By Cecilia Bogaard

I’ve been living in Ecuador now for four years and I’m still confounded by the selection of potatoes I find when I visit the market. I keep hearing that there are about 350 varieties of potato available throughout the country, so you can understand my confusion. I’ve also tasted a selection of different chili pepper sauces in different homes and restaurants, and have been dying to learn how to make them. To cure my curiosity, TerraDiversa put together an introductory Potato and Chili Pepper Tour in Cuenca, and I set out with a group to test the results.

 

First we set off to the market for a guided tour of 10th Agosto Market where we learned about some of the main ingredients used in traditional cooking here in southern Ecuador. We learned about the melloco (an Andean root crop that resembles a small potato but isn’t actually of the same family), babaco (a type of high altitude papaya), tomate de árbol (a tamarillo or tree tomato native to the Andes used in many chili pepper sauces, for juice and as a dessert) and more.

When we reached the potato area on the ground floor of the market we learned that these days two types of potatoes have taken over the market: the super chola and papa chaucha. This has affected production of traditionally popular potato varieties, some of which are now in danger of disappearing from the market. In Cuenca it is becoming more difficult to find a supply in the vast range of possible potatoes as the stalls are tending to stock these varieties more and more. Super chola potatoes are used primarily by removing the skin for soups, mashing and frying. Chaucha potatoes have a less thick skin which is used in cooking. Due to its more sandy texture it is great for making potato bread.

 

The chili peppers, known locally as ají, were a little more difficult to visualize as there are less varieties available in the market. The most popular and widely available type of chili pepper is known locally as mishqui or ají dulce. It’s a long and thin red chili pepper. The rocoto rojo is a round chili pepper which is more spicy. There is a long list of chili peppers grown in Ecuador, but they are a little more difficult to come by in Cuenca.

 

After exploring the market we headed to the delicious kitchens of Catalina Abad and her partner Tatiana in the historic center. Here we began cooking furiously as we had a long list of recipes to get through:

· Locro de papas (Thick potato soup served with cheese and avocado)
· Tamal de papa (Potato dough filled with meats or vegetables and steamed in a leaf wrap)
· Llapingachos (Potato cakes filled with cheese)
· Pan de papa (Potato bread)
· Three different types of ají, a sauce made with fresh chili peppers combined with either pepa de sambo (squash seeds), tomate de árbol (tree tomato) and maracuya (passion fruit).

 

 

Within about three hours, to a backdrop of Ecuadorian music sung by Mariela Condo, we learned how to cook this impressive range of potato dishes and their accompanying chili pepper sauces, while the cooking class was dotted with interesting facts on the way.

Did you know that many traditional recipes have the same base ingredients, namely coriander, salt, garlic, onion and achote oil? Did you know that adding onion stalks to the water you use to boil potatoes adds flavor? I learned that you shouldn’t cook tomate de arbol any more once the skin has popped open, or the taste will go bitter, and you can add a whole chili pepper to a soup for added flavor without invading it with too much spice as long as the seeds are not exposed and the pepper isn’t pierced in any way. I also discovered that tamales are the ideal takeaway food as they can be easily transported in the leaves used for cooking them.

 

My top recipes and combination of dishes was the locro de papas and the maracuya ají:

Recipe: Locro de papas

· 1000g Potatoes (Papa Chola)
· Achote oil
· 50g Spring onions (or half spring onion and half white onion)
· 20g Chili pepper (ají)
· 30g Coriander
· 2l Water
· 500ml Milk
· 100g Cheese
· 260g Avocado

· Peel potatoes and leave in water
· Cut half the potatoes into mouth-sized cubes
· Finely slice the other half
· Finely chop the onion and spring onion
· Put the achote oil, onions and finely sliced potatoes into a pan and sauté
· Add a glass (300ml) water and cook for 5 minutes.
· Add the remaining 1700ml of water
· Put coriander stalks and a whole ají (not cut) into the water
· Cook for 15 minutes
· Add the mouth-sized cubes of potato
· Add salt to taste
· Add the milk, more salt and cook for another 10 minutes
· Remove the ají and coriander stalks
· Serve hot in a bowl with slices of avocado and cheese, and your choice of chili pepper sauce on the side

 

Recipe: Ají de Maracuyá (Passion fruit chili sauce)

· 20g Chili pepper (ají)
· 50g Tree tomato (tomate de árbol)
· 200g Passion fruit (maracuyá)
· 100g (Sugar for passion fruit mix)
· 25g Sugar
· Coriander
· Half spoon mustard
· 5g Salt

To make the passion fruit mixture:
· Add half the amount of sugar to the amount of passion fruit
· Add some water
· Boil until you can see bottom when you scrape the pot

To make the chili sauce:
· Put two tree tomatoes and four ají’s in water and cook until the tree tomatoes peel splits open
· Finely chop coriander
· Add half cup of water, tree tomato, chili peppers, mix with salt, mustard, sugar
· Sieve it
· Add the passion fruit mixture
· Stir and serve in a bowl

 

This was a great introduction to the vast world of potatoes and chili peppers in Ecuador. Read more about the Cooking with Chili Peppers and Potatoes Tour if you’d like to take part. For those wanting to know more, we’re going to be doing a more in-depth workshop to learn about more varieties and recipes. Contact TerraDiversa today if you’d like to take part.
 

Food & Cooking Experiences in Ecuador

If you love food and cooking as much as we do, check out our Cuenca Food & Cooking tours:

  • Group cooking tours, private cooking tours and cooking tours based around different ingredients or recipes
  • We can provide a made-to-measure experience to suit your personal taste or dietary requirements
  • We also offer a Cuenca Food and Cooking Tour as an introduction to traditional cooking in Cuenca
 

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(+593 7) 282 3782

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About Cecilia Bogaard

Cecilia started working with TerraDiversa in 2013 after a decade based in southern Spain as marketing and communications director for several companies and foundations. As a graduate in Social Anthropology and with a second degree in Photography, she is exploring Ecuador with her family from her base camp in Cuenca. You can find her at Tertulia Communication.