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Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Otavalo, Ecuador Part 2

Every place has "that place" you know the one that has everything which makes it extraordinary, memorable.  Niagara Falls has a few, my favorite (perhaps) is  the restaurant below the Brock monument. Queenston Hieghts Restaurant, which  has spectacular views of the Niagara basin, Niagara on the Lake, scenes of the river as it flows into Lake Ontario.  The food is at par with most Niagara restaurants, but it is totally the surroundings.  A historic War of 1812 heritage site, it is located close to where Sir Issac Brock was mortally wounded during the battle of Queenston Heights, a decisive battle of victory over the Americans. I love history and here Canadian history was made.

So too, my trip to Otavalo, Ecuador brought me to such places of interest. Spectacular views,  incredible settings, food that was good, and rich in history. One such place is nestled beneath the Imbabura volcano is La Laguna de San Pablo, also known by the ind√≠genas people as Imbakucha. It is largest of the 28 stunning lakes of Imbabura province. A quick taxi ride of just 4 km from Otavalo the lake is a quiet, peaceful place, to watch 12 species of waterfowl, go horseback riding, mountain biking, search for amphibians or fish for trucha (trout). 

On these rainy, chilly days in January the water sports are not likely what you may want to do, but should you visit in better weather you may enjoy a variety of swimming, boating, fishing or just relaxing and passing the day away. If you are so inclined, you can hike around the 15 km circumference of the lake.  From the lake flows the Peguche river and a waterfall  of 18m (54ft) which bears the same name as the river, set in a nice nature park.

On the shore of La Laguna de San Pablo is a small resort called Puerto Lago, set as a lighthouse on the coast. This resort has what some consider the finest restaurant of the Otavalo area. A pleasant park setting, special cabin style suites for those who choose to stay on the lake.  The restaurant is  The most exciting thing was a Aji sauce (my recipe featured in part 1). I had a stuffed trout, which were supposedly caught from the lake, although it seemed doubtful as it fish was not fresh and had a texture that stated it had been previously frozen.  The fish was stuffed with chopped seafood and breadcrumbs which lacked seasoning, but more disappointing was that the cook deep fried the chopped seafood making the tiny pieces into bits of rubber.  A cream caper sauce, which again lacked flavor coated the fish.  I found the small Otavalo restaurants, like Chievce 523 (at 1/3rd the cost) to be a far more flavorsome. La Laguna de San Pablo is truly a special place, but maybe pack a picnic to dine upon. Considered international gourmet, but I found I no better than 2 year culinary student fare.

Unquestionably my favorite meal  in the Otavalo area (Cotacahi) was not in a restaurant at all, but in the home of fabulously nice family who shared a pot of homemade chicken and pasta soup. Served with a side of beans, a corn on the cob and a slice of quesco fresco.  The soup was made with great care and served with a joy and pride. The humble setting could not compare with the gourmet setting of Puetro Lago because of the happiness of this family and the wonderful hospitality they showed to us. 

Cotacahi is a must go to town, again a few miles from Otavalo, but a world of difference. Otavalo's markets are like none other but the leather shops of Cotacahi  are incredible as well, Artisan shops line the main street and you can buy any type of leather item, from shoes, boots and jackets to coin purses, bags, and suitcases, so be sure to make it one of your stops while in the area.  

Stuffed Trout
6 ea Trout, boneless
6 oz Crab Meat, cooked
6 oz Cooked Shrimp, chopped
6 Tblsp Butter
3 Tblsp Onion, finely chopped
3 Tblsp Parsley, chopped
3 Tblsp Celery, chopped
1 1/2 cup Bread Crumbs, fine
1 Tbsp Chef K seafood seasonings
2 Eggs, beaten
Salt  & pepper to taste
If the trout are head on, remove the heads. Remove any fibres from the crab and flake. Prepare shrimp. Melt butter and saute onion, parsley and celery until softened. Remove from heat. Add crumbs, seasonings, crab meat, shrimp and eggs. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper Fill pocket inside of trout with stuffing. Brush surface of fish with butter. Bake in 375 degree oven until just done, about 15 minutes. Baste with butter once while baking.

Serve with Tarragon Cream Sauce.

1 1/2 cups white wine
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 sprigs fresh tarragon, plus
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
In large saucepan, over medium high heat, bring wine, onion, pepper, and whole tarragon sprigs to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until mixture is reduced by at least 1/2, about 25 minutes, depending on the size of your pan.
Remove and discard the tarragon sprigs.
Add cream, reduce heat, simmer gently until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in salt and chopped tarragon.

Ecuadorian Chicken Pasta Soup

2 pounds chicken drumsticks with skin
1 whole red onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 whole red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra for garnish cilantro, finely chopped
2 tablespoons achiote oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
8 cups homemade chicken broth
2 whole scallions, trimmed
3 potatoes peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup small soup pasta cooked
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Begin by soaking the rice in a nonreactive bowl with 1 cup of water. Set aside. In a Dutch oven pot or medium deep pot, heat the achiote oil.
Add in the refrito: chopped red onion, garlic cloves, red bell pepper, parsley, and cilantro. Saute for 2 minutes.
Add in salt, ground pepper, 1 tsp cumin, and 1 tsp oregano. Saute for another 2 minutes.
Place chicken drumsticks in the pot and stir to combine all flavorings. Saute for 5 minutes.
Then add in the chicken broth and whole scallions. Stir and bring to a boil, about 10 minutes.
Add in 1/2 tsp of cumin and 1/2 tsp of oregano. Stir and cook for 20 minutes.
Add in potatoes, cover pot, cook for 10 minutes.
Add in carrots, cover pot, and cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes.
Add in the pasta, peas, cover pot, and cook for another 5 minutes.
Season soup with salt and pepper and serve soup when chicken meat is falling off the bone, all vegetables are tender, and when it's thick.
Serve along with sliced avocados, a wedge of lime, and Aji hot sauce.

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