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Loroco Cream Sauce


Loroco (Fernaldia pandurata). As piquant as capers but not pickled, and with the full earthiness of an artichoke, these buds of a flowering vine are native to Central America and are used as a flavoring agent or vegetable in many popular dishes of the region.

We were introduced to Lorocos soon after our arrival to the D.C. area in 2008. Of course, it was at one of the many Salvadoran pupuseria that can be found in Maryland's metro area near D.C. This one was across from the hotel to which we had encamped while we hunted for rental housing. We were there for a month. We ate a lot of pupusas. (For the uninitiated, pupusas are thick cornmeal tortillas with a filling of beans or cheese or meat or lorocos, or some combination of these, and often served with pickled cabbage and carrot salad, see photo left, the pupusas are the flat discs on either side of hte salad). But I digress. One of the more popular pupusa fillings is cheese and lorocos, and not having any idea what lorocos were as we pondered our first pupusa menu, we had to try them first. The woman taking our order told us loroco was a flower — great, we like edible flowers!

Truthfully, there almost was not a second order. On first bite, T and I looked at each other with that look, "Do you like it?" Uhhhh, not sure. In addition to the sheer vegetal quality of the flower buds, there was also the surprising tanginess, then a slight bitter aftertaste. But we eat lots of bitter vegetables, so onto the second bite. Now that we were over the shock of first taste, we had time to focus on how the sharp lorocos blended with the creamy blandness of the cheese. Mmmmmm, nice counterpoint. By the time we had finished the first pupusa, we were hooked — pupusa con queso y lorocos became our favorite order and the standard by which we evaluated new pupuseria we visited.

We find lorocos most often in the frozen section of Hispanic groceries and even many Asian markets (H-Mart, Korean Korner, Lotte Plaza in the metro DC area) that also serve large Central American communities. I've also seen large jars of pickled loroco buds but have not tried these since we prefer the frozen buds, which have only one ingredient: lorocos. The first loroco recipe we tried at home was for a soup of beans and lorocos, which proved to be equally addictive — we've made it at least 3 times and which I promise to post that as soon as I remember to take a photo before we finish off the whole pot.

More recently, we read about a lorocos cream sauce with chicken that we could not pass up. Since we had all the ingredients on hand except chicken (yes, we had lorocos but no chicken, go figure), I substituted pork chops for the chicken legs. Another show-stopper — lick-your-plate-and-try-to-steal-your-spouse's tasty! The sharpness and bitterness that are hallmarks of loroco in pupusas and the bean soup are completely missing here. Instead the buds mellow into a flavor more reminiscent of asparagus. I guess they even look a little like tiny asparagus in the sauce, don't they? But there is also an earthier undertone than asparagus alone would lend to this sauce that just says, More, please! I'll be buying frozen lorocos buds in multiple quantities to keep in the freezer from here on out. And yes, I should probably pick up some chicken too!

This recipe is adapted from one shared by Anne at Rainforest Recipes, who lives and works with the Ix-Canaan project in Guatemala. Finding her site set me off on of those long digressions for which the Interwebs is so infamous to learn about the Ix-Canaan project and their efforts to introduce sustainable agriculture and the preservation of indigenous culture to their corner of Guatemala. Now I'm looking for breadnut flour too... Anne has a photo of the fresh loroco flowers on her recipe page if you'd like to see how pretty those are (follow her link). Don't recall seeing fresh loroco buds here, but I haven't frequented Hispanic markets very much in the past. This spring, though, I will keep my eye out for these.


UPDATE (02/16/2011): We craved this sauce again, and tried it with mahi-mahi fillets (above). Still delicious, but would recommend including 1 tsp. fish sauce when adding broth to increase the umami in the finished sauce. Pork and chicken have more natural umami than this firm, white-flesh fish and the sauce needs the boost.

LOROCO CREAM SAUCE (WITH PORK)
Adapted from Anne's recipe
Serves 3-4 persons

Apparently in Guatemala the traditional meat for this sauce is chicken (4 legs or a whole chicken, cut up) and we will give that a try soon, but we will also be saucing fish (cod or mahi mahi) and maybe even rabbit with this, too! I would recommend 2 lbs of mushrooms and doubling the quantity of potato as a vegetarian option that would complement and absorb the unique flavors of this sauce.

4 medium-cut pork chops
sea salt and black pepper
2 TBL olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cup broth or water, divided
1 tomato, diced
1 sprig fresh thyme, or ¼ tsp dried
2 bay leaves
1½ cup broth or water
1 package frozen lorocos = 6oz or 170g
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
¾ cup heavy cream

Pat dry chops, and season well. Over medium high heat, warm oil in a skillet large enough to hold all ingredients. Brown both sides of each chop, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove and keep aside.

Reduce heat to medium low. In remaining oil in pan, add onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomato, thyme and bay leaves, and continue cooking until onions become translucent, another 4-6 minutes.

Add broth, and gently scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Add loroco buds, potatoes, and return pork chops to skillet. Cover and simmer gently 10-15 minutes.

(I found it easier to blend the cream into the sauce if I removed the chops before adding the cream, but this step is optional.) Add cream to skillet and stir through to combine, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes or until the chops are cooked through.

Serve over white rice, with plenty of napkins!