Monday, September 1, 2014

How to make Ecuadorian Pinchos or Kebabs

Everybody loves pinchos, or kebabs, in Ecuador.

They are one of the favorite street foods that you can find in every corner.

There are even different names for them, depending on what part of the country you are.

The people at the Andes call them pinchos and the people living at the Pacific Coast recognized them by chuzos.

Whatever they are called, they are always bound to be delicious.

You can find palos de pincho, or pincho sticks, at every supermarket in Ecuador and they are also used as crafts material.

There is a bit of difference between what you put in a pincho, or chuzo, depending on the part of the country you are from.

But the most common form of pincho (not necessarily of chuzo) is chorizo/sausage pincho with potatoe and plantain banana.

People also make pinchos of mean, replacing the or adding to the chorizo, and from chicken.

But chorizo pincho is the easiest and fastest one.

Chorizo Pincho

2 chorizo links

1 red pepper

½ medium onion

6 small potatoes

2 big yellow plantain bananas (not too yellow)

1 teaspoon of vegetable oil

1 scallion

6 skewers

1. Chop the pepper and onion but keep the slices big.
2. Cut the plantain bananas in six even parts.
3. Skew the banana, then the pepper, the chorizo, the onion and at last the potato.
4. Put them in the grill.
5. Cut a third of the white end of the scallion into strips.
6. Use the scallion strips to get oil to the pinchos.
7. Grill on the both sides.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Queen With The Frozen Heart 19

The river was filled with people, laughter and splashing sounds.

The women were washing their pots and pans with the young girls.

The young boys, too young to leave with the warrior, washed their clothes with grim determination.

A few fished with homemade harpoons, looking for fish and river shrimps.

The little children played in the water, enjoying the touch of coolness in their skins in the damp heat of the day.

The brave ones jumped from a large boulder to the current and swam to the other side.

You could see only their heads bobbing over the waves and the foam.

Everyone felt safe now that the king boa had taken his people away to the war.

The peals of laughter and cries of joy rose over the sound of the running water and the conversation.

Sisa felt the scene develop around her with detachment.

Ever since Amarun's visit she had not been able to feel part of her home and life anymore.

She knew that her mother had warned her but it was too late, the harm was already done.

Her life was changing and her magic was changing with it.

Before she had given her heart away, it had already taken the form of little pocket monkey, the ones that people liked to have as pets.

It had cuddled in her neck hidden under her hair.

But now it could not decide what shape to take.

A little while ago it had been swimming like a little fish.

Sisa had felt it elation on fighting the current and flowing together with the water.

Then it had changed into a butterfly, it's wing flapping with the wind while it recklessly defied the water drops flying around.

The magic fluttered around her and she felt its kiss.

It sat down on her shoulder for a spell and took off again.

- Sisa, she heard her mother's voice, Ushushi, daughter!

- Are you going to get those pots washed today? We'll need to them to be able to cook the dinner tonight, her mother berated.

- Stop dreaming and start working!

To be continued...

This is the nineteenth part of the story.

If you want to read the first part of the story, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 1  

To read the second part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 2 

To read the third part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 3

To read the fourth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 4

To read the fifth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 5.

To read the sixth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 6

To read the seventh part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 7

 To read the eight part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 8

To read the ninth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 9

To read the tenth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 10

To read the eleventh part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 11

To read the twelth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 12

To read the thirteenth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 13

To read the fourteenth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 14

To read the fifteenth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 15

To read the sixteenth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 16

To read the seventeenth part, go to the The Queen With The Frozen Heart 17

If you want to read the eighteenth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 18

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Guayusa herbal tea - health benefits of a silky herbal infusion from the Amazon

GUAYUSA (gwhy-you-sa) is a rare, naturally caffeinated herbal infusion produced from the leaves of a holly tree native to the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.

Technically Guayusa is not tea.

It is produced from the leaves of a caffeinated Amazonian holly tree (Ilex guayusa) and is not related to the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) that produces green and black tea.

Guayusa (Ilex guayusa) is the Amazonian cousin of Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) that is from the Atlantic Rainforest in and around Argentina.

Both are caffeinated rainforest holly trees; however, Yerba Mate has a strong bitter flavor while Guayusa has a smooth taste.

Health benefits of Guayusa

Guayusa has been part of Amazonian culture and cultivation for over 2000 years, treasured for its unique balance of caffeine, antioxidants, vitamins, amino acids, and its energizing effect that is similar to that of coffee and yerba mate.

The plant contains amino acids, antioxidants, and methylxantine alkaloids, including caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine.

Guayusa does have caffeine, but is also composed of other stimulating “methyl xanthine alkaloids,” theophylline, also found in green tea, and theobromine, the stimulant in dark chocolate that provides a soothing feeling.

Guayusa is a unique stimulant offering a balanced energy lift.

In studies of Guayusa, this tea has been found to contain 50% more anti-oxidants than green tea with the second highest ORAC score of any other food product tested.

Tests have also shown Guayusa to contain 90 mg of caffeine/ 8oz cup making it the second most caffeinated plant on earth next to coffee but with many more health benefits.

One of the most important findings of this study was the synergistic effects of Guayusa’s unique blend of Theobromine (also found in high quantities in dark chocolate), Theophyline, vitamins C and D, essential minerals Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Zinc, Chormium, caffeine and all 15 essential amino acids (most importantly Leucine, which is not synthesized in our bodies and is needed to repair and build muscle tissue).

Many people find drinking Guayusa both relaxing and stimulating at the same time.

This blend produces a smooth, sustained energy without the crash and jitters often associated with coffee.

Unlike coffee, Guayusa has been found to balance the body’s PH and sugar levels, detoxify the blood, and to improve the functioning of the kidneys and urinary tract.

It also improves the digestion and elimination while strengthening the lungs, removing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.

Guayusa is grown almost exclusively in the upper Amazonian region of Ecuador.

It grows where the Andes Mountains meet the Amazon Rainforest, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

Guayusa is harvested from trees that grow under the shaded canopy of the rainforest setting, giving local farmers an economic incentive to conserve the rainforest.

Guayusa and the Amazonic Kichwa culture

Guayusa has been part of the Amazonian culture and cultivation for thousands of years.

Traditionally, indigenous families of Ecuador wake up at 3 a.m. daily to sit around the communal fire drinking gourds full of Guayusa tea until sunrise.

During this time, the village elders teach the youth about ancestral myths, hunting techniques and social values.

Community shamans will also play a traditional bamboo flute (known as kena) and a two-sided weasel-skin drum, and sing soft rhythmic songs during these early morning hours.

Several Amazonic Kichwa myths recount how the guayusa plant taught human beings how to dream.

The shamans interpret dreams from the previous night, and make recommendations to guide the community and help them live in harmony with the rain forest.

Hunters also drink Guayusa before nighttime hunting trips in order to heighten their senses of awareness and focus.

According to the traditions drinking Guayusa enables them to get more in touch with the surrounding environment, allowing them to hunt safely in the jungle.

For this reason the Guayusa is known as “The Night Watchman”.
Guayusa is grown on small family farms and hand-picked by local farmers from the rich soil under the canopy of the Amazon Rainforest.

It serves to not only make a difference in the lives of Ecuadorians through income generation, but also helps conserve the rainforest.

Guayusa is organically grown in the shade, protected from intense sun and rooted in the rich ecosystem of the rainforest; guayusa creates a profitable alternative to slash-and-burn and clear cutting agricultural methods.

It can also be grown with other food, fruit, timber and medicinal plants to create biodiverse and ecologically healthy agricultural plots that allow local farmers to thrive and generate a sustainable livelihood for the community. 

Local Kichwa tradition also says that Guayusa is excellent for because it can help you to get bregnant and for men because it gives you extra potency.

I personally have noticed that if I sleep Guayusa before going to bed, I won't sleep very well, so I prefer not drinking it after dinner.


Bring fresh, cold water to a rolling boil.

Don’t let it boil too long, as it will boil away the flavor releasing oxygen and result in a flat tasting cup of tea.

Pour boiling water on leaves and steep for 4-7 minutes, or longer for a darker brew.

Use 2 grams of loose leaf Guayusa per 8 oz of water.

Guayusa also makes a refreshing iced tea.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Butcher's Shop in Ecuador

Many things in Ecuador are very developed and modern.

In developing countries people often jump from step to another further away, totally overlooking something in between.
Insides of a refrigerator at the Butcher's Shop.

Like jumping from having no communications systems or mail, to internet and celular phones, forgetting the landlines in between.

Then there are others things that definitely are not developed or modern.
Weighting meat.

Modern times have mostly reached the cities and the bigger towns.

While the countryside remains still in another era.
Playing 40, a very popular card game, inside the shop.

Even the time seems to move differently.

In the cities it's fast and hurried.

At the little villages and in the countryside there is much more time, and no need to hurry.
A picture from the mainstreet. People like to gather outside the shop to discuss and be social, and to wait their turn on 40 game.

People, animals and plants move and grow with the seasons.

There is the rainy season and the dry season, and the moon to show when to plant and when to harvest.
Harvesting papayas.

Many things in the villages would not meet the safety restrictions or hygiene expectations that the city dwellers have.

But no worry, they are not meant for the fancy people, just for the common, ordinary and honest country folks.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Omelet with Helecho Yuyu or Fern Sprouts

Helecho yuyu or fern sprouts are very popular and delicious part of Amazonic Kichwa cuisine.

The sprouts are new growths at the end of the fern leaves that thick and green, without the actual leaves yet.

The Kichwas pick these sprouts when they find them and prepare food with them.

They are especially delicious cooked and served with traditional food but can be eaten also alone.

I was given a gift of few sprouts in a banana leaf as a form of gratitude from one special education student’s grandmother.

She advised me to cook them and serve them with maito, which is meat or fish cooked inside a leaf.

Since I wasn’t certain I could do a maito on my own, she told me to fry them with egg and eat them that way.

I was told that they especially delicious fried with some onion also.

The idea got my mouth watering and at home I decided to try to do a fern sprout omelet.

Fern Sprout Omelet

1 handful of fern sprouts
2 eggs
1 onion
Oil or butter

1. Chop the fern sprouts into even pieces.
2. Chop the onion into fine strings.
3. Mix the eggs until they form foam.
4. Heat a pan and add the oil or butter, I like to use rapeseed oil but it really depends on your preference.
5. Fry the fern sprouts together with onions until the onions are caramelized.
6. Mix the egg foam with salt and pepper and whisk it on the pan together with fern sprouts and onions.
7. Let it cook on both sides.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Iglesia La Balbanera - Relic - Photo Challenge

Iglesia La Balbanera is the oldest Catholic Church built in Ecuador.

It was built in August 15th in 1534 by the Spaniards, a one year before the Spanish foundation of Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

This small and unpretentious temple is a relic of the Spanish Conquest.

It has a dramatical stone façade with a large arched doorway, supported by two columns with a mix of holy signs from Catholic and Pre-Colombian religions.

The church stands right next to the Pan-American Highway close to the town of Riobamba as a living testimony of those years and historic events. 

Originally La Balbanera was made of adobe and straw, and later “fortified” with the use of stone for the main structures. 

The temple was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1797, and it was reconstructed shortly after the Independence wars, keeping its architectonic design, style and integrity. 

In more recent years, Ecuador’s National Institute of Patrimony has done extensive restoration of the church, both on its façade and external structures, as well as on the interior, its walls, altars and ceilings.

The church is dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary of Nativity of Balbanera and it is still a place of pilgrimage to the local Kichwa people.

Friday, August 22, 2014

How to prepare garlic paste

Do you ever wonder what is the best way to prepare garlic paste?

There are many people who just whisk the garlic in the blender.

But there are traditional ways that are just as good and a lot cheaper and enviroment friendlier.

In Ecuador the garlic paste has been prepared for centuries, or even thousands of years, just using two stones.

It is necessary to find two stones, one flat one and another smaller and round.
Wash both stones well before starting.

Peel the garlic and wash it throughly.

Then, one clove at time, put it over the flat stone and grind it into paste with the round one.

It is not hard to do and the paste comes out very eaven and smooth.

You can add oil and salt, and any spices you might want to.