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Ecuadorian Recipes

  • Recipes from Dr. Gloria’s Ecuadorian Kitchen

    December 24th: All Ecuador celebrates Christmas. The streets and churches have special decorations with Nativity scenes, lighting, ornaments, etc. It is characteristic in Ecuador to celebrate the 24th with midnight mass or " Misa de Gallo," shortly after Christmas dinner. This is their ceremony commemorating the birth of Christ in this deeply religious Christian culture.

    Carols, and the "Pase del niño" (religious procession parade) stroll through representative streets and neighborhoods— which each neighborhood trying to out-due the others. Pase del niño is a religious procession representing the characters of Christmas with bright colors and all that encompasses pageantry. Joseph and Mary with the child in arms on a donkey pass through the streets while the community with prayers and songs, accompanies them.

    In addition, the nativity scene, called "nacimientos," is assembled in most Ecuadorian homes, rather than the traditional Christmas trees as in many other parts of the world. That's not to say Christmas trees are not used, just that they're not as common as nativity scenes.

    December 31st: This day is celebrated as the end of the year or the burning of the past—what a great idea! Typical activities are making life-sized stick figures or dolls that represent the year that is ending and then the rag dolls are burned at midnight.

    At the end of the year the wills of the old year are also read with humorous phrases and jokes. "Widows" of the old year (Año Viejo), are men dressed as women. They dance and act out to the delight and laughter of the passers-by as they're on most corners on main highways and entrances to various neighborhoods (barrios). They are masked, clowns, and various characters. Celebrations abound and they end with the burning of the rag dog, fireworks and midnight dinners—happy to leave the past year behind and make commitments to a better new year.

    Historical Perspective
    Most holidays in Ecuador are the result of Christian colonization that modified the rituals and celebrations of the indigenous community. Andean and ancestral religion moved to the Catholic religion, which, until today, is a blend of the indigenous ancestral world and nature.

    Sweets and varieties of biscuits are abundant this time of year. Although Christmas presents are exchanged, the usual are token gifts of sweets, fruit, drinks and a small toy for children. Ecuadorians, especially outside the large urban cities, are not yet spoiled by the commercialism in other countries; it's the thought behind the token gift, not the dollar value—how refreshing!

    Holiday Meals in Ecuador

    For a country that celebrates great food throughout the year and serves-up the most amazing healthy cuisine, the Christmas table mostly consists of variations of rice: rice with cheese, rice with corn, rice with stew, spicy rice, sweet rice, and even sweet and spicy rice (Arroz Navideño, or Christmas rice). There is, of course, some chicken, turkey, and salad, but rice is still the biggest part of Christmas dinner in Ecuador. For reasons, I haven't yet figured out, turkey is a delicacy here and VERY expensive. Therefore, most people serve chicken as their main course (plato fuerte).

    The abundance of sweets, however, is impressive! There's a mouth-watering spread of candies, cakes, biscuits, fruits in sauces, and cupcakes in a variety of shapes, and forms. Empanadas de viento, or fried cheese empanadas, are the most delectable traditional Ecuadorian empanadas—filled with cheese, diced onions and herbs—fried until crispy, and served sprinkled with sugar. These are truly my favorite empanadas; the combination of the gooey cheese and onions inside a crispy fried empanada and topped with sugar is delicious. They're the perfect breakfast or afternoon snack with a hot cup of exquisite Ecuadorian coffee or tea.

    The most important part is making sure the empanadas are sealed well, I seal them four times: first with my fingers, next with a fork, then with my fingers twisting and folding the edges, and finally with the fork again. It also helps if the empanadas rest for about an hour in the fridge before frying them, this might seem over the top just to seal an empanada, but I have experienced them leaking while they are being fried and it is very messy and maddening after spending so much time "pinching" them.

    Fried Cheese Empanadas

    Fried Cheese Empanadas / Empanadas de Viento

    15 medium size or 25 small empanada discs (use this recipe for homemade* empanada dough for frying or store bought empanada discs—the store-bought dough is easily found in Latin markets).

    • 2 1/2 cups grated cheese (you can use quesillo, mozzarella, Monterey jack, Oaxaca or any other cheese that melts well or a combination of your favorites, my favorite is to top them with goat cheese chevre)
    • 1 cup finely chopped white onion
    • 1/4 tsp. each: rosemary, thyme, marjoram (VERY finely ground)
    • 1/2 cup sugar for sprinkling
    • Coconut oil for frying


    1. Mix the grated cheese, very finely chopped onions and herbs together.
    2. Spoon the cheese filling on the center of each empanada disc.
    3. Fold the empanada discs and seal the edges, first pressing gently with your fingers, next use a fork to press down and seal, finally twist and fold the edges of the empanadas and then use the fork again for the final sealing.
    4. Chill the empanadas at least an hour—helps them seal better and prevent leaks.
    5. Fry the empanadas either in a deep fryer or a frying pan, if using a frying pan add enough oil to cover at least half of the empanada, let the oil get very hot and fry each empanada until they are golden on each side or about a minute per side.
    6. Place the empanadas on paper towels to drain any excess oil, sprinkle generously with sugar and serve warm. These fried empanadas also make a great appetizer, although some may consider them a dessert as well, which they surely can be.

    Homemade Empanada Dough

    Homemade Empanada Dough

    Prep Time: 15 minutes, Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
    Yield: 12–15 medium size or 20–25 appetizer size discs


    • 3 cups all-purpose flour (you can use a full-bodied gluten-free variety)
    • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 6 oz. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
    • 1 egg plus 1–2 egg whites
    • 1/4 to 1/2 cup water or milk, adjust as needed to obtain a soft and smooth dough

    Making homemade empanada dough:

    1. Mix flour and salt in a food processor.
    2. Add butter and pulse.
    3. Add the egg and water or milk (in small increments) and continue pulsing until a clumpy dough forms.
    4. To make the empanada dough by hand, follow the same instruction but use your hands to mix the ingredients together.
    5. Split the dough into 2 large balls, flatten slightly into the shape of disks. The dough can be used immediately or refrigerated until ready to use (1–2 days max.).
    6. Roll-out dough into a thin sheet and cut out round disc shapes for empanadas (use round molds, a small plate, or the lid of a jar). You can also make small individual balls with the dough and roll out each individual ball to a round shape (doesn't need to be perfectly round)—if you have a tortilla press you can use it to flatten the dough balls.
    7. Use immediately, or store in the refrigerator/freezer for later.
    8. Instead of frying, you can bake the empanadas in a pre-heated oven. I usually bake them at 375 to 400 F, the temperature will vary based on the oven, the altitude, and the size of the empanadas. I bake the smaller sized empanadas at 375 F. The baking time also varies (again based on the oven and size), but it's in the range of 18–25 minutes—the empanadas will be ready once they are golden.
    9. For baked empanadas be sure to baste the tops with egg white or you won't get that nice golden brown.

    Kitchen Notes: It's easy to find ready-made frozen empanada discs in Latin grocery stores, and even though I was skeptical at first, they are quite good. However, homemade always taste better and fresher. Another benefit of making homemade empanada dough for baking is that you can customize the dough by adding spices, herbs or a bit of sweetener that will add flavor and complement or contrast with the fillings. You can also make a large batch of homemade empanada dough, roll it out and cut it into discs, then freeze the discs (separate with wax paper) for later use.

    Dulce de Higos (Fig Preserves in Syrup)

    Dulce de Higos Fig Preserves in Syrup

    Dulce de higos, also known as higos pasados, are fig preserves cooked in spiced syrup of panela/piloncillo (unprocessed brown cane sugar and spices). They are a very typical dessert in Ecuadorian households, and are one of those desserts that you might be served both in the home of a humble farmer who lives in a house with no electricity, at a gourmet dinner of a wealthy businessperson in one of the main cities, or in a typical restaurant. These caramelized figs are usually served with a slice of fresh cheese, queso fresco or quesillo, to help balance the sweetness.


    • 20 fresh ripe but firm figs, washed
    • Pinch of baking soda
    • 1 3/4 lb. panela (hard brown cane sugar)
    • Cinnamon sticks, cloves and other spices – optional Water
    1. Make a crosswise cut on the thin side of each fig.
    2. Place the figs in a bowl, cover them with water and let them soak for 24 hours.
    3. Rinse the figs, place them in a saucepan, cover with water, about 8 cups.
    4. Add the baking soda and bring the water to a boil over medium heat, cook for about 15–20 minutes or until soft.
    5. Remove from heat and let the figs soak in the water they cooked in for another 24 hours.
    6. Drain all the water from figs and gently squeeze each fig to remove as much water as possible.
    7. Place the panela and the spices in a large saucepan, cover with about 6 cups of water and cook on low heat until the panela is completely dissolved.
    8. Add the figs and simmer until the panela syrup begins to thicken, at least a couple of hours, stir occasionally—what you're basically doing is making a reduction sauce.
    9. Serve warm or cold with a slice of quesillo, fresh mozzarella, queso fresco, farmer's cheese, a soft cheese like chevre or cream cheese.

    To Serve:
    Slices of quesillo cheese or queso fresco on the side OR topped with a soft cheese like chevre or cream cheese.

    Place shredded or crumbled cheese on top and broil just until the cheese begins to melt.

    Ecuadorians prefer simple desserts because their main course (plato fuerte) is very filling.

    A typical dessert in Ecuador usually consists of a perfectly ripe fruit, such as a slice of papaya with a drizzle of lime juice or a piece of babaco with a little bit of honey, a refreshing helado de paila (hand-churned sherbet), a fluffy bizcochuelo, or a sweet fig preserve as in this recipe presented. Right along with Colonial customs, it is also common to eat sweets in larger quantity with afternoon coffee or tea rather than for dessert after a large filling meal.

    Happy Holidays, I hope you're enjoying my recipes and tidbits on life in Ecuador...Dr. Gloria

  • THAT TIME OF YEAR IS UPON US AGAIN AND HOLIDAY traditions abound worldwide. Since my Health Sciences/ Research Center/Test Kitchen is located in Ecuador, South America, I thought it would be fun to share with you three of the traditional holiday drinks from Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru — along with some tidbits about native customs. Many of you communicated how you enjoy traveling virtually through my recipes and commentary about my adventures, here’s another take on my recipes acquired from my journeys and research. ENJOY! And don’t be afraid to adapt the recipe to suit your health, religious and social needs.


    Colada Morada*—Warming Spiced Fruit Drink This delicacy is usually served with Special Ecuadorian Bread as pictured above.

    Translation: *A spiced berry and purple corn flour drink made with fruits and spices.

    The “Colada Morada” is an indigenous tradition in Ecuador, specifically the Northern Andean Region where my Health Sciences/Research/Test Kitchens are based. This holiday hot drink is celebrated in families and social gathering as a tradition handed down from generation to generation and has become an Ecuadorian gastronomical delicacy, especially for the thousands of expats who now make Ecuador home. The original recipe contains blueberries, and since they are one of the fruits on the “AVOID” list because they contain those nasty alkaloid chemicals we know ignite an inflammatory condition, I’ve substituted other berries and it’s delicious!

    Dr. Gloria’s Adaptation of Colada Morada Spiced Drink Ingredients
    • 1 cup purple or black corn flour**
    • 14 oz. orange juice
    • 2 cups blackberries (frozen or fresh)
    • 2 cups cranberries (frozen or fresh)
    • 2 cups strawberries, sliced
    • 1 pineapple, peel and core + 2 cups very finely diced
    • 5–6 cinnamon sticks
    • 4–5 whole cloves
    • 4–5 all-spice berries
    • 12–14 oz panela (brown sugar or Lakanto™)
    • A few lemon verbena leaves, fresh or dry
    • A few lemongrass leaves, fresh or dry
    • 2–4 pieces orange peel
    • 8 + 4 cups water

    * In the original Ecuadorian recipe, they use a fruit known as Naranjilla. It’s very tasty but ignites inflammation because it IS a member of the nightshade genre. Therefore, I’ve had to adapt the recipe because we know nightshades, with their inherent chemical Solanaceae, induce inflammation. Naranjilla simply refers to “little orange” because it is round and bright-orange when fully ripe, but it is NOT part of the citrus orange family.

    **NOTE: In the U.S. you can find the purple corn flour in Hispanic grocery stores, and you can also find it online at,, or Also, I always found lemon verbena leaves at natural food markets and many ethnic markets. If you cannot use corn then substitute coconut or almond flour.

    If you’re in Ecuador you just need to go to the mercado (indigenous farmers’ market) and ask them to give you the atado de hierbas para colada morada y las especias—they should hand you a bushel of herbs and a small bag of spices for just pennies.

    Alcoholic Option: Some people add rum or red wine to the mix and heat along with the finished product, just make sure it gets hot but doesn’t boil once you add the alcohol.


    1. Place the pineapple skins and core, cinnamon, spices and panela or brown sugar in a large pot with 8 cups of water. Boil for about 20–25 minutes.
    2. Add the lemon verbena, lemongrass, and orange peel.
    3. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes—remove and strain.
    4. In a separate pot, add 4 cups of water with the cranberries and blackberries, boil for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool down until safe to handle, blend and strain.
    5. Mix the cup of purple corn flour with 1 cup of the spice pineapple liquid until well diluted.
    6. Add the strained berry mix, the spiced pineapple liquid and the diluted purple flour mix to a large pot.
    7. Cook over medium heat, stir constantly to keep it from sticking, bring to a boil.
    8. Add the pineapple chunks and reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes.
    9. Remove from heat, add the strawberry slices and serve warm or cold.

    SERVE HOT, Buen Provecho


    Chocolate Santafereño is popular all-around Colombia, especially in Bogotá, the country's capital. Hot chocolate is a staple in almost every Colombian home. In my South American chosen family, we drink this hot chocolate often at breakfast with an arepa (a corn grilled pancake) and cheese and sometimes as a “merienda,” an evening snack with Colombian pastries or bread and cheese. If you would like to make Chocolate Santafereño as they do in Colombia, you’ll need an old-fashioned Colombian kitchen gadget, which you can get at most Latin/ Mexican stores (Molinillo—a Wooden Wisk OR use an electric milk frother).

    Chocolate Santafereño

    NOTE: These make unique wall hangings and for great conversation. When you have the opportunity, look for the decorative ones like I’ve pictured below and get several styles! I’ve purchased them in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia but they are not something you find in Ecuador.

    (4 servings)

    • 4 1/2 cups whole milk or milk substitute like Almond or Coconut
    • 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar OR better yet, a natural sweetener like Stevia or Lakanto™, to taste
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped, OR high-quality cocoa powder unsweetened
    • Cinnamon stick for stirrer

    NOTE: Try adding some thinly sliced apples or fruit of choice to rim the cup; a pretty tasty treat!

    If you’d like to add some coffee liqueur, it really enhances the flavor but not advised for diabetics or those with Candida.

    Heat the milk in a saucepan on medium heat to just below the simmering point, add the chocolate. When the chocolate is melted, add the sugar and cinnamon.

    Whisk vigorously with wooden hand blender or frother. Reheat gently and serve immediately.

    Whisking Chocolate Santafereño
    Molinillo Decorative Wooden Wisk


    Christmas is a special time in South America and Christmas in Peru is a very important holiday. While there is a strong indigenous population, most Peruvians are Roman Catholics. With this large population of Roman Catholics, Christmas is one of the most important times of the year.

    One of the things I found most interesting on my recent trip to Peru is the wonderful ethnic mix: Chinese, Europeans, Mexicans, Venezuelans, Japanese, Americans, and many African nationalities, to name a few. An interesting fact I discovered on my treks is that one of the largest deserts in the world is in Peru. Our tour guide teased that since Peru fought a war to take away some of the southern Ecuadorian lands and annex it to Peru, we from Ecuador should not harbor any regrets because the huge desert is the land annexed and not good for much except dune buggies and archeologists!

    Famous in the Andes region, this unique drink is an herbal tea made from the leaves of a coca plant. Mate de Coca is used to treat altitude sickness. On your way to Machu Picchu, this tea will help you adapt to the high altitude. However, this tea is controversial in some parts of the world. The leaves contain alkaloids, which when extracted chemically are the source for cocaine. Though the amount of coca alkaloids in the leaves is small, one cup of coca tea can cause a positive result on a cocaine drug test. Controversy aside, it is easy to drink and has a green tea taste whose many medicinal properties have been touted for centuries.

    Mate de Cocoa

    Emoliente is one of the most unique drinks you’ll find. Sold at street corners in Peru by vendors, it is popular in the cold season—locals believe it has healing and medicinal properties. The base is a mix of herbs that usually includes barley, dried horsetail, flax seed, plantain leaf, and alfalfa sprouts. Bottles on the cart contain liquids made from natural plants from the Andes Mountains. The taste is, well, a little bizarre. Imagine drinking a hot, fruity, slimy and semi-sparkly beverage. However, if you’re in Peru and not feeling well and will consider a natural remedy, give this drink a try.

    Peru Emoliente

    While some celebrations are similar to those in Europe and North America, there are some unique traditions that reflect the nation’s history and make Peru a special place to be during the holidays and one that makes for a great holiday destination.

    Like the corn dough-based tamales on the table, most of the food has the Peruvian gastronomy flare and is a bit spicier with Aji hot sauce available on the side. While adults toast the event with champagne, children drink hot chocolate that has a delicious twist with the addition of cinnamon and cloves much like the tradition in Colombia. For dessert, it is common to eat Paneton, a Peruvian fruit cake.

    As my research continues in South America as well as the many centuries-old traditions that we’re learning, my hope for the coming year is to continue to provide my readers and followers a new perspective on those things that bind us all together without any boundaries—music and food!