After returning from my trip to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu I was determined to find an authentic recipe for the quinoa soup that I enjoyed so many times during my travels. It's one of those dishes that is both light and comforting all at the same time. Full of flavor and healthy, wholesome ingredients.
So where to find my authentic recipe? Enter my Ecuadorian friend from business school, Juan Delgado! Not only did he offer to share his family recipe for Quinoa soup but he was also critical in helping me develop my foodie itinerary for the Ecuadorian part of my trip before I left. Pretty good friend to have if you ask me...and as you'll see in his guest post below, he's pretty passionate about his food as well!
Remember how the Pixar film Ratatouille portrays how the dish instantly whisks the food critic back to his childhood? That's the kind of instant connection I have with this soup; it zips me back to Ecuador every time. I suppose that's the primal quality that makes me so passionate about food...the fact that it's intimately connected to places, relationships, faces, thoughts, and moments in time you shared with certain people. For specific types of food, if you pause to tune in it's almost like a time capsule loaded with bits of your life.
So here's how you make quinoa soup - piece of cake. This makes a large amount for roughly 8-10 people, so you may want to halve the quantities...keep in mind, this is the original recipe, but I sometimes toy with it and add more garlic, onion, and achiote. This is just the baseline. I know there's a way to use fresh peanuts, but even my grandmother long since switched to peanut butter for the convenience of it.
1 large white onion
1/2 Tbsp oil
1/2 tsp achiote paste (I think the English word is 'annato', but even in the US you can find it as 'achiote'. Powder works too, but I prefer paste. Achiote is a must for many South American dishes - locro, llapingachos, certain types of empanada, and many others.)
4 cloves of garlic
4 tbsp of salted peanut butter
10 small potatoes (You want small boiling potatoes with a waxy quality (e.g., Yukon Gold), as opposed to the starchier sort that are better for baking - and usually much larger anyway)
1 cup of quinoa...stick with garden-variety yellow quinoa; other types such as red, black, etc, have differences in texture & flavor that won't work as well
2 cups of milk
Salt to taste
Chop the onion finely into very small pieces. Warm the oil in a pan (or save a step and use the soup pot) and sauté the onion. When the onion is halfway done, crush the garlic and toss it in with the achiote paste. Stir the achiote in evenly and continue to sauté for a few minutes until the whole thing is translucent & cooked. Careful – the achiote & garlic is not thrown in at the beginning because it burns faster and may become bitter.
Combine your onion mixture with 11 cups of water and bring to a boil. Drop in the quinoa, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for an hour (give or take 10 minutes, so check a bit early). The quinoa is done when it opens into a ring shape and is no longer crunchy). Toss in a tbsp of salt when done.
While you wait for the quinoa to cook, peel the potatoes and cut them into small, irregular chunks. Blend the peanut butter with ½ cup of milk in a blender, then add the remaining 1½ cups of milk and blend again.
When the quinoa is ready, put the potatoes in and cook them for 10 minutes. Stir in your milk-peanut mixture. Keep cooking until the potatoes are done - you want them to be soft if you stick a fork in them, but nowhere close to a mushy gloop. Add more salt if needed and you’re finished.