From French at ours to Ecuadorian at theirs, friendships bloomed over delicious home-cooked meals, the stories behind the dishes, and good music on the speakers.
Explaining my Cultures Capsules project in English, has always been difficult for me, even with close friends and family. I have also tried to describe it in my slowly-improving French, without much success. So imagine my surprise at a recent an À Table dinner, when Carlo and Maria Alicia not only understood the concept (in my broken French!), but shared my passion about the magic at the intersection of food, music and stories. And as that initial connection blossomed over the course of the night, it began to feel like they were actually our long lost friends reunited.
Among many other things, we also spoke about the food of their home country of Ecuador, and they had our mouths watering. So we quickly squeezed in one more dinner before the end of the school year: a home cooked Ecuadorian meal at their home in Brooklyn. They treated us to chifles (plantain chips), Ecuadorian ceviche, a quinoa salad and several surprises.
Ruiz Family Favorites
What a treat to be serenaded by this playlist. For each song, Carlo and Maria Alicia gave us the background on why each one had earned a spot on this Favs playlist.
Some artists were friends, some represented certain moments in their life that are important to them, and others were just too good not to be included in a dinner playlist.
Carlo’s Ecuadorian Cebiche
The first thing to know about Ecuadorian Cebiche (or ceviche), is that it is served like a soup. Until this dinner, we were only familiar with the Peruvian style ceviche, enjoyed more as an appetizer, scooped up with crispy plantain chips or tortillas. In Ecuador it is eaten as a meal in large, individual bowls.
Carlo had wanted to make this using the more traditional shrimp but there was an allergy to take into consideration so they made it with swordfish, and it was absolutely incredible.
To give you a sense of how delicious and how indelible the taste was, here is a brief story, Recently, I told my husband that I had seen Carlo and Maria Alicia at party he wasn’t able to join, and rather than the expected, typical response of, “cool, how are they?” with a dreamy look in his eye, he responded, “That was the best ceviche I have ever eaten.” And I do not disagree!
Sure, it was probably the freshest we had ever eaten, but it was something more than that. That secret ingredient of love when preparing food to share with friends can not be denied!
For lots more information on Ecuadorian Cebiche, including variations on fish and vegetables for your part of the world), check out this page on Laylita’s Recipes. Leyla is a long-time friend of Maria Alicia and well-known authority on Ecuadorian and Latin-American food! Keep lookout for the cookbook she is working on (and pick up “Yo cuchino latino” in the meantime).
Chifles (Plantain Chips)
These salty, crunchy treats are even better when freshly made. Maria Alicia’s chifles looked so perfect as if they were store-bought, but they certainly did not taste that way! My mouth is watering just thinking about them.
They were absolutely delicious as an appetizer, as well along with that incredible Ecuadorian-style Swordfish cebiche. I might have to pick up some plantains on the way home to make some tonight. mmmmm….
For tips on plantains versus bananas, shape of slicing, and dipping sauces, check out this page on Laylita’s Recipes.
Maria Alicia’s Quinoa Salad
And this Ecuadorian feast wouldn’t have been complete without some Andean quinoa! I was too caught up in simply having a great time to take photos of her quinoa salad (and more of the rest of the dinner), but in the meantime here is a glimpse of the kids biking past quinoa plantations in the Ecuadorian Andes a few years ago.
I knew it was tasty, but I had no idea the plant was so beautiful! Let’s toss in two fun facts, as well. First, it’s been being cultivated in the Andes mountains for 5,000 years, a Second, though we may think of it as a grain, it’s actually the seeds of a flowering plant and botanically it has more in common with spinach than wheat or rice.
We wanted to bring an appropriate dessert to this Ecuadorian feast, and a quick Google search lead me to espumilla: a sweet merengue that is treated like ice cream, spooned atop cones and often topped with sprinkles.
Typically made with guava or passionfruit, espumilla is a beloved street food. Maria Alicia told us how she would love to have one after school from the woman who was often situated outside of the school when the students emerged, much to her mother’s chagrin.
It is surprisingly easy and very tasty, not to mention fun. We didn’t have guava or passion fruit so we made it with raspberries which worked well. We can’t wait to try it again with the more typical flavors!
No, I am not referring to awkward silences between new friends – that did not happen either evening with this family!
No, here we speak of salt with dried crickets ground up and mixes with chili powder. Don’t believe me? Here is the label:
Having already enjoyed ourselves immensely with great conversation, outstanding food and lovely wines, we were ready to go home happy. But they did not stop there!
And I should back up, because somehow we did not mention super-special treat of sturgeon caviar that they generously shared with us. Here is 11-year-old Ashriya trying her first taste of it, and (spoiler-alert!) loving it.
Suffice it to say, we were already quite spoiled, so when they brought out some special tequila and interesting salts, we were beside ourselves. What a treat to have these along with a slice of orange with some really top-shelf tequila. And on a Monday night!! Talk about starting the week off right.
Now we find ourselves on different continents, but we look forward to a delicious reunion as soon as possible.
If you find yourself in Ecuador, don’t forget to look for some espumilla! Here is one woman in Quito, the summer of 2022.