Before I landed in Cuenca, I was getting the impression that Ecuadorians have very particular opinions about regional differences. People on the coast seemed almost offended that I was leaving them to spend a week in Cuenca. "Cuenca? Una semana?!" But life here is quite comfortable. The slow Spanish dialect is soft on my gringa ears. Amenities are easier to find and although the pace is more cosmopolitan, the attitude is still one of leisure and acceptance.
A few days into my stay, I learned a new expression. I had come home (again) with loads of fruits, veggies, eggs, and grains from the many mercados throughout the city. A little shy to initiate cooking, I knew I would make a mess of the kitchen. It's one thing to explore creativity in your own space...but to completely dominate the kitchen where you're renting a room for a few days? I'm lucky to have such flexible hosts, allowing me to blend, grind, beat, grate, mix, and ferment my way through successes and failures in Ecuadorian cooking. I tried to time the splatters and flour clouds when they were out but inevitably they would return to continued stirring, tasting, and scribbling with furrowed brow. Their response? "Siga No Más!" Keep Going! Keep Moving! This was basically a pass to continue with the mess making. So I set to work.
I had bought two large brown coconuts at the mercado. The transaction went something like this:
Gringa: "Dos cocos por favor"
Merchant: "Dos cocos?!"
Gringa: "Si Senora! Dos cocos!"
Merchant: "Quatro dollares"
Gringa: "Quatro! Es muy caro!"
Merchant: "Una coco?"
Stubbornly, I bought two even though the wise merchant was trying convince me otherwise. I should have listened to her passive aggressive Cuencano advice. Hours later I had massive amounts of coconut water, coconut cream, and coconut nut meat ready to dry for flour. Not to mention a hectic mess that was every bit worth the trouble. This stuff was teeming with nutrients and like everything else I have bought fresh here in Ecuador, dripping with terroir.
I had always admired the coconut for its intensive nutrition and multiple uses but had done so via processed products conveniently available at the grocery. Little did I know making my own coconut cream would provide enough caloric substance to live on for weeks! At the end of the day, I wound up with a decadent yuca and coconut brownie served with whipped coconut cream and mora sauce. Maybe my hosts saw this reward coming but I was relieved to serve them something worth their patience!
Below are a few recipes you might want to try when you have the kitchen all to yourself. You can certainly substitute regular blackberries for the flavor specific Andean Mora, although you may want to add a little lemon juice to kick up the acidity.
Fresh Coconut Whipped Cream
1 large brown coconut that sloshes when shaken
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup heavy cream*
2 tb. honey
small pinch of salt
Pierce the coconut with a nail and hammer or a drill. Drain juice into a blender. Add the water.
Wrap the coconut in a towel and either bang the circumference of the fruit on the steps of a colonial-era house in Cuenca or just use a hammer to crack it open. Remove the meat from the husk using a machete (or a knife will do.) Peel the brown skin from the meat and add to the blender. Process on high until a thick slurry appears.
Strain through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer. Reserve the meat to make coconut flour and transfer the liquid to the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight. The cream will separate at the top. Skim 1/4 cup of the coconut cream and place in a container with a lid along with the heavy cream, honey, and salt. Shake until firm. Or just use a hand mixer if you aren't in Ecuador and have one handy...
Serve with your favorite brownie or chocolate cake dressed with mora sauce.
*If you wish to make a vegan whipped cream, simply skim all of the coconut cream and allow to stand uncovered in the refrigerator until more water evaporates and the consistency becomes very thick, usually around 24 hours. Using a handheld mixer, beat on high with a few tablespoons powdered sugar. Make sure and lick your fingers along the way...
12 oz. fresh moras
4 oz. granulated sugar (or more to taste)
1/2 tb. grated ginger
Clean the fruit, removing any stems or leaves. Run the moras and ginger in a blender. Strain the juice through a sieve to remove the seeds. Place the juice in a pot and add the sugar. Cook on medium heat for 20-30 minutes or until the syrup thickens. The sauce will become frothy as it cooks but frequent stirring will help even out the consistency.
Serve with cakes, brownies, pancakes, over ice cream, or as a mixer for your favorite drink or smoothie.