January 14, 2009

Quinoa soup (revisited)

We were sitting around trying to think of something to cook for dinner the other night. It was almost six o'clock and we were hungry but clueless. I was thinking soup would be good, and I was trying to imagine what it should taste like when quinoa soup popped into my head. Quinoa soup was the subject of one of my first posts (probably read only by my immediate family!), and it's still one of my favorite soups, but for some reason I always forget about it. It's fast, easy and delicious — in other words — perfect. This seems like a good time to mention it again, along with some of the memories it invokes.

Two of our sons each spent a year living in Ecuador (different years but they lived with the same family) while they were in college, and quinoa soup is a traditional Ecuadorian dish. My oldest son learned to make it from his wonderful Ecuadorian mom, and he passed along the recipe to me. We visited Ecuador twice, and enjoyed this soup at the home of our son's host family and also in the Amazon rain forest. The family served it with rounds of corn on the cob, slices of avocado, chunks of plantain and lots of ahi, a hot sauce they made at home. We use potatoes instead of the floury plantains, and frozen corn when fresh isn't in season. Sometimes we use the traditional cabbage, and sometimes cauliflower, and we add whatever hot sauce we have on hand. Sometimes we add pan-fried tempeh, sometimes tofu, and sometimes edamame. The version above also had mushrooms. (In Ecuador we ate the corn, by the way, with our fingers, and placed the cobs on a plate provided for that purpose.)

Now, about that rain forest. When we visited our middle son, we spent some time in Quito, and then took a trip to an eco-tourism lodge in the Amazon. The night before the trip, we ate in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Quito that Aaron swore was okay. We'd so far been very careful about food so as not to get sick... Well, I was up all night unloading, if you know what I mean. By morning I was in a very fragile state, and begged my husband to go on the trip without me. I really couldn't picture myself away from a nice bathroom for more than a few minutes at a time. He refused to leave me and I didn't want to ruin the trip, so I reluctantly packed my bag. My waiting room at the Quito airport was the bathroom, and I didn't come out until it was time to board. When I saw the tiny little plane I was horrified, but when I saw the flight attendants handing out snack bags to the boarding passengers, I was even more distressed. I knew I'd be unable to accept the bag, or even politely refuse it, without barfing, so I asked my husband to please take my bag while I stared rudely at the ground, and imagined myself someplace else.

I survived the flight by keeping my eyes shut and sleeping as much as possible — not hard since I'd been up all night. The kids were begging me to look at the Andes, but really, I couldn't. I felt bad about that, but at least I didn't throw up. We flew into the oil town of Coca. Let's just say this was not a destination town, rather, it was a starting point for many trips into the Amazon. When we were there, a taxi ride was "stand-up and hold on" in the back of a pick-up truck. The bathroom at the airport was so awful, that I could only use it because I was desperate, and I had to clean it first, which was hard without running water. The toilet seat was covered with human excrement. No joke. All I had were a few tissues.

At Coca we boarded a motorized canoe for a three-hour trip down the Rio Napo to the lodge. It was an amazing ride down an Amazonian river, and that thought distracted me just enough to survive the trip, climb up the steep river bank, hike to the lodge, and find a bathroom. When I didn't show up for dinner that night, a medical assistant was sent to our room, and a herbal tea was proffered. By this time, our youngest son was queasy and chucking, so he was given the tea, too. I've never tasted anything so vile in all my life, but after a quick consultation with each other, we both drank it. By morning we were feeling weak, but better, and we entered into a full day of hiking in the rain forest, and other activities. This was an unforgettable trip to an amazing place. The lodge staff was working hard to provide medical care, education and jobs in an area previously without access to those things, while preserving primary rainforest and investing in re-establishing rainforest that had been destroyed. We visited the clinic, the canoe ambulances and the chocolate factory! Our guide was from a remote village in the jungle and he had an intimate knowledge of the rainforest flora and fauna. Hiking with him was a revelation. I'll never forget him cutting a thick stem of cat's claw and letting us drink the liquid inside. He pointed out plants and animals (and big hairy tarantulas) that we never would have seen without his help.

I could ramble on for hours about our experiences in Ecuador. When we eat quinoa soup, it's more than just a meal. It reminds us of another part of the world that we've been fortunate enough to have visited and people we were lucky to have met.


  1. Wow, what a story! I wonder whether poisoning yourself in Ecuador helped you survive eating in Mexico (just looking for a silver lining here). And I'm glad to hear that Quinoa Soup is really an authentic dish, and not just something the quinoa distributors made up... I will make this for Eli, as quinoa is on the list of gluten-free foods!

  2. Ha. I got this recipe about 10 years ago and Quinoa soup really is a traditional recipe, although probably not when it has tempeh or tofu in it! I hope you like it.

  3. What an amazing story! And how fabulous that you got to visit the rain forest with your family and such a wonderful guide. No wonder you love quinoa soup, which looks wonderful!

  4. You should hear the story about what happened when we tried to leave the rainforest to return to Quito! We've had some interesting adventures.

    And I do love this soup.

  5. April Segura10/4/10, 9:00 PM

    Love that I stumbled upon this!! I lived in Ecuador for 2 different years, my first being with Rotary Youth Exchange and one of our trips was to a very near spot in the Coca Rain Forrest. What was the name of your lodge you stayed at/? I *think* ours was Yachanga.... it was amazing. I just know now how I am so into herbs I would appreciate it even more. Thanks for posting!

  6. April,
    The Rain Forest lodge where we stayed was called Yachana Lodge. http://www.yachana.com/
    It sounds like it could be the same one where you stayed. It was a wonderful experience!


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