Patience, I whispered to myself, exhaling deeply as I assessed the situation. One of the boys was covered in icing sugar and chocolate sauce from the airport-quality breakfast croissant, while the other was sitting quietly with a vomit bag grasped tightly in his little hands. One of the girls was running around taking photos of groggy, unimpressed strangers while the other had nearly exhausted my supply of tissues mourning her lost luggage. It was at that moment I had the most serious doubts about my decision to take four eleven-year-old children on a month-long international summer camp to Ecuador.
In Summer 2011, I took on a lot of responsibility. So you can imagine how grateful I felt when some of the Ecuadorian camp staff invited me to their home for a warm shower and a meal that didn’t involve a “settle down” game prior to service. It was during this home meal that I experienced a proper bowl of Locro de Papa for the first time, or to most Ecuadorians, simply “locro”. It’s incredibly simple, and highlights some of Ecuador’s best ingredients: yellow potatoes, avocado, and fresh cheese. But the smoothness, flavour, and toppings vary subtlely from household to household, and my dear Ecuadorian friends are quick to point out why their mother or cook’s recipe is better than the other’s.
“Oh, and by the way, you’re never gonna get it perfect in Canada,” laughed my friend Pedro when he finally came to visit, “because Canada just doesn’t have the right potatoes.” However, he did hand me an Ecuadorian chicken bouillon cube and with a sly smile, wished me the best of luck.
I have spent years thinking about making this recipe again, and through a combined effort of my Ecuadorian friends and their mothers, I bring you this recipe.
Despite the initial troubles we had, that summer in Ecuador holds some of my fondest memories. Short of being able to see my friends and campers again, making locro helps bring some of them back. It is truly remarkable how something so foreign can be so comforting. Patience is a very important skill in this soup-making process. But if I’ve learned anything from this trip, patience has its rewards.
- 10 small yellow potatoes, peeled and diced roughly into 1-2 inch cubes (the Andean pata chola is the most ideal)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 medium white onion, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 5 cups of water
- 1 large bunch of cilantro
- 2 stalks of green onion
- 1 chicken bouillon cube (or use broth instead and reduce water)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Requesón (can easily substitute ricotta or cottage cheese)
- Milk (optional)
- 1 ripe avocado, sliced
- Fresh cheese, cut into cubes or broken into small pieces (I prefer to use queso fresco, but mozzarella is very popular as well)
- Aji (or similar) hot sauce to taste (optional)
- In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Stir frequently until the onion is soft and translucent, or about 5 minutes.
- Add the potatoes and continue stirring for another 5 minutes.
- Add the water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil.
- Once the water turns slightly opaque from the potatoes, reduce to medium heat and add the stalks of green onion, the cilantro, and the chicken bouillon cube. Cover and continue cooking, making sure to remove the green onion and cilantro after 15 minutes.
- Stir every 5 minutes or so to make sure the potatoes do not stick to the bottom of the pot. Using the back of a large spoon, mash the potatoes lightly, ensuring not to overdo it—the little chunks add character and texture to the soup.
- When the potatoes have more or less disintegrated, reduce to a simmer. If you find that the soup is too thick, add a little milk and keep cooking for another 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and incorporate the requesón or equivalent cheese by folding it gently into the soup. Add a little salt and pepper to taste if necessary.
- Serve the soup warm with your garnishes of choice.
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