Serves 4 people if this is the main dish
2 teaspoons annatto (achiote) seeds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 1/2 lb russet potatoes
1 cup chopped white or yellow onion
1 rounded teaspoon of ground cumin
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
7 cups water
1 cup whole milk
5 1/2 oz queso fresco (Mexican fresh cheese) (broken into 1/2 inch cubes)
Heat annatto seeds and oil in a very small saucepan over low heat, until oil is bright red-orange and starts to simmer, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. Don’t take your eyes off of the pan for long or you will have a mess. The seeds pop when they’re too hot.
Peel potatoes and cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Chop the onions.
Pour annatto oil through a fine-mesh sieve into a wide 7- to an 8-quart heavy dutch oven pot, discarding solids. Cook the onions and about half of the potatoes (reserve remaining potatoes in a bowl of cold water) in annatto oil over moderately high heat, stirring, until onion is softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add cumin, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add water (7 cups) and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are very tender, 25 to 30 minutes, then mash into the broth. Or if you have an immersion blender that’s even better! Go to the remaining potatoes in the bowl of cold water. Drain them, and add to stew, then simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in milk and cheese and increase heat to high, then bring to a simmer, stirring. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.