I lived in Colombia for 11 years. The city I lived in (Cali) was hot and sunny all year. Mango, lemon and fragrant Ylang Ylang trees grew around my neighborhood. Bats swooped down overhead when we’d take walks at sunset and mornings brought the song of Cicadas and blue skies. Every afternoon, close to 4pm, a welcoming cool breeze came down from the Farallones, children flew kites and people would sit up at San Antonio church enjoying the view of the city over a Cholao (shaved ice with condensed milk, syrup and crushed pineapple). On the weekends people head up into the mountains to their cottages. When the fog rolls in every evening it’s time to make Colombian hot cocoa with spices and a good chunk of fresh cheese that melts at the bottom to be scooped up with a spoon or fresh baked bread. The weather and cooking change drastically in the mountains from the traditional fruit juices and salads for the hotter climate down in the valley. Cooking on an open fire is the norm; soups with common cold-weather ingredients indigenous to the high lands like potatoes, onions and corn, along with chicken and herbs like cilantro and guascas (a small plant belonging to the Daisy family originally grown only in the Andes). Today I will be sharing a recipe that is passed down from one generation to the next with each family having slight variations to their recipe. This is my version of : Ajiaco.
Guascas is essential for making Ajiaco as it gives this rich soup it’s distinct flavor that can be very lightly compared to a mild version of oregano but there really is no substitute for the weed.
I only make Ajiaco once a year and at this edition it’s been 2 years since the last time I made it. Ajiaco is very high in calories (a good dish to warm the blood) and basically contains everything I don’t usually eat: corn, potatoes, heavy cream and rice but oh! how deliciously comforting it is on a cold Winter evening topped with capers and steamed rice. After a day in the temperate Colombian Cordillera, it makes sense to come in and enjoy a big bowl of this rich soup with family.
This is Colombian Ajiaco. Enjoy.
You Will Need:
- Chicken breast
- Sweet corn on the cob
- 1 large carrot shredded
- 3 Scallion bunches finely sliced
- 1 yellow onion finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
- Handful of Cilantro chopped
- 3 types of potatoes: Russet, Red and Yellow (yukon gold). Chopped in quarters
- 3-4 bullion cubes chicken flavoured
- Creme Fraiche
- 1 – 2 Bay/Laurel leaves
- Cooked white rice
- Cooking oil (I use coconut oil)
- 2 ripe Avocados to garnish
- 8 cups of water
How to prepare:
In a large pot over medium high heat add a Tblsp of coconut oil then the onions and garlic and sautee for a minute or two until softened. Add the scallion and cilantro and stir.
Next add the potatoes and shredded carrot.
Stir for a few minutes to develop the flavour then break up the bullion cubes and add water. Raise the heat to high. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the entire chicken breasts and bay leaves. We want to cook the chicken in the soup until it is ready to shred. Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the soup onto a cutting board and using 2 forks, shred and place in a serving bowl. Set aside.
While the soup is still cooking I put on a cup of rice to cook in a separate pot.
Once the potatoes are soft, scoop out about 1 cup of them into a bowl and mash. Return them to the soup. This will help thicken the soup.
With about 15 – 20 minutes for the soup to be ready, add the corn on the cob. I broke them into halves and set a timer for 15 minutes during which I put the capers and creme fraiche in small bowls for garnishing and set the table.
Once the corn is ready the very last ingredient and the most important: 1 – 2 Tblsp of the Guascas herb stirred into the soup. You can now taste and add salt if needed.
Set the table with bowls and spoons for the soup and in the center of the table place the toppings: Shredded chicken, rice, capers, creme fraiche and sliced avocados.
To eat: first add a good dollop of the creme and mix into the soup. This immediately changes the flavour of the soup from a chicken broth to a creamy rich flavour. Then add as much shredded chicken as you like, a scoop of rice (you can eat your rice in a separate bowl if you prefer), a slice of avocado and top with capers.
This soup is very filling hence the reason I make it once a year. It makes a delicious left over for the following day. This is a “special ocasion” dish made usually on weekends or holidays in Colombia and I advise you try it. You can most likely find Guascas at Latin grocery stores like Los Guerreros in Vancouver.