Photo: Rae Wilson

Delhi samples exotic flavours of Ecuador

By | 31 October, 2010

What binds Indian food to that of Ecuador, the South American nation straddling the equator? ‘Similarities in cooking technique,’ says visiting Ecuadorian celebrity chef Edgar Leon.

‘The way we prepare stock as a base for fish and meat dishes, the widespread use of potatoes, cinnamon flour and chillies to flavour our food, frying and grilling of food,’ chef Leon told IANS, listing the similarities.

Leon was speaking at an Ecuadorian culinary showcase in Delhi, a collaboration between ITC Maurya and the Embassy of Ecuador to promote the country as a tourism destination in India.

Leon, who cooked nearly 100 dishes for Indian foodies for three days, is the inventor of avocado oil ice-cream, a signature dessert of frozen avocado oil, avocado butter, honey, cooked sugar and cream that has been hailed worldwide.

Leon, who owns the exclusive Estragon restaurant in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is also known for his chocofest – a dish of grilled buffalo meat, lamb and shrimp cooked in onion charlotte, balsamic vinegar, red wine, fine chocolate aroma (essence), cane honey, avocado oil and milk cream.

‘My food takes long to cook. The average cooking time for barley soups with potatoes, milk and cheese is three hours on an average. Main courses like choco-fest and king prawns require 12 to 18 hours to cook,’ Leon said.

According to the chef, the buzzwords in Indian and Ecuadorian kitchens are ‘passion and patience’.

‘Both Indian and Ecuadorian food focus on nutrition; and at the same time strive to retain the natural flavour like many South American cuisines,’ Leon said.

Seafood dishes figure high on the Ecuadorian menu – along with roses that are crushed and eaten as ice-creams and as a garnish in main dishes.

‘Since Ecuador has a fairly extensive Pacific coast, every dish has fish, shrimp, a native variety of crab known as Pangora and meat served with vegetables like palm, edible roses, chocolates and corn,’ Leon said.

Ecuador is bordered by Colombia in the north, Peru to the east and south and Pacific Ocean to the west. It also includes Galapagos Island in the Pacific Ocean.

Leon, who caters to the gastronomic needs of the Ecuadorian government departments and is a consultant for prestigious culinary institutes in his country, is known for his revival dishes.

He has saved 400-year-old vegetarian recipes like Repe Lojano, a dish of green bananas, cheese and cilantro from southern Ecuador declared ‘endangered’. ‘I cook it every day to ensure its survival and promotion,’ the chef said.

Leon has also brought back 27 dying Locoro dishes – soup recipes from the villages – to the mainstream.

‘I have spent 15 years touring Ecuadorian villages researching traditional recipes,’ he said.

A typical Ecuadorian table features an eclectic mix of pulp with chilli sauce, pulp with pumpkin seed pesto, ceviche (raw fish marinated in oil, onions, tomato sauce and herbs); tofu gratin, potato soup, chicken cream, king prawns with sauce; steak with rose petals; rose ice-cream, Andean fruits and fig pudding.

Ecuadorians love soups and potatoes. ‘We have 550 varieties of soups – mostly vegetarian – and 475 species of potatoes grown across the country,’ he said.

Corn is also a staple served in soups, salads, pasta – or simply roasted with salt, pepper and a dash of oil.

‘The two most common varieties of corn are the small-grained quinoa and ‘chulpi’. They are heavy with nutrients,’ Leon said.

Quinoa is cultivated in the highlands of Ecuador dates back to the 900-year-old Inca civilisation. A staple food with potato, it is still revered as the mother grain.

The country is trying to market processed quinoa, high heat-resistant avocado oil, highland honey and cinnamon flour in India.

Article written by IANS


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