Ecuador: That Unknown South American Country

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Due to the physical nature of my job there is high risk of me getting hurt. Thanks to spending Saturday night in the emergency room for a hand I thought I broke at work, I was home all day.  Now don’t get me wrong, getting hurt started my vacation early and I was quiet happy to be home.  However, my ADD just didn’t agree with me.  I thought there was no better way to keep busy than cooking a cuisine from a random country.  I went with the most obscure South American country, Ecuador. More on the obscurity of Ecuador later.

I’ve really become a big fan of anything from Central or South America.  The type of spices used in these dishes are by far my favorite.  Anything with cumin or that infamous red paste, Achiote, is a winner to me.  Being a native of Miami, I am familar with eating these flavors but I really do guinely love them. My familiarity with many of the herbs and spices used in this region keeps me comfortable in the kitchen.

Today’s surprise treat for Bridget when she got off work was a home cooked meal of Ecuadorian cuisine.  I mean what could be better than coming home to a meal freshly cooked ready to eat after a long Monday at the office?

DC has a wide variety of Hispanic markets in the area and one of the best is in Mount Pleasant.  The same place I got the special sauce for gallo pinto was where I went to find these special ingredients.  Overall, there was nothing too special in the ingredients I couldn’t find at a regular grocery other than the Achiote paste.  However, I figured a one stop shop at a Hispanic market is the best place for Ecuadorian food.

The protein served with the meal was Bistec de Palomilla, basically a flat steak.  The steak was marinated in a delicious seasoning through out the day.  I grilled the steak later in the night for just a few minutes.  The flavor on the steak was outstanding and I always appreciate a nicely cooked South American steak.

As most dishes in South America are, this was served with rice and beans.  The Ecuadorian style I made was a red lentil stew called Menestra de Lentejas.  The veggies are simmered in bacon fat and then mixed with lentils and water.  Simmer for about an hour or so, top with cilantro and you have a delicious style of beans to top over rice.

Usually with our cuisines we make sure there is a green veggie to go with it.  Another way to go is what I like to call the “South American banana”: plantains. I went a different way with this recipe and added a twist.  The dish was called Plantanos Asados con Queso.  A simple translation is “baked plantains with cheese.”  I chose very ripe plantains, peeled them, soaked them in butter and when done stuffed them with thick queso.

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Now what is better than something smothered in butter and stuffed with cheese?  OK, maybe bacon.

What I enjoyed the most was the ride home after picking Bridget up from work.  I gave her three guesses to figure out which country I cooked tonight.  After failing the first three times I let her keep going.  After the 20 minute drive home she named every country in South America other than the one we had tonight, the most unknown.

– Matt

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