Ecuador: Encebollados, Llapingachos and Aguardiente 🇪🇨

Ecuador flag

One of the challenges of this project that I underestimated was the sourcing of ingredients. Portland’s a pretty good food town for its size, but that’s mostly on the restaurant end of things.

Our lack of cultural diversity in the Rose City really makes it hard to source quality multi-ethnic ingredients – note the fact that I still haven’t gotten to The Bahamas yet, because I can’t find conch meat in Portland and I haven’t made it to Uwajimaya in Beaverton to see if they sell it.

Anyway, the challenge of ingredient sourcing is where I found myself Saturday, spending hours trying to get everything I needed for what I had planned on being a fairly pedestrian meal.

This is a lot of onion.

This is a lot of onion.

When I first started reading about encebollados, the national dish of Ecuador, I was pretty excited. I like onions. I like yuca. I like soup. Fish is OK. Put it all together and how could this go wrong?

I also wanted this to be the debut of inviting friends over to join in the international goodness. Accordingly, I decided to add some llapingachos – potato pancakes – to go along with my cebolla-filled dinner.

No meal would be complete without a tasty beverage, so I started my ingredient sourcing with a trip to Vancouver, Wash., to buy some aguardiente, a liquor popular in the Andean nations. I then returned to Portland to pick up some tuna at the New Seasons Market in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood.

I’d hoped New Seasons would have cassava/yuca, thus completing all of my produce shopping in one stop, but it was not to be. So I left New Seasons with quite a bit of produce, but not all that I needed.

One thing I didn’t buy at New Seasons was queso Oaxaca, the Mexican jack/mozzarella cousin called for in the llapingacho recipe. They had it, but at $7#, I balked, thinking it would be one of the easy-to-find Cacique-brand cheeses I usually see in mid-market grocery stores.

So I headed south to the nicer Fred Meyer store south of my house – not the poorly-stocked “Meth Meyer” on Foster Road – looking for the Oaxaca cheese – no dice. Not surprisingly, they didn’t have yuca either, nor the achiote seeds I remembered I needed.

Chop up a bunch of vegetables and fry the result a bit before adding liquid to the pot.

Onions! Onions! Someone call Bill Raftery

Next stop was the Fubonn market on 82nd Avenue, in Portland’s Jade District. They had the yuca, but no achiote and certainly no Oaxaca cheese.

Desperate, I hit two Latino groceries on Foster Road – neither had the Oaxaca cheese – and finally circled back to Meth Meyer, which was laughable, considering Meth Meyer is often missing many exotic items, like garlic, and lemon, and basil. They do sometimes have raw meat in the ramen section.

No achiote at Methy’s. No Oaxaca either, so I went with mozzarella and called it good.

Now, it was time to cook. This recipe involves a lot of hurry up and wait – chop vegetables, sauté for a while. Chop more vegetables and boil them. Simmer. Boil. Repeat.

I sourced these recipes from Hungry Sofia, Laylita (1 2) and The Posh Latin Cook.

After boiling the tuna in the soup, set aside.

After boiling the tuna in the soup, set aside.


  • 2 lbs tuna
  • 1.5 lbs yuca
  • Caramelize some onion while you stir peanut butter and milk together and while you boil the cyanide out of the yuca.

    Caramelize some onion while you stir peanut butter and milk together and while you boil the cyanide out of the yuca.

    2 large tomatoes

  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 pasilla pepper
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tb cumin
  • 4 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 Tb sea salt
  • 2 Tb achiote oil
  • 1 ts sweet paprika
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 36 oz clam juice
  • 3 qt water
  • 2 red onions, sliced
  • 1 Tb  salt
  • 4 lemons’ juice
  • 1 ts black pepper
  • 1 avocado
  1. Peel and chop the yuca into bite-sized pieces. These might have been a skosh too large.

    Peel and chop the yuca into bite-sized pieces. These might have been a skosh too large.

    Chop 1 tomato, onion, pepper and 1/2 cup of cilantro.

  2. Add to food processor with cumin, garlic, salt and pepper, pulse a bit.
  3. Saute in a large pot with oil.
  4. Add paprika and lemon zest, cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Add clam juice/fish broth and water. Boil
  6. Add some of the red onion salsa to the cooked tuna.

    Add some of the red onion salsa to the cooked tuna.

    Add chunks of tuna. Cook for no more than 10 minutes.

  7. Remove fish from broth, and store in an airtight container. Chop yuca and boil in broth for 45 minutes until fork tender.
  8. While boiling, chop red onions, 1 tomato, 1/4 cup of cilantro and sea salt. Add lemon juice. Mix 1/4 cup into tuna; set the remainder aside.
  9. After 45 minutes is up, scoop yuca into serving bowl. Add 1/4 cup of salsa from Step 8. Then add a layer of tuna/salsa mixture, then add broth over that. Garnish with salsa from Step 8.
Fry the llapingachos in achiote oil.

Fry the llapingachos in achiote oil.


  • 2 lbs. russet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoon annatto/achiote oil (plus more for frying)
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 cups shredded Oaxaca cheese or mozzarella
  • Cilantro, finely chopped to garnish
  1. Lightly score each potato around its circumference. Place potatoes in a large, heavy pot with enough cold water to cover and a 2 heaping tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil then adjust heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook until tender, about 20-30 minutes depending on the size. To test, pierce the potatoes with a sharp knife. An undercooked potato can be pulled from the water with the knife but a cooked potato will drop off and remain submerged.
  2. Drain the potatoes. When cool enough to handle but still warm, peel the potatoes by pulling off the skins (scoring beforehand makes this easier). Pass through grinder attachment to mixer, into a large mixing bowl. Blend in the sautéed onions. Add the shredded cheese and blend well. Allow potato mixture to rest at least 30 minutes before shaping. Shape into even discs, about 1/2 cup per cake. Chill until ready to use, at least 30 minutes.
  3. Heat skillet to medium high heat. Brush the skillet with annato oil and place on skillet until well browned. Brush the tops of the cake with annatto oil and carefully turn to brown the other side.
  4. Serve with salsa de maní.

Salsa de maní recipe at Layilta

Margot and Emily sit for our finished product – llapingachos in the center, encebollados in the bowl, aguardiente already consumed.

Margot and Emily sit for our finished product – llapingachos in the center, encebollados in the bowl, aguardiente already consumed.

In retrospect:

This meal was a lot heavier than I expected – and the onion is almost overpowering, maybe because of the heavy presence of raw red onion, which adds a great spice but also makes it a taxing meal.

The llapingachos fell apart when fully soaked in oil, and really should be treated more carefully than a deep-fry.

Funny thing about the aguardiente – last time we made a meal, with Denmark, we bought some aquavit, an anise/caraway-flavored liquor. Well, guess what aguardiente tasted like? Anise! It was sweeter than aquavit but remarkably similar.

Save the leftover tuna for tuna sandwiches, tuna salads, etc. Overall, an exciting way to start things off in the Western Hemisphere.

3 thoughts on “Ecuador: Encebollados, Llapingachos and Aguardiente 🇪🇨

  1. For the onion and tomato curtido, slice the onions very thinly and rinse them in salt water – this helps make them less overpowering.
    For the llapingachos, don’t fry them in oil, it’s better to cook them on a hot griddle or a pan that’s barely greased.

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