The food I grew up on was anything but exotic. When people here ask me “So what is typical Canadian food?” I hesitate. “Um… we use a lot of potatoes?” Which I know is a lame response, but if I describe the food Canadians eat, I know the answers I’ll get. “But that’s Italian!” “That’s French, isn’t it?” “I thought that was a Spanish dish.” “Wait, that’s not German?” Fact is, growing up I never once attended a dinner or function where the meal was deemed “Canadian”. We just called it food.
I thought it was like that everywhere. But I learned later that cultures who have for centuries been replicating what their parents did before them are very much aware that their food is theirs. At a lunch in France, the hostess takes her seat next to me after serving the first course. She leans in and assures me (and perhaps herself) matter-of-factly, “This meal is very French.” But of course. Here in Ecuador I am urged excitedly, “You have to try this, it is a special dish from Ecuador.”
Being that Canadians spring from so many other cultures, I never had food offered to me with the tagline This is Canadian, rather “This is so good.” So much of our food can be traced further back than we realize. And really it’s a wonderful thing to have so many different cuisines to try and even incorporate into our more traditional fare. In order to define what Canadian food is to me, I go by the food my mother cooked.
As I alluded to here, my mother’s cooking came down to cost over ingredient. It had to. But I remember rare occasions when her eyes would sparkle and she would seem in her own world as she whisked around the kitchen getting a meal together. I remember her savoring every bite of it, seemingly oblivious to any commentary around the dinner table. On these so rare of occasions, she was eating seafood.
Born and raised in Prince Edward Island, it comes as no surprise that seafood would be her idea of edible bliss. She always longed for the ocean. When I was little, I looked forward to the heaviest rainstorms, because something special would happen. My mother would open all the windows in her bedroom and we would crawl on the bed and close our eyes. “If you just listen,” she would tell me “it sounds like the sea.”
There is something so special about the ocean and the food we find in it. I always felt my mother had a deep, personal connection to it. And even if I was too little to understand why, I was sure happy to be invited.
Perhaps on that reflection it should also come as no surprise that I too am crazy about seafood. The fresher the better.
So when we were on the coast of Ecuador recently, we didn’t book a nice hotel, we didn’t plan massages or a shopping spree. We had one budget. A ceviche budget.
And let me tell you, we ate a lot of ceviche.
It’s 5 bucks, it’s fresh, it’s a bowlful of ocean.
So why not a spoonful of ocean?
With one bite, you can feel like you are on a beach in South America. (It helps if you close your eyes.)
makes 24 bites
24 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 large tomatoes, peeled and finely shopped
1 small tomato, grated and leftover skin discarded
2 tbsp finely chopped leeks
1 tbsp finely chopped white onion
3/4 cups cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp ketchup
1 tsp horseradish
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
juice of 4 small limes
salt (seasoned to taste)
popcorn, for garnish
Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Drop the shrimp in and cook for 1-2 minutes, not more. They will turn pink and curl up slightly, but don’t let them get rubbery! Once cooked, take out of the water and place in a smaller bowl. Add some of the salted water (a few spoonfuls.) Place the bowl of shrimp in a larger bowl with ice and cold water, to cool the shrimp and extra salted water down. Set aside.
In a separate large bowl, combine tomatoes, leeks, onion, cilantro, tomato paste, ketchup, horseradish, chili flakes, garlic powder, oil, and the extra salted water from the shrimp. Add the lime juice. Keep tasting after each lime to make sure you want to add another. The level of acidity is a matter of taste; I like a lot of lime juice but you may not feel the same. Season with salt and again, keep tasting before adding more. You can always add more seasoning, but once it’s in, you can’t take it out! Combine everything thoroughly.
In Asian-style serving spoons, (something like this is ideal for a party) place a spoonful of the tomato mixture at the base. Place one shrimp on top per spoon, and top with popcorn.
This is a great do-ahead appetizer. You can prep everything the day before and refrigerate the shrimp and the mixture separately. Simply assemble the next day before guests arrive.
Our favorite ceviche is with shrimp, but the great thing about this recipe is that you can switch out the shrimp for your favorite bite-sized seafood choice! You can even have a variety of seafood options to really make things fun.
I am so happy I had the chance to eat as much from the sea, by the sea as I could. Especially something so South American. But more than that, something SO good.