Locro (South American Soup)

April 28, 2006 at 1:24 pm (A (4 stars, love, favorite), Beans, Beans and greens, Cruciferous rich, Dark leafy greens, Fall recipes, Mexican & S. American, Rebecca Wood, soup, Winter recipes) ()

This is a recipe from the cookbook The Splendid Grain by Rebecca Wood. She describes Locro as a substantial South American soup-stew, traditionally eaten by “plucking small rounds of corn from the soup with the fingers.” She says Locro is a meal in one that always contains a grain and sometimes meat or fish. The combination of ingredients may seem a bit strange, but she claims that beans similar to anasazi beans as well as many varieties of seaweed are sold at Indian markets in Bolivia. The ingredient list is long but the soup is so complex-tasting and satisfying that it’s worth the effort. Wood says to make this soup only in corn season, and it is better with fresh corn, but I’ve also used frozen corn and enjoyed it nonetheless.


  • 1/2 cup anasazi beans
  • 1/3 cup whole or pearl barley
  • 1 stick (3 inches) kombu
  • 8 cups veg. or chicken stock
  • 1 Tbs. sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. anise seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small leek, sliced
  • 6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced very thickly [original recipe called for 2 shiitakes, chopped]
  • 1/2 cup peeled, diced celery root
  • 1 ear fresh corn, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 new mexican chili, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 cups chopped collards or kale
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Soak the beans.
  2. Put the barley in a saucepan over med-high heat and cook for about 5 minutes, or until grains begin to pop and turn a shade darker. Combine the barley, soaked beans, kombu and stock in a soup pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered for 1 hour.
  3. Warm the oil in a large saute pan over med. heat. Add the anise seeds and cook for 1 minutes, or until they become aromatic. Add the garlic, leek, mushrooms, celery root, and corn. Lightly saute each one before adding the next. Saute until vegetables just begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Scrape the vegetables until the soup, add the chili, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the beans are soft. Remove and discard the kombu or chop it into bite-size pieces and return it to the pot. Add the collards and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook ten minutes more.
  4. Ladle into bowls and serve hot, garnished with cilantro.

My notes:

I used roman beans since I couldn’t find anasazi, and frozen corn rather than fresh. My favorite part of the soup were the mushrooms (I never would have thought to put shiitake’s in a south americna soup) and the celery root. The celery root got so incredibly sweet and delicious, next time I’ll increase the amount.

I made this a second time, with a few substitutions and changes. I used a whole Tbs. of anise seeds, which still wasn’t too much. The soup had a great anise flavor, but could possibly have used even a bit more. I love anise, and have almost no savory recipes that call for it (hint, hint, anyone have one to share?) I also added more shiitakes, used rutabaga instead of celery root, pinto beans instead of anasazi–and more of them, shallots instead of leek, and vegetable broth instead of water. The soup tasted very similiar. All the substitutions worked fine, except I didn’t think that pinto beans are the right bean for this soup. If I can’t find anasazi maybe next time I’ll try small red beans. Or navy beans maybe?

Note, this soup doesn’t freeze terribly well, mostly because of the barley which ends up with a mushy texture. I’m not saying you can’t freeze it, but the texture is definitely degraded.

Update May 2010:  I made this again using anasazi beans.  They’re definitely the right bean for the soup. I doubled the number of shiitake mushrooms, but still they didn’t have much textural presence in the final soup.  Next time I’ll chop them into much bigger pieces.  I didn’t have collards or kale, so I threw in some fresh spinach at the very end.  It was okay but not really the right flavor for the soup.  Plus (since I hadn’t cut it up) it was a bit stringy.  By the time the beans were cooked through the soup was quite thick and not very brothy.  I had to add more water and still it wasn’t as brothy as I would have liked it.

Also, I made a stupid mistake.  I cut up the white part of the leek for the soup.  To add flavor to my vegetable broth, I decided to throw in the rest of the pale to medium green part of the leek in with the beans to cook.  I didn’t chop it up, just scored it, washed it and threw it in whole.  I figured I’d fish it out when the beans were cooked but before adding the veggies.  I hadn’t pre-soaked my beans, and by the time the beans were cooked the leek had totally disintegrated into nasty, stringy bits of goo.  Gross.

Update Oct 1 2017: I made this for dinner last night using 1.5 cups pre-cooked aduki beans. Even though I didn’t have any roasted chilies or greens or cilantro, and I didn’t leave the pieces of kombu in the soup, it came out really tasty! I used 4 shiitakes and Derek said I should have used even more.

Amazingly, Alma, who is normally quite anti-soup, also liked the soup, although she made me pick out all the leeks out (too stringy), and she had me cut the shiitakes up into toddler bite-sized pieces.

We ate this along with the potato chard terrine, and I liked the combination a lot. We ate the soup for dinner and then lunch the next day, and it was enough for two adults and a toddler + one bowl of soup was leftover. I’d prefer to get three meals out of it though, so next time I’d make more. Make 1.5 times the recipe.

Serving Size: 1 serving (out of 6 total)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 168
Total Fat 2.9g
Saturated Fat 0.4g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 259mg
Carbohydrate 31.3g
Dietary Fiber 6.8g
Sugars 2.6g
Protein 6.8g
Vitamin A 25%
Vitamin C 55%
Calcium 8%
Iron 15%

Rating: B+


  1. Joey Glanski said,

    You should put a picture of the soup on the website so we can see if it looks good or not. Unless, you did that on purpose so people won’t be able to see how bad it looks.

    I Don’t Know,
    Larry Glanski

  2. Joey Glanski said,

    I put my brothers name in the thing up there. Oops! I really am Joey Glanski, not Larry.

  3. captious said,

    Well in my world it’s more important how it tastes than how it looks. As you can see, I don’t post photos on my blog. Even if the food looks yummy in real life I am a terrible photographer and the photos always come out looking awful. So I guess if you want to know how it looks you’ll just have to try it yourself… Joey… Or Larry… or whoever you are. Feel free to send me a photo if you take one.

  4. Mary said,

    how do you prepare the celery root? Did you boil it whole in the soup just for flavor? Or do you chop it or mince it?

  5. captious said,

    Sorry about that. Yeah, I peeled the celery root, and diced it fine, then sauteed it with the other vegetables as described in step 3 above. Hope that helps! Let me know how it turns out.

  6. captious said,

    Mary emailed me:

    Thanks for getting back to me about the celery root so quick! I just made it with the celery root how you said but I had to leave out some of the ingredients or substitute. I would have gone to the store to get what I was missing, but we’re snowed in here! Anyway, it’s turned out to be a great warming and hearty soup for this cold weather.

    I had some red beans already soaked and boiled from a few days before, so I used those instead of anasazi, though I’ve got a little of those left dry, so maybe next time I’ll use those. I didn’t have any kombu, but I used a couple pinches of powdered kelp. In place of a leek, I used half of a red onion…probably not as delicate a flavor as leek, but it was okay. I didn’t have anise, but I did have ground fennel, so I mixed a little of that in with the sauteeing veggies. And shame on me, I used canned corn! Definitely not as good as fresh or even frozen, but it had to do I guess. In place of a Mexican chili, I used a chipotle spice blend and a few pinches of that pepperoncini stuff, like those pepper flakes you put on pizza. I was out of greens, so I used a sheet of sushi nori seaweed, torn up. Everything else (not much left!) I had on hand, though the shiitakes I had were dried.

    I used half and half extra virgin olive oil and sesame oil in the sauteeing. In foods I’ve made before I’ve learned a little toasted sesame oil goes a LONG way in terms of flavor; however it really brought out the spicy notes in the soup, so next time I might not cut it with the olive oil and just go full sesame.

    It actually turned out pretty well for all the substitutions I made. It was like a spicy veggie soup/chili. I’ve never used kombu, so I’ll be sure to use that in the future and get familiar with it. Since the beans were already boiled, my cooking time was reduced, so it didn’t take too long to make. I wanted to ask you why there are so many Japanese ingredients if it is a South American soup? Kombu, sesame oil, shiitake shrooms, and all that?

    Thanks for posting the great recipe!

  7. captious said,

    I think the soup has so many Japanese ingredients because the author was looking for the closest replacements for ingredients in the Bolivian market, and they just happened to be Japanese. The seaweed they use is not available here, so she substituted Kombu. The mushrooms they use are also not available, so she picked shiitakes as the most similar. Not sure about the sesame oil–they do eat sesame seeds I believe in South America, but maybe she added the toasted oil not because it was authentic, but just because it tasted good. I guess we’ll never know… unless Rebecca Wood is doing vanity searches, and reading my blog 🙂

  8. Alon said,

    I can understand the substitutions (kombu can do in a pinch if you are out of cochayuyo), but several other things seem rather odd to my South American eyes.

    Locro is a staple food throughout the Andean region, and that makes it subject to countless variations, but to the best of my knowledge celery root isn’t a part of any of them, simply because it is not usually regarded as edible. I’ve gone through my shelf of Peruvian, Bolivian and Chilean cookbooks, and none of them make use of celery root. The usual starchy vegetable in these kind of stews is ‘Canchán’ potato, although sweet potatoes and cassava are regional alternatives. Olive or sesame oil also seems incredibly out of place for a dish where cornseed would be the obvious choice.

    However, most striking IMO is the absence of pumpkin. I’ve never had locro where it wasn’t the dominant flavour.

    • captious said,

      Interesting Alon. Thanks for your comments. When you say “cornseed” I assume you mean corn oil? I’ll have to try it with pumpkin next time.

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