Easter in Ecuador

Ecuadorian Easter treats. Photos: Alison Lambert
Ecuadorian Easter treats. Photos: Alison Lambert

Easter in Ecuador  –  Semana santa

Easter throughout the world  is celebrated in different ways. Food is an important part of those celebrations, a comforting and welcoming homage to say thanks for all that you have.

For this Ecuadorian-inspired Easter celebration, some of the dishes are steeped in tradition and represent centuries of worship. In Ecuador, Easter celebrations are similar to America’s Thanksgiving when it comes to food.

I have simplified some due to availability of ingredients, but the results are still outstanding using the fresh, vibrant flavours of South America and techniques which add a subtle, yet complex, finish to your dishes.

Happy Easter everyone!

Fried cheese empanadas.
Fried cheese empanadas.

Fried cheese empanadas (empanadas de viento)

These crispy fried cheese empanadas, traditionally served with sugar, are delightful but I also like to serve them with aji criollo (Ecuadorian hot sauce)


3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
110g butter or lard
1 cup cold water (approx)

Cheese filling
21/2 cups grated cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, gruyere etc)
1 medium onion, finely diced
cracked pepper
oil for frying
sugar for serving (optional but traditional)

Begin by making the dough in the food processor (or by hand). Add the flour, salt and baking powder, pulse to mix.

Add the cold, diced butter and continue to pulse until breadcrumb consistency forms.

Slowly add ½ cup cold water while the machine is running, continue adding water until dough starts to form.  Turn off and tip the dough on to a lightly floured bench.

Knead gently so the dough comes together. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover and rest at room temperature for at least an hour.

To make the filling

Mix the cheese and onion together, add a few grinds of pepper and set aside until required.

To make the empanadas you can either roll the dough into a thin layer and cut round disc shapes for empanadas (use round molds or a small plate) or you can make several 45g balls of dough, then use a tortilla press or a rolling pin to roll them out  - they don’t need to be perfectly round.

It’s really important to get the discs very thin since they cook very quickly when you fry them, if after cutting out the round shapes or pressing them with a tortilla press, they are still thick, roll each disc a little more until it is very thin, (these discs can be frozen).

Spoon the cheese filling on the centre of the each empanada disc.

Fold the empanada discs and seal the edges, first pressing gently with your fingers, next use a fork to press down and seal, finally twist and fold the edges of the empanadas and then use the fork again for the final sealing.

Chill the empanadas for at least an hour, this will help them seal better.

Fry the empanadas either in a deep fryer or a frying pan. If using a frying pan, add enough oil to cover at least half of the empanada, let the oil get very hot and fry each empanada until they are golden on each side or about a minute per side.

Place the empanadas on paper towels to drain any excess oil, sprinkle generously with sugar and serve warm.

Latin style rice pudding.
Latin style rice pudding.

Latin style rice pudding (arroz con leche)

Rice pudding is a very popular dessert and one eaten throughout the world. What makes the Latino version different is that it contains cinnamon, raisins and condensed milk.


1 cup short-grain rice
6 cups full-fat milk
pinch salt
1 cinnamon stick
2 orange peel strips (done with peeler)
1/2 cup brown sugar or maple syrup
1/2 cup raisins
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup condensed milk, adjust based on the level of sweetness that you prefer
1/2 tsp vanilla

Wash and rinse the rice very well.

Put the milk in a medium-sized heavy-based pot with the orange peel, cinnamon stick, and pinch of salt. Bring to boil and add the rice. Cook on low heat for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Stir occasionally, increase frequency of stirring as the cooking time increases.

Remove the cinnamon stick and orange peel from the rice.

Add the sugar or syrup and raisins, cook for 15-20 minutes, or until it is tender and creamy.

Stir frequently.

Stir in the butter and add the condensed milk and vanilla to the rice, stir well. Remove from heat. The rice pudding can be served warm or cold, sprinkled with a little cinnamon.

Onion and tomato curtido salad.
Onion and tomato curtido salad.

Onion and tomato curtido salad (curtido de cebolla y tomate)

A popular Latin-style lime, pickled tomato and red onion marinated salad. I love this so much that I make it all summer long.


2 red onions, very finely sliced
juice of 3 limes
1 Tbsp olive or avocado oil
3 tomatoes
1 Tbsp coriander, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp salt

Place the sliced onion in a bowl, sprinkle with the salt and let rest for about 10 minutes.

Pour over enough warm water and allow to sit for another 10 minutes.

Rinse and drain.

Add the lime juice and a sprinkle of salt, let rest until the onions start to turn pinkish or until about 30 minutes before serving.

Cut the tomatoes in half and slice very finely.

Mix the onions with the sliced tomatoes, oil, and coriander. Taste and add a little salt if necessary.

Fanesca soup.
Fanesca soup.

Fanesca soup

This soup is eaten all over Ecuador during Easter. Traditionally made with salted cod and 12 varieties of pulses, I have simplified it to make it easier. I love the depth of flavour and variety of pulses. Also, garnishing it with boiled eggs, avocado and coriander makes this soup a meal to remember.


500g salted cod or undyed smoked fish soaked for 24 hours, drained, cut into about 3cm pieces
1 lemon, juiced
1 cup milk, plus extra as needed
1/4 cup peanuts
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp paprika or achiote chilli
1/2 tsp cumin
3 Tbsp coriander, chopped
300g pumpkin, cubed and cooked (reserve the water)
1 cup long-grain white rice or brown rice
1 cup lentils, cooked
2 cups kidney beans, cooked drained
330g can cannellini beans, cooked, drained
330g can chickpeas, cooked, drained
1 cup corn kernels,
salt and cracked pepper to taste
4 eggs, boiled
1 avocado

Cook the fish covered in water with the lemon juice. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the fish from the water, and discard the water.

Meanwhile, cook the rice in 3 cups of water. It should be tender. Set aside. Cook the lentils in 2 cups of water. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.

Blend the milk and peanuts and set aside.

In a large heavy-duty pot, make a refrito by heating 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat, and adding the onion, garlic, coriander, paprika/achiote powder, and seasoning with salt, pepper and cumin. Cook gently for about 5 minutes.

Add the peanut and milk puree to the refrito, and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the rice. Stir and mash the rice with the ladle to thicken the soup. Cook for 5 additional minutes.

Add the cooked pumpkin, plus 1 cup of the cooking liquids. Mash the pumpkin with the ladle to thicken the soup.

Add all the beans with the liquid, and add the corn,  Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every so often so the soup doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

The Fanesca soup is thick and hearty, but if you find it too thick, add more milk or water, about 1 to 2 cups, depending on your preference.

Taste the Fanesca for seasoning, and adjust the flavor by adding more salt and pepper.

To serve: Place a few pieces (depending on your preference) of the cooked fish in a bowl.

Ladle over Fanesca. Garnish the soup with additional chopped coriander, slices of hard-boiled eggs, or slices of avocado.

Traditionally served with cheese empanadas and fried plantain.

Add a Comment