Sides

Tortilla Española (Spanish Tortilla)

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I first fell in love with tortilla española right here in Cuenca.  Thanks to Cuenca’s ever growing population of expats, our opportunities to taste something exotic are expanding all the time.  On just one small stretch of street in the center of town you have your pick of Colombian, Venezuelan, Italian, Peruvian, Cuban and Spanish food!  These sweet little spots serve up authentic fare in quaint environments and give our small town a big international feel.

At one of my favorite spots that offers authentic Spanish dishes, I always order the same thing.  Now you might be a little surprised to know just what it is…and I’m a little afraid to tell you.  Just because this blog features healthy whole food recipes doesn’t mean that I don’t like to treat myself to something really indulgent every once in a while, especially when I go out to eat…you’ve been warned so here it goes.  I always get a tortilla española sandwhich.  It is essentially layers and layers of fried potatoes baked into a simple but delightful egg casserole which is accentuated by a high quality olive oil and (now comes the fun part) smothered in mayo on a rustic style roll.  Wow, ok it’s out there, now I feel better.  While this sandwich is an amazing once-in-while treat (especially alongside a glass of vino tinto), tortilla española on its own is really versatile and that’s why I love it.  It’s a simple 5 ingredient recipe (and that’s counting the salt) that is fit to serve to company because it is just so elegant.  It would rock a brunch buffet table but then again can be cut into squares and used as an appetizer or you can go the traditional route and serve it as part of a tapas menu.

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Even though this recipe has very few ingredients, the process requires love and attention and that’s what makes the tortilla so special.  The potatoes (I used Ecuador’s super chola but a red skinned potato can be substituted) and onions should be sliced very thin, with a mandoline slicer if possible, and while cooking they need to be watched closely so they don’t burn and are evenly cooked.  If you don’t have a large skillet, then it will be necessary to cook the potatoes in batches.  It’s also important to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil since it adds so much flavor and as always, I like to use sea salt for a more natural flavor and so many health benefits.

Buen Provecho!

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Tortilla Española

5 cups papa super chola (or red skin potatoes) sliced very thin with their skins on
1 cup red onion sliced very thin
6 large eggs
1/3 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).  Now heat a large heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat.  Add the olive oil to the pan and allow to warm, distributing it evenly to cover the bottom of the pan.  Add the sliced potato and onion to the pan.  Use a spatula to flip and stir the potatoes and onions until they are thoroughly coated in olive oil.  At this point the potatoes and onions will need constant attention.  Keeping the heat on medium, and a very close eye on them, flip and stir the mixture regularly (not allowing it to sit more then one minute at a time) to ensure they are cooking evenly and not burning or sticking to the bottom.  Salt the mixture as you go.  I used two good pinches in between stirs (salt, stir, salt, stir) but it could have probably used just a bit more.  Continue cooking the potatoes and onions this way for 15 minutes.  Now try a couple of potatoes.  You will know they are done when they are just cooked – flexible but crisp.  They might need just a couple more minutes.  Once they are done, flip the potato and onion mixture onto a paper towel lined cooking sheet or pan and blot off the extra oil.  Now use those same paper towels to lightly grease a medim sized baking pan (I used a glass 31×20.5 cm/8×12 inch baking pan).  Transfer the potatoes and onions to the baking pan, ensuring that they are evenly distributed.  Now lightly wisk the eggs together with a pinch of salt and then pour the eggs over the potatoes and onions.  Give the pan a little shake to even out the eggs.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

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Roasted Zappallo (Squash) and Carrot Soup with Spicy Popcorn

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I absolutely adore making soup.  I’m not quite sure why, but it’s something that I can always count on putting my mind at ease.  Taking something as simple as water and turning it into a beautifully fragrant and complex broth is just the best!  And then turning that broth into a wholesome pot of (for example) classic chicken soup that offers up spoon after spoon of that one perfect bite is SO satisfying!  Plus, it’s a one-pot meal so cleaning up is usually quick and easy, a huge plus for me!

But let’s be brutally honest.  I usually don’t have time for all of that.  Or, it’s the end of the day, the sun has gone down and the mountain air has turned chilly (or freezing) and all I can think of is a comforting bowl of soup, but time is short and hunger is striking!  Now what???  Back home the obvious answer would be any number of boxed broths which put a pot of soup about a half an hour away from your table.  But, well, those broths are simply not available here in EC.  It was maybe one of the first cooking conundrums I came across when I first got here.  So over the years I’ve come up with a bunch of shortcuts to make a relatively quick but equally satisfying soup which I plan on sharing here on my blog.

My first soup recipe seriously hits the spot when soup is all you can think about, plus it’s easy and works with few ingredients and it highlights a few different ways to layer flavor into your soup without having broth as a base.  It all starts with roasting zapallo, carrots and garlic.  Zapallo (suh-pie-yo)  is a very large variety of squash similar to pumpkin or acorn squash and can be used as a substitute for both or vice versa.  It’s available at the supermarket as well as open-air makets.  It’s extremely economical and has lots of nutritional benefits.  While roasting the zapallo and carrots amps up their flavor, roasted garlic is a much more mellow version of itself and therefore can be used in larger quantities to boost flavor without being offensive.  I also like to use leeks because they also add lots of flavor without being overpowering.  And lastly, this is a blended soup which ensures a quick fusion of flavor without all those hours of simmering.  Ooops…one more thing to keep in mind, sea salt and a decent amount of it.  Most store bought stocks come with salt so adding salt is usually just to taste but when not starting out with a stock it’s usually pretty necessary to start with a healthy teaspoon and add salt to taste from there.  Either way, you cannot be stingy with the salt.

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Sometimes Ecuadorian soups are served with a side of popcorn which is just a totally cool little addition.  I especially love it with this blended soup because it adds one more layer of flavor, texture and spice all the while being super easy and quick!  I popped my corn in a little coconut oil and sprinkled it in sea salt and smoked paprika but these spices could easily be swapped for salt and pepper, chili seasoning or garlic powder.  Depends on your mood!

One more thing.  I didn’t use a lot of seasoning in the soup on purpose.  I really wanted to show just how easy it is to work with natural flavors and still get something delicious without the use of stock but feel free to spice it up.  Lots of things would work, including cumin, chili seasoning, cinammon, etc.

Buen Provecho!

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Roasted Zapallo (Squash) and Carrot Soup with Spicy Popcorn

3 cups zapallo (or acorn squash), cubed
1 cup carrots, chopped
5 cloves of garlic with their skins still on
2 orange camotes (sweet potatoes), cubed
3 leeks, cleaned and chopped
4 cups of filtered water
coconut oil
sea salt
popped popcorn sprinkled in sea salt and your choice of spices

Start by melting a dab of coconut oil on a baking pan in a preheated oven set to 400°F (200°C).  Once melted, add the chopped zapallo (or squash), carrots and garlic (with their skins still on) to the pan.  Mix to coat the veggies with the coconut oil and leave in the oven to roast for 20-25 minutes or until soft and carmelized on the outside, stirring once halfway through.  While the zapallo and carrots are roasting, add another dab of coconut oil to a large pot and melt over a medium flame.  After it is melted, add the leeks and stir.  Cook the leeks until wilted which will only take a couple of minutes.  Next add the filtered water, turn the heat up to high and add the camote (or sweet potato) and a teaspoon of sea salt. Once the water is boiling, turn down the heat, cover the pot and allow the leeks and camote (or sweet potato) to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the camote is soft.  Turn off the heat.  Once the zapallo (or squash) and carrots are roasted to perfection, pull the pan out and seperate the garlic from the rest.  Peel the garlic and add to the pot with leeks along with the zapallo and carrots.  Now it’s time to blend.  If you have a large blender everything should fit in at once but with a small blender it will be necessary to blend in batches.  After everything is blended, put the soup back in the pot to reheat and season with a little more salt if necessary and black pepper.  Serve the soup with a side of spicy popcorn.

Makes 8 cups of soup

Warm Haba (Lima Bean) Salad

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Have you ever cooked with fresh beans?  Honestly, before coming to Ecuador, I’m not sure I had ever even laid eyes on a fresh bean.  Sure, being a plant-based diet kind of girl most of my life, I ate TONS of beans but to me they were a canned convenience food, an easy way to get some precooked fiber and protein into my life.  Now I live in Cuenca and I’m here to tell you that beans can be SO much better.

Fresh legumes are aplenty in Euador (and I would assume most of South America) and they are a joy to work with in the kitchen, but it all starts in the market.  Sometimes I can’t resist picking up a bag just because they are so pretty.  While some are vibrant in one specific color, others are muted and speckled in a variety of colors, just like buying a beautiful bag of marbles.  Once you get those beauties home they can be refigerated in a paper bag for a day or 2 but I find it’s best to use them as soon as possible.  From there, all that is required is a quick rinse (I usually rinse mine in a disinfecting solution) before you add them to a boiling pot of (sea) salted water.  Different varieties require different cook times which can be anything from 15 minutes to 1 hour.  Sometimes I prefer to cook the beans with longer cook times in a crockpot on high for 3-4 hours.  No matter which way you chose, the result is a super tasty, preservative and table salt free source of plant-based energy.

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The following recipe features fresh lima beans or habas (in Spanish).  Their preparation includes one extra step but their cooktime is especially short.  Even though you can buy habas pre-shelled, I prefer to shell them myself.  The first time I set out to shell a 1 pound bag it took me a whole hour!  Now I have it down to half an hour, give or take.  Given the delay, I would not suggest shelling the habas while hungry for the food you are trying to make!  This will probably just lead to giving up and eating granola for dinner.  Instead, plan ahead and use your time wisely.  You could: call someone back home for a chat, listen to a Spanish course online, dream up your next ecua-adventure or think about how in the world you are going to try to describe haba shelling in your blog.  Ok, I’m going to do my best!  To shell the haba, start by locating the little indented line along the top of the bean.  One side of the line will bulge out more than the other.  Starting at the bulge, use your thumbnail to pull back the shell, following the line.  At this point the haba is shell free on the top.  Now remove the shell, piece by piece, spiraling down the haba.  It should come off in 3 to 4 pieces.  This is the best explanation I could come up with!  If these directions helped you or if you’ve found a faster way, please share in the comments.

There are so many reasons to be excited about my recipe for Warm Haba Salad!  For instance, it’s colorful, it’s packed with nutrition, it’s simple, there aren’t too many ingredients and they are all easily found in Cuenca.  Mine is pictured served over a bed of spinach but it is versatile enough to be served as a side, over a healthy grain or scooped up by a pita.

Buen Provecho!

4 small tomatoes (about a pound)
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrot, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnammon
pinch of crushed red pepper
1 lb fresh habas (lima beans)
fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or butter
sea salt

Start by shelling the habas.  Once the habas are shelled, rinse them well.  Add the habas to a medium sized pot of boiling salted water.  Leave them to boil for 15 minutes.  Once the habas are tender, reserve a half cup of their cooking liquid, then strain the habas and set off to the side.  Now coat the bottom of a large frying pan with olive oil or butter and add the chopped onions, cook until soft, about 2 minutes.  Turn the heat down to low and add the carrots and garlic to the pan.  Stir in the cooking liquid from the the habas and bring the heat back up to a simmer.  Now add the cumin and cinammon, a healthy pinch of sea salt and pinch of crushed red pepper.  Allow the carrot and onion mixture to simmer until the carrots are tender, but not too soft, about 5 minutes.  Now add the tomatoes.  Cook and stir the mixutre together for another 5 minutes.  The tomatoes should be cooked through, but not too mushy.  At this point, turn off the heat and stir the cooked habas and a squeeze of lemon juice into the mixture.  Serve over salad greens, with pita bread, or over a healthy grain – the choice is yours but don’t forget to drizzle a nice healthy dose of extra virgin olive oil over top!

Serves 2

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Marinated Cucumber Salad in a Creamy Almond Dressing

 

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When I first moved to Cuenca I remember being on the phone with my grandpa and describing to him what living here was all about – the “good”, the “bad” and let’s say the “surprising” – and he just had one simple comment to make.  He said that it sounded like growing up in New York City in the 1930s.  My grandfather’s comment helped shape my viewpoint regarding the pace of life here and has also helped me to more easily accept the good along with the so-called bad as well as the surprising.  Simply put, if it weren’t for being a little behind, the simple and quite lovely pleasures of Ecuadorian life would be lost.  

Many of those simple pleasures, at the very least, bring a smile to my face every single day and some of those simple pleasures add greatly to my personal quality of life.  For instance, I can’t help but look on in amusement when I’m walking down a crowded city center street and a man with a bunch of very large freshly caught fish hanging from a pole which is balanced across his shoulders passes me by or when I get to catch a glimpse of an intense street soccer match between the neighborhood kids.  And who isn’t tickled by the two older gentlemen all suited-up having their afternoon coffee in the window of the local café?

Something I’ve come to really personally appreciate is the change in how I do my errands.  And what a change it is!  When I first moved here I did what came natural and normal to me, one-stop shopping.  You make your list of stuff you need, you pick a store,  you take a couple of hours, you buy your groceries, the end.  Over the past few years I’ve learned that if you’re looking for a high-quality and trustworthy item, one-stop shopping is not always where it’s at.  Taking the time to slow down, search out a vendor, get to know the product and the person behind the product is not only more cost-effective but it’s so much more fulfilling.  Knowing that I’m bringing home a carefully chosen item from a trusted individual is a slower paced simple pleasure and adds greatly to my quality of life.  So now my once a week errands include a visit to the milk place, the yogurt place, the bread place,  the veggie market, the chicken place, the lady I get my fruit from, the coffee place, etc.  And when we need honey, what do we do?  We call the honey guy and he hand delivers beautiful, golden, fresh, natural honey!  Cause that’s the way we do our Ecuaerrands!  Seem like a lot?  For some, it might be a little too much but it helps me to focus on the positive, slow down and live and learn real life in Cuena.

The recipe I’m posting today features a bit of that all natural, golden, hand delivered honey.  If you’re looking for high-quality honey in Cuenca, I’d suggest looking in and around the markets and even around town.  You will often find a sign in the most peculiar place (like a furniture store for instance) that says they have 100% miel de abeja (bee honey).  Why would you want to buy furniture store honey (or fruit)?  Often the family that owns the store also has a country house where they raise/harvest random things.  Since they are not selling these items commercially, they are almost always, fresh, natural and chemical-free.  It is a delight to get to know the story behind these items.

Speaking of going back in time this recipe is inspired by a cherished family recipe we would often enjoy in the summertime.  The dressing is bright, cool and creamy and as always full of whole food deliciousness.  It’s best to let this marinated salad really marinate for a good couple of hours or more.  That way the acid in the dressing has time to break down the onion a little bit and the garlic has a chance to mellow and meld with the sweetness of the honey and sourness of the lemon juice.

Buen Provecho!!

MARINATED CUCUMBER SALAD WITH A CREAMY ALMOND DRESSING
2 cups baby cucumbers sliced very thin
1 medium red onion sliced very thin
1/4 cup raw unsalted almonds
1 teaspoon raw honey
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (juice from about a quarter of a large lemon)
2 pinches of sea salt
1 slight sprinkle of black pepper
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup of a water

Start by layering the thinly sliced cucumbers and onion in a medium sized salad bowl.  To make the dressing, add the almonds, honey, lemon juice, salt, pepper and garlic to a blender.  Top with water and blend until almonds are pulverized.  Toss the veggies together with the dressing, making sure the cucumbers and onions are completely coated with the dressing.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap.  Place the salad in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for at least a couple of hours.  Serve chilled all on it’s own or with a garnish of fresh snipped cilantro and a scattering of sliced and toasted almonds for a pop of festivity.

Makes about 3 cups of salad

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Melloco Salad Bruschetta

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My first experience with a South American root veggie called melloco was at a family style Ecuadorian restaurant here in town.  The restaurant atmosphere is quaint and homelike.  It’s traditionally decorated but has such a classy feel at the same time.  Let me just say, you feel special going there.  The server brings you a big piping hot, family sized serving of the main dish along with all kinds of fun salads and sides to accompany it and the delectable sauce it’s served in.  Not only that, he actually serves each individual portion of the main dish directly to your plate.  As for the sides, well, those are randomly scattered around the table and meant to be passed.  Keep in mind this is a family style restaurant and the food is DEEEEE-licious!  So while on the outside you are politely accepting what the person to your left has just passed you and politely dishing out just a small little portion of whatever it is to your plate, on the inside your heart has started to skip beats while your eyes follow your favorite side sloooowly make it’s way from person to person all the way down at the other side of table.  Feeling desperate you try doing some quick math in your head.  If the next 4 people only take one spoonful I think that couscous salad will make it!  You just want to plead, “save some for me”, but since this is not your actual family, that’s not going to happen.

One of the sides turned out to be a melloco salad.  And when it got to me for the first time, low and behold, it wasn’t picked over like everything else.  I had never seen this, what I thought to be, teeny tiny little potato before but I will definitely give it a try!  I was met with something very new to me.  Melloco has a simple earthy taste but it’s uniqueness really comes from it’s texture.   It’s creamy but crisp at the same time.  Even when these little tubers are cooked and cooled down to room temperature they retain a little snap that brings something different to the plate.  I have to say, I was an instant fan of melloco!  But it seems that not everyone feels the same way (must be a texture thing).  While the other sides seem to win out in popularity at the table, these speckled little fingers of earthiness delight me every time!

Melloco is traditionally known for being a frugal and nutritious addition to the family shopping list.  And can I just add, gorgeous?!  They are like beautiful little salad-topping gems!  I mean, who wouldn’t want to add a pop of magenta to a green salad?  I love that color.  For that reason, I slice them before cooking them.  That way the cooking time is reduced and they retain that lovely speckle or bold majenta.  I do realize that melloco is probably not found at your neighborhood grocery.  If looking for a replacement, I would suggest using a very new red potato and increasing the cook time a bit.  If you’re not living in a South American country and you have found melloco, please tell us where.  If you are living here, I’d also love to hear your experience with melloco!  Is it for you?  How do you cook with it?

In this recipe, I’ve added melloco to a vibrant salad that can be layered on top of slices of hard-boiled eggs and served on toasted crusty bread.  The crispness of the melloco constrasts against the silkiness of the avocado in a wonderful way!  And the eggs are thanks to a fond childhood “food memory” of Marcelo’s.

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IMG_1681 (2)1 cup melloco, sliced into 1/4 inch discs
1/4 purpled onion, finely minced
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
a handful of cilantro
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 large avocado, cubed
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil

Add sliced melloco to a small sauce pan of salted boiling water. Boil for 7-10 minutes. Test the melloco around 7 minutes and remove from heat when they are cooked through but still firm. Strain and set aside to cool. Add minced onion, garlic and lemon juice to a mixing bowl. Grab a handful of cilantro and start snipping small bits with kitchen shears, about half or a little more, into the bowl. Toss everything together with a couple of healthy pinches of sea salt. Layer in the cherry tomatoes then the cooled melloco and finally the cubed avocado. Gently toss everything together. Take a final taste and add more sea salt to your liking.  Drizzle slices of toasted crusty bread with a bit of olive oil and top with sliced hard-boiled eggs and melloco salad.

Makes about 3 cups of melloco salad.

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