Monday, July 16, 2007

Andean potato stew

Apart from packaged supermarket ‘Mexican’ meals and the odd dodgy backpacker’s tale of unwittingly consumed guinea pig, Latin American food is largely unexplored territory in Australia. When Susan posted a recipe for Locro de Papas in March of this year during a scorching Australian summer, a deep mid-winter potato stew was furthest from my mind. But lured by the thrill of a new spice (surely I’m not the only one who salivates over spice catalogues), the stew was duly noted and relegated to a more seasonally appropriate time.

With a deluge of rain and some seriously cold evenings, a bowl of this stew, heavy on the carbs yes, but light on effort, is deeply nourishing. The sort of meal that begs to be eaten unceremoniously on your lap, the hot bowl thawing fingers numbed by the cold.

Tiny, dull brick-red annatto seeds are the saffron of the Mayans. Their taste is subtle, warm and earthy but it’s the colour that is so revered and so very surprising. Mayan priests painted their robes and bodies with a bright orange paste made of annatto. The seeds were even used as a form of currency. Paired with potatoes, yet another New World gift to Old World cooking, this stew has it all. Warming, fragrant and reviving.

Locro de Papas – or Andean potato stew - serves 4
I have veered a little from Susan’s version in a few ways. I added another onion, some garlic and upped the quantity of cumin. Feta was what we had in the fridge, but if you can find Ricotta Salata (a hard ricotta cheese), by all means use that. Next time I’ll add a scattering of perfectly cooked bobbles of quinoa over at the end, another traditional and ceremonial food of the Mayans.

2 teaspoons of annatto seeds
2 tablespoons of olive oil
900g of waxy potatoes
2 onions, chopped
1 scant tablespoon of freshly ground cumin
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
Sea salt
1.25 litres of water
½ cup of full fat milk (soy works admirably well)
125g of goat’s feta, (or more to taste)
1 large avocado, firm but ripe
Parsley or coriander leaves, to serve

Tip the annatto seeds and oil into a pan (preferably an enamel one – you’ll want to see the colour that the seeds stain the oil). Gently bubble over a low heat, swirling the pan about from time to time, until the oil has become orange-red. This should take no longer than 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) chunks.

Strain the oil through a sieve into a heavy-based soup pot. Discard the seeds. Warm the coloured oil over a medium heat, add the onions, half of the potatoes and cook, stirring often, for 5-7 minutes until the onions are well softened. Add the cumin, the garlic and 1 teaspoon of sea salt and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the water, scraping the bottom of the pan as you go. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, mash the potatoes with a masher right in the pot (don’t bother going to too much effort here – there’s more cooking to do). Add the remaining potatoes to the pot. Return to the heat, bring back to the simmer and cook, partially covered with a lid, until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Season to taste, tip in the milk and crumble the feta over the pot. Cook until warmed through (2-3 minutes).

Peel and dice the avocado flesh. Serve the hot stew in deep bowls, add a little diced avocado and sprinkle over the herbs.

Just realized that this is my 100th post.

And that's something worth celebrating.


Cindy said...

This is a completely unheard-of spice for me! I already love the colour and shape, as well as the possibility in this introductory recipe.

Lucy said...

It was for me too Cindy - but it will be back in this kitchen. I'm already planning a recipe using the spice paste known as Recado Colorado that is rich with onion, roasted garlic, the annatto, cinnamon and cloves. Traditionally it's used with meat, but I'm thinking it would lend itself beautifully to vegetables.

Anh said...

Lucy, this is so lovely! I love annatto seeds - we use it quite often in Vietnamese cooking.

The potato stew is goooood! I have wanted some vegetarian dishes with my rice, so this will be right for me!

Lucy said...

Anh, I'd love to know how you use them - the plant itself is so very beautiful.

Rosa said...

Congratulations on your 100th post, Lucy! I went back and looked at some of your early posts the other day and they were a great pleasure to read.

Lucy said...

Rosa, thank you. Am quite chuffed that I managed to get to 100! Will have a nice glass of something tonight to celebrate...

Johanna said...

congratulations on your 100th post - hopefully there will be many more - the annatto looks fascinating - yellow is so cheery and so warming too!

Wendy said...

A wonderful sounding dish. One that I'll definitely try out this winter.
Congratulations on your 100th post. It's always such a delight to read your so very lovely blog. :)

Figs Olives Wine said...

Lucy, congratulations on your 100th post and your beautiful blog! I have never wittingly had annatto, and, like you, I love trying new spices We'll be having this stew the first time I feel a nip in the air - though I'm not sure I want to wait that long!

Susan said...

Happy Milestone, Lucy! And thanks for featuring my post. It feels like light years ago, those early days of the struggling new blog. 100 tends to creep up on you, sooner than you know.

Lucy said...

Ta Johanna - I hope there's more in me too ;-) The annatto is such a beautiful, cheering colour.

Wendy, you are very kind! Thanks to you (and everyone else who takes the time to comment) for finding something worthwhile in these pages.

I'm a hopeless collector of spices Amanda - you should see my pantry...thank you.

100 certainly does creep up Susan! I remember reading your post and thinking, 'Now here's a woman who really knows how to write'. And you do! The Artist loved it so much that he's requested it again on his return from New Zealand. Very high praise!

shula said...


Cynthia said...

Congrats on your 100th post! I am a big fan of annatto. I usually make an entire bottle of the oil and use it not only to cook but also to garnish some dishes and make salad dressings.

Lucy said...

Ta Shula!

Cynthia, all recommendations for the annatto are welcome, so thanks. Sounds like a great idea.

Christina said...

Congratulations on hitting one hundred! And what a hundred they've been!

Shaun said...

Lucy - I have not read too many recipes that require annatto seeds and have wondered about the qualities they lend to a dish. I think your "Mayan saffon" description is inspiring. I think I'll be up for a bowl of this when I go back to New Zealand. And isn't it wonderful to be inspired by other bloggers? Happy 100th!!

Nora B. said...

Congratulations on your 100th post. I'm sorry that my comment is a bit late. I haven't been keeping up with my blog reading. It is cerainly something to celebrate.

I love your photos and your poetic reflections.

Jeena said...

What a lovely looking potato stew. I never heard of annatto before but it sure looks tasty. I would love to exchange links with you, your blog is lovely. I have already added your link to my blog. Can't wait for more recipes. :)