My first true international experience was in 1998 on a Study abroad trip to Ecuador. In May, my professor told me he had a vacancy on his July study abroad trip to Ecuador. He asked if I could come up with $500, a passport, and money to eat and shop on? I did not even hesitate, YES YES I will go! Now, I did not grow up with a lot of money or resources at my disposal. I worked two jobs while being in college. I immediately went back to my dorm gathered everything that would fetch a dime and took it to the one and only Shady Ray’s pawn shop. I pawned a vacuum cleaner, microwave, jewelry, and then made my way to the USPS to get my passport expedited. I have no regrets though I did have some tough conversations with my parents who were not pleased about my decision.
Fast forward to July 1998, I had all of my items packed and headed to the beautiful Andes Mountains. We arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, explored the city and walked the line at the equator. We then headed south to one of the most beautiful areas that I have ever been to in my travels, Pillaro (pronounced pee-ja-row). When I had dreamed up Ireland or any lush green places in my mind, South America was never on my list. However, this special place became so much more than just a dot on the map or a city to mark off my list. It became a part of me. Sounds weird right? Weird as I type it just now but that is what I remember. It transformed me by its beauty, its people and its bounty.
Not only was the geography breathtaking, but the people became family. Their home and hearth were welcoming to me, my family, and my students. I have traveled to Ecuador nearly 20 times in the last 21 years. It is a rich and beautiful country in more ways than one. What I take home with me each time are the memories. A few years ago, okay more like 12 years ago, I bought an Ecuadorian cookbook in hopes of recreating some of my all time favorites. I would refer to the locals and get their take on the recipes to tweak these delectable dishes. So over the years, I have honed in and learned how to make locra de papa. It is a potato soup like no other. Over an open wood fired flame, a Quitcha woman helps prepare the soup for our group. We work in the beautiful fields with their purple flowers and dig our potatoes. This lethargic process makes the soup so much richer.
So from Ecuador to Kentucky and from my kitchen to yours, Locra de papa. The potatoes are the key to this recipe. I use small Yukon gold potatoes which are rich in flavor.
Locra de papa; Pillaro, Ecuador
Locra de papa
8 medium Yukon Yellow Gold potatoes sliced thinly
2 medium Yukon Yellow Gold potatoes cubed
1 tbsp of oil
1 medium onion diced
2 cups of milk
Water to cover the potatoes
Salt and Pepper
Garnish – cheese (queso fresco); avocado; popcorn
Place oil in large stock pan, on medium heat, and add sliced potatoes and onion. Fry the potato/onion combo till the onion soften and begin to break apart. You may have to do this in batches if your pot is not large enough. Next, add water to cover the potatoes and throw in the cubed potatoes. This is where I will season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat for 15-20 minutes. The original fried potato should have dissolved but you may want to take a potato masher to puree any remaining chunks. Then gradually add the milk to the soup. Allow to cook on low for an additional few minutes. The soup should pour out of the ladle into your bowl. Next add the garnishes, queso fresco or your desired cheese, freshly sliced avocado are a must. Enjoy!