"Creating simple yet superb meals based on fresh, Ecuadorian ingredients is the secret to the successful kitchen of Hacienda Zuleta," Fernando Polanco says. Hacienda Zuleta has been in his family for more than a hundred years and when Polanco became manager some twenty years ago, he turned part of the farmstead into a luxurious, welcoming accommodation for visitors. "Food is one of the essential elements to make a stay successful," he adds.
Quinoa is an increasingly popular plant for its nutritious value and the fact that it is a perfect option for people who want to eat gluten-free. The Andean plant has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years and produces seeds, although these are eaten like whole grains. There are more than three thousand quinoa varieties, both cultivated and wild. Which quinoa grows where depends on the agro-ecological conditions such as highlands, valleys, or sea level. Most common is the white, or ivory quinoa, but in Ecuador you will regularly see the red or black variety as well.
"I estimate that about sixty percent of all our dishes are based on ingredients from our farm," Polanco explains. Except for salt and pepper, all ingredients for Zuleta's quinoa soup come from the hacienda, which has a dairy farm, cheese factory, and organic vegetable garden.
There is no such thing as one recipe for quinoa soup. A Google search will give you quinoa-soup recipes with meat, chunks of avocado, peanuts, peas, and/or potatoes. What these recipes do share is that all the ingredients are from Ecuadorian soil. It's up to the cook to transform them into something unique and delicious. As Byron, a cook who has worked at Hacienda Zuleta for six years, said, "At home we cook quinoa soup differently than at the hacienda. Here the chef experiments with new combinations to improve dishes."
Having said that, Zuleta's Quinoa Soup is a classic and has been in the family for a long time. There is no need to play or experiment with it anymore because – as many guests will testify – it's just perfect. Who doesn't like a creamy, nourishing soup that warms your body after a day of horseback riding, hiking, or mountain biking? And since this recipe contains no meat, vegetarians will appreciate it as well.