Comfort Food

Tigrillo

Tigrillo

When a friend recently suggested that I do a breakfast post I could feel my eyes get wide as the ideas, one after another, started bouncing around my head.  Breakfast post?!  No problem!  Who doesn’t love breakfast?  Actually…me.  It’s only been lately, that I’ve started to regularly sit down and enjoy this all important meal in the actual hours that it is meant to be enjoyed.  And I must say, it’s a game changer.  It’s not like I had anything against the actual foods.  Let’s be honest, breakfast food is awesome but just because you are enjoying breakfast food doesn’t mean you are eating breakfast.  Breakfast is a meal that you have to get up a little early for to prepare – possibly using the stove, and is eaten off of a plate, before you put your shoes on.  And even though it has taken me quite a while to understand breakfast and how it works, I’m sure glad that I’ve finally semi-mastered the routine…most days.

For my first breakfast post I’ve picked an Ecuadorian classic, tigrillo, which is a type of breakfast hash made with green plantain, quesillo or queso fresco and eggs.  I just adore tigrillo!  One reason is because it has one of my fave ingredients, plantains.  In my brief blogging life, this is the second recipe I’ve presented with plantains (platano) and I know it won’t be the last.  They’re just such a healthy, satisfying, fill my belly up with goodness kind of ingredient.  Hopefully you can come to appreciate them like I have!  This recipe calls for green plantains (platano verde) but if you can’t find them where you live, try substituting very green bananas and don’t forget to let me know how it goes!

Another reason I adore tigrillo is because of it’s endurance!  It’s a great combo of good carbs, protein and in my version, healthy fats.  This plate will fill you up and keep you going for a while so if you’re planning a hike or a bike ride or just a really long morning running errands and don’t know where your next meal will come from, tigrillo is for you.  Speaking of healthy fats, I am a big fan of the butter/coconut oil combination, especially in this recipe.  The coconut oil just does such a great job bringing out some natural sweetness in the onions and the butter helps to brown and crisp everything just right.   However, using just coconut oil would work too.

Another interesting ingredient in my version of tigrillo is quesillo.  You’ve probably heard of queso fresco but have you ever heard of quesillo?  Quesillo is also a fresh homemade cheese available in Ecuadorian markets and shops.  The main difference between quesillo and queso fresco is that quesillo does not have any salt, that and it’s usually even fresher than queso fresco.  Quesillo is a great option for those looking to be in charge of either the amount of salt used in a recipe or the kind of salt used.  As always, when dealing with fresh ingredients, try to get to know a little about the product and the vendor in order to buy from a trusted source.

Buen Provecho!

Tigrillo

TIGRILLO
2 green plantains
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or ghee
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 white onion, chopped
3 large organic eggs, beaten
1 chunk (about a half cup) quesillo or queso fresco
sea salt

Start by boiling a large pot of salted water.  Next peel the plantains under cold running water.  Chop both plantains into 1 inch chunks and add to the pot of salted boiling water.  Leave the plantains to boil for 20 minutes or until mashable with the back of a fork.  In the mean time, add the butter and coconut oil to a large heavy frying pan.  Melt and swirl the butter and coconut oil together over a high flame.  Lower the flame a little and add the chopped onion to the frying pan and cook until very soft and translucent.  Add a couple of pinches of sea salt.  Once the plantains are soft, remove from the water, place on a plastic cutting board and get to mashing until there are no more chunks, just a crumbly plantain meal.  Add the plantain to the frying pan and mix thoroughly into the onion mixture.  Make sure the plantain is well coated with oil and continue to cook a couple more minutes until the plantain is lightly browned.  Off to the side and in a seperate container add the quesillo to the beaten eggs and wisk thoroughly.  Once the plantain is lightly browned, add the egg mixture to the planain mixture.  Turn the heat to high and start flipping and mixing the two mixtures together in the pan until the eggs are completely cooked.  Serve piping hot, garnished with a little green onion and quesillo on the side.

Makes 2 large portions or 4 side dish sized portions.

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Baked Ripe Plantain with a Miel de Caña and Orange Drizzle

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I’m not much of a baker.  I think it’s probably for two reasons.  One, I cannot follow a recipe to save my life.  It’s a very real problem.  Even when I try to force myself, I just can’t.  Two, the changes I always want to make are healthy changes.  Sugarless quinoa and avocado cookies anyone…anyone?  So, long story short, when someone asks me to bring a dessert I usually say, “can I just bring a salad”?

Here’s the dilemma.  I LOVE sweet stuff!  I love sweet, starchy, ooey, gooey, warm and saucy desserts!  If it’s a special occasion, it’s just a bite or two of a sweet (usually chocolately) indulgence that I crave to cap off the meal perfectly.  But on a regular day I like to stick to healthy whole foods.  A baked plantain is the answer.

Biting into a ripe baked plantain is like taking a bite of warm banana custard.  It’s crispy and carmelized on the outside and sweet and silky on the inside, all the while maintaining it’s structure to have something to bite into.  And since it does that with just the help of an oven, well, it’s the ultimate whole food dessert if you ask me!  Even though I regularly enjoy a baked plantain all on it’s own, saucing it up with just a few more clean ingredients will take the decadence up a notch!

The sauce for this recipe has only four ingredients but when they come together it is a real pop of flavor.  Miel de caña is something that I’m just recently allowing myseld to keep at home.  Why?  Because it is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.  It is the fine wine of natural sweeteners and since it reminds me of wine, well, I was just a little scared that at some point I’d end up putting it in a glass and drinking it.  But so far, no such incidents.  Miel de caña is technically molasses.  I haven’t tasted or cooked with molasses in years but I just don’t remember it being as complex and having the florally and citrusy notes that the miel de caña of Ecuador does.  At any rate, if you are looking for a substitute I’d suggest light, unsulphured molasses and as usual, please let me know how it goes.  If you are living in South America, please don’t hestitate to start incorporating this awesome indgredient in your recipes!  I’d love to hear from you and all your creative ideas for miel de caña too!

IMG_1846 (3)IMG_1865 (6)1/4 cup miel de caña (sugar cane honey) or molasses
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon real vanilla
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 ripe plantain
coconut oil or butter

Start by wisking together the first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan.  Move the saucepan to a medium flame and stir frequently as the sauce comes to a boil.  Once the sauce has reached a boil, turn the flame to low and stir frequently for 12-15 minutes.  The sauce will reduce down to about 1/2 cup.  Remove the sauce from the flame and transfer to a glass storage container.  Allow to cool.  Once the sauce has cooled down, add the chia seeds and cover with a lid.  Give the sauce a little bit of a shake and place in the refigerator to let the chia do their chia thing.  Keep the sauce in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the roasted plantain, first preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Then cut off each end of a ripe plantain and remove the peel.  Quarter the plantain and brush with a little bit of coconut oil or butter.  Bake the plantain on foil which has been placed directly on the oven rack.  Bake the plantain for 25 minutes or until it starts to get dark and crispy around the edges.  Serve the plantain warm with a drizzle of miel de caña sauce.

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Chicken in Curried Red Pepper Sauce

Paprika Chicken 1

Let me just say that the current spice selection here in Cuenca is amaaaazing, especially compared to what it was just a few years ago.  A few weeks ago I was scanning the spice section at the super market and low and behold there it was, with a little glow all around it, CARDAMOM, the only ingredient missing from my pantry to make chai tea. a recipe I had been dreaming of for weeks, maybe even months.  I grabbed it off the shelf like it was the only one of it’s kind and held it close!  Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration but I’m pretty sure that I did a little skip down the aisle on the way to show Marcelo my find and I’ve been living on chai tea ever since.  Yeaaaa, that’s an exaggeration too, I’ve made it like twice, but my point is that a craving for something that is far far away and nearly impossible to substitute can just turn into an obsession.  So if you’re thinking of coming here for an extended period of time and you like food, especially international fare, it’s probably a good idea to pack some spices.

Most of my foreigner friends have, at the very least, a short list of old stand-bys that they routinely bring back with them.  I personally enjoy bringing back smoked paprika and my favorite chili seasoning, both of which you will find in the list of ingredients for the recipe below.  I also bring back a high quality dry spicy curry blend, a chicken and fish seasoning which can be used to liven up dressings, potatoes, etc., a southwest spice blend, organic veggie bouillon, a pickle spice mix, among a few others.

All of the basic dry spices are most certainly available in Cuenca.  Things like, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, fennel seed, oregano, basil, nutmeg, allspice, dill, basic curry powder, turmeric, cinnamon and lots, lots more.  Even though these are available, some say things like cinammon, just don’t taste the same.  I can remember feeling like that 6 years ago when I first arrived but after so many years, I’ve learned to rely on what is available and only bring back the things that are truly important to me – it’s all a matter of personal taste.

Almost all are shocked by the sad lack of pepper.  I think most assume, as I did, that Ecuador is a South American country therefore the pepper situation must be awesome.  Not really….there are a few different kinds of fresh peppers that can be found around town but when it comes to dry seasonings the selection is slim.  There are ground black pepper and black pepper corns (which can be priced pretty high) and nestled among my beloved cardamom, the other day, I did spot ground chipotle chili powder which was a first and equally as flabbergasting!  I just can’t vouch for it because I’ve yet to try it.  That’s about it.  And since we are talking about pepper we should probably mention salt.  Readily available are table salt and sea salt.  There are some specialty shops in town that carry some nicer salts like pink himalayan salt but I wouldn’t exactly say they are readily available or economically priced.

Let’s hope I’m not boring you too much with that long list of spices above but I wanted to try to be as thorough as possible for my spice loving foodies out there!  These things are important to me…there must be somebody else out there who feels the same, right? right?  guys?  But seriously, if you have any questions or I can check into the availability of a spice for you, please let me know in the comments.  Now on to the recipe!!  Because it is anything but boring!  It is SO YUM!  It’s saucy and sweet and spicy and quite simple.  Even more important, this recipe is full of natural goodness!  It is easy enough to be a weeknight meal or interesting enough to be dressed up for company.  Your choice.

1 large red pepper
1 medium white onion
3-4 cloves of garlic
6 small peeled tomatoes, cooking water reserved
(or 1 sixteen ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, juice reserved)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
(1/2 teaspoon or less if using canned tomatoes)
a pinch of crushed red pepper
1 pound chicken breast, cubed
extra virgin olive oil
black pepper to taste

If you are peeling your own tomatoes, start by putting them in a large pan, covering them in water and bringing the temperature up to a boil.  After about 2 minutes, check to see if the skins are splitting.  Remove the tomatoes with split skins and leave the ones that have skins in tact to keep cooking.  If the skins have not split after another minute or two, remove those tomatoes as well and set them all off to the side to cool, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.  Next, roughly chop red pepper, onion and garlic.  Saute these vegetables in a large skillet over medium heat in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.  Then, add 1 cup of reserved cooking water (or the juice from the canned tomatoes).  Add paprika, curry powder, chili powder and sea salt.  Turn the heat down to a simmer.  Peel the tomatoes.  If the skins have not naturally split, use a knife to make a small slit in the skin and pull off the skin.  Add the peeled tomatoes to the skillet, gently smashing them and breaking them up.  Let everything simmer together for about 20 minutes.  The liquid will reduce down and become a bit syrupy.  Move all the skillet contents to a blender to cool down.  Wipe out the skillet and add 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Add cubed chicken and cook over high heat until the chicken is just cooked, thoroughly white on the outside and inside but not overcooked.  Season the chicken with a little bit of salt and pepper.  Turn off the heat.  Blend the red peppers and tomatoes on the highest setting until you have a thick sauce.  Pour the sauce over the chicken and bring the heat up to a simmer.  Cook everything together for another 5 – 10 minutes.  Serve over steamy brown rice or quinoa and garnish with a little plain greek yogurt and flat-leafed parsley.

Serves 3-4

Paprika Chicken 3

 

Where Yuca Comes From and a Yuca Fries Recipe

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Everytime I cook with yuca I’m taken back to a very special time in my life.  Exactly a year into my Ecuadorian adventure a friend of mine and I were invited to spend some time visiting our friends who own a cacao farm in Mendez which is a small jungle town located in the southern portion of the Ecuadorian Amazon.  I had been to the jungle before, lots of times, but this time was going to be truly different, something I had dreamed of since I got here, a real experience.  Any other time that I had traveled to or through the rain forest something that always caught my eye were the humble homes made of slats of wood, sitting on their stilts, far off the road, framed by the impressive local flora and fauna.  What would it be like to live there, work there and prepare food there?  My very good friends were about to give me an education that I would never forget.

After a peaceful night’s rest and a hearty country-style breakfast it was off to get dressed up in my work clothes, for today I would learn how to harvest cacao, among other things!  Despite the heat and humidity it was important to protect yourself from the sun and bugs so I started rifling through a big bin of clothes to find some gear, a bandana for my head and neck, a baseball hat, a t-shirt and a collared button-down shirt, sturdy work pants and of course rubber boots.  And with that we were off to find out where chocolate comes from!  Once we arrived to the plantation my friend’s mom got out her machete and got to work.  That’s right, I said MACHETE.  That jungle-mama started wacking and hauling big bunches of cacao over to us.  She split each one in half so that we could harvest the seeds, or cacao beans, but in the mean time we learned that it wasn’t just the seeds that are edible.  The juicy, citrusy, cotton candy-like fruit that surrounds them is simply divine!  So there we sat, on the floor of the Amazon, filling buckets full of organic cacao beans and indulging on the fruit as much as we could.  The beans would soon be sent off to Germany where they would be processed and packaged into a high-quality bar.  But at that moment I couldn’t imagine enjoying that cacao any other way – so close to it’s inception.

After we had gathered enough cacao we packed up the truck and went in search of other jungle delicacies.  As we traveled along, evey once in a while the truck would stop and my friend’s brother would disappear into the forest, with a machete of course, and return a couple minutes later with the loot.  At one point we all stopped and went in search of yuca.  Little did I know at the time that this implied going in search of what looks to be a small tree, the Cassava Plant.  Upon identifying it, my friend’s teenage bro bent down the thick stem and started pulling and tugging on it.  After struggling for a few minutes he eventually cried uncle, or should I say mommy, begging the help of his jungle-mama (that lady was awesome and quickly became my hero)!  Between the two of them, out popped a root network which sprouted several nice-sized yuca tubers, ready to nourish us and replenish the energy we had expended that day in the hot Amozonian sun, not to mention delight us with it’s earthy and creamy flavor and texture.

These days when I get the urge for some yuca I just run up to the market at the corner of my street, but preparing it still takes me back to that day.  I love how a chunk of yuca comes encrusted in the soil it was planted in and how even in my apartment I can still get my hands a little dirty when peeling and cleaning it.  I love how that soil turns into mud in my sink because it makes me feel close to the earth and all it has to offer us, so many edible gems, ready to be explored.

There are some things to remember when chosing and preparing yuca.  First, in my experience, it seems that the thinner chunks of yuca are softer and easier to work with.  You want the yuca to be bright white on the inside and plan to prepare it within a couple days of buying it for the tastiest result.  When peeling yuca, I like to stand it up on it’s widest end and slice down.  Off will come a strip of it’s woody outer peel.  From there you will see a division between the peel and the white edible portion.  When the yuca is fresh you can use a paring knife to seperate the peel from the white portion and from there take the peel off in one piece by hand or little-by-little seperate with the knife and pull secitons off by hand.  The most important part is that all that is left is the white part of the yuca, nothing purple, or any other part of the peel.  Yuca also has a small but visible string running down it’s core.  It is best to chop around the string or remove it when chopping.

Yuca can be used in many different ways but I find this recipe is a great intro to yuca and oh SO satisfying ever single time!

YUCA 1 B

 

IMG_1392 (2)Two 8-10 inch pieces of yuca
1 T olive oil (aceite de oliva)
sea salt (sal marina)
black pepper- optional (pimienta negra)

Preheat over to 200° C/400° F.  Peel and rinse yuca.  Chop into medium sized fry-shaped pieces, making sure to chop around or chop out the string at the core of the yuca.  Add the yuca to a pan of boiling salted water.  Boil for 15-20 minutes or until just soft enough to easily smash with the back of a fork.  Drain the yuca and toss it in olive oil and a couple of generous sprinkles of sea salt.  Add a dash of black pepper if desired.  Place the yuca fries on a baking sheet ensuring that they are not touching or overlapping.  After baking for 10 minutes, flip each yuca fry over and continue baking for 10 more minutes.  The yuca fries should be golden and crispy on the outside yet soft and creamy on the inside.  Top with a sprinkle of smoked paprika, fresh flat-leafed parsley and yogurt and garlic sauce.

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