I don’t know what it is about kids and the Peace Corps, in general, but I have the personal, but not always shared opinion that children are a volunteer’s best friend. As you’ve seen already, I have had the opportunity to befriend several kids so far. They help you adjust to volunteer life in so many ways. So far this guy, Erbol which means “be a man” in Kyrgyz, has been a source of laughs as of late. He has many different faces and is passionate about everything. His favorite word/noise is “da-dong!!” which is a sound effect for pretty much everything he does. The best is when he runs to go kiss his baby brother on the cheek, and then takes his tiny baby hand to punch everyone within punching distance.
"In my small village in Ukraine, The Meeting of Spring is the single largest public celebration held each year around March 1st. Each Street creates a float-type submission and everyone who lives on the street passes through the town before doing a skit on the main stage. In these photos, I’m with my host mother Laryssa and her street neighbors who were dressed as aliens!"
- Peace Corps Youth Development Volunteer Jessie Park
Things I’ve Learned in Ecuador: #4 How to Make Empanadas
A little less than a month ago, I moved out of my host family’s house and moved in with Dani just until I finally move into an apartment of my own ya mismo. I was lucky enough to arrive in her site, Galera, on the week of their fiestas de la parroquia. The reggeaton was on full blast and everyone was out celebrating and drunk. Lots of cerveza going around!
Dani’s host mom, Esperanza, runs a little restaurant out of the house and since Dani and I are the brilliant, young PCV minds that we are, and because two heads are better than one, we came up with the idea that we should make and sell empanadas during the fiesta. First of all, it would give Esperanza a little extra income (PCVs are not allowed to make any money in country) and basically we just really wanted to eat some empanadas. Dani had already made some with her host fam a couple months earlier but it was going to be my first time making empanadas and I was super excited (and hungry).
We pitched the idea to Esperanza and she was all for it, she even suggested that we sell bolones too. We also promised to be her ayudantes and sell the empanadas and bolones after we all made them since gringa salesladies can never hurt in this country. So we made up a list of ingredients and supplies we needed and the next day Dani and I headed off to Tonchigüe to buy everything. We ended up spending $26 in total for the verdes, flour, butter, cheese, napkins, pork and salad supplies that we needed.
That night the cooking began! We started by making bolones con queso. To make bolones, you first peel the verdes (green plantains) which is quite a challenge… unless you’re Esperanza and can peel a verde magically in .4 seconds. Dani and I struggled a bit more with the peeling process and by the time Esperanza had peeled 10, we had just finished with our first. After the verdes were peeled, you boil them with some achiote, which, going to be honest, I have no idea what it is. When the verdes are softened up a bit you mash them with a machacador (try saying that five times fast!). You can also mash them with your hands if you can handle the heat and boiling water that Esperanza added to it. You then mix a heaping tablespoon (or two) of butter into the mashed verdes so it’s more like a doughy texture. With this verde dough, you form the bolón then make a little indentation to add some queso to the middle. Once all the bolones are formed and stuffed with queso then you heat up your aciete and fry ‘em up! Top it off with some ensalada made from cabbage, carrot and onion drenched in lime and you’ve got a delicious little snack. We sold them for 25 cents each and within a few minutes they were all gone… a testament to Dani and I’s great sales skills.
Since the first day was so successful, the second day Esperanza, Dani and I upped our game and made bolones con chanco. This was más o menos the same process except after mashing the verdes and adding the butter, we simply mixed in the fried pork and served them up! According to Jeff, a fellow American (and very nice guy) who was living in Galera in September, they were delicious! Since Dani and I didn’t actually end up trying once since we sold them so fast (cha-ching!), I guess we all just have to take Jeff’s word for it.
By this time, Dani and I were starting to wonder when the hell we were going to start making the empanadas. Don’t get me wrong, bolones are good and all but they’re no match for empanadas. By the time we started making empanadas, word had gotten around what a successful little micro-empresa we had going on and Esperanza’s daughter Monica helped us to make empanadas and her son Kevin helped us sell them. To cook empanadas, first you mix the flour with eggs and butter to make the dough. The best part is when you have to smack the dough as hard as you can off the counter to get out all the air bubbles, which Monica is an expert at! Once the dough was made, we separated it into little balls, rolled it out, added some cheese then folded them over so they were ready to fry. Frying empanadas is also an art form. First you have to heat up the oil and make sure you have bastante in the pan then push the hot oil onto the side of the empanada that is face-up to make sure both sides are cooked well.
When the empanadas were done, Dani and I first ate some ourselves and then went out selling with Kevin and Jeff. Literally within five minutes we had sold about 20 empanadas. Not too shabby! People even came knocking on the door later that night asking to buy some. The next day Dani and I went for a walk on the beach with a teacher and some students from the colegio. When we arrived back at the house, we saw Esperanza, Monica and two more women cooking up more empanadas. Our little business idea had really taken off! The women had even made morocho, a corn-based drink with cinnamon, milk and a lot of sugar… it kind of reminds me of rice pudding except with corn. Once again, Dani, Kevin, Jeff and I went out selling and about 15 minutes later were all sold out.
By then the week-long fiestas were finally coming to an end so we took a break from our slaving over the stove and counted up the earnings. Overall, Esperanza made over $35 out of our little business, which we like to call Empanadas de Esperanza (or Empanadas of Hope). Not too shabby for a few hours of work here in Ecuador!
But sit tight, America! No worries, Empanadas de Esperanza is now considering how to sell and export to the States. Ya mismo, ya mismo…