International Meals – Ecuador

This week, we visit the equatorial country of – wait for it – Ecuador. Ecuador gained its independence from Spain in the general wave of independence movements in Latin America in the early 1800s.  If you’re interested in learning about the period in detail, Mike Duncan’s “Revolutions” podcast did an entire series on it.  Highly recommended.

Ecuador has a number of distinct regions, from the Andes mountains to the coast, and out to the Galapagos islands.  We will NOT be preparing Guinea pig from the former, or endangered tortoise from the latter.  So how about a nice fish stew?

Specifically, we decided to make Encebollado – a fish stew topped with pickled onions.  In fact, the name literally means “in onions.” In addition to onions, the stew is frequently made with our old friend, cassava, or yuca root.  Ah, cassava – source of the flour for so MANY bland starch pastes we haven’t succeeded in imparting much flavor to.  Perhaps it will be better whole?

Well, that means we have to FIND one.  And, failing to learn my lesson from our hunt for chayote, I again drove all over Vancouver looking for it, only to discover that the ONLY store that had it was the Sav On Foods two blocks from our house.   Well, whatever, at least I found one.  I forgot to take a picture of it whole, but here it is mid-peel:

Yuca root

It’s actually not a tough dish to make, once you have the stuffs.  First, you make another sofrito by sweating onions and tomatoes in olive oil.  No garlic in this one.

Ecuadoran sofrito
Once the onions are nice and soft, you toss in some water, cilantro, and spices, and simmer it for a bit to make a broth.  And into that broth goes a lovely hunk of tuna to poach.
Poaching tuna

You can tell this is an action shot, because it’s got a hand.

Once the tuna is cooked, you pull it back out of the liquid and cook your veggies, which in our case were the aforementioned cassava and some corn on the cob.

Veggies stewing

Meanwhile, we need those “pickled” onions for the topping.  Whether or not you actually consider these pickled depends on your definition of the term – they’re soaked in lemon juice, olive oil, and salt for a bit to soak up the flavor.

Lemons and onions 

As a side dish, we decided to double down on the cassava, and make small cheese breads with cassava flour.  Because every OTHER thing we’ve made with cassava flour has been so great, right?

Then again, this recipe suspiciously resembles the pao de queijo from our Brazil episode, and those were absolutely delicious. So lets see what happens.

Flour, butter, eggs, baking soda, mozzarella cheese, blend.

Cheese bread dough

The dough turned out VERY dry when we followed the proportions in the recipe.  Like, “not so much dough as sand” dry.  So we kept adding water until it finally came together. Once together, the dough was rolled into small balls for cooking.

Uncooked cheese bread

The indicated cooking method was actually not one I’d used before.  You preheat the oven to “Volcano Heat” (500 F), but once it’s there, you stick the buns in and turn on the BROILER.  So they’re in a rippingly hot oven, but only being cooked directly from one side.

The results certainly looked tasty, with a nice brown on top.

Cooked cheese bread.

And with that, it was time to put the tuna in the stew, top it with the pickled onions, and dig in!

Ecuadoran meal

And it turns out the stew was another winner!  The tuna was cooked perfectly, the broth was delicious, with just the right amount of spice, and the acidity from the topping complemented everything beautifully.  And the cassava root rose all the way up to the level of “tolerable.”  It soaked up all the other flavors, and was a perfectly adequate means of conveying pickled onions to your mouth.  The cheese breads weren’t quite as amazing as their Brazilian cousins, but they were still quite tasty.  I mean – cheese bread.  What’s not to like?

Ecuador – we salute you.  Your soup is tasty, and you have managed to make cassava have a flavor.  Next time – Egypt!

Encebollado (Ecuadoran Fish Stew)
Pan de yuca

International Meals – East Timor

Welcome to the “E”s!  Since we filed “Ivory Coast” under “Côte d’Ivoire,” we will now be cooking Timor-Leste as our first “E” country.  Because why not?

East Timor is one of the newer sovereign countries in the world, having only been independent since 2002.  They were a Portuguese colony until 1975, and when the Portuguese bowed out, Indonesia took over for a bit.  So the cuisine is kind of a mix. It has a lot of similarities to Indonesian food, but also feijoada like we made for Brazil is a thing.

Doing the research to pick a recipe for this week, we discovered a number of sources claiming that the national dish is Ikan Pepes, or fish grilled in banana leaves.  However, while there were a number of recipes floating around for this, none of them gave much in the way of sources.  Another possibility would have been Batar Daan, which is a vegetable dish of corn, mung beans, and pumpkin.

However, we ran across a recipe in the Wall Street Journal, of all places, that described the author walking around Dili (the Timorese capital) picking up ingredients to make Tukir Na’an Karau, a beef stew that sounded delicious and inarguably authentic.

First step, as always, was to procure ingredients.  We figured an Indonesian grocer would be the best place to start, so we were off to find “Auntie Grace’s”. And “find” is right – it turned out to be a second floor walkup in the middle of an industrial park!  But it was a cheerly little one room store with a very friendly couple and shelves packed with esoteric ingredients and Indonesian snacks.  However, while they DID know what I was talking about, they didn’t have the ingredient we had come for: Long Pepper.

Long Pepper

That took two more stops, but we did finally find it. (At a touristy spice shop back on Granville Island, oddly enough.) Definitely a unique component – long pepper is a bit like black pepper, but with notes of menthol, Sichuan peppercorn, coriander, and … tobacco? But in the good way, if that’s possible.

At any rate, it turns out that driving all over Vancouver was the hard part of this recipe, and cooking it was the FUN part!  Why?


First, let’s start with what the French refer to as Le Petit Smash (Note: not actually true) and grind up some spices in our brand new mortar and pestle, which we bought at the SECOND stop while driving all over Vancouver looking for long pepper.

Mortar and Pestle

We’d been meaning to get a bigger one forever, and it makes a huge difference over the little dinky one we had been using.  But that’s just the WARMUP smash.

This recipe calls for lemongrass.  But not chopped lemongrass, oh no.  This recipe calls for the lemongrass to be beaten into submission with a blunt object (we used a Pyrex measuring cup) and tied into knots.


That accomplished, the lemongrass is tossed in with cubed chuck steak, kaffir lime leaves, the toasted crushed spices, and some salt.

Marinating beef

Oddly, this marinade contains no liquid, so you just mix everything up, and let the flavors sort of… waft? … into the beef.  Once it’s had a chance to absorb the flavor, it’s almost time to star cooking, but first:


Turmeric and Ginger

It really is a very therapeutic recipe. It is also worth mentioning that those orange strips are NOT carrots – they’re turmeric.  As such, after I finished peeling them and smashing them into submission, my hands looked like I’d murdered a canary with my bare hands.  That cutting board is never going to be NOT yellow again.

But from this point forward, the work is basically done.  You sweat your aromatics a bit…

Aromatics sweating

…then toss in the beef and let it cook forever. Half an hour in, you put in some tamarind. An hour or so later, once it’s falling apart, you take the lid off to cook off most of the liquid, then add some coconut cream to get a rich, indulgent stew that has an INSANELY tempting aroma.

Finished stew

Fish out the giant pieces of ginger and lemongrass, and it’s time to eat!

Timorese Beef Stew

Oh. My. Goodness.

Discovering recipes like this is WHY we do this. It is impossible to describe just how much flavor was packed into this curry.  And the beef was basically DISSOLVING, it was cooked so well.   It is absolutely a shame that the recipe is stuck behind the WSJ paywall, but it’s worth finding someone with access to get yourself a copy, particularly if you can source the ingredients.

We did also make a dessert which, while not UNIQUE to East Timor, is certainly eaten there – sticky rice in caramelized sugar and coconut sauce.  We used the dry caramelization method, which is literally just dumping a pile sugar in a wok, and cooking it until it turns to caramel sauce.

Sugar in a wok.

For the longest time, the sugar just sat there, and then we poked it and realized it had turned from a big pile of sugar to a thin layer of sugar sitting on a layer of delicious caramel.  We tossed in tome coconut milk, which caused it to solidify instantly.

Caramel in coconut milk.

But that’s OK – we didn’t actually want either a liquid caramel OR a solid one – we just wanted caramelized sugar dissolved in coconut milk.  And that’s what we got.  Once everything had dissolved, we dumped in what didn’t SEEM like quite enough cooked sticky rice.  But it turns out sticky rice will eagerly drink as much sugar milk as you give it, and the resulting dessert was heavenly.

Sticky rice dessert

The resulting breakfast was ALSO heavenly.

So – East Timor.  For being a young country,  you have a fantastic curry.  There is absolutely zero chance we will not be bringing this one back out at some point.  Next up, a country that inarguably starts with “E”, (instead of arguably, like this one) Ecuador!

Tukir Na-an Karau (Timorese Spice-Braised Beef) (Wall Street Journal Paywall)
Coconut Glutinous Rice Dessert

International Meals – Dominican Republic

Last week we made our best guess at a meal favored by DomiNEEcans, so this week, let’s see what we can manage for the DoMInicans, shall we?  The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the only island in the Caribbean to be split between two countries.  (We are NOT getting into Guantanamo Bay right now.) It’s been an independent country since the 1860s, although that hasn’t stopped the US from doing lots of awful things to it since then.

There’s lots of resources for Dominican food online, and we chose to make the country’s national lunch dish “La Bandera.”  Literally translated as “The Flag,” this dish features rice, beans, and some sort of meat stew representing the three colors of the Dominican flag.  The rice represents white.  The beans represent red. The third color in the Dominican flag is blue.


There’s lots of handwaving on this point on the web:

“…and – with a splash of poetic and culinary license here – the meat – usually chicken or beef – represents the third color.

How does La Bandera represent the red, white, and blue? The meat represents the blue in the flag, which stands for liberty. As you may have guessed, the rice means white, which signifies salvation. The red beans represent the red or the blood of heroes.

Red beans, white rice and a side of blue meat, usually chicken or beef. It’s a simple dish beloved by many.

We’re going to do our best here to ensure that blue remains a FIGURATIVE attribute of the meat portion of this dish.

So let’s get started.  We’ve chosen to go with chicken for our stew, but beef would also be appropriate. The chicken is first marinated with a blend of onions, garlic, lime juice, and seasonings  Whole chicken parts on the bone would probably be more authentic, (as well as including the more challenging bits) but we decided to lazy out this time and just get boneless breasts.

Chicken Marinating

After a soak in the fridge, you brown a little sugar in oil in the pot.  This didn’t seem to do much at first, since it wasn’t that much sugar.  We picked the chicken parts out of the marinade, leaving the vegetables behind, seared the meat a bit, and then left it to braise for 15 minutes.

Seared Chicken

You’re supposed to keep putting in just enough water so it doesn’t burn. Like, a tablespoon at a time.  We mostly kept an eye on it, but with the lid closed, it was easy to miss that it had boiled off until it started to smell a little burny at 15 minutes.  I quickly poured in some more water….

…and that’s when the goddamned alchemy happened.  After fifteen minutes of braising, the chicken was the same color as the picture above.  Pour in half a cup of water at that point, and everything hissed, and suddenly:

Browned Chicken

It literally turned that color in under five seconds.  I think we had caught it just in time, so that the sugar was cooking on the bottom of the pot, but hadn’t quite burned. Just witchcraft, I tell you.

Well, with that, it was time to toss in our marinade vegetables, along with some friends, and let the whole thing cook down a bit more with some tomato sauce.

Vegetables in the pot with the chicken

So now lets jump back a bit in time and talk about the beans, which we were cooking at the same time.  (Which may have been how the chicken got away from us.)  We decided to use pinto beans, although pigeon peas are apparently also quite common. The Instant Pot once again proved miraculous for its bean-cooking abilities.  We would definitely consume fewer legumes without some sort of pressure cooker.

The recipe for this one is a pretty standard stewed beans procedure: sweat some aromatics, then dump in the beans with their water, and let them boil until soft.

Beans stewing

Seasonings were onion, garlic, thyme, cilantro, and a new one on us: celery leaves rather than stalks.  It didn’t seem to really add much one way or the other.

Finally, we were assured that this meal was always accompanied by a salad, so we made a quick one with cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions.  Here’s the whole package, with some fresh Vancouver snow to really accentuate the tropical meal.

Dominican Republic Meal

And it was pretty tasty!  The chicken, in particular, had a LOVELY flavor from the caramelized sugar.  The beans were fine, if not terribly exciting.  However, this raises a point – when we make these meals, we try not to put in a lot of extra condiments on the first bash through, so we can appreciate the food directly.  BUT – is that authentic?  Would Dominicans be donking hot sauce into these beans?  I honestly don’t know.

I can GUARANTEE that a heaping teaspoon of Spicy Chili Crisp is NOT authentic, but when we used it in the leftovers the next day, it sure did work.  By the way, if you haven’t already, get you some Spicy Chili Crisp.  Good stuff.

Finally, it was time for dessert.  We decided to go with an Arepa, or cornmeal cake.  The Dominican version we chose used cornmeal, coconut and regular milk, brown sugar, and raisins.  No raising agents at all, so a very dense bake.  It is apparently often baked in a pot with a rounded bottom, to give a dome shape when turned out.  We used a ceramic baking dish we had handy.

Baked Arepa

And turned out, it looked pretty good.  It was VERY tasty, especially with coffee or hot chocolate to cut the richness.  Since the lunch was very filling, we waited a few hours to cut a few slices.

Arepa out of the pot.

This was delicious, and served well as both breakfast and snack for the next several days, given that there are only the two of us.

So, Dominican Republic – nice job!  We appreciate your food, and the incredible color changing stew.

And that completes the “D”s!  Next week, we will PROBABLY do the southeast Asian country of East Timor, unless we decide to file that one under “T”.  Never a dull moment!

La Bandera Dominica
Dominican Arepa

International Meals – Dominica

Lets get this out of the way right off the bat – Dominica is NOT the Dominican Republic.  People from the former are DomiNIcans, and from the latter are DoMINicans. We’ll do the Dominican Republic next week, but this week we are at the much smaller country of Dominica. Dominica was colonized by first the French, and then the British, and has been independent since the late 1970s.

Until recently, the national dish of Dominica was “mountain chicken.”  And by “chicken” they mean “frog.”  Apparently these frogs were so a) easy to catch and b) tasty, that they are now critically endangered.

So we’re not making that.

The NEW national dish of Dominica is Callaloo soup.  Callaloo is a term used all over the Caribbean.  It always refers to a leafy vegetable, but past that, what it ACTUALLY refers to can vary. In Jamaica, you’re probably getting amaranth leaves.  Puerto Rico, likely Xanthosoma.  And in Dominca, if you order callaloo, the most likely possibility is dasheen, or Taro leaves.  Which are quite toxic if not fully cooked.  So even though we could probably get them, we decided to go with spinach.

Callaloo from Dominica (the term can refer to either the leaves or the soup) often contains some sort of salted meat or seafood.  We found a recipe that substitutes Dungeness crabs for the local Caribbean ones, and since those can be had easily in Vancouver, a trip to Lobsterman was in order.

Say hello to my little friends:

Bucket 'o crabs

These are actually the little friends of the person ahead of me in line – I only bought two, because these suckers are pricey. We had the store murder them for us, since it was simpler, and we planned on cooking them within an hour of getting them home.  A quick toss in the steamer, and we had this:

Steamed crabs

I grew up in Baltimore – steamed crabs are a genetic predisposition.  It’s quite weird to me to be making crab in my kitchen as part of another dish, rather than picking it apart at a picnic table covered in newspaper.  That said…

…I grew in Baltimore.  I know how to pick crab.

Picking crab

I’m not as fast as the pros, but I get the job done.

To make the stew itself, you start by sautéing aromatics, including celery.  The recipe calls for a tablespoon of celery.  Good thing you can’t buy it in quantities smaller than a whole bunch.


Once the aromatics are soft, you toss in the spinach, some coconut milk and water, and let everything wilt down.

Spinach going into the pot

Once it’s wilted a bit, you give everything a zap with the immersion blender to get it smooth, and a lovely green color.  You also toss in a bunch of thyme, salt, pepper, a Scotch bonnet pepper, the crab, and the dumplings.

Stew with thyme and pepper

Dumplings, you ask?  When did you make dumplings?

Oh right – in addition to crab and vegetables, this stew also typically contains simple flour-and-water dumplings, cooked right in the broth. Ours were messy, and a bit too large.

Dumplings before cooking

But they are dumplings, and when we cooked them, they dumpled.

To go with the stew, we made Mastiff bread, which is a simple yeast raised bread that uses shortening for fat.  It’s not dissimilar from the Cuban bread we made a few weeks ago with lard.  The picture in the recipe we used showed lots of little round buns with elaborate shapes carved on them.  So we made round buns with SIMPLE slashes in the top.  (shown here before baking)

Buns before cooking

Turns out that the more common shape for a Mastiff, or “dollar bread” in Dominica would be cigar shaped, but these came out fine and were tasty.

An interminable 45 minutes later, the bread was cooked, the stew was ready, and the quick mango smoothies we whipped up were on the table.  And since this was LUNCH, the light is substantially better than our usually pictures.  Isn’t this gorgeous?

Dominican meal

It was absolutely DELICIOUS, too.  If you come to our house, this is one of the international meals you should ask us to recreate, because this soup is fantastic.  It’s rich with crab and coconut milk, spicy from the black and hot pepper, and the spinach gives it a great vegetable freshness.  It was perfect for mopping up with the soft bread.

This was an excellent meal. Hands down in the top tier of our efforts so far. And believe it or not, we only have one more “D” country to go.  Next week, we hop over from the island of the Dominicans to the island of the Dominicans, and then it’s on to the “E”s!

Dominican Callaloo Soup
Mastiff Bread