Hello Travellers! Today we return to the Western Hemisphere and the Republic of the Equator or more commonly called Ecuador. To get there from East Timor we head back across the Pacific in an easterly direction. Ecuador is located in South America and as its name suggests, it lies straddling the Equator in the northwestern corner of the landmass.
Ecuador is a land of incredible biodiversity. In fact, a young Charles Darwin set sail from England on the second voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle to conduct surveys of South America. Upon arriving in the Galapagos Islands Darwin conducted much of the research that would make up his “On the Origin Of Species” and the “Theory” of evolution, specifically dealing with natural selection. This was based on observations he made of endemic species of birds and other animals and fossils throughout the islands that suggested specific adaptation to unique environmental factors. He is possibly the most widely recognized pioneer of the research of evolutionary science.
Ecuador was a colony of Spain from the middle 1500’s till 1830 when it joined the Union of Gran Colombia, as we discussed while visiting Bolivia. In fact, it was from the city of Quito that the first calls for independence from Spain in Latin America came. Quito was the site of the first independent and local government which lasted only a few short months but launched the possibility of true independence and governance in the region.
Prior to Colonialism, Ecuador was part of the powerful Inca Empire for 100 years before Spanish rule. The two sons of the Emperor Huayna Capac ruler of the Incas, held joint control of Ecuador with Atahualpa in the north and Huascar in the south. Eventually the two fought for control and Atahualpa defeated Huascar claiming the entire country in 1530. The Spanish invaded the following year and ruled Ecuador for nearly 300 years.
From its perch in the Andes Mountains of Northern South America, Ecuador fought a long campaign against Peru for control of the Amazon Basin. While the rest of the planet was fighting World War 2, these two neighbors fought each other.
After the war, Ecuador suffered through coups and dictatorships and civil unrest. It was not until 1979 that democracy returned with the election of Jaime Roldos Aguilera who was later killed under suspicious circumstances in a plane crash. In subsequent years, indigenous people have moved to take political action seeking accountability by the government for land reform promises and social services to the poor. This has somewhat destabilized the political arena in modern day Ecuador.
The national dish of Ecuador is called Encebollados. The root word of Cebollas means Onions in Spanish. The base of this seafood soup is called Sofrito and is a pungent mix of Tomatoes, Onions, Cumin, Chili and Cilantro (coriander). The protein element and foundation for the stock is Tuna. The starch element is Yuca a starchy root vegetable that requires time to cook down the coarse threads found within its stalk. The result is a delicious aromatic savory and spicy soup that is traditionally topped with pickled onions and tomatoes.
I give this dish a 2 for difficulty. It is not difficult to assemble and the challenge is to not eat too soon as you smell the incredible aroma filling your kitchen.
I would like to assert a tongue in cheek addition to the manuscript “On the Origin of Species”. I firmly believe that people who have the widest knowledge of great traditional food, are the most likely to survive global catastrophe. So start cooking. Encebollados is a great place to start!
Appearance: 3 out of 5
Aroma: 5 out of 5
Flavor: 5 out of 5
Total: 13 out of 15
Note: I served this with some chewy European style mini-baguettes with seeds atop. It was a great departure from tradition as the bread soaked up the powerful flavor of the dish. The pickled onions served on top were absolutely bright and a perfect way to highlight the greatness of this dish.
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2 lbs fresh tuna
1 lb yuca, fresh or frozen
2 tbs sunflower oil
2 tomatoes, diced
½ red onion, diced
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
8 cups of water
5 cilantro sprigs
Salt to taste
Curtido de cebolla y tomate or pickled red onion and tomato salsa to serve on top
To make the pickled onions:
Thin sliced ½ red onion
1 tomato sliced thin
Cilantro chopped about 1/3 cup
½ cup apple cider vinegar
3 tsp cane sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
Mix the liquid ingredients together stirring to blend.
Add the Tomatoes, Cilantro and Onions to the liquid and set aside for ½ hr.
Preparation of the Soup:
Heat the oil on medium heat to make a refrito with diced onion, tomato, cumin, chili powder and salt.
Add the water and cilantro springs, bring to a boil.
Add the tuna and cook for until the tuna is fully cooked, about 15 minutes.
Drain the tuna and keep the broth to cook the yuca.
Separate or break the tuna into small to medium size pieces.
Bring the tuna broth to a boil and add the yucas, cook until tender but firm, about 30-40 minutes for the frozen yuca.
Take the yuca from the broth, remove the strings and cut into bite size chunks.
Add the yuca chunks and tuna pieces to the broth, taste and add salt if needed.
Re-warm the soup if necessary and serve topped with a good amount of pickled onion and tomato salsa, if desired can also be served with avocado slices and extra lime slices.