Locro, the heart of Andean soup traditions

20/Abril/2012 | 09:32



 

It initially sounded like an exaggeration. When visiting Ecuador two years ago internationally renowned Chef Sumito Estevez from Venezuela made the following comment: “The most extensive and complete menu of soups on the continent are found in Ecuador, perhaps [even] the world.”

 

Estevez, host of the Sumito S.O.S. cooking show on the Gourmet Channel, has worked and traveled all over the world and declares that Ecuador, above any other nation, is the authority when it comes to making soup. 

 

If it sounds hard to believe just ask the next local chef you meet how many Ecuadorian soup recipes he or she has.

 

Henry Richardson, chef and head of Intercul, a well-known catering service in Quito, says, “I have at least 380 soups in my list and it keeps growing. There is one for every day of the year.”

 

Edgar Leon, owner of Estragon Restaurant was up to 547 soups as of February of this year, though he says he only prepares about 20 percent of them for his clients.

 

And if you review one of the newest cookbooks in Ecuador book stores this year, “Sopas, secos, y envultos del Ecuador,” author and cook Ruby Larrea offers more than 100 soups and stews.

 

Soup Culture

 

Soups are the most important chapter that we have in Ecuadorian gastronomy according to Pablo Zambrano, Executive Chef for the Quito Hilton Colon Hotel. “With the arrival of Europeans they discovered products that were not [previously] given much importance. From there comes the combination, which have resulted in today’s Ecuadorian soups.”

 

A soup is the result of combining products and particular cooking methods.   Richardson says, “It is very simple to make [soup] but it has a technique. What everybody does not know is that Ecuadorian soups have all of the techniques of cuisine in the soups: crystallization, caramelization, stewing, frying, baking…”

 

But the techniques matter little if you do not have the ingredients. In Ecuador, we find an abundance of food products.  According to Zambrano, “The basic products for soups are the plantain, potato, and the ‘porotos,’ or variety of beans and grains.” He says they make up 80% of the base of Ecuadorian soups.

 

If we take just one of those, the potato, we arrive at the most varied soup tradition in Ecuador: the locro, a national dish which has evolved since the Spanish conquest almost 500 years ago.

 

“The locro is the name of a soup in the Andean language,” says Richardson. The word is derived from Quechua: ruqru or luqru. It is popularly regarded as a potato-based soup, but technically the base of a locro soup can be much broader.  

 

Carlos Gallardo, President of the Ecuadorian Chef Association and Director of Tourism and Hospitality Faculty at the University of the Americas, says, “The locro method involves the breakdown of a carbohydrate or a cereal. The locro also can be made of ocas, carrots, or any other tuber.”

 

For more than five years Gallardo has been directing the “Rescate de Sabores” (Rescue of Flavors) program through the University of the Americas (UDLA), which seeks to capture, preserve and ultimately promote the culinary traditions of Ecuador. Through his research he says he has gathered more than 200 locro recipes.  

 

The variation in locros reflects the regionalization that characterizes Ecuadorian cuisine. Richardson points out that in any given region you may have dozens of recipes of locros. He says Quito, for example, is famous for its cheese locro, often referred to as “Locro Quiteño.” Cuenca is known for its “mote,” or hominy locro. Carchi has a “locro de cuero” (pork skin). Latacungo offers “locro de mellocos” (a native tuber) and Riobamba is where “yaguarlocro,” or blood locro, originates – a potato locro made with dried goat blood.

 

Ambato, in central Ecuador, is known for “locro de uñas,” or fingernail locro.  Richardson explains, “You don’t make it with fingernails. They cook the little potatoes with the skin and then peel them with the fingernail.”

 

Making Locro

 

Because so many preparations are possible the locro is at once both simple and elaborate. “The traditional locro is made of onion, annatto (achiote), potato, a stock, and a little milk. No more,” says Richardson.

 

If there is one thing locros have in common, at least since the Spanish conquest, it is the inclusion of dairy products. “It always has milk or cream,” Richardson say. But he adds, “It is not always heavy.”

 

Originally, locros were never heavy.  “Our locros before were only [made] with chili peppers and water, a little bit of salt and nothing more,” says Edgar Leon. “Dairy products transformed them…we see the influence of the Spanish in combining potatoes and milk products.”

 

Though the “Locro Quiteño” is differentiated from others because of its cheese ingredient, the potato remains the principal ingredient. Richardson says, “In the cheese locro, what you taste is the potato.” The potato is the base and what thickens the soup. But just because a soup has potato does not mean it is a locro. 

 

Timbushca is a traditional soup from the region of Cotopaxi and Tungurahua.  Zambrano says, “This is not a locro. The principal ingredient is not the potato. What gives it flavor is the hominy and cabbage. The potato is a complementary ingredient.”

 

“Aji de carne,” another very traditional soup in Ecuador, is based on potato and banana. “The aji de carne has potatoes but it is not thickened with potatoes. It is thickened with other things.”

 

Which potato?

 

Since most locros are potato based, the obvious question arises: What potatoes are used to make a locro? This is, after all, potato country, with hundreds of native varieties found on the continent.

 

Zambrano says, “The potato has to be a yellow potato with the largest quantity of starch. This type is the chola potato.” He uses chola exclusively.

 

Richardson admits, “Papa Chola is the preferred one now-a-days also because it cooks quickly, dissolves easily with a small grain giving the locro a creamier texture.” But he adds, “The choice of potato is generally selected because of the texture it renders when boiled. In most cases they use a single variety, in some cases two and less commonly three varieties.”

 

Leon is one who insists on three varieties.   “Locro has its origin in the cooking of three types of potatoes with different textures.” Like the other chefs, León uses the chola potato, but also includes the Gabriela and the Chaucha or Esperanza varieties.

 

The choice of the chola is interesting because, like the dairy products brought by the Spanish, this variety of potato was not used by the native ancestors who created the rich tradition of locro. The chola is genetically modified, reflecting the reality of the world we live in today.

 

“In time some strains have disappeared and new ones have emerged in the markets,” says Richardson. “So adaptations have been made to fit the offer.” Throughout Ecuadorian culinary history the locro adaptations have done nothing but expand an already flavorful dish.



RECETA:

 

Locro Quiteño

(cheese locro)

Recipe by Chef Henry Richardson

Serves 12

Ingredients

6 lbs. potatoes (papa chola, chaucha), peeled and chopped into slices

6 cups Water

3 sticks, white onion, finely chopped

3 tbsp. annato oil (achiote)

1 cup fresh cheese, shredded

¾ cup milk cream

2 tbsp. salt

 

Accompaniments

3 avocados (1/4 per person)

6 tbsp. Aji (chili pepper) sauce

1 cup pork skin (chicharron)

2 lbs pork meat (carne de cerdo) for chicharron, in cubes

2 cups chocho beans

Salt

Toasted corn (tostado)

 

Preparation

Peel and dice potatoes into slices. En a medium size pan at medium heat fry lightly white onion in annatto oil for 4 minutes, stirring continuously to avoid burning. Add potatoes and continue frying for 3-4 minutes more. Add enough hot water until the potatoes are covered and submerged 2cm (one finger width) below water line and add salt (2 tbsp.).

 

Let boil and cover on low heat. Let cook until semidone (approx. 20 minutes). Add cheese and cream (the dairy products cut the cooking time for the potatoes). Stir, adjusting for taste. Let boil several minutes uncovered so the soup adds body. Serve hot accompanied with chochos, toasted corn, chicharron, fresh avocado, and aji sauce.

 

Note: The consistency is important. Be careful not to put too much water and add dairy products once the potatoes are soft


Ciudad Quito

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