We had walked all morning by the time we reached the rammed earth structure that would one day be a fully framed women’s shelter – finished by the hardworking hands of the women themselves. Rosa – the community’s medicine woman – led us confidently to meet her compatriots, a bright blue feather in her black bowler cap bobbed with the breeze blowing through the valley, her cotton shoes on weathered feet kicking up little puffs of dust as she waded off the dirt road and onto a little path leading to the yard of the shelter. Through the gate and into the pasture beyond, women worked in the fields – not a man in sight. Feminization of agriculture, in the flesh. Their long, colorful skirts dragged in the dust around their ankles as the holes they dug to build out a fence around the compound revealed themselves from beneath shovel strokes.With each forceful strike of the spades, the coral and gold bracelets on their wrists and around their necks clinked. I couldn’t help but notice the intricate embroidery on the layers beneath their shawls; the daily tasks that these women carried out were “dirty” in comparison to those we think of as rudimentary in North America. And yet, they wore their finest, brought their best. They leaned their shovels against the nascent fence as we approached, their strong features, intent bright eyes and sturdy postures coming into full view as they left their work to greet us.
Rounding a mud and clay packed corner of the building, we met with the open arms of a few small children, eager to touch our hands and backpacks. They approached boisterously at first with big open eyes, then shied away. Then, moved under the thatched overhang to watch us and whisper, their busy mothers’ scolding them from an interior room for surprising us with their enthusiasm. The mothers were busy at work preparing a snack for us. The woman closest to us must have sat on a bale of hay, though her red skirt concealed it – leading onlookers to believe that she was actually floating over a big blue bowl forming quinoa patties, a pile of eggshells at her feet. Another was sitting in the opposite corner, practically engulfed in the smoke of an open fire on which a pan to cook the patties balanced. A third woman prepared a tea from herbs and medicinal plants found in the hills surrounding the center – collected by Rosa earlier that – day and she presented it to us proudly as we approached. We sat, in their humble courtyard and listened as Rosa told, and translated stories about these the striking, strong and beautiful women of Angla.
As in many third world cultures, the women of this small village in Northern Ecuador are considered property of their husbands; this lends itself to degrees of discrimination, and domestic violence all exacerbated in the contexts of exclusion and poverty. As men leave the villages and head to the urban areas in search of work, all the tasks traditionally allocated to a family fall into the bedecked arms of the women. This building, a thatched roof structure, was a shelter for these women to seek solace and support. To connect with community resources, and to engage in projects supporting their livelihood; once the fence stood, it would contain a thriving garden where many hands would make light work out of feeding the community. Herbs and medicines found in the hills beyond the village could be blended here and sold in the cities to the south to bolster the health, and financial wellbeing of this tiny place. It was a true inspiration, breaking bread (or in this case, quinoa patties) with them in this blossoming, ambitious, and humble (yet vital) project.
If you were to ask me for directions to return to this center, where you could find these stoic, gentle, capable and graceful women, I couldn’t tell you. If you could ask me the fragrances of that day – besides fire, and wind, and grass, I couldn’t recall. But I will never forget how overwhelmed I was with their noble realization that though life was simple, it could be simply better. I remain impressed with their dedication to make their existence more wholesome and connected than it was already. And, of course, I’ll never forget what we ate. Quinoa – the “chic” grain that so many are still struggling to pronounce in the United States (much less use en mass) is a staple of survival and a key component of nutrition here. Fancy that – nutritional staples not coming from a Whole Foods store. 😉 The quinoa patties the women of Angla cooked up for us were made with beans, quinoa and eggs to hold them together. They also used chopped greens from the garden, and spring onions, but they didn’t have any exotic spices to whisk into the mixture (and it was blended entirely by hand, and not by Cuisinart of course.) The little children in the village couldn’t wait to get their hands on a patty as they came out of the compound warm. One little girl played an adorable of hide-and-seek with hers. Saving for later? Eating now! Saving for later? Eating now! This dish was simple, to the point, portable and purposeful. Clean energy for a day at work — just as it is for us here and now.
Quinoa is something that we enjoy on a regular basis here in California – its quick-to-cook properties only being one of the reasons it lives in the pantry. As soon as we returned home from Ecuador, I found myself wanting to incorporate it creatively and unexpectedly, into our meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner – just as we enjoyed it all over Ecuador. This is one of my favorite ways to use the grain – as a base for these little patties that I take for quick lunches, pack up for plane rides, and toss into our road trip picnic baskets.
A few notes on ingredient choice here: I don’t use eggs as a binder – as the Angla did – and instead opt for ground flax meal. We are still receiving a bumper crop of squashes (butternut and red kuri, it seems), from Full Belly Farm each week, so I’d be a fool not to roast up one of the red kuri squash and use a half cup of it in the patties. (Red kuri squash are the squatty reddish orange ones with the crookneck stems and the texture is very pumpkin-like. See the thumbnail shot at the top of this post.) But, as the squash fall out of season I’ll probably try canned or roasted pumpkin in its place. Butternut squash is a little bit too watery to use as a base so I reserve this for a different purpose though you could increase the amount of flax a bit and the recipe would still be great. The women of Angla also liked to mix in carrots, handfuls of greens, and some onions; I keep it simple when it comes to vegetables and just use onions and spices. We really like the kick of the cumin and harissa, and love to plop one of the patties atop a bowl of greens, carrots and California avocados for lunch with a creamy ranch dressing or zingy local feta. Lastly, I love to really brown the tops and bottoms of the patties because I love the texture – it reminds me of a bigger, better falafel. This comes of adding a bit more coconut oil to the pan than you health nuts like to think about using…but its worth it. Enjoy!
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup cilantro, stems removed
- 3 spring onions, both green and white parts, chopped
- 1/2 cup roasted red kuri squash (or pumpkin puree)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 3/4 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp harissa (optional)
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- 1 -15 oz can of black beans, drained
- 2 Tbsp flax meal or ground flax seed
- 1/3 cup panko or breadcrumbs
- coconut oil for cooking
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the garlic, onion, cilantro, squash puree, olive oil, spices and salt. Run the processor to make sure that the mixture is well blended.
- Remove the lid and pulse in the cooked quinoa and 1/2 of the beans. (Don't run the processor because you don't want your patty ingredients to turn into babyfood - rather, a nicely textured mixture.)
- Add the flax and panko and pulse the mixture again, to combine. Lastly, pulse in the last 1/2 of the beans. Little flecks of whole beans and quinoa are good here; again, you don't want a paste.
- With a 1/3 cup measuring cup, scoop out mixture and form it into patties, rounding them a little bit with your hands. I like them to be pretty thick here because they stay together better when you fry them.
- Warm a thin layer of coconut oil in a deep skillet over medium/high heat. Swirl the pan to ensure an even layer of warm oil then place the burger in the pan working in batches as needed. Cook the patties for 2-3 minutes over medium/high heat - until they begin to brown- then flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Eat immediately or let cool on a wire rack completely before stowing in the fridge.