And so we begin the letter E with the beautiful county of Ecuador. Ecuador is located on the northwestern corner of South America along the coast. It’s bordered by Colombia and Peru and, for some reason Wikipedia thinks it’s interesting that Ecuador is one of only two South American countries (Chile is the other) that doesn’t share a border with Brazil. I didn’t find that particularly interesting, but wasn’t sure if you would, so there it is.
What I do find interesting is that Ecuador is the home of the Galapagos Islands. The Islands played an important role in Darwin’s theory of evolution and currently are home to nature preserves and national parks (there are also about 23,000 people living there). Most incredibly (to me), the Galapagos were the subject of a family slide show that didn’t bore me to tears or put me to sleep! The wildlife is very cool and the scenery is stunning.
But, enough about the Galapagos, back to the mainland. Ecuador was part of the Inca Empire then it was conquered by Spain in 1533. After Spanish rule, the Ecuadorians had a ton of conflicts with their neighbors regarding borders (especially Peru) and finally settled in 1999 on the current borders. In 1999 Ecuador suffered an economic crisis and a collapse of the currency – they’ve since adopted the US dollar and are working on stabilizing their economy.
Now my favorite fact about Ecuador came from our friends at the CIA World Factbook. Ecuador is known for Mount Chimborazo – to quote the World Factbook, “due to the fact that the earth is not a perfect sphere and has an equatorial bulge, the highest point on the planet furthest from its center is Mount Chimborazo not Mount Everest, which is merely the highest peak above sea level.” So, Ecuador is home to the tallest mountain in the world, who knew?
Ok then, but what about the food? The flavors of Ecuador are pretty typical of the region with abundant use of fresh fruits and vegetables and a little bit of spice. There are a couple of things that really stood out for me though. The use of annatto seeds gives a rich earthy, peppery flavor to the food and a wonderful orange color (it was the original coloring agent used to make cheddar cheese orange). I used anchiote paste because I like the addition of the vinegar, garlic and spices – it gives everything even more depth of flavor.
The other thing about Ecuador is they love potatoes (as do I, yeah!). I read somewhere that they have something like 300 varieties of potatoes! And, they make this yummy concoction called Llapingachos – these are potato balls seasoned with annatto and stuffed with cheese. If you’ve been reading for any amount of time, you know this is irresistible to me. I had to incorporate this into the burger – turns out it is just as tasty as it sounds. I bought some purple potatoes because I’ve always wanted an excuse to try purple potatoes, but then I remembered that part of the fun of the cuisine is the orange color of the annatto. So I switched to my old stand-by, Yukon gold potatoes. I love the texture and flavor of these potatoes, they have lots of creaminess and none of the mealy texture that a russet potato can have.
So we ended up with a beef burger on a Llapingacho with some creamy avocado and a slightly spicy Aji sauce, all complemented by blanched red onions that are lightly pickled in raspberry vinegar. You could use any fruit based vinegar, you just want a little fruitiness to lighten the overall effect of the dish.
This burger is delicious and rich without being super heavy (surprising as that is). The Aji sauce is only lightly spicy, but it adds a nice tang, as do the pickled onions – these are perfectly balanced by the cheesy earthy potatoes and the creamy avocado. The color is also fun and fresh with the pink of the onions playing beautifully off of the right green of the avocado and Aji. We served with Ménage a Trois red, a great fruity wine that was the perfect compliment.
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon anchiote paste
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 Llapingachos (recipe below)
4 slices of tomato
1 avocado mashed
4 leaves of bib lettuce
Pickled red onion (recipe below)
Aji sauce (recipe below)
Combine ground beef, anchiote paste salt and pepper. Form four patties out of the mixture, smash the patties until they are as thin as possible and cook to desired temperature. To serve start with the Llapingachos on each plate, add a tomato slice to each, ¼ of mashed avocado, the cooked patties, a leaf of lettuce, some pickled onion then top with Aji sauce.
Llapingachos (potato cakes)
1½ pounds Yukon gold potatoes peeled and cubed
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoon anchiote paste
1 Tablespoon butter
1 cup chopped onions
Shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
Boil the potatoes in water with ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Drain the potatoes. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and add the anchiote paste (break it up as you add it) and the remaining teaspoon of salt. In a medium skillet heat the butter until melted then add the onions. Sauté onions until soft. Add the cooked onions and any remaining butter to the potatoes. Mash the mixture with a hand masher. Form four balls with the potato mixture.
Using your thumb, make a hole in each of the balls then stuff with shredded cheese (about 1½ Tablespoons of cheese per ball – get as much as you can into each ball).
Close up the hole. In a large non-stick skillet, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. Flatten each ball in your hands until you get a patty about ½ inch thick. Place the potato cakes into the hot oil and fry each side until lightly browned.
Pickled Red Onion
1 small red onion sliced in half then cut in ¼ inch thick slices
Juice of 3 lemons
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons raspberry vinegar
Blanch the red onion slices in boiling water for 3 minutes then rinse them in cold water or use an ice bath to stop the cooking. Place the cooked onions in a glass bowl then add the lemon juice (you just need enough to cover the onions). Add the oregano and vinegar and stir to mix. Refrigerate for at least an hour before using.
4 Serrano chilies
½ cup flat leaf parsley
½ cup fresh cilantro
3 cloves garlic
¼ cup lime juice
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
Kosher salt to taste
Chop the first four ingredients roughly. Place them in a food processor along with the lime juice and blend until all pieces are even sizes. Add the vegetable oil while the ingredients are blending. Taste and add salt as necessary. Refrigerate for at least an hour in a covered glass container.
©Copyright 2011 Linda Monach