Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ecuadorian Dinner

We had dinner with our neighbors Edison & Alyse - and Edison (as I have mentioned already) is from Quito, Ecuador. He has made a number of dishes for us in the past and all have been really good.  Last night he made two more dishes that we haven't had:

Locro de Papas

Locro de papas is a classic Ecuadorian potato and cheese soup. Soups are very popular in Ecuador; they are one of the cheapest and best tasting dishes you can find. A typical Ecuadorian meal will consist of primero or the first course, seco or segundo or second course- usually meat, poultry or seafood with rice and dessert. Soups are usually served as a primero and most soups -as well as a lot of other dishes- are always served with avocado and aji or hot sauce.

Locro de papa is more common in the Andes highlands or Sierra region of Ecuador, and like many Ecuadorian dishes the ingredients and preparation will vary from one city to another, some variations of the locro de papa add fresh corn to the soup, others add chopped cabbage. I read also that some made locro de papas without cheese and used freshly ground peanuts instead, when people couldn’t afford to buy cheese they would use ground peanuts.

This locro de papa is a great soup for cold rainy or snowy weather; it can be served as a first course, but is satisfying and filling enough to make a complete meal. 

 Edison's Locro de Papa was a beautiful saffron-gold color (from the achiote) and he served his soup without the avocado because it wasn't ripe enough. He also didn't top it with feta cheese - which was fine with me. However, he did have the other traditional accompaniments like "chulpi" which are these really crunchy tiny corn nibs that you sprinkled on the soup and for Ed and I as well as himself, he added  pieces of the bagged pork rind snacks which turned from airy crispy into a soft soup soaked morsel. Yum!

(These are the toasted, crunchy 'chulpi' - yum!)

LOCRO de PAPA RECIPE (Locro de Papas Ecuatoriano)

10 medium sized potatoes, peeled and chopped into small and large pieces
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp achiote powder
7 cups of water
1 cup of milk or more
1 cup grated or crumbled cheese (mozzarella or monterey jack)
1 bunch of cilantro, leaves only, minced
Salt to taste
1 cup of feta cheese (optional)
Chopped scallions
Avocados, sliced or diced
Aji or hot sauce (see bottom of post)

   1. Prepare a refrito or base for the soup by heating the canola oil over medium heat in a large soup pot; add the diced onions, minced garlic cloves, cumin, and achiote powder. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes.

   2. Add the potatoes to the pot and mix until they are coated with the refrito. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring a every couple of minutes.

   3. Add the water and bring to boil, cook until the potatoes are very tender. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes in the pot, don’t mash all of them, the consistency of the soup should be creamy with small tender chunks of potatoes.

   4. Turn the heat down to low, stir in the milk and let cook for about 5 more minutes. You can add more milk if the soup is too thick.

   5. Add salt to taste

   6. Add the grated cheese and cilantro, mix well, and remove from the heat.

   7. Serve warm with the avocados, scallions, feta cheese and aji or hot sauce.

Seco de Pollo (Seco de Pollo Ecuatoriano or Ecuadorian chicken stew)

Alyse told us that the name "Seco de Pollo" is a bit odd because it translates to "Dried of Chicken" and 'seco' does mean "dry, dried, and parched" among other things in Spanish but Edison explained that 'seco' in this case was an exception and meant "segundo" or second because the dish was a main (or second) course and 'seco' had colloquially been used as long as he could remember to mean "second" dish.  There is also another famous dish called "Seco de Chivo" (goat stew served with a side of rice).

This chicken stew is another delicious recipe from Ecuador, and is also known as "seco de gallina criolla", if it is made with a young chicken it is called "seco de pollo" and if it is made with an older hen it is called "seco de gallina criolla". Traditionally it was a way to cook those older tougher hens and soften the meat but cooking it slowly in a sauce of onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, herbs and spices, the traditional preparation also uses "chicha" - a fermented corn drink – instead of beer, most people today prepare it with beer because it is much easier to find and tastes great. "Seco de pollo" is an easy recipe to make but it is time consuming mainly because the chicken has to cook for a long time, "Seco de pollo" is always served with arroz amarillo or yellow rice -just add some achiote to the rice preparation -and fried ripe plantains. Those are the two must have sides; Edison (and many others) also like to also serve it with avocado slices.



6 lbs of assorted chicken pieces

6 tbs canola oil

2 red onions, quartered

½ red onion, minced for refrito

10 whole garlic gloves plus 4 minced garlic cloves

2 tsp ground achiote or annatto

4 cups of beer

8 tomatoes, quartered

3 bell peppers, quartered

1 hot pepper (jalapeno or serrano)

1 bunch cilantro, reserve some to add at the end

1 bunch parsley, reserve some to add at the end

1 tsp oregano

2 tsp cumin

Salt and pepper to taste


Arroz amarillo or yellow rice

Fried ripe plantains

Avocado slices


   1. Blend the beer, quartered onions, whole garlic cloves, tomatoes, bell peppers, hot pepper, cilantro, parsley, oregano and cumin to obtain a smooth puree.

   2. In a large saucepan or soup pot heat the oil over medium heat to prepare a refrito or sofrito, add the minced red onion, minced garlic and achiote, cook for 2 minutes.

   3. Add the chicken and brown lightly on each side, add the blended puree mix, and cook on low heat until the chicken is very tender and the sauce has thickened, about 2 ½ hours.

   4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

   5. Add the remaining cilantro and parsley.

   6. Serve with arroz amarillo or yellow rice and fried ripe plantains. Can also be served with avocado slices.

AJI - (Aji Criollo or Aji Ecuatoriano)

I know some people who assume that food from Latin American countries is the same in each country and while there are a lot of similarities, the cuisine and ingredients are not only very different in each country but also regionally in each country. The reason I mention this is because the food that Edison has made for us (and my foray into some peruvian cooking recently) has been SO not anything like what I have had from Mexico, Spain, Cuba or Puerto Rico.  They all have great, distinct cuisines that are just delicious!
 Aji is made from a very specific pepper, the ají pepper, also known as Peruvian hot pepper, or Capsicum baccatum, containing several different varieties of pepper.  The most common are simply differentiated by color, like "yellow Peruvian hot pepper" or "ají amarillo". These peppers have a distinctive, fruity flavor, and are commonly ground into colorful powders for use in cooking, each identified by its color. 

 Aji Criollo is a fresh hot sauce or salsa that is very popular and a lot of typical dishes are served with it, it is pretty easy to make and should be consumed ideally the same day but can last up to 3 days. You should look for the "aji amarillo" but you can use serrano peppers to make this aji, they are usually spicy enough to make it pretty hot, you can also use jalapeños but I find that they are inconsistent and one might be spicy and another is not spicy at all so use at your own risk or be sure to taste to your level of heat before you use them in making Aji.
4 aji amarillo or hot peppers
½ bunch of cilantro (stems and leaves)
½ cup of water
3 garlic cloves
Juice from ½ lime or lemon
3 tbs finely chopped white onion (scallions or the whites of leeks can also be used)
Combine the hot peppers, cilantro, water, garlic cloves and lime juice in the blender and blend well.
Add the chopped white onions and salt to taste.
 It was a wonderful meal with some wonderful friends and the sangria went well with this amazing dinner!!

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