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Making Ethical Butter
I’ve labeled myself an ‘ethical vegetarian’ for nearly two decades. I stopped eating animals when I became horrified at the dichotomy of having glue traps under the house to catch wild rats and mice (and any poor, poor animal that happened upon it, such as lizards. Glue traps are horrendously cruel. I hadn’t put them there.) and a cage with an exercise wheel and specialty food for ‘pet’ mice in the bathroom. Justice is a man-made effort, and by not eating animals I was no longer approving of mass torture by buying into it. Although I no longer ate animals, I have still indulged in animal products, namely dairy products. Slowly it has sunk in how badly animals are treated for those, too. As someone who loves cooking, it has been difficult for me to wean away from dairy products. Butter is especially difficult. Unlike hens who have been bred to continuously lay without needing the services of a rooster, dairy cows must be lactating to produce milk. Cows are usually artificially inseminated, then after giving birth their calves are replaced by milking machines. The calves are most often slaughtered for veal. This process is repeated until the cow is used up from the constant pregnancies and lactating, and then she is slaughtered. This horrible practice is disguised by advertisements showing happy cows grazing in fields. That is a fantasy. ‘Grass fed’ and ‘pasture raised’ are sly terms that give you an image that is nowhere near to the truth. Please read Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma to understand where your food comes from and why.
To find an acceptable butter substitute has been an expensive and frustrating endeavor. For awhile I used a dairy substitute from Trader Joe’s, who I swear keeps tabs on what I buy the most and then discontinues it. All other butter substitutes either taste horrible, can only be used for spreading, or more commonly contain palm oil. The sudden fad for palm oil has created extreme clearance for the growing of palm in the areas which are habitat for the orangutan; indeed, if we don’t curtail our consumption of palm oil quickly the orangutan will go extinct within our lifetimes.
I finally found a recipe for a butter substitute that works pretty well for both spreading and baking. It is made mostly of refined coconut oil. At this point coconut oil is sustainably produced – please make sure that you support companies that do so. Refined organic coconut oil has no flavor or scent; unrefined has a mild coconut flavor and a toasted coconut scent. If you are using a batch of this butter for baking where coconut flavor is desired, then use the unrefined.
This recipe is by no means my own. I found it and a detailed description of the science behind it at VeganBaking.net . There are several options listed and a lot of cooking science behind the butter.
I used the basic recipe, Regular Vegan Butter, Coconut Oil Base. The recipe calls for curdling the soy milk, which will drive the butter flavor. I tried the full teaspoon of cider vinegar, then half cider vinegar and half coconut vinegar, then just half a teaspoon of coconut vinegar, and finally no vinegar, and thus no curdling, at all. I found for my taste that the vinegar flavor carried through and was much too dominant. Even at just half a teaspoon it was so noticeable to me that I didn’t like it on toast. It was good, however, when my daughter used it on sourdough and topped it with fresh avocado. The slight vinegar flavor enhanced the avocado deliciously.
The batch I made without vinegar seemed perfect. The mouth-feel of this butter with or without the vinegar is creamy and all that a high-fat butter should be. It looks, cuts and spreads like butter. The flavor is creamy and very mild, almost like a slightly salted sweet butter. This was a winner for me. For the soy milk I used Trader Joe’s Organic Plain, which does have some sweetener in it. I’ll try with an unsweetened plain organic soy milk another time.
I keep my butter on the counter. I know that organic butter holds its shape better in the heat than processed butter, but both stay stable unless the temperature is in the 80’s. Coconut oil melts at 76F, and in my summertime Southern Californian kitchen, this vegan butter must be kept in the refrigerator. The butter is hard when needed, so the next batch I will take the author’s advice and swap out a tablespoon of coconut oil with regular oil to make it more spreadable.
I wanted to test the butter in cooking and baking. I melted it in a pan and cooked eggs and other breakfast items in it successfully. I used it on toast and on mashed potatoes with great success. The experiment with shortbread cookies went wrong, however, but I don’t think that that was the butter’s fault. These were lemon rosemary shortbread cookies, and contrary to my baking sense I followed the author’s (another blog) directions and didn’t sift the powdered sugar before adding it. There were lumps, therefore, in the batter and I mixed it extra to try and beat them out, which I believe was responsible for making the cookies tough. They were flavorful, but not crumbly. Oh well, I’ll just have to try again! The cookies rolled out, cut, and baked well, retaining their shape and performing as well as with cow’s butter.
As with all substitutions, there is always a difference and vegetarians and vegans have to embrace it. Of course fake bacon and ground ‘meat’ is not quite the same: the great part is that it is far more healthy for your body (lower fat, few preservatives if any, often organic, and not the pesticide-drenched and drugged animals that people eat) and doesn’t perpetuate the extreme cruelty to animals about which humans have become nonchalant. Yes, other animals aren’t kind when feeding off of other animals (those which aren’t vegetarians). Yet we as humans have the option the others don’t, to make eating choices.
Here is the basic revised recipe; please see the original blogpost on VeganBaking.net and give the options a try. I found xanthan gum from Bob’s Red Mill at my local grocery store, and liquid lecithin and coconut vinegar online through Amazon.com.
You can double or triple the recipe with no problem! Enjoy.
Recipe update: I’ve since made some changes to the recipe, exchanging some vegetable oil for some coconut oil for more spreadability, and adding a little more salt for a more satisfying (to me) taste when spread on toast. I’ve been using this butter for a month now, and have noted that: when melting in a hot pan it will brown faster than regular butter, so keep the temperature down, that it will melt and separate at room temperature (its summer now, so the kitchen is usually in the 70’s – in the winter it will be different) so I keep it in the refrigerator. I found butter stick molds that have the teaspoon markings along the side, so I’ve made 8x the original recipe and poured it into the butter molds, then wrapped each unmolded stick in wax paper and frozen them.
I’ve also poured it back into the cleaned coconut oil jars and frozen them, keeping one in the refrigerator for unmeasured use. I’ve used it along with a non-dairy creamer in the Chocolate Ganache recipe and it is very chocolaty, but not as rich as the original. Part of that is due to the creamer; heavier creamer will produce creamier results, but in no way was it disappointing. It was very tasty, but not as heavy. When refrigerated it didn’t solidify as much as the other, so more chocolate might need to be added depending upon the type of creamer used but it was still spreadable and yummy.
Another Recipe Update:
I’ve been making the butter with unsweetened organic rice milk and it turns out well. At first it tasted too light to be satisfying, but when I had dairy butter at a restaurant it tasted greasy and heavy – my taste buds wanted the vegan butter! I found out that even when the kitchen is colder than the melting point of the coconut oil, it isn’t a good idea to leave the butter refrigerated because unlike dairy butter it will grow mold. The rice milk butter with the increased vegetable oil makes it perfectly usable from the refrigerator. I make sticks and freeze them in a freezer bag for baking and pour the rest into glass jars with screw-on caps for spreading. The jars are kept in the freezer until needed, then switched to the refrigerator. I’ve made biscuits, cookies, cakes, scones and breads with this butter, and with proper handling they all come out just fine. We offered both dairy and vegan butter to our holiday guests and they didn’t detect much of a difference. Since vegan butter is so much lower in calories, and coconut oil is so good for you, I don’t have to hesitate to use it. It is actually part of my weight maintenance program!
Ethical ButterAuthor: Mattie, at VeganBaking.netRecipe type: CondimentCuisine: VeganPrep time:Cook time:Total time:A wonderful vegan butter with no palm oil, but lots of options. My version is without curdling the soy milk. Please see the original excellent post for more explanations and options.Ingredients
- ¼ cup + 2 teaspoons organic plain soy milk
- ¼ + ⅛ teaspoon salt (I increased the total salt to ½ t. for spreading butter)
- ½ cup + 2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (130 grams) refined coconut oil, melted to room temp. (For more spreadability, I used ½ cup coconut oil and changed the 2T and 1 t to vegetable oil, along with the following 1 T for a total of 2 Tablespoons and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil.)
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil or light olive oil
- 1 teaspoon liquid soy lecithin or liquid sunflower lecithin or 2 ¼ teaspoons soy lecithin granules
- ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum or ½ + ⅛ teaspoon psyllium husk powder (I used xanthan gum)
- Combine soy milk and salt in a food processor or blender.
- Melt the coconut oil until it is just room temperature and barely melted.
- Add the coconut oil and the rest of the ingredients to the soy milk.
- Blend or process for about 2 minutes on low.
- Pour into ice cube trays, or into butter molds or trays.
- Freeze until firm, about an hour.
- Keep wrapped in refrigerator for a month, or frozen for a year.
- Makes one cup.
Thai Coconut Soup with Tofu and Mushrooms
This is a soup recipe that has been requested by friends, and is so good that I crave it. So I share it with you. Wonderful even during the summer, it also is fantastic comfort food when sick or on a cold day. You can tweak this dish with lite coconut milk, lime zest instead of lemongrass, or if you have access to Thai ingredients use kaffir lime and Thai basil.
I’ve had it without tofu, and without mushrooms, and it is still wonderful. Put the lime in the coconut, and drink it all up! Don’t put too many extra veggies in it; it is a simple soup.
Thai Coconut Soup with Tofu and MushroomsAuthor: Diane C. KennedyRecipe type: SoupCuisine: ThaiPrep time:Cook time:Total time:Serves: 4A simple, delicious vegetarian Tom Kha soup. The lemongrass isn't meant to be eaten because its too tough. The kaffir lime leaf may be eaten only if you use a young one and slice very thinly before adding it.Ingredients
- 1 can (1 ½ cups) unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
- 1 fresh lemongrass stalk, peeled and halved (or 2 tsp. dried, or 1 tsp. lime zest)
- 1 bruised fresh or dried kaffir lime leaf, (if young can be sliced very thinly(or ½ tsp. lime juice)
- Two - three Thai basil leaves (optional)
- 3 cups mild vegetable stock
- ½ to 2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste, or Thai coconut curry paste, or curry powder (depending on hotness desired)
- 1 package (12 – 14 oz) extra firm tofu (not silken)drained and cut into small cubes
- 15 oz canned straw mushrooms, drained and rinsed, or half-cup sliced button mushrooms
- 2 tsp. sugar or other tasteless sweetener
- 2 Tablespoons light soy sauce (I use Bragg’s Amino Acids instead)
- Salt to taste (opt.)
- Fresh lime juice to taste (opt.)
- Combine lemongrass, ginger, kaffir leaf, Thai basil leaves, and coconut milk with broth in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes.
- Add the curry paste a half-teaspoon at a time, stirring well and tasting for desired hotness.
- Stir in the tofu, mushrooms, sugar, and soy sauce.
- Simmer for about 10 minutes more.
- Taste before adding additional optional salt.
- Serve as is or over hot rice.
- Offer fresh lime to squeeze on top as desired (it makes the flavors pop).
I thought I had posted this wonderful soup but apparently I hadn’t. Celery is a remarkable food for helping combat mental aging, among other attributes. This year we grew our own celery which is strong, fiberous and slightly bitter. We use it diced in stir-fry and many dishes including Celery Soup. This soup can be served hot or chilled, and you can either use cream at the end to finish it or just rely on the included potato for the thickener. Add a little cayenne to spice it up and increase its medicinal value. This is a blended soup that doesn’t freeze well (the flavor changes), so eat it all up! This is a lovely light green soup… great for Halloween! For another green soup, try my Zucchini and Rosemary Soup, too.
Celery SoupAuthor: Diane C. KennedyRecipe type: Main DishCuisine: AmericanPrep time:Cook time:Total time:Serves: 6 - 8This easy, delicious low-fat soup can be served hot or chilled, or dressed up with cream.Ingredients
- ½ cup butter or butter substitute
- 10 ribs of celery (3½ cups) coarsely chopped (no leaves)
- ⅓ cup coarsely chopped shallots, or sliced leeks
- 1 small baking potato (russet-type) (6 oz), peeled and cubed
- Pinch celery seed, ground (if using organic, stronger-flavored celery you may omit)
- ⅛th teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ cup heavy cream, or to taste (optional)
- Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
- Add celery, shallots or leeks, potato, celery seed and cayenne (if using), and a pinch of salt.
- Partially cover and cook, stirring occasionall,y until vegetables are soft but not browned, about 15 minutes.
- Add stock and bring to a simmer.
- Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 30 minutes.
- Stir in nutmeg.
- Allow to cool enough to be comfortable for you to puree in blender or food processor, in batches until completely smooth.
- If necessary pour through a fine sieve into a large bowl, pressing with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. If you have a Vitamix, just blend it on high and don't sieve.
- Return soup to pot, reheat slowly and adjust seasonings. (If serving cold, just adjust seasonings and chill.)
- Stir in cream (if using) and serve, garnished with celery leaves or croutons.
Creamy Cauliflower Caraway Soup
The other night I had the February blahs. I was hungry, felt as if I was fighting a cold, worn out from laboring in the garden, and wanted comfort food. I had very little in the vegetable tray, but what I had was perfect for this soup. I made it that night, and I refined it tonight.
This is a healthy, low-calorie, vegan soup that is pureed smooth and silky. Two factors make this soup special. First, you almost char the cauliflower and caraway in a very hot pan until it is dark brown. I’ll call it deeply browning, because I don’t want that burnt flavor of charring. I was once served a tomato soup at the Four Season’s Resort which obviously used charred tomatoes, and it tasted so burned that I couldn’t eat it. In fact, it nauseated me, like when you really burn something on the stove and that smell is all over the house. I don’t think that that was the response they were looking for! Deeply browning the cauliflower brings out a wonderful rounded flavor (you can deeply brown the cauliflower, add a little broth and steam for a few minutes, and serve it this way as a side dish… delicious!). The caraway releases its flavor in the heat, and then becomes a very subtle note in the soup so that you really can’t distinguish it. If you would like a heavier caraway flavor, just increase the amount of seeds.
The soup is pureed and is naturally creamy with the addition of the potatoes. While the frying pan is cooling you use it to toast the salt and cayenne, again releasing and deepening the flavors. Use this as a topping, which is then stirred into the soup by the guest. This soup doesn’t take long to make and is perfect for a cool winter’s evening, and doesn’t make the house smell like cauliflower, either.
Creamy Cauliflower Caraway SoupAuthor: Diane C. KennedyRecipe type: EntreePrep time:Cook time:Total time:Serves: 4A creamy, low-fat vegan vegetable soup that is fast, easy and very satisfying.Ingredients
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 medium head cauliflower, chopped (about 4 cups)
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1 stalk celery, chopped (about ¼ cup)
- 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
- ½ cup dry white wine (not sweet!)
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt
- ⅛th teaspoon cayenne pepper
- In a heat-tolerant frying pan, add two tablespoons olive oil and heat on high until almost smoking.
- Add cauliflower bits (watch for splashing!), caraway seeds and stir.
- Allow cauliflower to cook between stirring so that it develops dark brown marks on it. It should smell savory but not burned.
- Meanwhile, heat other two tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan.
- Stir in shallots, celery, potato and wine.
- Cook until wine is reduced to very little.
- Add cauliflower and caraway to saucepan. Don't wash the frying pan yet.
- Add broth and one can of water to saucepan.
- Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 30 minutes.
- In the cooling frying pan, stir together the cayenne pepper and salt and let it darken without burning. Keep in reserve.
- When soup is done, blend it until it is smooth, and caraway is as fine as your blender or VitaMix can make it.
- Pour back into saucepan and check for seasoning.
- Ladle into bowls.
- With a spoon (not your fingers... cayenne gets everywhere!) sprinkle some of the cayenne and salt mixture onto the soup.
- Either swirl it decoratively, or have guests stir it in before eating.
Jook, Juk, Chinese rice soup, rice porridge, congee… these are many names for basically the same food, rice cooked with a lot of water. There are equally as many ways to fix this wonderful comfort food. Jook can be made with plain water and white or brown rice, then served with toppings such as cilantro, sesame oil, chopped peanuts, bits of cooked tofu, soy sauce, chopped hardboiled egg, preserved or cooked vegetables, chives… as little or as much as you’d like. Jook can be prepared with or without salt; I prepare mine without, then grind a little on the top when serving for that little burst of flavor. Jook can be served with cinnamon and sugar for dessert; this is especially nice for those who love rice pudding but don’t want to eat or can’t eat dairy. Commonly eaten as a savory breakfast dish, Jook is also a perfect food for when you are ill. Not only is it comforting and filling, but it is easy to eat for a sore throat, easy on a troubled stomach, nutritious, and if you are a victim of Montezuma’s Revenge (if you know what I mean), rice is very good for helping you to stop going. Ah-hem. Jook is a very good baby food for those little mouths that are just getting into semi-solids.
You can find hundreds of different versions of Jook on the Internet. Many make it with part broth, part water. Some throw in fresh ginger, some cook bones in it for added calcium. Cooking it plain allows you to top each bowl up the way you want, which is what I do. Leftover Jook can be mixed with water to loosen it up, or eaten in its more solid form. You can’t get a much easier comfort food to make that is so versatile. It is particularly good for celiacs (those who cannot eat gluten). With cooler weather upon us, make one dinner a Jook day!
JookAuthor: Diane C. KennedyRecipe type: MainPrep time:Cook time:Total time:Serves: 6-8Jook, rice porridge, rice soup or congee, is a wonderful versitile comfort food.Ingredients
- 1 cup washed white rice (short or long grained depending on your taste)
- 8 cups water (if you like it thick)
- 10 cups water (if you like it medium)
- 12 cups water (if you like it very thin and soupy)
- optional: 1-2 tsp. salt)
- optional: substitute broth for equal parts of the water)
- optional: add a thumb-sized knob of fresh ginger)
- Topping suggestions:
- sesame oil, peanuts, fresh cilantro, chopped hardboiled egg, cooked tofu, seaweed, soy sauce, freshly ground salt and pepper, butter, cooked vegetables, pickled vegetables... leftovers. Also make it sweet with sugar, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, dried fruit, chocolate chips!
- Put washed rice and the desired amount of water in a dutch oven
- Heat until boiling
- Turn down heat to a simmer and cook uncovered 2½ - 3 hours, depending on how thick or thin you want it.
- Serve hot in small soup bowls with choices of toppings.
Herb-Fresh Tomato Soup
This recipe I copied from a newspaper when I was a teenager, and embellished on over the years. The dollop of whipped cream on top always appealed to me. It makes a very satisfying tomato soup. It is a good way to use an abundance of tomatoes. The key to the great flavor is to use low-acid tomatoes, and fresh basil and thyme. Of course, you can substitute canned tomatoes and dried herbs as well; if you do that, you can just blend up the cooked soup at the end. I have a lot of yellow tomatoes, which are not high-acid. I had an idea of making a golden tomato soup, but the tomato paste in the recipe turned the soup red, of course. I entertained ideas about making a tomato paste from yellow tomatoes, but I’m not sure I’m that ambitious.
There are two ways of making this soup from fresh tomatoes, both of which incur a little extra effort. The first is to blanch then peel the tomatoes, and squeeze out the seeds. Then after the soup is cooked you can just puree the soup in a blender. This makes a little thicker soup. The other way is to quarter the whole tomatoes and cook, then at the end turn the soup through a food mill, and strain out the seeds. This soup is a little thinner. You don’t want to blend up the seeds and peel or the soup will be bitter. Both ways make a fresh, tasty soup that can be served hot or cold, and is great with cheesy croutons or sandwiches.
The dollop of whipped cream can become a drizzle, or be eliminated. If you’d rather have a cream of tomato soup, then add more milk or cream to the soup and gently heat (but not boil) and then serve.
Below is the recipe for the food mill method.
Herb-Fresh Tomato SoupAuthor: Diane C. KennedyRecipe type: SoupPrep time:Cook time:Total time:Serves: 6A garden-fresh tomato soup that sings of summer. This soup should accompany a sandwich, salad, or be the first course of a larger dinner.Ingredients
- 2 T butter
- 2 T olive oil
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 2 pounds fresh (low acid, if possible) tomatoes, quartered (about 5 cups)
- 1 6 oz can tomato paste
- 2 T snipped fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried crushed)
- 4 teaspoons snipped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried crushed)
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1 T cooking sherry, red wine or Tequila (optional)
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper
- Dollop of unsweetened whipped cream (if desired)
- In a large saucepan, combine butter and oil and heat until butter melts.
- Add onion; cook until tender but not brown.
- Stir in tomatoes, paste, basil, thyme, sugar and alcohol (if using).
- Mash tomatoes slightly.
- Add vegetable broth.
- When boiling, reduce heat, cover and simmer 40 minutes.
- Press through food mill.
- Return mixture to saucepan.
- Stir in salt and pepper (to taste).
- Reheat and serve with a dollop or drizzle of cream and a sprinkling of herbs on top.
Savory Carrot Soup
Carrots are a gardening miracle. From such a minuscule seed, out pops a root strong enough to plow through tough soil and soak up minerals.
The carrots shoot those minerals up to the ferny leaves, and when they die, leave the minerals to enhance the topsoil. Carrots fill the roll as one of nature’s miner plants. They are also terrific to eat and very good for you.
I’m sure you’ve heard about how high in beta-carotene carrots are, and how they help eyesight. If you haven’t there are hundreds of Internet references to look up. Carrots are a very versatile vegetable, tasty raw as well as cooked.
There are many carrot varieties. Nantes, Chantenay, Danvers… these are the common varieties you’ll see sold in most seed stores. However there are white carrots, purple carrots, deep red carrots, and carrots of many sizes and shapes. Some are woody, some very sweet, some tender and some strongly flavored.
If you grow your own organic carrots, feel around the roots to see if they are large enough to pull. Don’t leave them in the ground for too long or they’ll become less sweet and woody in texture. Also, if you use your own organically grown carrots, you don’t need to peel them. Just use a brush to scrub off the dirt.
Carrots are wonderful to eat when simply steamed until tender, then buttered or drizzled with olive oil and chopped herbs. Dill is particularly good, as are chives. I’ve found many carrot recipes, but most of them are sweet not savory. Honey-glazed carrots, carrot soup with curry and sweet coconut milk, brown sugar carrots… I don’t care for them. Carrots are naturally sweet, and to slop more sweet stuff on top is overdoing it. Sweetened carrots belong in carrot cake, and there is only one recipe for it that I find not cloying and heavy (I’ll share that recipe with you another time). I also like carrots in a savory soup.
Here is an unusual recipe that is tasty, easy, low in calories, and has protein from an unusual source: vegetarian sausage patties. Celery adds dimension to the flavor as does minced fresh rosemary.Savory Carrot SoupAuthor: Diane C. KennedyRecipe type: SoupPrep time:Cook time:Total time:Serves: 2This golden, low-fat soup brings out the savory goodness of carrots.Ingredients
- About two cups sliced carrots
- One shallot, diced
- One celery stalk, diced
- Two vegetarian sausage patties (such as Morningstar Farms)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
- One large potato, peeled and chopped
- Four cups vegetable broth
- Cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
1.2.4Serve this golden orange soup in bowls that compliment it’s color.
- In medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook for two minutes.
- Add celery and stir occasionally for about three minutes.
- Move the vegetables to one side and add two vegetarian sausage patties. Flip when cooked on one side.
- Add potato, carrots and rosemary.
- Stir, breaking up sausage patties with spatula.
- Add vegetable broth
- Bring to boil then lower temperature to a simmer and partially cover with the pot lid.
- Cook for about twenty minutes, until carrots are just tender.
- Cool, then blend soup until smooth.
- Return soup to pot and reheat.
- Serve hot, topped with cilantro leaves if used.
Locro de Papas (Ecuadorian Potato Soup)
A couple of years ago my daughter and I went on a birdwatching ecotour of the cloud forests in Ecuador, and then to the Galapagos islands.
The flights ended and began in Quito, the capital city, which holds about 75% of the entire population of Ecuador. Eating wasn’t as much a challenge as we had anticipated; often in lower economic areas there are better non-meat choices. We stayed at a hotel in Quito at the beginning, middle and end of our journey. Room service was the same price as eating in the restaurant, so we indulged in our room for most meals because we were exhausted. One of the three separate nights we stayed there we watched Lord of the Rings in Spanish. Neither of us really speaks Spanish, but I understand enough to get the gist of what is being said. On our last day the streets were blocked off because the president of Ecuador came to stay in the adjacent hotel and we saw his party board a plane as ours was taking off the next day.
The hotel menu offered interesting side dishes made with interesting ingredients such as yucca and plantain. Our absolute favorite, though, was Locro de Papas. Literally this translates as Potato Stew, but it wasn’t a stew. Locro de Papas is one of the most popular dishes in Ecuador and the Andes. It is wholesome peasant food that has as many variations as Americans have chili recipes. At home I managed to reproduce the version that we fell in love with as best as I could. A few ingredients make the soup special. One ingredient which you may not have on your pantry shelves, but is easily obtained in the Mexican food isle, is annatto, also called ground anchiote. It has a slight flavor and is used to color foods. It is not essential for the success of this soup, but it is a nice addition. They use an oil that is colored with the anchiote seeds, but using the ground spice with olive oil works just fine.
What is essential is ground cumin. Some people can’t stand the smell of cumin, which is slightly reminiscent of dirty socks. However the flavor carries this soup perfectly. Another addition is sliced avocado. Warm avocado is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Living in Fallbrook, the Avocado Capital of the United States, I have ready access to the many forms avocados can take. Avocado fudge, ice cream and fried avocado slices are all standards of the yearly Avocado Festival. Another addition to this soup which creates a wonderful texture as well as adding protein and calcium, is cubed non-melty cheese. If you are non-dairy, then substitute with cubed firm tofu (which can be added even with the cheese). The textures of the potatoes, cheese and avocado are heavenly.
One of the standards of an Ecuadorian lunch or dinner is an introductory soup, usually vegetarian. We ate some fantastic soups. Instead of bread on one occasion, we were given a bowl of popcorn to sprinkle on our soup. It was great! I’ve included it here.
Be sure to slice the potatoes no less than 1/4 inch thick; if any thinner they will fall apart when cooking.
The version in the hotel had lots of butter in it; I’ve replaced half of it with olive oil, but if you don’t do butter then use all olive oil. The butter’s fat content makes the soup satisfying to the palate.
This is a quick and easy soup. Don’t cheat yourself out of a great meal by not making Locro de Papas!
Locro de Papas (Ecuadorian Potato Soup)Author: Diane C. KennedyRecipe type: SoupPrep time:Cook time:Total time:Serves: 4This version of the favorite soup of South America is quick to make and very filling.Ingredients
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 shallot, diced
- 1 pound potatoes, peeled and sliced no less than ¼ inch thick
- ½ tablespoon ground cumin
- ½ tablespoon ground annatto
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 1 avocado
- 1 cup cubed non-melty mild cheese, such as Queso Fresco
- 1 block firm tofu, cubed (optional)
- Cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
- 1 cup freshly popped popcorn (optional)
- In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and butter over medium-high heat.
- Add diced shallots and cook until translucent, about three minutes.
- Cut potato slices in half and add to pot.
- Stir in cumin and annatto.
- Pour in vegetable broth.
- Bring soup to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about twenty minutes, until potatoes are just tender enough to part when pressed. Don't overcook!
- Ladle soup into wide shallow soup bowls.
- Add chunks of cheese and tofu (if using).
- Top with sliced avocado.
- Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve immediately.
- Provide bowls of popcorn alongside soup to add as topping (don't add it ahead of time, they become soggy instantly).