine the other day.
In fact, the hospitality and friendliness was palpable from the outset. The Embassy of Ecuador and Pro Ecuador staged an edible affair for us at The St.Lawrence Market in Toronto; they flew in revered Chef Andrés Dávila -- executive chef of Casa Gangotena (rated 6th best hotel in the world) -- to prepare and cook a multitude of dishes for us to taste. The objective of the event was to show us how accessible and easy it is to cook Ecuadorian fare at home. In fact, all the ingredients presented in front of us such as chili peppers, cod, and cacao nibs, were all purchased at our local market.
As well, a recurring trend with Chef Dávila's dishes was the swift simplicity in prepping ingredients and the cooking method itself. Most noticeably, raw ingredients are blended and either used as a base or as a marinade. Proteins are always served with a sauce riddled with an aromatics base (Educador's rendition of a Spanish sofrito) of garlic, onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, thyme, or parsley. I noticed that there's always a harmony between sweet, heat, acid and fat in the form of cream or nuts.
Considering that Ecuador is a small territory with four regions including the Pacific Ocean coast, the Andes Mountains, the Rain Forest and the Galapagos islands, our menu centered on coastal favourites and Chef highlighted the ease in transforming the colourful bounty before us. We started out with Bonitisimas: pillowy lozenges made of potatoes and toasted corn flour, then stuffed with a mixture of goat cheese and fresh cow's cheese. They were toasted on both sides in a saute pan and finished in the oven. A smear of avocado cream and smoked salmon tartar is added on top. It was definitely one of my favourite dishes and something I'd want to recreate at home.
Along with a zesty ceviche, one of the showstoppers was a Pernil: a mahogany-brown pork shoulder. The squeal-worthy protein was marinaded in aromatics along with orange juice and beer; the hefty slab was then slow-roasted. Served with a cheese stuffed patty and slivers of palm tree hearts, it was not only easy to assemble, but for practical purposes, you'd have an ample amount of leftovers for the work week.
One major issue with cooking at home is getting into the same rut and recycling dishes till your taste buds tire of them. Not so with a flexible achiote base Chef introduced us to. He divided the amount and utilized it in both his Encocado and swordfish dishes. The former showcased cod with a sweet coconut sauce and the latter was transformed into a green plantain sauce.
A meal wouldn't be complete without dessert. Bananas are a staple almost everyone has at home. Freeze overripe bananas and use them in this cake recipe Chef crafted. Most noticeably, it was not the texture of a traditional banana cake or bread. Rather, it was soft and pliable like a sticky toffee pudding; to finish the dish, a stout slice was dolloped with dulce de leche. Infectiously pleasurable? Indeed, it was.
The featured recipes below were created by Chef Andrés Dávila.
Note that there's always an underbelly of heat to his dishes, but they're not so hot that they sear your tongue off. Rather, its presence provides an added depth of flavour.
Shrimp Ceviche Ecuadorian style
To cook the shrimp
• 1 kg shrimp
• 1/2 red onion
• 1 carrot
• 1 branch of cilantro
• 10 gr. celery
• 1 lt. water
• 20 gr. salt
• 2 gr. grind pepper
• 3 tomatoes
• 1 onion
• 5 limes (juice)
• 3 lemon (juice)
• 1/2 lt. Orange juice
• 5 gr. finely chopped cilantro leaves
• Salt and black pepper
Pre Heat the water to cook the shrimp with all the ingredients. When is boiling, add the shrimp and cook it for 5 minutes.
Chill the shrimp with ice and separately preserve the liquid.
Cut the tomato in large dices.
Cut the onion really thinly.
Mix all the ingredients adding 1/4 of the liquid where you had cooked the shrimp.
Put the shrimp on the marinade for 15 minutes.
Serve in a bowl with sides of plantain chips and Manabi province hot sauce. (recipe follows)
Manabi's province pickled hot sauce
• 5 green Thai peppers
• 5 wiri-wiri peppers
• 1 big red onion
• 2 carrots
• 1 red bell pepper
• 1 yellow bell pepper
• 1 green bell pepper
• 10 coriander seeds
• 2 bay leaves
• 5 gr. of chopped cilantro leaves
• 1 tbsp of sugar
• 1 lt. fruity vinegar (I used pineapple vinegar)
• 15 gr. salt
• 2 gr. black pepper
The hot chilies may be lightly steamed and chilled.
Cut the red onion and the bell peppers in small diced (brunoise).
Grate the entire carrot.
Mix the vinegar with sugar, salt and black pepper. Add the bay leaves, coriander seeds.
Put all the ingredients in a large glass container and preserve at least for 1 day before serving.
To request any of the other dishes featured at the event, you can contact Chef Andrés Dávila
aedavilaz (at) yahoo (dot) com
Bonitisimas (corn flour patty)
Quiteño style tamarillo hot sauce
Pernil (roasted pork leg) with potato llapingachos
Pumpkin seed hot sauce
Encocado (cod with coconut sauce)
Swordfish with green plantain sauce
Salprieta (The dark salt)
*all photos by Tiffany Leigh*