Tapado (pronounced tap-ouw in Mompiche, where the last two letters mysteriously vanish off the end of every spoken word) is a popular banana-rich fish soup that is hearty, healthy and delicious. And it’s not always just about the fish, any fresh seafood can be used in this recipe, from a simple catfish to delicious sea bream or bass, from king prawns to lobster. We are lucky here to be able to get our seafood straight from the fishing boats every morning, often still snapping and clicking, flicking tails and so fresh they’ll bite you first.
Aside from three kinds of bananas and seafood, the next most important ingredient in this soup is coconut milk. In many countries, I know you get that in cans. Sigh. Here, we collect the coconuts from the trees, open them and extract the flesh and the milk. It’s fresh, organic, delicious and very healthy (there are studies linking coconut oil to better brain function). A Mompichero cannot even imagine this food from heaven arriving at his house in a can. It’s unthinkable. Fresh is best. Always.
Tapado (which means “covered”) made with catfish (canchimala) is such a popular dish in Esmeraldas, the region of Ecuador where I live, that there is even a popular Salsa dance tune about it: Quiero Mi Tapado
2 tbsp olive oil
5-6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small onion, diced
2 small sweet peppers
1/2 tsp achiote paste
2 green plantains, sliced
2 ripe plantains, sliced
3 green bananas, sliced
1½ cups yucca (cassava), diced
1½ cups sweet potato, diced
1½ cups carrot, diced
1kg (2lb) fish (any fish, crustaceans included)
3 cups coconut milk
3 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat the oil and saute the garlic, onions and peppers. Stir in the achiote paste until everything is coated. If you don’t have access to achiote (a tropical seed), then don’t substitute anything, it’s only used for its color. Then, add the sliced bananas, yucca, sweet potato and carrot and add fresh water until the vegetables are just covered. Cover the pot and let the soup boil until the bananas and vegetables are soft.
While the bananas and vegetables are cooking, trim and wash the seafood until it’s ready to go in the pot (it can be whole or filleted fish whatever you prefer). Arrange the seafood over the top of the vegetables in one layer and cover the pot again for about 10 minutes or until the seafood is cooked through.
Pour in the coconut milk all at once and add the cilantro. Very gently stir the coconut milk through without breaking up the seafood. Don’t let it boil because the coconut milk will break. Turn off the heat and add the salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
If learning to cook traditional Ecuadorian dishes interests you, get in touch.