Sort-of Ajiaco Soup

By Michael Elmore

Ajiaco is a traditional Columbian soup (specifically, Bogota) that is hearty and filled with some pretty delicious flavors, from a rich, velvet broth to starchy potatoes, and chicken that has melted away. Making it here in the United States, however, proves difficult due to two ingredients that are pretty difficult to come by: a potato variety specific to Latin America of very think skinned, and very small yellow potatoes, and guascas, or potato weed, an earthy herb.

One of my closest friends is Columbian, and while she traveled there this year pre-pandemic, she sent me photos of this dish, and the mouth-watering sight put it on the list of new things to try. I confess, I forgot about my list until recently while watching a food documentary that happened to talk about it. Being in self-isolation from my move, what better time to reach for new flavors than the present?

This recipe is not ajiaco. Unable to find the necessary potatoes and the guascas, I did my best to replicate the flavors described to me by my friend while she attempts to hunt down those ingredients for me so that I can make a proper ajiaco. However, whatever this dish may or may not be, it is certainly delicious. While the recipe looks long, it is a fairly straight forward dish, but be sure to read the recipe first before planning on making it! Buen provecho!

Ingredients:

  • 5 green onion stems (white part with roots only – reserve the remainder for other dishes)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ of an onion, cut in half (reserve the remainder for other dishes)
  • ¼ of a bunch of cilantro
  • 3 chicken quarters
  • 3 cups chili stock (make this ahead of time – soak dried chilis of your choice in a big bowl of water, then blend the next day. You can skip this step if you like by replacing this with more stock).
  • 5 cups good quality chicken stock
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 6 small Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ¼ inch slices
  • 3 russet potatoes, divided (peel and grate 1 of the potatoes; peel and slice into ¼ inch rings for the other 2 potatoes)
  • 2 ears of corn on the cob, cleaned and sliced into 6 equal pieces
  • 1 tbsp Mexican oregano

Directions:

  1. In a cheesecloth (I did not have a cheesecloth, and if you don’t, that’s alright – use coffee filters like I did), place the first three ingredients and enclose, then tie tightly with butcher’s twine so nothing falls out.
  2. In a large pot, add the chicken, the cheesecloth, all 8 cups of the stock, the salt, and the pepper. The stock should submerge the chicken completely – if not, add more stock or water. Bring to boil slowly over medium high heat, then reduce to simmer and cover. Slow cook on low, checking on it frequently, for approximately 3 hours.
  3. Check on the chicken, it should be cooked at this point, and very tender. Using tongues, pull the chicken out and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, pull apart into pieces (tip: save the bones to make some stock later).
  4. Add the potatoes to the pot, including the grated potato. Cook, covered, another 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are extremely soft and starting to fall apart. Using a stick blender, blend the mixture for 30-60 seconds until thickened. In the alternative, if you do not have a stick blender, take half the potato mixture out and put into a blender, then return it to the pan, or add a roux.
  5. Add the corn and the Mexican oregano. Cover and cook another 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  6. The soup is done. You can return the chicken to the pot or you can serve it in a more traditional style and plate the soup separately, then add the chicken and corn piece to each bowl. Serve immediately or serve later by reheating slowly!

A Leeked Secret: Potato and Leek Soup

By Michael Araj

Sometimes a soul just needs a hearty soup to make it warmed. While better served in the winter, this soup can also be served chilled, and, because of the lack of cream, tends to be lighter than a typical potato soup would be. The leeks provide a subtle garlic-like note that plays well with the starchiness of the potatoes. Quick, easy to make, and delicious – there’s no bad time to sit down to a bowl of this.

We started out going through what we had on hand – some fingerling potatoes, a leek, freshly made vegetable stock, and thus the soup was born. We used fingerlings because that’s what we had, but we would have used Yukon golds had they been on hand instead. You can substitute the 20 fingerling potatoes for 2-3 large Yukon Golds.

Always get together your ingredients beforehand. The fancy term for this is mise en place (French for “everything in its place”), but it is useful to cook without scrambling for your ingredients while cooking.

We grabbed our Dutch oven because it makes for more even cooking, and I find soups work out better in here. Then cause those leeks to jump (i.e. sautee) before adding the garlic until fragrant. Yes, that’s a lot of garlic. We love garlic, call it an occupational hazard of having Middle Eastern parents. Then add the potatoes.

This will help bring out some of the natural flavors of all the ingredients and give them some dimension before we blend them into the soup.

Next, add the vegetable stock. Ours was homemade with mushroom stems and the tops of the leeks, but you can use whatever stock you prefer. If going with a store bought stock, just try to make sure it is as low in sodium as possible so that you have maximized control over the saltiness of the dish.

Simmer, but do not boil so that flavors develop and nothing overcooks.

Bring the stock to a simmer before reducing it to a simmer for approximately 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender. Then, using an immersion blender, blend all of the ingredients – the thin skins of the potatoes will help thicken the soup. Simmer the blended ingredients for 5-10 more minutes and adjust seasonings to taste.

All that’s left now is to pour some in a bowl, top with some chives for garnish and flavor, and sit down to a hearty meal. This goes well with a light salad or some bread to use as sop (I’m a Southerner through and through).

Leek and Potato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 20 fingerling potatoes, diced (or 2-3 large Yukon gold potatoes, diced)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 leeks, trimmed and sliced into half moons (keep the tops of the leek for stock)
  • 1 quart stock of choice (we used homemade vegetable – recipe follows)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chives (optional)

Directions:

  1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions, sweating them by stirring constantly so they do not caramelize. Add a pinch of salt – this will help draw out the moisture to soften the onions. Approximately 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, cooking another 30-60 seconds until fragrant.
  3. Add the potatoes, getting a sear on them. Continue to cook, stirring, for 10-15 minutes. Add a pinch of pepper.
  4. Add the stock, then bring it to a boil before reducing to a simmer. Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender.
  5. Using an immersion blender, blend the ingredients directly in the pot. If you do not have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender, but work in batches, then return the soup to the pot after completely blended.
  6. Continue to cook the blended soup for 5-10 more minutes, adjusting salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve immediately with garnished chives on top (optional).

Vegetable Stock

  1. Mix in 2 quarts of water into a large pot. Add the stems from a pound of mushrooms and the tops of any of the leeks. You can add any vegetable scraps that you have on hand (such as the bottoms of asparagus). This will add a subtle dimension of flavor to your soups. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Simmer until mixture reduces to approximately 1 quart.

Feeling Crabby? She-crab Soup

By Michael Araj

There is a restaurant local to where I work that serves She-crab soup every Friday for its special. While She-crab soup, of course, is in itself special, nobody seems to agree on much about it, what should (and just as importantly, should not) go into its preparation.

The orange tint of most of the she-crab soups that are made come from the crab roe addition to it; however, this can be difficult to find due to crabbing laws and geography depending on where you’re located. Some people add crumbled hard boiled yolks to imitate the texture, others find this sacrilegious.

One thing almost everyone does agree on is that there is something comforting about a seafood bisque-like soup that invokes images of warmth, comfort and sunshine. Below, you’ll find our own recipe for crab bisque. We used Maryland blue crab and seafood stock that was leftover from our Paella recipe. We substituted the traditional grated white onion for shallots for a more mild taste and added the addition of fragrant garlic to enhance the crab meat.

One area you cannot go wrong with any seafood bisque is to add a teaspoon of sherry or other dry white wine to your serving bowl which will add a depth of flavor to the soup. As always, bon appetit!

Crab Bisque

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup seafood stock (preferably homemade, but can use store bought)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 pound crab (preferably blue She crabs, but other varieties will suffice)
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Sherry or other dry white wine
  • Chives for garnish (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a pot, place milk and stock. Bring to boil then reduce to simmer. Keep mixture on simmer while working on the soup.
  2. In a large pot, melt butter on medium high heat. Once pan is hot, add shallots. Stir frequently until translucent, approximately 3-4 minutes. Add garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add flour and stir regularly until flour turns brown and bubbles.
  4. Add the hot milk/stock mixture into the soup pot with the flour, stirring while adding. The mixture will start to thicken.
  5. Add crab. Continue to simmer for approximately 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid is thickened.
  6. Turn off heat and stir in the heavy cream. Adjust seasonings to taste. Let sit for 3-4 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
  7. Add a teaspoon of sherry to each serving bowl and ladle soup. (Alternatively, add 3 teaspoons of the sherry to the entire pot. If you wish to avoid alcohol, substitute with apple cider vinegar). Garnish with chives. Serve immediately.