“Okay, so basically, ummm, una bola de verde is a platano ball, but you will put meat or vegetables or chicken or whatever you want inside of it. Ummm you can put, you can make it in like bola form which is, like, you put it in soup, ummmm, or you can, like, fry it, and it’s an empanada de verde. So good. So good.”
This traditional Ecuadorian meal is quite mouthwatering. It translates directly into “Ball of Green” or “Empanada of Green” depending on which form you use. For the bola or ball form, you take a green plantain or platano, as it’s called in Spanish, chop it up, and flatten the pieces. Once they’ve been flattened, you take ground meat or vegetables, put it on top of the flattened plantains, and wrap the plantains around the filling, rolling it into a ball. Then, you deep fry the filled plantain balls until crispy. The other method is to flatten the whole plantain, put the filling on top, and then fold the plantain over itself, creating a whole moon shape. Then, you put this in the oven and bake it, turning it into an empanada.
Plantains are an Ecuadorian staple. Because they grow so easily in Ecuador’s climate, the country has an abundance of them, and they make hundreds of recipes using plantains. However, most people use them when their still green. The greener the plantain, the less sweet. Sometimes, if people want the dish to be sweeter, they’ll wait for the plantain to ripen longer, and they’ll use it once it’s yellow or blackening.
There’s a national tradition that the first of May is the opening of duck shooting season. And, all over the country people go duck shooting. If you live in town, everyone knows someone in the country (if they’re into duck shooting, not everyone’s into duck shooting, but there’s a lotta people that are), what they’ll do is they’ll call up a local farmer and arrange to go duck shooting on their pond. A lotta farms have got more than one pond, and leading up to duck shooting season the farmers will start putting grain out at the ponds, to fatten the ducks, these are wild ducks, and as far as I know there’s not many domesticated ducks in New Zealand, a lotta them are wild. And so what happens is the farmers are trying to attract the ducks to their pond, so they don’t go to the neighbor’s pond, it’s actually a bit of a competition to be honest! So we lived on this 4,000 acre farm growing up, and we had a lot of duck ponds, and really these ponds are made to water the stock, so some of them are natural and others are made by my dad with the bulldozer. But then you always end up with ducks, in theses ponds. So the first of May is the beginning of duck shooting season, and it usually goes for two or three weeks, and it’s a national event. So every morning, on the first of May there’s this tradition where they guys (mainly guys, some girls) they go out with their shotguns. And some farmers build what’s called Mai-mai’s on the damns, I guess it’s a Maury word, Mai-mai, and what it is it’s like this hut that is camoflauged that they can go inside on the edge of the duck pond. So the guys get out literally at 5 in the morning so that they can be out and situated as the sun rises. And then the tradition too, my dad’s really not a big drinker, but there’s a major tradition where the farmers will take a bottle of whiskey, or they’ll have already stocked the mai-mai with whiskey and beer, and some farmers have traditional drinks. Like it could be scotch, it could be scotch and water, like in the south island it’s scotch and water, like a lotta them will have stashes of scotch and water in their mai-mais. So dad would often go out on his own, and come back from his first morning of duck shooting with maybe, I dunno 20 ducks? And as we got older we’d get to go out with him. And he brings all the ducks back but then my brother and I would have to pluck them (cause no one wants to do that, so give it to the kids). So there’s this huge festivities around plucking the ducks, and sometimes you get geese as well. So my brother and I would be in charge of plucking the ducks, and my dad would gut them and clean them out, and then they’d go up to my mom, who was in charge of cooking them. And that’s where farmers’ wives would exchange different recipes for cooking wild duck. They’d cook in their own houses but they would share recipes. And each year it’d be like, okay this is what I’m gonna cook my duck in, and what about you, and they’d share ideas, and there’s always usually like, a little bit of Cointreau or gromaneyei or something like that goes into the gravy, just to add flavor. And the really nice thing about new Zealand wild duck is that its got no fat on it, its very gamey. They’ve got a very dark colored meat, and they’re so tastey and so tender. So the roasting pan would have up to three ducks in it, all lined up. You roast them in the oven, and some of the recipes I showed you’ve got varying things, like you’ve got duck with orange, duck with plum, and pineapple duck, and so you’d put like pineapple in the stuffing, so you’d have the whole theme going there. And usually the duck would be served with roast potatoes so once the duck’s cooked to a certain point you gotta put the potatoes around the duck as well. And the roast potatoes are sort of cut up, and then rolled in flour, and salt and pepper, and then dropped into the roasting pan, so they’re cooking and the juices of the duck get soaked up, it’s like a slow roast in the oven. And then it comes out and you make the gravy by hand, and so you’ve got like the roasting pan, you tip the fat out (there’s not a lot of fat though) and then you just sprinkle flour in there, and then some like, water from the vegetables that might be cooking, and then you use a fork and just stir it all up and add a little thickening. And it’s this really gorgeous gravy that you can have with the roast duck and then you usually have like peas or broccoli or something like that with it on the plate, it’s just so good.
So that all happens in one day, the first day of shooting?
Yeah, exactly, so we have roast duck that night. Oh, and the thing you’ve got to watch too, because they’re wild ducks, is because they’ve been shot with a shotgun they have little pellets in them. So my mom, especially when we were little kids, the moms are in charge of making sure that the kids don’t get the duck with the pellets, you’re told to chew carefully cause you occasionally crunch down on a pellet. You can usually tell where the pellets have gone in, and the ducks that my mom likes to cook first are the ones where they’ve been shot in the head, sounds a bit gory I know. The less pellets the better for kids, cause you don’t wanna be swallowing lead pellets.
So and usually what happens is when we serve the duck, my dad would carve the duck on the kitchen counter. Before dinner. That was our tradition.
And then my dad would then periodically go out during duck shooting and get more, and would usually freeze the extra ones so that you could have them for a couple months.
So is this tradition really specific to New Zealand?
Very, I think. Yeah, every country’s got their own rules, and what a lot of it’s about too is they’re wild ducks so they’re not protected, and if it was year round the population of ducks would go down, so the idea of only doing it for the month of May is that (I don’t actually know how long duck shooting season goes, I oughta google it, but it’s something like 3 or 4 weeks), and it’s just cause you don’t wanna overshoot the duck population. It gives them a chance to repopulate. And actually, the seasons are the opposite in new Zealand, so May is like, right into fall. So maybe there’s an assumption too, that springs been 6 months old, so any spring ducks would now be 6 months and be good eating, because they’re tender and young.
So it’s definitely a tradition, and when you go duck shooting you’ve gotta wear like greens and browns so that youre blending in with the countryside as much as possible. And my dad was always super careful with guns, like, and it’s interesting in New Zealand you only have guns for shooting animals, people don’t carry them recreationally as much, and they certainly don’t carry them for protection. And farmers have to license their guns and lock them away.
And the other tradition we had, we had geese at the back of the farm, and my brother and I used to go and, we never carried guns, what we would do is if you let the geese see you coming they’ll start walking up the hill to the trees, and geese need to run to fly. So if you walk them up under the trees, you can charge them, and we’d have a competition to see how many we could catch, and we had these flexible belts that were elastic that my mom hand made, and we’d take them off and we’d get like three geese, and we’d tie their heads together with these belts, so that we could go and get three more. And then we would take them home and chop their heads off and eat them. So we did our own geese catching! And we used it as proof that we could do it without a gun.
This is a ritualized custom that is performed annually both because it follows the earth cycle calendar, and because of the practical reason of letting the duck population repopulate. It is clearly both a family custom, and a societal practice, as each segment of the society has a different role – the men go out and do the shooting, the children have to do the messy but easy labor, and the women do the cooking. There is also an ongoing generational aspect, as recipes are exchanged from family to family and passed down through generations. The fact that the children came up with their own hunting method, and created their own tradition, speaks of the involvement and desire for involvement in the grown up roles in this custom, and a sort of proving their capabilities, as they came up with their own way of duck hunting.
My informant’s family’s Salsa recipe.
A can of tomatoes (16oz)
A handful of cilantro from the bushel
A little less than a quarter of an onion
Two Serrano Peppers, unstemmed
Take all the ingredients above and blend them together. Once at a good consistency, not too watery, able to see slices of the cilantro in it, sprinkle the top with garlic salt to taste. Blend again. Serve with tortilla chips.
This definitely has the feeling of definitive folklore, as it has been passed down from generation to generation, family to family, race to race, even making adjustments for people’s tolerance levels of spice. The recipe has now become the salsa recipe for so many different people and walks of life. For my informant in particular, what started as a way to taste and remember home, has turned into something that he has inadvertently passed along to his friends, who use it all the way on the other side of the country with their family and friends.
The salsa recipe seems to be more than just a recipe but also a story of this family. It is fascinating that they have kept the recipe, and passed it down to all of the parents, children, and children’s friends, swearing that the recipe is theirs, even though they do not even speak to the person who brought the recipe into their life. I cannot help but feel my informant’s grandmother remembers her estranged son, the same way my informant remembers him, every time she makes this or eats this. It is almost as though she is keeping his memory and presence alive because after all there are so many salsa recipes out there; why stick with the one that surely causes the most heartache?
Context: Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. Healthy adult Muslims will fast from dawn to sunset for thirty days, and it is a time of greater spirituality, awareness, charity, and family. The informant is a Pakistani Muslim who grew up in Saudi Arabia, England, and Pakistan, and married and settled in Southern California. Here she relates a recipe for a staple of the Iftar (fast-breaking meal) table in her household, fruit chaat.
“It’s…well, ‘chaat‘, the word ‘chaat‘, it just means like a…like a little snack, and there are all sorts of chaat, so like you can have spicy chaat or dahi [yogurt] chaat…so anyway, in our house, that was the one thing we always had to have. Like it was dates, scunj’veen [homemade limeade], pakore [spicy batter-fried potatoes], and fruit chaat. Sometimes my dad would try to introduce new things into the mix, like samose…and they were always left at the end of it, like orphans. Somehow over those thirty days we never got tired off the same menu. And we still don’t.
The best fruit chaat has to have pomegranate seeds in it and amrood [guava]. ”
Though the end product may vary considerably depending on what fruits are available/in season, a person’s personal preferences, etc., the basic recipe is as follows:
1 large apple, 2 bananas, 1 large pear, 1 large peach/nectarine, 1/2 cup guava, all sliced; 1 cup red grapes, halved; 1/2 cup pomegranate; enough orange juice to “make the fruit float”; and sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Combine in a bowl. Serve chilled.
Analysis: The informant says the main reason this dish was/is such a favorite is because it is “refreshing”; after a a long, sometimes hot day, the sugar in the fruit would boost a fasting person’s blood sugar and put them in a sweeter mood. The informant says her family almost never ate dinner, just iftaar, so having a good variety of healthy food at the table was important since they would eat so little the whole day.
The informant further relates that because certain fruits, like pomegranates and guavas, are seasonal. expensive, or both, she has taken to incorporating other fruit occasionally: strawberries, oranges, pineapple, blueberries, etc., depending on availability. I think this shows the adaptability of this simple dish: it started out as a bare-bones dish with the most basic, most common and inexpensive fruit included, and then as she found that her native fruits were harder to come by, she incorporated more “Western” fruit that certainly would not have been available in her native Pakistan at the time she was growing up. And yet it still serves the same purpose: to lighten one’s mood and restore “sugar” levels in the body after a long day without food or water. And the informant insists that she never makes or serves it outside the holy month of Ramadan, even though, since the Islamic calendar is lunar, the time of the month changes every year and what fruits are available each year also changes.
Baba Ghanouj is an Arabic dish that means “my daddy is spoiled.” It’s also known as Mutabbal in different regions, which means “it’s mixed up.” She said that it’s common for kids to make food for their parents after a certain age in her culture, and baba ghanouj was such a delicious and straightforward meal, kids would make it and say something like, “look, see how spoiled my dad is?” My informant ate it a lot growing up; she learned all of her recipes from her mom, because recipes were passed down in her family and her mother also inherited recipes from her stepdad’s mother, because he is Palestinian-Jordanian, so compared so Saudi food, theirs is a little bit lighter and distinct in her mother’s recipe knowledge.
This recipe, as well as many others, is significant to my informant, because since her family was poor growing up, her mother cooked cheap recipes like lentils stews (which are also used as a folk remedy for colds) hummus (which literally means “chickpea” in Arabic), and baba ghanouj with pita for her and her siblings all the time.
She also listed the cooking directions for me:
Burn eggplant skins on stove until eggplant juice is bubbling out, this is when they’re fully cooked
Let them cool & remove skin
Toss eggplants in bowl
Mash with fork
Place mashed eggplant in strainer over other bowl to remove excess water (save and use in soup or other recipe)
Return pulp to mixing bowl
Add smashed garlic (smash in wooden mortar)
Add salt and lemon juice
Add tahini 1 tablespoon at a time
Add Salt, Sumac & Olive Oil to taste
Top with sprinkled sumac, chopped parsley, tomatoes and olive oil
*Do your best to get all of the skin off. Don’t use any hard parts of the eggplant (usually the little bump at the bottom)
After discussing a few traditions on Easter Day, this informant told me about her own holiday tradition that she started with her family. A few years ago, this informant found a recipe to make Munlie bread men in a magazine.
This is the recipe for making a sweet German bread that is shaped into “little men” which is what Munlie or Mannlein is translated into in German. The informant discovered that these “little men” were a German Christmas Eve custom. Children would decorate this bread into little shapes and leave the bread out for Santa, the German version of cookies and milk.
There is actually also a German Children’s song “Das bucklige Männlein”, which translates to “The Hunchbacked Little Man” and this is why the bread men are twisted into outrageous looking shapes. After finding this recipe, my informant started sharing it with her family and now they make them every Christmas without fail. Every Christmas Eve, they make the bread and then Christmas morning, they shape and eat the bread.
This recipe consists of ingredients like lemon peel, honey and anise seed, which gives it the signature sweet flavor. And then to make a Munlie, there are much more specific directions, which were found with the recipe.
“To shape each munlie, start by cutting 3/4-inch notches on opposite sides of the log about 1 1/2 inches from an end (this marks the shoulders). Twist 1 1/2-inch section over 1 full turn to define the head. If desired, pinch and slightly pull the tip to make a pointed cap. To create arms (step 2), make slighty slanting cuts on opposite sides of the log starting about 3 1/2 inches below shoulders and cutting up about 2 3/4 inches (leave about 1/2 to 1 inch across center for chest). For legs, cut from end opposite head, making a slash through middle of the log and up about half of its length. To animate each little man, pull and twist the arms and legs into active positions, making at least 5 twists in each limb (step 3). Keep the limbs well separated for good definition of activity. Space the prancing munlies about 2 inches apart on the baking pan.”
I believe this custom emphasizes the idea of family during a holiday. This is a recipe that allows the children to join in and make the food with their parents and then use their creativity to decorate it after. As with many holidays, Christmas time holds so many unique traditions and just like people make Gingerbread men and leave cookies and milk out for Santa, this is the German way of celebrating the festivities.