Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cooking Class

We have a fabulous resource here in Cotacachi.  Dan Delgado not only serves as the liaison between the expats and the local government-type folks, he's a world class chef and offers cooking classes in our own homes for a little bit of nothing.  His specialty is teaching how to make our favorite foods with what is available here.

The class I attended was for Chinese food and it was amazing!  Not only did we learn how to make the foods, we also learned a ton about the chemistry of some of the local foods, the health practices of some restaurants, and how to ask for the right produce at the market.  Danny also does a market tour that I'm definitely looking forward to doing with him one of these days.

When Danny lived in NYC he cooked in a few fairly major Japanese and French restaurants as well as others but we didn't get much time to talk about his past exploits because we were busy squeezing all the food information in.  The thing that I think probably helped him deal with making do with what is available was providing food for movie crews who were on location.  He said you got a electrical outlet, a water spigot, and a table and were told to make it happen.  That sounds a lot like Cotacachi.  Of course he was able to prepare food in advance to bring there but it was still great practice for being creative with what you have at hand.

Back to the class.
We had one of my favorite fruits here to start out.  It was just a way to help our tummies not grumble too much while we were preparing food but weren't quite ready to eat.  This is pitahaya and it's a very sweet fruit that has a taste that can be loosely compared to kiwi.  It's sweeter but the seeds are eaten with the fruit and it has that same consistency.  I have no idea if it's available in the States but if it is, I recommend trying it at least once.  Danny cut off the top and bottom, slit it from top to bottom, and then gently pulled the skin off and sliced it.  That worked great.  When I'm eating it for myself in the privacy of my own home, I slice it in half the way I do with a kiwi and eat it out of the skin, again, just the way I do with a kiwi.  It was a fabulous beginning to our afternoon.

This is zambo.  It looks a lot like a watermelon but it's a type of summer squash. It keeps practically forever and the seeds are very high in protein.  Danny said you might see them on rooftops sometimes, especially out on farms.  They will keep for up to two years (yes, years) and are kept as a means of preventing starvation and provide good nutrition during droughts.

This is the Ecuadorian equivalent to a sweet potato.  Isn't the color lovely?  Unfortunately, it colors soups if you put it in there but it sure tastes good--nothing like a sweet potato but very good--starchy like a potato but with a slightly different flavor.

I think we must have spent over an hour prepping food and learning about it's very interesting properties.  The food on the blue and clear lid is not trash--that goes in the soup stock pot.

We toasted our own sesame seeds...

...then ground them up.  Since we didn't have a mortar and pestle, we used a bowl and a smallish jar.  It actually worked quite well.  I was surprised.

One of the things we learned is that there is a kind of string thing that goes through the center of a yucca and if you don't cut it out before cooking it, you'll end up with it in your mouth and it is just about a chewable as, well, string.

We put the soup stock vegetable peels and such in with the top of the fennel we used in the stir fry.  The big white thing in there is the center of the zambo.  The seeds are in there so it's good for broth.  The center is much like the center of a large zucchini--spongy and filled with large seeds.  It still has a great flavor, though.  The stock vegetables were used in the water we used to steam some of the vegetables prior to putting them in the spring rolls, stir fry, and something else that escapes me right now.  When we were done steaming, the broth was strained into the soup.

We also made a fabulous soup.  It's a bit like a curry and was full of vegetables.  Unfortunately it's very difficult to make a bowl of soup look all that appealing so you'll just have to take my word for it that it was fabulous!

Here are the results of our efforts.  In addition to the soup, we had a lovely chicken stir fry, a warm salad (back right) with greens similar to Napa cabbage and the purple sweet potato, spring rolls, and beef and scampi steamed dumplings.  It was a veritable feast and in addition to filling up after class, we took home enough food for another two meals!  It was wonderful.

We're planning to do this again with another cuisine and who knows what we'll come up with.  Danny provided all the food and our hostess provided the food prep items.

A great time was had by all and we're looking forward to doing this again.

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