My Ecuadorian Christmas and My Mom’s Cheeseball

By |December 21st, 2011|

I love Christmas!  As a kid, I looked forward to it every year, mainly because of the toys.  Can you blame me?  Look at us!  My sister and I were practically swimming in toys.  Christmas meant dressing up to the nines to celebrate. Mom and nana Gloria would begin cooking the meal two days in advance, as we prepared for our tribe to come over.  What was our Christmas dinner?  Mom’s delicious relleno (AKA stuffing), cookies, fruitcake (blech), gallina (hen), some ponche (punch – virgin for us kids, and spiked with rum for the grownups), and other accoutrements.  Of course, before eating the big meal, we had to have mom’s mandatory cheeseball and crackers.  There was not one Christmas where mom didn’t make this cheeseball, and I remember thinking it was the most delicious thing EVER.  My sister and I now laugh about this cheeseball.  It’s like a jello mold.  Needless to say, this cheeseball holds a dear place in our hearts.

Everything for our Cena Navideña was made from scratch; nana Gloria even killed the hen herself.  Everything, except for the nasty fruitcake, which mom received every year in her Canasta Navideña (Christmas food basket) her employer gave her.  To this day I don’t understand the value of this Panetón.  I honestly think my family used to eat it out of guilt.  I think it is just plain gross and it should be eliminated out of the Christmas food pyramid.

You may be asking: Why did you eat chicken during Christmas?  Eating turkey during Christmas was something wealthy families did.  Turkeys were very expensive for my mom’s budget, so we always ate hen, or a ham as in a leg of ham, like a pernil.  Mom’s stuffing was sweet, as it was made using pan de dulce, a delicious Ecuadorian sweet, sugary bread; recortes, which are the odds and ends left from deli hams and cold cuts; shredded chicken and minced beef; prunes and walnuts.  Was there a side vegetable?  Maybe.  But I was too busy stuffing myself with relleno to remember.  Not to mention how full I already was from the cheeseball.


My family ate Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, and we opened our presents at midnight.  But waiting for midnight was an eternity, and us kids were usually pretty sleepy by then, so we moved opening present time to 10pm.  Ten o’clock could not come by fast enough, and we could not wait to see what El Niño Dios brought us for Christmas.  The next hour was sort of a blur, as we tore through the wrapping paper and the boxes, played with our toys and fell asleep on the floor.


How to Make Chicharrón

By |November 28th, 2011|

I spotted this at the supermarket the other day.

So I decided to make these.

And they were delicious.  I missed my cervecita on that day, but I played pretend.  I pretended I was at the beach in Ecuador, sitting at a little huequito not far away from the ocean, eating cebiche de camarón and chicharrón.  I want to play pretend everyday.

Back to reality.  Let me show you how to make chicharrón, also known as pork crackling.

Chicharrón has many different meanings and variations depending on who you ask, and where you are.  I grew up knowing chicharrón was this kind, as well as the one that magically happens when you make Fritada; this one is also known as cuero reventado, or exploded skin.  Gnarly, huh?!  I have a hard time choosing which one I like best.  It’s like asking a parent who is your favorite child.  You just don’t do that.  This chicharrón is great as a snack – like bar food.  The chicharrón from the fritada is more like a main course.  I like to refer to the chicharrón in the fritada as pork candy.  Because it is.


Empanadas con Dulce de Zapallo y Chochos: Sweet Empanadas with Pumpkin and Lupini Beans Filling

By |November 14th, 2011|

I wanted to find a way to incorporate a bit of Ecuador into the holiday season I love so much and is now part of my life: Thanksgiving.  You see, in Ecuador we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.  However, going to an American bilingual school in Ecuador exposed me to the Thanksgiving celebration via history lessons and re-enactments of the Mayflower arriving to the US coast.   In grade school we made turkey macaroni and dried beans art, dressed up like pilgrims and native American Indians, and ran around the school all Thursday long.  But once the school day ended, there was no concept of getting together as a family, being thankful for what we have, and gorging insane amounts of turkey and stuffing followed by a tryptophan-induced coma.  Yay for Thanksgiving!

So I figured, why not make an empanada?  Since the filling requires un zapallo bien maduro, AKA a sweet and ripe pumpkin, this was the perfect way to get it done.  This filling also has chochos (lupini beans), a bit of Frangelico, naranjilla pulp, brown sugar, lemon zest and allspice to round up the sweetness and spice, and give it an Ecuadorian flare.

Now, you’re probably thinking WHY in the WORLD would you add BEANS to a sweet pumpkin filling?!  Let me explain.  Chochos have a nutty flavor, and when incorporated into this filling they taste more like a slivered, blanched almond than an actual bean.  I think that if you are allergic to almonds/nuts, but love that crunchy texture that they have and give to a dessert, THIS is the way to go.  Also, I ended up with a greater filling to empanada ratio.  How about using this filling to top off some pancakes?  OR… IN the pancake mixture!  Or scoop some of this filling over some greek yogurt for a quick dessert?  Or grab a spoon and just eat it straight from the bowl!  The possibilities are endless…


Guaguas de Pan: Bread Babies

By |October 30th, 2011|

Bread babies! This sounds so weird and funny at the same time, but that is the literal translation for guaguas de pan.  By now, you already know the history behind the guaguas de pan, which play an important part of Ecuadorian culture.  I encourage to get the kiddos involved in shaping the guaguas de pan, and then decorating them with sugar icing.  It is a fun family activity.

I found this recipe for guaguas de pan among my numerous, old newspaper clippings I rescued when I visited my mom.  This recipe was sort of suspect because the directions on making the dough did not match the ingredients involved.  Since troubleshooting is part of my job, I’ll show you what I did to make these bread babies.  By the time we’re done, you will be channeling your inner Fat Bastard: “Well, listen up, sonny Jim: I ate a baby. Oh, aye, Baby: the other, other white meat. Baby: it’s what’s for dinner”. (source)


Empanadas de Mejido: Ecuadorian Sweet Custard, Cheese and Raisin Empanadas

By |October 7th, 2011|

I had forgotten how deliciously sweet these empanadas were! I am so glad that making them made me remember.  The filling may look strange when you look at the ingredients that go into it, but they all mesh so well and you basically end up with a custard-like mixture that melts in your mouth.  Now, the downside is that this empanada is fried.  While I have not baked them using this dough I don’t see why you couldn’t make them baked. However, a main characteristic of these empanadas is that they are dusted with sugar once they are fried.  Baking them probably doesn’t allow for the sugar to stick.

Empanadas de mejido are mostly typical of the Andes region of Ecuador, and I remember eating them during family trips to Quito and Riobamba when I was very, very young.  In Guayaquil, I mostly remember empanadas de queso, which basically have the same dough, but you only stuff them with a bit of cheese.  Empanadas de queso are also fried and they are also dusted with sugar.  Sugar and cheese = AWESOMENESS.