I just got back from the trip of a lifetime— my husband and I just went on our honeymoon to three cities in Colombia and Ecuador. What made us decide to go there? To be honest, I have no idea. I saw that his company flew there and figured, hey why not?
We spent three perfect sunny days in Cartagena, followed by a day in rainy Bogotá, and then went to Quito for what wound up being five days. We swam with illuminating plankton, took a dip in a mud volcano, hiked to some waterfalls and volcanic craters, and walked the line of the equator. This trip was incredibly memorable, but one of the things that will stick with me, in particular, was the food.
Whenever I travel, I become Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods and my husband becomes that kid that will only eat one thing. We went to Peru on our first trip together; I was ordering things like cuy, and he was ordering a burrito with a backup pizza in case he didn’t like the meat in it.
Our honeymoon trip was no different. We were eating fruits we’ve never heard of, tamales, empanadas galore, arepas, and lots of rice-based dishes. I got a little more adventurous and tried some more authentic dishes that I’ve never seen in New York.
For my first meal in Ecuador, I ordered Bandera, which is a dish that’s made up of several other dishes. Mine consisted of shrimp ceviche, stewed lamb, rice, avocado, and this stuff called guatita. I had no idea what guatita was but decided I would try it before Googling it in case it was something super weird to me. Well, I’m glad I waited to look it up…
Guatita is a very popular dish made of tripe, peanuts, and potatoes. It may sound gross but even though I’m not a fan of tripe, I actually really liked it! This meal was served with a side of salsa picante, which we later learned is always sitting on every table in every restaurant in Ecuador at all times.
It didn’t take long for my obsession with salsa picante to form. This hot sauce is orange in color and you can see red onions, cilantro, and chochos, a type of bean native to the area. It looked simple enough to make so I looked for some recipes on my flight home. Surprise: this hot sauce is made using a fruit that I never heard of until I went to South America— the tree tomato, or tamarillo.
Tamarillo is found in both Colombia and Ecuador and is one of the most bizarre fruits I’ve tried. It looks like a tomato but grows from a tree. The outside of it is inedible and hard. The inside looks just like a tomato, but it’s orange. The flesh tastes kind of like a sour papaya. I didn’t love it and neither did Josh, but apparently, it’s really popular in juices in Ecuador.
So, I’ve never heard of this fruit until my trip to South America, how can I reproduce this hot sauce?
Luckily for me, I work in a Latin American neighborhood. The grocery store that’s a few blocks from my job had freezer after freezer filled with tree tomatoes (WHAT??!). Surprisingly, they also had frozen fruit pulp for some of my new favorite juices like Lulo. Lulo tastes kind of like kiwi but looks like a tangerine. Maybe this stuff had been right in front of me the whole time and I had no idea! Either way, I now have access to ingredients to make the salsa picante.
Obviously, I can’t serve just salsa picante on its own, so I thought about another really interesting dish I had in Ecuador. When we went to Mindo our tour guide stopped to grab bolón for breakfast. I had no idea what he was eating and I had a million questions about it.
Bolón is basically a fried ball of mashed plantain, cheese, and meat. Some of our group members were saying how delicious it was and that I’d have to try it at some point on our trip. Long story short, we got stuck in Ecuador for an extra day, which gave me the time to try this delicious breakfast treat.
The bolón that I ate there was a huge ball of plantains and cheese. It was served with salsa picante and a runny egg. The egg yolk mixed with the bolón was just right. It had a really good flavor and was incredibly filling, and I was barely even hungry by the time dinner rolled around. My one complaint was that plantains tend to be a little hard and lack flavor, but this was something I definitely wanted to try to recreate with my own spin.
I searched some recipes for these dumplings and had a hard time finding much. I even asked one of my students if his mom could write a recipe for me. His response? “Es muy dificil” (it’s very difficult). Great.
I ended up finding a description online which told me enough about them for me to figure out my own method to make them. I bought the plantains, cheese, and chorizo at the same store as my tree tomatoes. I had no idea (and still don’t know) how to pick out a green plantain to cook. I just grabbed any that were green and average-sized.
Not only have I never picked out green plantains, but I’ve never worked with them. I knew I had to boil them for a long time, but I thought I would need to peel them first. Yeah— that’s not an option. There is no way to peel these things. I chopped them into small pieces and threw them into boiling water, just like you would with a potato. I boiled them for about 25-30 minutes and then scooped them out with a slotted spoon. As I scooped, some of the peels actually just came off on their own.
Once they were peeled it was easy to mash them with a fork. I compared this process to making mashed potatoes. Since I wanted these plantain balls to be a little softer than the ones I tried in Ecuador, I added a little cashew milk which seemed to get the trick done. Then I added the cheese and cooked chorizo. I think the chorizo made all the difference!
I’m sure Ecuadorians might tell me that my bolón isn’t authentic enough, but I actually think they tasted great. My parents were visiting for this meal and my dad liked them so much that he ate three for breakfast. They were soft and filled with flavor. The chorizo was definitely necessary. I first ate them with Trader Joe’s Green Dragon Sauce which, if you haven’t tried this, you must. It’s essential in our house.
The salsa picante I made was inspired by Goya’s recipe. It was early in the morning when I made it and I didn’t want to wake my neighbors by making salsa picante in the blender, so it came out a little thicker than I wanted. I added a splash of cider vinegar to thin it out, and it came out pretty good. It was tangy with a sweet heat that you don’t notice at first but definitely notice after a few minutes. I thought it was delicious and plan to keep a constant supply in my fridge.
I did think there was a flavor that was missing, but I haven’t figured that out yet. It may have been that I didn’t add any chochos, or perhaps that I was using frozen fruit pulp. Either way, it was still really good and I’d recommend giving it a try. Here’s the recipe:
Bolón, aka Plantain Breakfast Balls (makes 7)
2 green plantains
2 oz queso fresco
1 chorizo sausage link
1/4-1/2 cup milk of choice
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic salt
Pepper to taste
*I recommend doing steps 1-10 the night before so you just need to bake them in the morning. If you choose to do this, just cover the dish with foil or plastic wrap and put in the fridge.
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove.
2. Cut off the ends of the plantains and cut each in half, then dice them into small chunks (like you would with potatoes to make mashed potatoes).
3. Throw the plantains into the boiling water, boiling them for 25-30 minutes or until you see some peels start to come off.
4. Drain the plantains and set aside to cool.
5. While you wait for the plantains to cool, cut open a link of chorizo and dump the insides into a hot pan. As it cooks, chop it up into small pieces.
6. After the chorizo is fully cooked, turn off the heat and let it cool.
7. Peel the plantains and mash the flesh.
8. Add the milk starting with 1/4 cup to make the plantains a little creamier. Add the cumin, garlic salt, pepper, and onion powder and mix well.
9. Add the cooled chorizo and 2 oz. of queso fresco and mix until fully blended. The cheese should crumble and be easy to incorporate, no shredding or chopping needed.
10. Roll the mixture into 7 plantain balls and place in a dish/pan that’s sprayed with oil. Spray the bolón with some oil to help them crisp a bit.
11. Bake the bolón for 15 minutes and then broil for a few more until they look golden. Serve with a runny egg and some salsa picante (recipe below).
1 pouch of frozen Tamarillo puree (tree tomato)
1/4 red onion, cut into thin strips
2 small hot peppers (jalapenos, serrano, etc.)
A handful of chopped cilantro
A splash of apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Let the packet of tamarillo thaw, then put it in the blender with the peppers (seeded or not, your choice!). Blend until fully mixed.
2. Pour the mixture into a pot and bring to a simmer for 1-2 minutes, then throw the red onions into the mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. After the sauce seems to have thickened a bit, take off the heat to cool.
4. Once it’s cool, add the chopped cilantro and a splash of cider vinegar if desired. Serve on everything!
My overall experience making bolón and salsa picante was way easier than I expected. The salsa picante took no time at all and was so easy that even the most novice cook can feel like a champion making it. I was led to believe that the bolón would be really difficult, but that turned out to be relatively easy too! I think my love for mashed potatoes really helped me out with that one. I would definitely make both of these again!
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