Flavours: She’ll Come Out Swinging

by Mateo Jarrín Cuvi

Grecia, my aunt’s pint-sized cook back in Quito, makes one mean empanada. We’re not talking here of the typical flour-based crust filled with meat, chicken or vegetables common to Argentina, Chile, or Bolivia, and delicious in their own right. Her empanadas de verde, fried green plantain turnovers stuffed with cheese that are traditional to the Ecuadorian coast, have me speaking in tongues. If my family one morning lost its rather tenuous faith in Catholicism and opted to found a cult, The Cult of Grecia’s Empanadas™ would be voted second or third-best option with my mother as its spiritual leader.

Over Christmas, Mother had her oldest sister transport two-dozen foil-wrapped empanadas to be fried upon touchdown in Texas. Our poor neighbors must have heard the moaning and oohing and scatting that followed; later that day, they pretended we were lepers when we knocked on their door to treat them to leftover crusts and a few spoonfuls of spicy ají in a dirty jar.

Foolishly enough, in honor of our now not-so-inconspicuous cult, I decided to brave the bananas and prepare the empanadas myself. I emailed my aunt for the recipe, but Grecia, who despite her short stature is quite the dynamo, has been too busy to take a break from her daily chores and provide me with an illustrated guide to alchemizing plantain gold. So I went with Laylita’s, an Ecuadorian residing in Seattle, Washington, who has an excellent website on Ecuadorian and South American food.

Now turn back the clock to your childhood years and reminisce on your unsupervised time with gooey, cheap plasticine. You roll out a multicolored sheet, prepping it to cut out animal shapes, and it sticks to the table counter in the same way honey coats a spoon. Working with a dough made of cooked and raw green plantains, eggs and butter requires similar dexterity, patience and improvisation.

Preparing the dough is simple. Peel three green plantains, cut them in thirds and boil the pieces in salted water until fork tender, about thirty minutes. After they have cooled in the water, blend them together with two tablespoons of butter, an egg and one raw, grated green plantain. Shape the dough into a ball and allow it to sit for a few hours.
The recipe suggests coating your hands, the rolling pin and the dough itself with copious amounts of oil before rolling it out. Easier said than done.

When I tried, the dough came undone, repeatedly sticking in patches to the kitchen’s countertop, my hands and the wooden rolling pin. I did this two or three times before throwing in the towel and speed-dialing a baker’s best friend for assistance. My sticky predicament ended once I heavily coated the flat surface and rolling pin with all-purpose flour; the dough became malleable and easy to
spread out. Purists will say I cheated but, under the circumstances, hosting an intense holistic session with Miss Glossolalia was my number-one priority.

Having managed to create discs out of the dough, I proceeded to stuff each with very finely grated halloumi cheese (Cyprus’ greatest contribution to mankind and subject of a future “Flavours” blog post,) carefully folding them over into half moons and sealing them with my fingers. Typically, these empanadas are filled with queso fresco or anything resembling mozzarella. Again, purists might cringe at my loose interpretation of Ecuadorian tradition, but the halloumi and its briny, minty and creamy flavor profile paired well with the plantain dough, which deep-fried takes on a cake-like consistency. Douse each with Ecuadorian ají, a spicy sauce made of chili peppers, red onions, cilantro,
lemon juice and tomates de árbol (tamarillos), take a bite and wait for it: she’ll come out swinging.





If you’re interested in the recipe I used, check it out here. I’ll share Grecia’s version here once I try it out and confirm it’s magical.

Would you like to contribute to Flavours? Fluster Magazine is always on the prowl for culturally sensitive, animal friendly, highly creative and somewhat humorous writing that covers a specific country’s culinary riches or other more random food-themed topics. If you don’t write but revel in all-things edible, we urge you to let us know what you would like to read and see on these pages.  Flavours is a collaborative effort and we are all quite good listeners.


MateoJarrinCuvi.128.477080Mateo Jarrín Cuvi is Flavours` editor and contributor: “You might be wondering what I bring to the table. For one, my multicultural upbringing and lifestyle is somewhat of a plus. Thanks to my father’s nomadic job, I was raised on a steady and healthy diet of Ecuadorian, Scottish, Colombian, Brazilian, Argentine and Texan food. Later, I added to this gluttonous disposition through my extensive travels in Latin America, the United States and Europe, and developed a continuously growing passion for wine and beer, haute cuisine, street food, cooking and the use of fresh local ingredients. Now I live in Cyprus where the meze is plentiful and my waistline and lower body fight a losing battle against plumpness. Besides participating in the launch and evolution of Flavours, for the past three years I have run an island wine blog called Whine on The Rocks, written a multitude of food and wine articles for a now unfortunately defunct Cypriot culinary magazine, and dabbled here and there in the art of the short story”






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