Sometimes an object, as much as a food, can be the inspiration for a dish. Such was the case with these beautiful chonta wood chopsticks from Ecuador. They were a gift from my cousin, Gary Jenanyan, Executive Chef for the maritime partnership of Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society in the Galapagos Islands region of Ecuador. The chonta palm tree, native to the Amazon, is a beneficent plant long-employed by the indigenous peoples for housing material, weaponry, jewelry, and objects for tourists, as well as for its tasty fruit and heart of palm delicacy.The chopsticks are a bit of an anthropological curiosity. Ecuadorians don’t use them to eat with. But there are plenty of Chinese restaurants in Quito and elsewhere in Ecuador, so, as my cousin notes, they are not completely out of context. The dish they led me to is likewise a bit of an anthropological curiosity: it’s a cross-cultural composition, with the beef featured, American-style.
1 cup organic brown rice
2 1/2 cups filtered water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup low sodium, wheat free soy sauce
1 1/2 pounds flank steak
1/4 medium head green cabbage, finely shredded
1. Combine the brown rice, water, and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook for 50 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to steam dry in a warm place.
2. Stir together the lemon juice, soy sauce,and chile pepper in a small bowl and set aside until ready to use.
3. To cook the steak, heat a large, heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat until very hot, 5 minutes. Sprinkle the steak on both sides with salt and place it in the skillet. (If the steak is too large to lay out flat, cut it in half crosswise and cook it in two rounds.) Cook, turning once, until rare, 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside for the juices to settle.
4. Thinly slice the steak across the grain and set the slices on a platter. Moisten the cabbage with a little of the dipping sauce and place it and the bowl of sauce alongside the steak. Serve with the rice in individual bowls.