By Natalia Gill, from An Appetite For Joy
Chicken, fresh summer corn and buttery potatoes are simmered in a rich broth and heightened with capers and crème fraîche. Somewhere in between a soup and a stew, ajiaco lingers in your mind long after you’ve finished your last spoonful.
Here is a little background on how I came to know and love ajiaco.
My younger brother found himself an amazing girl who is Colombian-American and when our families come together it is a revelry of art, music and some great food. My brother jams on the piano (and now my 8-yr old son is also playing away!), we get to glimpse Maria’s most recent artwork (she is an artist and art/spanish teacher), and the kitchen island is packed with all sorts of delicious food – from borsch to empanadas.
One night, Maria’s mom Ana made a huge pot of ajiaco to feed a crowd. I was looking over her shoulder, intrigued by the corn simmering in the soup, infusing it with a perfect touch of sweetness. She served it over small mounds of white rice, then (swoon) topped with cream and capers. I was hooked!
In between bowls (I stopped counting at four) I jotted down the ingredients and approximate cooking steps.
Since that night, I’ve experimented with it several times at home. A lot of the flavor comes from the broth. A frugal and flavorful chicken stock works well. This time I used a rich and gelatinous broth with drumsticks.
I hope you love Ana’s take on ajiaco as much as my family does!
HARD-TO-FIND INGREDIENTS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
If you don’t have a Latin market nearby, a couple of the ingredients can be substituted.
1) Papa criolla potatoes. Traditionally, ajiaco is made with three varieties of potatoes including papa criolla which is a starchy yellow potato. Ana had some that she had purchased in the frozen section of a Colombian market (I didn’t know fresh potatoes freeze well, but they do!) She told me that yukon gold is a good substitution.
2) Guascas. Guascas is a weed native to South America that imparts an earthy, grassy flavor to the soup, balancing out the sweet corn and starchy potatoes. Oregano is the best substitute.
If you enjoy soups, check out Kimi’s cookbook, Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons.
MORE NOURISHING SOUPS TO TRY
- 2 chicken breasts (with bone and skin, preferably)
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 jalapeno, minced, seeds and stems removed if it's a spicy one (optional if you want a kick!)
- 6 cups chicken broth or stock
- 1.5 pounds of yukon gold or other starchy potatoes (4-6 medium), diced
- 2 tablespoons dried guascas (or substitute dried oregano)
- 3 ears of corn, cut into 2-inch segments
- 1 ear of corn, kernels
- 1 teaspoon unrefined salt (unless your broth is salty) plus more to taste
- 2 cups white rice, for serving
- Capers, avocado slices and crème fraîche (or alternatively, heavy cream or Mexican Crema), for serving
- In a large, heavy-bottom soup pot, heat a little olive oil (or your favorite cooking fat) over medium-high heat and sear the chicken, cooking a couple of minutes on both sides. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
- In the same pot, sauté the tomatoes and onions 5 minutes. Add the chicken back to the pot and add the broth. Bring to a simmer.
- Once the soup has been simmering for about 15 minutes, add the potatoes, guascas, corn (ear segments and kernels) and salt.
- Simmer til the chicken, potatoes and corn are done (about 20 additional minutes). Taste and adjust seasonings. You may need to add salt, as soups with potatoes often require a good amount.
- Serve with capers and crème fraîche.
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