Here in Ecuador, lunch is the biggest meal of the day, a habit that I have happily embraced because it’s nice for me to take a break in the middle of the day while working from home, and because it’s nice not to eat a ton of food before going to bed (remember, I am a grandma and go to bed at a fairly early/decent hour). I usually switch it up between some sort of gringo food and some sort of Ecua-food when I cook here. This is one of my favorite Ecua-meals and I made it yesterday- it’s called menestra de porotos. Poroto is the word for beans, and menestra is like a stew-y like bean mix- maybe kind of like liquid-y baked beans? You can make this meal in the US, and impress your friends with your worldliness. (Daria, I think I remember that you liked this while you were here too!)
I learn most of my Ecuadorian recipes from this amazing website, http://www.laylita.com- Laylita used to live in Ecuador, and now she lives in the Seattle area. Her recipes are easy to follow, and sometimes she even has tips on where to find Ecua-ingredients or what kind of substitutes you can do. Here is her recipe for menestra– mine is very similar, but more free-for-all.
- 1/4 lb dry beans, soaked overnight
- 1 tbs oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/2 cup some sort of tomatoes- most recipes call for diced and peeled tomatoes. You can use a can, fresh tomatoes, or sometimes I use tomato paste or tomato sauce- I make my own, so it’s basically just onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Use whatever kind of tomato product you have!
- ½ tsp achiote powder (achiote is called annatto in English- maybe you can find it in the Hispanic food aisle? It gives a red/orange-y color to foods and is popular in Ecuador. It’s not spicy- paprika would probably be a good substitute.)
- 1/2 tbs ground cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp something spicy- hot sauce, hot spice, whatever you like!
- Water to cover and cook the beans
- Some cilantro, salt
I start by soaking beans, because canned beans are really expensive here. A typical menestra recipe has the beans cooking in the refrito, an onion/tomato/garlic mix with some spices and then water- cooking the beans in the refrito really helps with the flavor, but if you only have canned, pre-cooked beans, you can just cook them a little bit with the sauce. The flavor won’t be as strong and your beans might be a little over cooked, but I know not everyone has time to be soaking and cooking beans.
Once you have the soaked beans, make the refrito: sauté the onions and garlic in the oil until the onion is transparent but not brown, add the tomato product and all of the spices. Let the tomatoes caramelize a bit, and stir the mix occasionally, maybe for 5 mins or so. Then add the beans, cover them with water, bring the water to a boil, and then lower to a simmer and let the beans cook until they’re ready (usually 1-2 hours). Any kind of bean would work here- white, pinto, etc. People make menestra de lentejas as well, which is the same but with lentils. If you’re using pre-cooked beans, make the refrito (onion, garlic, tomato, spices), and add some water- between 1/2 – 1 cup (lots evaporates while you’re cooking the beans). The beans aren’t exactly soupy and the sauce should be thick enough that it doesn’t just immediately liquify your plate but rather stays in its own corner, but it should be stew-y, and not just like beans with tomato sauce stuck to them. Add salt to taste once the beans are soft, and add chopped cilantro if you like it.
The best and most important part of the menestra
are the goodies that are served along on the plate with it. Ecuadorians are CRAZY about white rice and I didn’t have time to be cooking brown rice for an hour (it takes a long time to cook at altitude), so I made white rice, fried an egg, sliced an avocado, and while the beans were cooking I made cebolla encurtida
– basically, a lightly pickled onion mix. Laylita, of course, has a great recipe
To make the cebolla encurtida, slice some red onions REALLY thinly, then put about a tablespoon of salt on top of them with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, and let it sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, cover the onions with lukewarm water and let them sit for another 10 minutes. Finally, drain the onions and wash them, then add some lemon/lime juice (from 2-4 lemons/limes depending on their size- they should create a kind of sauce to marinate the onions in) and add some salt to taste and a tiny splash of oil. The onions should sit for a bit from here, but I usually forget to save enough time, and just eat them at this point- they’re still nice and salty and acidic, which is a nice compliment to the rest of the meal. You can also add some really thinly sliced tomatoes.
I also made a really light salad with lettuce and grated carrots (not pictured). I’m usually one for eating my food separately, but I like all of these flavors combined- runny yolk in the rice, which mixes with the beans, and I try to stab some avocado and onion in the mix because it is SO DELICIOUS.
If you’re cooking the beans, this is a little time-consuming, but if you’re going to be around the house, it doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare- it’s just bean cooking time. Impress your friends and family with your knowledge of Ecuadorian food!