Locro de zapallo, one of the most Andean dishes I know
Plated locro de zapallo with rice
In my own journey of discovering or rediscovering indigenous Andean ingredients, sometimes I come across a dish that just couldn't be more Andean. Locro de zapallo, or pumpkin/squash stew, is one of those dishes. It not only uses pumpkin, but also potatoes, broad beans, aji amarillo (peruvian spicy yellow pepper), choclo (Peruvian corn), and huacatay (Peruvian Black Mint), all of which are indigenous to the Andes. With European contact came the introduction of milk and cheese and serving it with rice, but the foundation of this dish is deeply Andean. It is one that showcases vegetables, and at its essence is vegan. And that is the recipe I plan to share with you today. I will mention that I am not, in fact, vegan, but I really appreciate this dish because it is clean and allows you to taste the nuance of the type of pumpkin or squash you might use. Rarely do we think of squash being that main dish. I wanted her to shine today.
Man carrying huge pumpkins in Peruvian market, 2011
In Peru there are different types of pumpkins or squashes that could be used for this dish. The original Quechua word for this dish is ruqru or luqru, which became locro over time. This dish predates contact with the Spanish and the Incan Empire and was first mentioned in writing in the 16th century by Juan de Arona. While today meat, seafood, and dairy can all be added to express regional tastes and flavors, the squash itself can have deep flavors, as can the potatoes, beans and corn that is generally found in this dish. Since we do not have the same squash here in the Northeast U.S. I have substituted the pumpkin for butternut squash, which is referred to as calabaza in Spanish.
Sometimes the most simple foods are the ones that can awaken our palates and most definitely nourish our bodies. This dish, for me, not only celebrates Andean ingredients and showcases them without a bunch a frills but also, and maybe more importantly, reminds me to hold space for the beauty of those ingredients and allow them to sing their songs to us. So, amig@s, here is my simple vegan recipe for Locro de zapallo (or in this case calabaza/butternut squash!). Buen provecho!
Locro de zapallo (calabaza) - Serves 8-10
8 cups pumpkin, butternut or other winter squash, peeled and cut in cubes
2 cups yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
2 bags frozen choclo (corn) kernels, or whole choclo corn cobs cut in discs
1 medium red onion finely chopped
1 tablespoon ají amarillo (Peruvian yellow pepper) paste (more or less depending on how hot you like it!
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
1 ½ cup fresh broad, fava or lima beans
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon huacatay paste (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the garlic, ají amarillo paste and chopped onion into a pot and fry over medium heat for around 3 minutes.
Add the chopped pumpkin or butternut and potato cubes along with kernels of corn (if using). Add the water. Cook over medium heat for about 25-30 minutes.
If using corn on the cob, cook separately. Allow to cool and cut into discs.
Monitor the stew and if you feel it’s drying up too much, add a bit more water. (If using corn on the cob, you would add this here.)
Either pre-cook beans in salted water or add directly to pot. Add the broad or lima beans and cook for another 5 minutes. Add corn to heat up. If using milk and cheese, add it now*.
Turn off the heat and add huacatay (optional).
*I did not add any dairy to my preparation, but if you would like to make this more creamy you would add the milk and/or cubes of queso fresco (farmer's cheese) at the end.
NOTE: When stirring, fold carefully so to allow some of the cubes of squash and potato to stay intact. It is meant to be a stew, not a soup, so should appear thick.
AND ANOTHER ONE: This can be served with any grain of choice, like rice as is shown in the photo, or can be eating all by itself.