Our recipe of the month is for satisfying Locro de Papas potato soup (more properly a stew), considered to be the national dish of Ecuador. With easy-to-find ingredients and just as easy preparation, Locro de Papas is sure to delight either as a side dish or a full meal.

Locro de Papas is a culinary embodiment of Ecuador's rich cultural heritage, a hearty potato stew that tells a story of a blending of culinary traditions across centuries. This traditional dish, originating from the Andean highlands, blends local indigenous ingredients and introduced ingredients from the colonizing country of Spain. The roots of Locro de Papas stretch back to the pre-Columbian era, a time when the indigenous peoples of the Andes in harsh environmental conditions cultivated potatoes, maize, and quinoa. Dairy products such as milk and cheese were not part of the Andean diet before Spanish and Portuguese conquerors and settlers arrived in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. So Locro de Papas combines indigenous ingredients such as potatoes, avocadoes, achiote and corn (aka maize) with introduced ingredients from Iberia such as milk, cream and cumin spice.

Locro, from the Quechua word "ruqru" or "luqru," originally referred to a variety of stews made from a mix of corn, beans, and potatoes. The Spanish word for potato (papa) was originally from the Quechua language of the Andes, where potatoes and this dish also originate. The addition of milk or cheese transformed these stews into richer, more substantial meals. For an added bite, the dish is often served with a side of Aji hot sauce. The sauce is typically made with a small green or yellow chili pepper known as Aji Criollo. These peppers are slightly spicy and a bit herbaceous making them an excellent accompaniment for Locro de Papas. If you can't find aji hot sauce (also known as aji picante), substitute a different medium hot sauce of your choice, but Locro de Papas is delicious even without the extra kick.

Achiote, the spice that gives this dish its reddish/orange color looks like paprika or ground cayenne pepper but it is actually the ground seeds of the Achiote tree (Bixa Orellana). In addition to its lively color, Achiote adds a subtle peppery, earthy, slightly nutty flavor to whatever it is added to. Achiote also has a long history of being used as a colorant for body paint by some Andean indigenous groups. It had an even wider use as a fabric pigment.

As mentioned previously, Locro de Papas, is considered by many to be the national dish of Ecuador. However, its esteemed status is primarily ubiquitous enjoyment, rather than its association with any specific holiday or ritual. While Locro de Papas may not be the centerpiece of rituals and celebrations, it invariably constitutes an essential element of such shared communal occasions.

Cooks notes:

•  Like many soups and stews, this dish tastes even better the 2nd day!
•  We used frozen corn. You can, of course, use fresh corn sliced off a cob, but you should parboil the kernels before adding them to the Locro.
•  We used Queso de Fresco cheese, which is readily available, but some recipes say you can substitute mozzarella.


  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil or other neutral oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground achiote
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1/2 pound of frozen corn kernels
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup or more of finely cubed Queso de Fresco cheese
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 thinly sliced green portion of 1 or 2 scallions
  • Aji hot sauce (or substitute your favorite hot sauce)


  1. Peel and then cut the potatoes into 1 to 2 inch cubes.
  2. Add oil to a large pot and heat on medium.
  3. Add onions to the pot and sauté until they begin to turn soft.
  4. Add garlic and sauté for 1 more minute.
  5. Stir in cumin and achiote and cook for 30 seconds more.
  6. Add the diced potatoes and mix until they are uniformly coated with the onion and spices.
  7. Add the chicken broth and bring the pot to a boil.
  8. Turn the heat down to a simmer.
  9. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  10. With a slotted spoon remove 1 1/2 to two cups of potatoes and mash them in a bowl or pot.
  11. Add the mashed potatoes to the soup.
  12. Blend in the milk, cream and cheese.
  13. Stir and simmer for 2 minutes.
  14. Serve in bowls garnished with sliced or cubed avocado, chopped cilantro leaves, and thinly sliced scallion ends.
  15. Serve with hot sauce of your choosing.

Recipe by T. Johnston-O'Neill
Photos by Shari K. Johnston-O'Neill