In Latin America “Quinceañera”, or a girl’s 15th birthday, is a much greater celebration than the northern “sweet sixteen” version. It is a coming-of-age that rivals a wedding with the young woman’s family contributing to a gorgeous, ruffled dress straight from a fairy-tale. A young man from the family accompanies the birthday girl down the aisle to be blessed in church. After the service, the family gathers for a potluck with the festivities continuing on into the early morning.
I was lucky enough to turn 15 in Ecuador while studying at a small school in Bahia de Caraquez. When my classmates discovered it was my birthday, they insisted on throwing me a party. While I forwent the dress and the church, it seemed like half the town participated in the potluck! Bahia’s main export is shrimp, so it was prominently featured in many of the dishes. My favourite, and a local specialty, was ceviche de camarones. Citrus juice from limes and oranges (which are much more tart than the US varieties) are used to cure raw shrimp. After marinating for several hours, the shrimp turns pink as if it had been cooked with heat. Served with chifles (fried plantain chips), this is a refreshing and light, yet fully satisfying, meal.
Traditional acid-cooked shrimp from Ecuador
- 2 lbs shrimp peeled and deveined
- 4 large limes
- 1 large lemon
- 1 medium orange
- 1 jalapeno deseeded
- 1 bunch cilantro leaves only
- 2 medium tomatos firm
- 1/2 medium cucumber
- 2 bunches green onion
Cut peeled and deveined shrimp or prawns into bite-sized pieces
Juice all citrus
Finely mince jalapeno and cilantro leaves
Dice tomatoes and cucumber into small, bite-sized pieces
Finely chop green part of green onion
Combine all and let rest in fridge for four hours, stirring occasionally to ensure all ingredients get equal time in the citrus juice
Just before serving, add salt to taste
By not adding the salt until you serve, it keeps the vegetables more firm, the liquid more acidic, and it prevents the shrimp from getting too tough.