A creamy potato soup by way of Ecuador is a golden way to warm up

Creamy potato soup. (Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post/food styling by Gina Nistico for The Washington Post)
Creamy potato soup. (Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post/food styling by Gina Nistico for The Washington Post)

The diced avocado piled in a pale green mound atop the steaming bowl of soup won me over immediately. It was an "I should have thought of that" moment I had years ago in a restaurant in Quito, Ecuador. I regularly garnish chili with avocado, why not soup?

That observation was just the start of the enchantment as I dug into the creamy, golden potato and cheese soup, locro de papa, which is a staple of Ecuadorian cuisine. It's a rich and hearty belly-warmer that's simple to make and can easily be a main course. I came up with this version so I could make it part of my regular soup-season lineup.

A key ingredient in the classic recipe is achiote - also called annatto - a ruby red, mild tasting spice, which imparts a gorgeous, orange-red color to dishes. It's common in dishes throughout Latin America, so I was able to pick some up at a Mexican market near me, and it is also sold online. But if you don't have achiote, you can substitute a combination of sweet paprika and turmeric, which, together, add a similar hue and mild earthy flavor. Add the spice, along with garlic and ground cumin to onion that's been softened in a little oil, then add potatoes and broth or water, and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Yukon Golds' color and creamy texture work especially well here, but Russets would be fine, too.

After pulling some of the potatoes out of the pot and chopping them to add back later for a nice textural contrast, the rest is pureed into thick, golden creaminess. Then milk and shredded Monterey Jack cheese are stirred in, adding alluring richness and enough protein to make it a main course.

Served topped with more cheese and a burst of fresh green from sliced scallion, cilantro and - yes - that buttery, diced avocado, it's an unforgettable soup to warm and fulfill you throughout the season.

ECUADORIAN-STYLE POTATO SOUP

This golden, creamy potato and cheese soup is a take on locro de papa, a staple of Ecuadorian cuisine. Its stunning hue comes from achiote - also called annatto - a ruby-red, mild-tasting spice, which imparts an orange-red color to dishes. With an alluring richness from milk and Monterey Jack cheese, and garnished with a burst of fresh green from scallion, cilantro and avocado, it's an unforgettable soup - which can easily be a main course - that you'll surely want in your regular soup-season rotation.

6 servings (makes about 9 cups)

Active time: 40 mins; Total time: 1 hour

FOR THE SOUP

2 tablespoons avocado oil or other neutral oil

1 large yellow onion (12 ounces), diced

2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon achiote (annatto; may substitute 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika plus 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric)

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, vegetable broth or water

1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste

1 cup low-fat milk

1 cup (3 ounces) coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese

FOR SERVING

2 small ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced

1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1/3 cup thinly sliced scallion greens

1/3 cup (1 ounce) coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese

hot sauce (optional)

Make the soup: In a large pot over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not brown, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, cumin and achiote and cook, stirring, until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the potatoes and stir to coat. Add the chicken broth or water and salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Using a slotted spoon transfer about 1 cup of the potatoes to a cutting board and cut them into small pieces.

Use an immersion blender to blend the soup in the pot until smooth. (Alternatively, let the soup cool, then puree in batches in a regular blender.) Return the soup to medium-low heat and warm through. Stir in the milk and cheese until the cheese is melted. Return the chopped potato to the pot and stir to combine. Taste, and season with additional salt as desired.

To serve: Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish the avocados, cilantro, scallion, cheese and hot sauce, if using, and serve.

Nutrition (1 1/2 cups): 347 calories, 39g carbohydrates, 19mg cholesterol, 18g fat, 8g fiber, 11g protein, 6g saturated fat, 366mg sodium, 7g sugar

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