Ecuador is undoubtedly a big part of my life. From the time that I lived there, I quickly developed a strong affection for this small yet unbelievably diverse South American country. Even after having spent a year there and having traveled several times back, I have never ceased to be amazed by this country’s unmatched beauty and nature. Not to mention its incredibly friendly population and delicious cuisine. And although I have come to know the country rather well , I still feel I have so much to discover and am hoping to go back for a visit next year to travel in some regions I have not yet explored well. Among the many things I have yet to try in Ecuador, one of my top to-dos is to visit a cloud forest… Food-wise, I can never seem to get enough of the huge diversity of available and affordable fresh fruit and seafood you can find in Ecuador. One of my absolute favorite meals is the Viche de Pescado, a delicious and very fulfilling soup made with fish, sweet potatoes, plantain bananas, ground peanuts and lime juice.
Thankfully today I am lucky to have kept a constant presence of Ecuador in my life and to be able to eat this kind of food almost whenever I wish with Freddy bringing plenty of his home country’s culture and culinary wonders to our day to day lives, especially on Sundays when he decides to call up our friends and whip up an Ecuadorian specialty for us. You can almost always be sure he will make some kind of rich and heavy dish involving seafood and, if we’re lucky, plantains (Ecuador is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of plantain bananas – almost every meal you can imagine comes with a side of fried, baked or boiled plantains, especially on the coast).
Around the end of my stay in Ecuador in 2010, I took some time to travel up North to parts of the country I had not yet seen: Andean crafts markets in a small village called Otavalo, hidden lagoons in the middle of the mountainous highlands North of Quito, and white sand beaches on the Northern Pacific coast in the Esmeralda region. I have such great memories of that trip. On one of my last stops in a small beach town called Monpiche, I tried for the first and only time the Encocado, a traditional seafood dish where fish or shrimps are cooked with tomatoes, peppers, onion, spices in a stew prepared with the pulp and water from an entire coconut. I immediately fell in love with this dish. On one of our typical Sundays a few weeks back, Freddy made Encocado at my special request and I just had to learn to make it and take some lovely pictures to post this recipe. I was surprised by how quickly this dish comes together (under 30 minutes) and how little ingredients were needed to deliver such a rich flavoured stew. Without surprise, it was finger-licking delicious!
2-2.2 lbs (about 1 kg) of fillets of firm white fish such as halibut, red snapper, grouper…
1 large red onion
3 bell peppers (2 greens, 1 red)
4 plum tomatoes
3/4 cup (175ml) coconut water
1 cup coconut pulp (fresh, if you can find it, otherwise substitute with dried desiccated coconut)
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup fresh cilantro + more for garnish
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
Coconut oil or olive oil for cooking
Salt to taste, pepper
Optional: chopped bird’s eye chili
1. Cut the fish fillets in medium-sized medallions. In a large pot, heat olive oil and sear the fish pieces for a few minutes, taking care to leave about 1/2 inch of space between the pieces to avoid them from boiling. Proceed in batches if needed. Remove fish pieces from the pot and set aside on a plate.
2. Dice the onion, bell pepper and tomatoes and mince the garlic. Add more coconut oil or olive oil to the pot over medium-high heat and cook the onion, bell pepper and garlic for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and spices and continue cooking.
3. Blend together the coconut water, coconut milk and coconut pulp. Add to the pot and squeeze in the juice from the oranges. Add the fish and cook for 10 minutes. If using chill, add it to the pot with the fish to cook.
4. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with fried plantain or plantain chips.
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