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Monday, February 02, 2015

Foods of Otavalo, Ecuador Part 1

Map of town.

As many Canadians rush to the sunny, warm Caribbean or Hawaiian beaches in the chill of the dark Canadian winter, I get an invitation to visit Otavalo, Ecuador, not exactly a tourist hot spot in any sense of the word, yet better than 30 cm of snow to shovel. However dollar for dollar there is no comparison, if you do not need the beach, this truly is the place for anyone to visit for a breathtaking winter or summer break, in fact so nice are the people and the area that many Canadians and Anericans make this area of Ecuador home year round. 

Here the beautiful people are those of the area, friendly, warm, hardworking, ever a smile on every face.  A mix mostly of Latin Americans and Ecuadorian natives  (indígenas) , harmony is the sense any outsider will see.  Stop in the town square and soon the Otavaleños  will be greeting you with a cheerful "buenos días or buenas tardes " depending on the time of day. Don't be surprised if the old or young just slide up  to you as you sit on a bench and just want to talk with you, just conversation, that's what they are up to, unlike many other third world countries where an outsider is a target for the beggars, in fact here you will be hard pressed to even see a beggar and when you do you will be moved to help them .

 You'll enjoy watching the indigenas dressed primarily in traditional garments. Men wear dark felt hats, short cotton white pants, blue ponchos and long ponytails. Women braid their hair and wear frilly, colorful embroidered white blouses, long black skirts, fachalinas (beautifully woven head scrafs) and bright layered beaded necklaces. 

The street team with happy people, food everywhere, restaurants, street vendors, or people just selling pots of chicken and potatoes from their doorways. Mangoes, red giant globe grapes and beautiful cherries (in the dead of winter) all sold by wheel barrow pushing vendors.  Get them while you can, as the next fruit becomes ready they  too will be placed in this simple form of transportation and retail. 

Not ready to enjoy street food, well Otavalo has one of the greatest markets in the world. Daily fresh meats, vegetables, fruit and mercantile are sold in three or four markets spread around the city, however, on Saturday the entire center of town become one great market.  Street after street, ally way and lane way all teaming with thousands of people buying and selling Alpaca Llama wool, blankets, leather goods, electronics, more foodstuffs, spices,
a bargain hunter could get lost for days within the market. If the kiosks of peddler's is not sufficient for the shopper the streets, of course, are lined with retail shops offering even more goods at incredibly low prices, at least by North American standards.

Otavalo as with other Andes cities’s cuisine have a higher consumptions of potatoes, corn, beans, grains, nuts, fermented food, hot soups and coladas ( hot cereals made of grains flour).  As protein goes, "pollo" chicken is the mainstay, pork "credo" will follow and beef " carne de resa" distant third (very high cost for the average person).  The chicken is offered stewed, shallow fried, but by far more  Nearly every meal consists of the feature accompanied by potatoes, rice and a side salad. The "patatas"  served boiled or semi fried.  Arroz con pollo or Chaulafan is the Ecuadorian version of fried rice which shouldn't surprise anyone that it is fantastically scrumptious sold in great round pans street side much like Spanish Pella especially on the Saturday market day. Many of the dishes will be offered with three condiments Aji cirollo, Salsa Rosada,  and Salsa Amarillo (Yellow Pepper Sauce) all delectable and will leave you wanting more.  Cuy (wild guinea pig) is the national dish in Ecuador, small and stringy you will need to eat a few if your hungry, most commonly served like chicken, rotisserie or fried if you can in fact find a restaurant that serves it, many advertise such but few actually do.
common is baked or slowed, turned on a rotisserie, " asador de pollos".

Otavaleños pride themselves in the cleanliness of streets, homes and restaurants. You constantly see street sweepers cleaning the sidewalks and roadways, by street sweepers I mean people with brooms not great sweeping machines.  The homes (even in the poorest) are spotless, so much so  that the dirt floors look spotless. Restaurants are immaculate, every area exhibits the highest standards of hygiene and cleanliness.  I certainly would have taken pride in each kitchen that I visited.  

One of my favorite spots for coffee was a small chocolate restaurant called "Choccobanano" here we experienced the owners (Hugo) excellent individually brewed café negro fuerte, served by
Esther along with excellent food created by his cook Mayra. Here we talked local food and chocolate, I taught them about the Canadian butter tart, "pastelería mantequilla tarta" while they shared a family secret banana bread recipe, " pan de plátano" see below for the recipes.

Butter Tarts
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup lard            
1/3 cup cold water
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
In a medium bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in lard until mixture resembles coarse meal.
In a separate bowl, whisk together water, egg yolk, vanilla extract, and vinegar. Stir into flour mixture and knead dough briefly, just until smooth. Allow to rest 15 minutes before rolling out. Pastry is easier to work with when chilled. Can be stored in refrigerator for up to 1 week.   
 1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup soft butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Prepare muffin pans by rolling out pie dough and cutting 4-inch (approx) circles; fit dough circles into muffin cups; set aside in fridge until ready to fill.
In a small bowl, place raisins and cover with hot tap water; let stand on the counter for 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, mix together the soft butter, brown sugar, salt and corn syrup; stir well until sugar is dissolved and butter is creamed.
Add egg and vanilla and mix well.
Drain raisins.
Retrieve tart shells and divide raisins equally into all shells; then divide butter mixture into all tarts.
Bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes; filling will be lightly browned but still bubbling.

Spanish version as given to me. (Versión española como dado a mí .)
2 tazas de harina preparar
1 taza de harina integral
1 taza de azύcar morena
1 taza de nueces picaditas (optativo)
2 cucharadas de harina de garbanzo diluidas en agua
2 o 4 bananas maduras y aplastadas como en pure
3 cucharaditas de polvo de hornear
1/3 taza de aceite
2 taza de auga caliente
Precaliente el horno a 165C.
Mezcle todos los ingredientes secos. Agregue las nueces, la haṅna de garbanzo en agua y el hiviendo. Finalmente incorpore la banana y el polvo de homear. Puede batir la harina de garbanzo con agua gasificada nieve y agregar la banana. Untar un molde y cocinar que esté cocido, hornear durante 1 hora para 1⅓ horas.
English Version
2 cups flour, all purpose
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional )
2 tablespoons chickpea flour diluted in water
2 cup hot water
2 or 4 ripe bananas and crushed and mashed
1/3 cup oil
Preheat the oven to 325⁰F.
Mix the first four  dry ingredients. Add nuts. Blend the chickpea  flour with the water and reserve. Incorporate the banana and the dry ingredients. Fold in the chickpea flour soaked in the water, fold in the oil. Grease a loaf pan and spoon the batter into the pan and bake for 1 hour to 1⅓ hours or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Tamarillo or Tree Tomato Aji hot sauce

 4-5 tamarillos (tree tomatoes, fresh or frozen)
 2 ajies or hot peppers (Serranos are the best substitute)*
 2 tbsp, finely chopped white onion
1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1 tbsp lime or lemon juice
¼ cup water
Salt to taste
 Optional – Add 2 tbsp cooked and peeled or pickled chochos or lupini beans. Lupini Beans have a sweet flavor and firm texture. This is a very versatile bean and high in proteins. Eat Lupini Beans by themselves, cooked, chilled and lightly salted, as a snack. Use them in cold or hot salads. (Place lupini beans pic here)
If using fresh tree tomatoes peel them,  boil them for about 5 minutes to make it easier to peel them.
If using frozen tree tomatoes, defrost them over night in the fridge, then cut them in half and scoop out all the insides.
Blend the tree tomatoes with the hot peppers (seeded and deveined if you want it very mild, you can always save a few seeds and add them in if it’s too mild).
Transfer the blended mix of tree tomatoes and hot peppers to a small saucepan, add the water (you can add more if you want a more liquid sauce) and cook on medium heat for about 5-8 minutes. You can also omit the cooking part, the sauce will be fresher, but will need to be consumed faster.
Add the onion, lime juice, cilantro, chochos (if adding), and salt to taste.
Serve warm or cold.
*Aji amarillo, also called amarillo chili and ají escabeche

Biche de pescado or fish soup
Biche de pescado, or viche de pescado, is a traditional Ecuadorian soup made with fish, peanuts, yuca, sweet plantains, corn, and other vegetables and spices.
 Fish and peanut broth
 ½ - ¾ lb fish heads and bones, or use a small whole fish
 8 cups + 2-4 cups water, adjust based on how thick you want the soup
1 cup milk
1 cup peanuts, lightly toasted
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 cup chopped red onion
1 tsp ground cumin
4 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt to taste
Fish soup
2 lbs white fish fillets (halibut, monkfish, ling cod, sea bass, etc), cut in medium sized pieces
2 tbs butter or oil
2 cups chopped red onion, about 1 whole onion
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bell pepper, diced, about 1 cup
1 tbsp dried oregano
½ tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp achiote or annatto powder*
2 tbsp plain peanut butter, unsweetened
1 ½ lb yuca or cassava, peeled and quartered, fresh or frozen
2 very ripe plantains (the ones that are starting to get black), sliced in about 10 rounds per plantains
2 corn ears, cut into 6-8 small rounds per ear of corn
2-3 finely chopped cilantro or parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
To serve:
Lime slices and Aji hot sauce
Fish and peanut broth
Bring 8 cups of lightly salted water to boil, add the fish heads, bones and other pieces, boil for about 30 minutes or until the pieces begin to come apart, strain the broth.
Heat the 2 tbsp of oil over medium heat to prepare a quick refrito, add the onions, garlic, cumin and salt, cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.
Blend the lightly toasted peanuts with the refrito, the milk, and 2 cups of the fish broth, blend until smooth.
Strain the peanut, milk, refrito and broth mixture and mix with the remaining fish broth plus 2-4 cups of cold water.
Fish soup
Heat the 2 tbsp of oil over medium heat; add the chopped onions, garlic, pepper, achiote powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and cook over low heat until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add the fish, peanut broth and bring to a gentle boil.
Add the corn, the yuca and the 2tbs of peanut butter. Simmer for about 35-40 minutes or until the yuca is cooked.
Add the plantain slices and the fish chunks, cook on low heat until the fish is cooked, about 8-10 minutes.
Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and serve warm with lime slices.
* Achiote is popular Latin American spice. It goes by the name of annatto in English. Achiote or annatto is mainly used to give a golden orange color to the food. Achiote is a must have for things like refrito or sofrito, as well as for many soups, stews, and rice dishes

2 cups of uncooked white rice use medium grain rice (sorted and rinsed if needed)
2 tbsp oil (olive oil, sunflower, canola) or butter
2 tbsp minced or finely chopped white onions
2 ¼ cups water
Salt to taste (add the salt when you add the water and the water should taste like a lightly salted broth, for a lightly salted rice I add about 1/4 teaspoon of salt)
Optional – 1 garlic clove, minced
For arroz amarillo: ½ teaspoon of ground achiote or annatto
Heat the oil or butter on medium temperature in medium sized saucepan.
Add the minced onions and garlic (and achiote if making arroz amarillo or yellow rice), cook until the onions are translucent or soft, about 2 minutes.
Add the rice and stir it in so that it is well coated with the oil, add the water and bring it to a boil.
Let the water, reduce until it barely covers the rice, cover with a lid, reduce the temperature to low, and cook for about 20-25 min.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 (6 pound) whole chicken
Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until very hot. While the oil heats, mash the cumin, salt, oregano, and garlic together into a paste in a heat-proof bowl; whisk the hot oil into the paste. Allow the mixture to cool slightly. Add the lime juice and orange juice; stir. Place the chicken in a large sealable bag; pour the marinade over the chicken and shake to assure an even coating. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, up to overnight.
Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Arrange the marinated chicken in a roasting pan.
Bake the chicken in the preheated oven until no longer pink at the bone and the juices run clear, about 1 hour. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, near the bone should read 180 degrees F (82 degrees C).

Ecuadorian Chicken Rice Soup
Yield: For ~8 people
Ecuadorian chicken rice soup or aguado de gallina is a thick soup made with chicken, rice, potatoes, onions, peppers, other vegetables, herbs and spices.
3 lbs chicken, assorted pieces
¾ cup rice, uncooked
2 tbsp sunflower oil or butter
1 cup chopped red onion, about ½ onion
1 cup chopped bell pepper, about 1 pepper
2 roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp dried oregano or 1 tbs fresh chopped oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground achiote
8 cups chicken broth or water
2 potatoes, peeled and diced, about 3 ½ cups
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
Serve with:
Chopped chives or green onions
Avocado slices
Aji criollo hot sauce
Soak the rice in water for 30 minutes
Heat the oil or butter in a large saucepan to make a refrito with the onions, garlic, pepper, tomatoes, parsley, oregano, cumin, achiote and salt, cook for 10 minutes stirring frequently.
Add the chicken broth or water and bring to a boil.
Add the chicken pieces and cook for 30 minutes.
Add the soaked rice and the chopped potatoes, cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
 Add the carrots and cook for 5 minutes
Add the peas and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the both the peas and carrots are tender.
Add the chopped cilantro and serve with avocado slices and hot sauce or aji.


1.5-2 lbs of flank steak, thin cut across the grain in 4,
2 large garlic cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp of ground black pepper
Ecuadorian rice
Salchipapas, (French fries) **
Fried Eggs
Fried plantains (Patacones) *
Salsa Rosada***
Salsa Amarillo (Yellow Pepper Sauce)****

In a food processor, combine the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix.  Pour the marinade over the meat and massage the cuts of meat, making sure every piece is coated with the marinade.  Let the meat marinade in the fridge at least for an hour.  If you leave it overnight, even better!

Heat your grill or grill pan and grill the meat to the cooking temperature of your preference (rare, medium rare, etc.)  Grill 3 minutes per side for medium over hot charcoal.  Let the steaks rest for 10 minutes in a warm place to ensure all the juices redistribute throughout the meat.
For the encurtido, slice a small red onion in thin slices.  In a bowl, place the onion slices and pour about 1 tsp of olive oil, the juice of one lemon and season it with salt and pepper.  Let the onion marinade for 5-10 minutes until you start seeing the juices turn red.  Pour it over the lettuce and tomato salad.
Serve with white rice, plantains, a fried egg, fries, lettuce and tomato salad, sliced avocado and encurtido and the accompanying salsas.
* Patacones
Double-fried plantains are prepared by peeling the fruit and then cutting it into ½ inch rounds. Place these side by side in a large frying pan to which oil has been added. Fry until golden brown on each side and then remove to a wooden cutting board. On the cutting board, use a large, heavy mallet to smash each round into a flower-shape. Return to the frying pan, adding more oil if needed. Add a couple of tablespoons of margarine for extra flavor. Continue frying, turning until each side is golden brown. Serve hot, with salt.
** Salchipapas (French Fries Ecuadorian style sometime cooked with hot dogs)
1-2          medium potatoes
2              cups of cooking oil
Cooking Instructions
Step 1   Cut the potatoes into ½ inch-thick strips, as for French fries.
Step 2   Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the potatoes and fry until golden brown (about 5 minutes). Remove to a paper-towel lined plate allow to cool, then fry a second time until nicely golden.  many restaurants in Otavalo will only cook the potatoes once leaving them rather limp and not crisp.

*** Salsa Rosada
1 cup store-bought or homemade mayonnaise
6 tbsp ketchup, adjust to taste
1 tbsp lemon juice
Instructions,  Combine the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.

****Salsa Amarillo (Yellow Pepper Sauce)
Ají amarillo paste (follows)                  ¼ cup
Mayonnaise                                             ½ cup
Whole-milk yogurt or sour cream      ½ cup
Lime juice                                               ½ each
Salt                                                           To taste
Whisk together ingredients.
Taste; adjust salt as desired.
Store covered in refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Aji Amarillo Paste
2 pounds of fresh Aji Panca yellow peppers (similar to yellow banana peppers)
1/4 cup oil
Remove both ends off of the pepper & slice lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scrape away the seeds and veins.
Cover the peppers with water and place the pot on the stove. Bring it to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes. Drain. Cool slightly, then peel the skin from the pepper.
In a large saute pan, heat the oil and then add the peeled peppers. Saute until the peppers begin to brown slightly. Transfer peppers to a blender, or my preferred method, use a hand blender to blend peppers into a sauce.
Store in the refrigerator or freeze small portions for later use.
Yield: Makes 3 1/2 cups


12 ounces all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ounce lard or 1 ounce shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 lb Queso Fresco  (white cheese,) shredded*
Orange zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups oil, for frying
Mix flour and baking powder well. Cut in shortening.
Mix water, salt and lemon juice. Stir well.
Blend water into the flour mixture, a bit at a time until you get a soft dough. Knead it well.
Roll out dough until it is pretty thin. Cut circles with a cup or cutter, of the size you desire.
Start heating your oil.
Mix the cheese with the orange zest, this creates your filling.
Put 1 tbsp filling (depending on size of circles you have cut) into the middle of each circle. Fold over and turn the edges to seal well.
Fry them in a skillet, with a lot of oil. Spoon hot oil over them as they fry, so that both sides get golden and you don't have to turn them. They puff up as you spoon the oil over them.
Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with sugar and serve immediately, as the dough and the cheese hardens when they get cold.
* Queso Fresco, as the name states, this is a fresh cheese, similar to fresh mozzarella, fresh whole milk is acidified and left to curdle, and then strained in cheesecloth and pressed. The cheese can be eaten immediately or aged for a few days.  Sold in the Otvalato food markets, or, purchase yours at any Latin food market. 
Queso Fresco
One gallon of whole milk (not ultra pasteurized)
1/2 cup of lime juice (about four limes) or 1/4 cup of white vinegar
Salt to taste
Coddle the milk in a non-aluminum pot on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, a coddle is to heat just below the boiling point, but don’t let it boil!. If you’re using a thermometer, the temperature should be 185 degrees.
Add the lime juice. The curds will separate from the whey and the mixture will look granular, simmer for a couple of minutes.
Pour the pot’s contents into a cheesecloth-lined colander and let it drain for a couple of minutes. (If you want to save the whey so you can use it to later.)
Sprinkle the curds with salt (you can go saltier than you normally would, as a lot of the salt will drain from the cheese as it dries). You may add fresh chopped herbs, spices or chopped chiles at this stage.
Gather the curds in the center, tie the cheesecloth’s ends and hang the cloth so it can drain for 6 hours, overnight would be far better.
Untie the cheesecloth, you should have a nice semi soft ball of cheese now.  You may wrap it in plastic and keep it or place it in a tupperware bowl, cover with the reserve whey liquid and refrigerate. This cheese will keep as long as the recommended expiry date of the milk from which it was made.

8 thin cut bone in pork chops
2 limes, juice of
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or mashed in a mortar and pestle)
2 tablespoons Adobo seasoning*
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
6 cups water
Canola oil (for frying, about 1 cup)
Ecuadorian rice
French fries
Fried plantains (Patacones)
In large bowl or pot, add pork chops, vinegar and water. Let soak for 10 minutes. Rinse well, pat dry, and place in ziploc bag or larger bowl/pot to season.
Add lime juice, soy sauce, garlic, Adobo, oregano, black pepper. Mix well, making sure pork chops absorb seasoning. Let marinate at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight. The longer they marinade the better they will taste. Note: If marinating 1 hour or less you can leave on the counter. If marinating over 1 hour, refrigerate, but then, bring to room temperature before cooking.
In large frying pan on medium heat, add canola oil and 1 teaspoons sugar (other teaspoons is for next batch). When oil is hot and sugar turns a dark brown color (careful not to burn) add 4 pork chops. Cover and cook for 4 minutes. Flip pork chops, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Remove cover and cook for 1 minute. Remove pork chops and drain on plate lined with paper towels, add 1 more teaspoons sugar to oil, heat and repeat process with remaining pork chops.
Serve with Encurtido, Ecuadorian rice, Salchipapas, Fried plantains (Patacones), Salsa Rosada, Salsa Amarillo (Yellow Pepper Sauce)see CHARRASCOS above.

*Adobo Seasoning
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder 
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
Directions: In a bowl, stir together the salt, paprika, black pepper, onion powder, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, and chili powder. Store in a sealed jar in a cool, dry place.


Anonymous said...

Well done Ron, Treasure of the world. Lived there 16 years.

John Douglas said...

I'm with anonymous above.