lunch

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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