My first blog about cooking in Ecuador touched on the challenge of my first trip to the supermarket. The major market chain in Ecuador, Supermaxi, has a wide selection of products including some international foods.
However, most products are indigenous to South America and many of the staples you will find have numerous varieties to choose from. There are many types of flour, sugar, and rice, so having choices is not a problem. Knowing how to choose the right product for your recipes is definitely a problem.
Time to experiment
I am retired now so I finally have the time to experiment with new recipes that may take longer to prepare. And the limited amounts of processed and frozen foods here almost forces one to cook healthier meals.
I bought some of my favorite recipes from the States and even decided to start trying some baking. Well, to say it has been a learning experience would be an understatement.
Two words come to mind: substitute and improvise. I have spent many hours now Googling how to make some pretty basic ingredients from scratch like adding vinegar to milk to get buttermilk. We are lucky to have a Food and Cooking Facebook Exchange here in Ecuador. It is a lifesaver when you need just one more item to complete your recipe and it is nowhere to be found at the supermarket.
Other expats who have had the same problem are almost always able to offer an alternative or substitute to complete the dish. If you like to bake you might want to pack a box of baking soda in your suitcase. It is difficult to find here in Ecuador. It seems to be a popular item used to cut cocaine by drug dealers so the government does not like to see it being sold much.
Cooking at altitude
As if those weren’t enough of a challenge, we also have to deal with trying to cook at an altitude of 8500 feet. I use rice with many of my dishes.
It took me a good six months to figure out how to make a decent batch of rice.
It has been the topic of many discussions with friends at lunch.
Yes, how to keep your rice from being sticky, lumpy, or undercooked.
Some suggest using a rice cooker, others use a pressure cooker, and others use a crockpot. I have always made my rice in a pot on the stove.
So….. after trying many suggestions from friends and throwing many batches in the trash I finally figured it out. The rice here is very starchy so must be rinsed thoroughly (I use hot water). One cup of long-grain white rice to three cups of boiling water. Turn the heat down, DO NOT cover tightly, and let all the water evaporate. Success has never felt so good!
Adding fresh fruits
I have had better luck with some baking and I am trying new recipes I have Googled for high altitudes. Seems it takes a bit longer for items to rise and browning is definitely an issue but the flavors are good.
Ecuador has such a wonderful variety of fresh fruits that anything made with them is guaranteed to be more flavorful. Any recipes like banana or zucchini bread which have a firmer consistency seem to work fine while lighter cakes have more of a problem with rising.
Many of the cakes I see in the bakeries tend to be more torte-like. I wish I could say I was coming along with my bread and pizza dough recipes but that is another story.
Some expats have told me they have been doing fairly well with them. Much of it is trial and error.
It is true that we can’t get many of the products we were used to in the States. However, Ecuador has a wide variety of other products to choose from so it is a matter of learning how to use them.
It is all part of this new adventure in life and certainly makes it more interesting.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of Food and Cooking in Cuenca to find out more about the wonderful array of fruits and vegetables in this beautiful country.
Give us your thoughts and comments. And, as always….Bienvenidos!