Sopita de Zanahoria y Güicoy con Loroco (Carrot and Squash Soup with Loroco)

One Saturday, like many, we were driving from our apartment in Vista Hermosa to the in-laws’ place in Mixco. Depending on the day of week, month, the weather, recent accidents, and a number of other factors, this 7 kilometer journey can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half. Saturdays in the mid morning don’t tend to be too bad, but this particular day was miserable. And with the 80º F, 90% humidity, and our air-condition-less car, it was unbearable. In a city like Guatemala — which has somewhat recently faced clumsy and uncoordinated growth, the streets are arranged in a windy and illogical manner and overcrowded with beat-up and smoking vehicles that wouldn’t last a mile in California without being pulled over for a smog violation — you think twice before going out at rush hour and avoid rolling down your windows to get some air flow. But on this more-tropical-than-usual July day, with the traffic gridlocked and moving at tortoise speed, having the windows down was not an optional, it was necessary. But we suffered through the smell, and occationally rushed to roll up the windows when a cloud of black would billow from a red city bus.

Somewhere in Zone 1, about halfway to our destination, we were stopped at a busy intersection. The traffic light changed to red, and vendors — selling items as varying as polarized windows to fruits and veggies — sprang into the alleys between cars, holding their items in the air towards windows and shouting out their prices. A girl of about 14 years old came right up to my open window and stuck a pound bag of loroco in my lap and requested 10Q (about $1.50). Loroco, a flower found mainly in Guatemala and El Salvador, is only in season for about two months during the beginning of the rainy season in Guatemala (July and August). It is a culinary delicacy used in a variety of dished, but my favorite is Pollo en Crema con Loroco; a cream based chicken stew. Without much time to consider the purchas, Héc pulled out a 10Q bill from his wallet, and the exchange was complete. The light turned green and we were on our way.

Later in the evening when we got home, I put the bag in the fridge, where it stayed for a couple days. Every day that week, while scrummaging through the fridge for ideas on what to prepare for dinner, I would come across the bag sitting there lonely and, assuredly, getting more withered each moment. The flower is rather frail, which is the reason you don’t see it outside of Guatemala often unless pickled, which in my opinion completely ruins its delicate and unique essence. But the truth is I was intimidated. Pollo en Crema was the only dish that came to mind when thinking of loroco. And I wasn’t about to attempt to recreate the delicacy that Abuelita Zoila or Betty (la suegra) have been mastering for years. Too many expectations, I thought, and to be honest it is something so sacred and revered in the household that out of respect I didn’t want to go there. It would almost be like making pumpkin pie at any time other than Thanksgiving. It is a meal we eat once or twice a year, and prepared by Betty or Zoila. That is it. Perhaps some day Betty will take me into her kitchen and bestow upon me the rights to attempt the dish.

So what was I supposed to do with this flower? Because it isn’t readily available in the U.S. or Europe, you cannot find many recipes posted online. The recipes are posted in the minds of the Latina women from these two Central American countries. And from my memory, I’ve seen it only in queso fresco, a farmers cheese; in empanadas with from Yolanda’s, located at a populated comedor outside of Zacapa; and in pollo en crema. That is it. But by Wednesday I realized I should use them before they go to waste. So I poured the flowers into a collander where I washed them thoroughly, picked off the woody stems, and tasted a few here and there to get some ideas.

Finally I settled on this. I had been planning to make a carrot soup with star anise, because we bought a huge bag of star anise and had only used about one pod to make garam masala. But decided that I would substitute the loroco for the anise, and also include some leftover güicoy (a winter-type squash) I had sitting in the fridge.

It turned out lovely. I used lots of onion, a bay leaf, and a single garlic clove (which is very uncharacteristic for my cooking, as I have been known to eat entire roasted blubs straight up. I believe deeply in their health benefits). And at the end a splash of milk for added creaminess, which Héc, my lactose intolerant lover, said could be left out. Its a very simple recipe, but that simplicity really let the flavor of the loroco shine, which is exactly what I was going for.

Sopita de Zanahorria y Güicoy con Loroco

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
1 garlic clove
2 bay leaves
3 cups shredded carrots (about two large carrots)
2 cups cooked squash (probably about 1 acorn squash- and I supposed you could use uncooked)
2 cups water
2 cups stock (vegetable or chicken, whichever you prefer)
1/2 pound loroco*
milk (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add the bay leaves and let cook until fragrant. Add the carrots and squash, add water, and cook uncovered until softened, about 20 minutes. Add stock, and let cook for another 10 minutes. Take the pot off the heat, and let cool slightly before pureeing. I use a hand blender so I don’t get any more dishes dirty, but if you use a food processor or blender, make sure you let it cool enough. Once pureed so that it is very smooth (or to your desired consistency), put the mixture back in the pot and on heat. Add the loroco and cook on high for 20 minutes or until the flowers have become very tender. Add milk at the very end if you like, but it can easily be left out. Salt and pepper to your liking.

*if you are not in Guatemala or El Salvador, you may want to try this with squash blossoms. I haven’t, but I believe it would be delightful, although a bit

With the left over loroco I made a lovely fritata of red onion, cheery tomatoes, and loroco. The soup went really well with a spicy corn bread chock full of fresh corn.


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