Ecuador is blessed with a great range of native ingredients thanks to its Pacific shore, Amazon rainforest, and high altitude valleys and flatlands. Seafood is abundant along the coast, Andean crops such as quinoa, corn, and different native varieties of potatoes are cultivated in high altitude, and the tropical regions produce many kinds of fruit, such as pitaya and naranjilla.
Staples of the Ecuadorian diet include potatoes, fish, yuca, rice, beans, shellfish, plantains, chicken, beef, and pork. Ecuadorians use aji, a spicy chile pepper hot sauce, to season just about everything. Ceviche is very traditional and shrimp ceviche is especially popular, as are soups and stews.
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In addition to the traditional offerings below, you can go to town with yuca, pumpkin and avocado starters. Ecuadorian appetizers make good use of yuca in fritters, chips and as stuffing for empanadas, which are traditionally also filled with meat, cheese, eggs, vegetables, or greens. Pumpkin is turned into fritters called pristinos and avocado is stuffed to become aguacates rellenos.
- Ceviche de Langostinos: Shrimp is a national favorite, and this quick recipe will make it your favorite, too. Cooked shrimp marinate in onions, choclo (South American corn, bigger in size than common American sweet corn), lime, vinegar, ketchup, and cilantro, soaking up a tangy and irresistible character. It's possible to find choclo in Hispanic groceries stores, so don't miss the chance to try a recipe with this big and meaty type of corn. Ready in 40 minutes, the recipe does double service as either a salty appetizer or a light lunch served in iceberg lettuce leaves and accompanied by bread and soup.
- Patacones: Green fried plantains go well with just about everything. Crispy, thick, and salty, they can be topped by guacamole or melted cheese and are excellent side dishes for carne asada, roasted chicken or fried fish. Despite being twice-fried, they're not heavy because the high frying temperature stops the plantain rounds from soaking in too much oil. Start 1 hour before you want to serve and let the unpeeled plantains soak in salted water before you peel them and fry them the first time. Just a dash of kosher salt is all you need to season these tasty bits. For thinner chips follow our chifles recipe.
- Empanadas de Queso: Ecuadorians love their empanadas, savory or sweet, fried or baked, so it's no wonder these tasty morsels are a common midday snack, offered in the thousands of street kiosks. These cheese empanadas are simple to make and have a delicious sweet dusting on top. Make your own buttery dough and a filling of the cheese of your choice and onion. Ready in 1 hour, they're great party appetizers. Make bigger batches and freeze before frying on other occasions.
- Llapingachos: Despite the complexity of their name, these are simply potato pancakes, flavored with onions and stuffed with cheese. Usually served with eggs or meats, these patties are vegetarian by themselves, and can be a complete meal if served with a light salad, or an appetizer when presented with hot sauce or peanut sauce. The dough is made of potatoes, cheese, flour, and eggs, generously seasoned with salt, pepper, and sazón Goya. Fry until crispy and serve right away. Prep and cook in 1 hour and 30 minutes.
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Soups and Mains
Ecuadorians eat soups at any meal of the day as a first course. Traditional soups include tomato soup with plantains, Ecuador's famous potato soup (locro de papa), and seafood and fish stews like chupe, which come in many varieties with many types of meat. Here are three of the most beloved Ecuadorian soups:
- Locro de Papa: Potatoes in South America come in all shapes and sizes – literally thousands of varieties – so it's no wonder that many local cuisines have used potatoes for centuries to feed their populations. This soup uses yellow potatoes, onions, and chicken stock to make a silky base for a soup that will then be thickened with milk and eggs. Then add a generous amount of cheese to top the preparation. Served with cubed avocado and corn, this is a great dish for a large family, easy to make, budget-friendly, and absolutely delicious. Ready in 50 minutes.
- Cazuela de Camarón: Plantains and a vegetable sofrito make the base for this famous Ecuadorian stew. Fresh sauteed shrimp completes the mixture, which cooks in barely 30 minutes. The secret ingredient of this savory dish in peanut butter, crunchy for more texture or smooth to give a softer finish to the preparation. Serve over rice for a tasty meal, and offer ají amarillo to spice up the dish.
- Humitas Saladas: Similar to better-known tamales, humitas follow the same premise of savory or sweet fillings steamed in corn husks. Humitas are a beloved street food in Ecuador. People buy them for lunch because they're portable and low cost. Although many add meats to the corn filling, this basic recipe uses just corn, lard, and salt to make a savory paste that is good with just about anything, from eggs to stews, or simply by itself. Ready in 1 hour. Don't miss the chance to make these tasty morsels from scratch.
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Ecuadorian desserts aren't shy in their use of sugar, as the locals really enjoy treats that can be over-the-top sugary to palates from other parts of the world. Common sweets found in street kiosks include fruits cooked in syrup, guava paste, or fried dough coated in sugar. Here are some of the most famous sweets, and when we say sweet, we mean it:
- Dulce de Leche: Dulce de leche is found in many countries of Spanish heritage, with varied recipes: some use goat's milk, other cow's milk; some use brown butter and some white. But they all come down to a sticky and unctuous caramel color paste that you'll find filling fried doughs, as cake filling or icing when mixed with buttercream, or combined with cheese and heated up in a skillet as a dessert on its own. Although classic recipes can take many hours on the stove, this quick and thick version is ready in just 50 minutes. Be careful, caramel is famous for its heat conduction!
- Pastel de Tres Leches: As its name indicates, this cake is made out of 3 different types of milk. Our simpler version uses a yellow cake mix, adding to it cream cheese, eggs, and yolks for a super-rich and heavy mixture. Once the cake is baked, pour a mixture of heavy cream, condensed milk, evaporated milk, rum, and salt on top until completely soaked up by the cake. The chilled and moist cake is then topped with meringue and cinnamon. Ready in 1 hour and 40 minutes, the cake needs to rest in the milk mixture for at least 4 hours and ideally overnight.
- Arroz con Leche: Ecuadorian rice pudding doesn't differ much from other rice pudding recipes, but it's a national staple that's quick and cheap to make. Because rice goes a long way, this dessert is ideal for large family gatherings, and a little serving suffices thanks to its sweetness. Milk and evaporated milk provide creaminess, while the spices and rum give an extra kick of flavor. Use raisins to add a chewy texture. Ready in just 1 hour, it takes longer with raisins: plan ahead because the raisins need to soak in rum for at least 4 hours.
- Flan: Most countries of Spanish heritage have a version of flan, similar to crème brûlée, but a lot thicker in consistency thanks to the heavy amount of whole eggs. Although the dessert requires many steps, it's pretty simple and is ready in 1 hour and 20 minutes, after 20 minutes or preparation. You'll end up with a creamy custard covered in a beautiful caramel. Bake in individual ramekins or in a 12-cup ring mold.
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Ecuadorian bread features a cornucopia of ingredients, like corn, wheat, quinoa, barley, potato, and cassava flours. Daily staples, these types of bread are what locals eat at all times of the day, accompanied by oat drinks, rice water, or fermented corn and fruit beverages.
- Pan Dulce: Sweet rolls are made from a buttery type of yeast dough, eaten for breakfast or as snacks. This sweet and fluffy mixture yields 30 individual rolls, but even if it sounds like a lot, it isn't. They'll fly away in front of your eyes if you make them for your next brunch. Plan ahead because you need just under 4 hours to make the dough, prove it, and bake it in a 350 F oven. Brush with melted butter on top once baked for a shiny and delicious finish.
- Rosca de Coco: A beautiful, round braided bread, this crown is filled with a creamy coconut paste. Although the steps are numerous, the bread isn't difficult to make. Just follow the instructions with care and enjoy a slice of this sweet treat with a cup of strong coffee. Ready in 3 hours, including the proving of the brioche-like dough, this recipe can be made into individual pieces and assembled into a share-and-tear preparation.