Ajiaco Traditional Soup of the Andes: Bolivian Food Recipes
Ajiaco is a brothy soup known all over South America, but prepared in different ways that are specific to each country. Bolivians and Peruvians, for example, will tell you that ajiaco is so named because it is made with ají, the hot peppers used so commonly in Bolivian recipes. However, in Colombia, where ajiaco is not made with hot peppers at all, the story is that before the Spanish conquerors arrived, the Muisca peoples had a king whose name was Aji. His wife’s name was Aco. They were generous rulers who often shared this hearty broth soup with their people, who named the soup “ajiaco” in their honor.
Regardless of the origins of the name, this soup is delicious, nutritious, and comforting any time of the year, but will give you an especially warm and cozy feeling on cold winter nights. Each country and each family gives their own special touch to this recipe, but there is one aspect that remains consistent anywhere you go: ajiaco has 3 main ingredients consisting of potatoes, corn, and some kind of meat (beef or chicken are most common). The following recipe outlines the way ajiaco is generally made in Bolivia, where, surprisingly, it is also sometimes made with llama meat; however, in this recipe we’ll use chicken. You can try using beef, rabbit, venison... and craft your own unique ajiaco.
2 pounds of chicken legs and thighs, remove skin if you prefer
6 medium-sized potatoes, washed and peeled
4 ears of large white-kernel corn
1 large carrot, washed and peeled
1 large yellow onion
3 tablespoons of chopped green chives
3 garlic cloves, whole
2 small locoto ajis (fresh hot peppers, not dehydrated ones)
1/2 teaspoon ground yellow aji
2 bay leaves (laurel leaves)
1 teaspoon quirquiña or wacataya, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of very finely chopped oregano
2 liters (about 9 cups) chicken stock or broth
1 tablespoon of cooking oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preparing Your Ingredients:
Wash and drain your chicken pieces and set aside to drain.
Wash and peel your potatoes, then cut them into large chunks (if using medium sized potatoes you can simply quarter each one into 4 pieces).
Wash your white kernel corn and remove any silk strings. Do not remove the kernels from the cob. Cut each cob in half.
Wash and peel the carrot. Cut off the tip and end, then slice the carrot into thin round slices.
To peel the onion, cut off both end tips. Then slice the onion in half and remove the outer layer of skin. Cut the onion into long slices (julienne style). To do so, place both halves flat-side down on a cutting board and slice the onion lengthwise instead of crosswise.
Chop the green chives into small pieces.
Quarter the garlic cloves (cut the each garlic clove in half, and then in half again).
Cut the tip and stem off the hot peppers and cut each one in half, lengthwise. To remove the seeds, run cold water over the peppers, sliding the seeds out with your thumb. Then slice the hot peppers lengthwise into several long, thin slices.
After doing this, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and avoid touching your face or eyes as hot peppers are highly acidic and can cause your skin to burn or swell.
Measure 1 tablespoon of cooking oil into a pan. On medium heat (not too hot!) sautee the carrots, yellow onions, chives, and garlic for just a few minutes. We don’t want them to toast. We just want to soften them and add some flavor to the oil. When done, set it aside. Do not remove from oil.
You’ll need a very large pot for this recipe. Place the 9 cups of chicken stock or broth into the pot.
Add chicken pieces, corn, potatoes, bay leaves and oregano. Cook the chicken, corn and potatoes for 30 minutes, allowing the broth to come to a boil.
Reduce to medium heat. Add in the sautéed vegetables, including the oil, into the pot. Add the wacataya or quirquiña. Cook on medium for another 30-40 minutes, until the chicken and vegetables are fully cooked.
Add the sliced hot peppers and ground yellow aji (or substitute with turmeric) and cook for another 10 minutes.
Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a little more chopped oregano if you like, and serve hot in a deep bowl.
Are you adventurous? Try this daring alternative:
Instead of chicken, use llama meat. Use beef stock rather than chicken stock. Add ½ cup dry red cooking wine to your broth. Everything else stays the same.
Can’t find some of our Bolivian ingredients? Try these:
For wacataya or quirquiña – substitute with very finely chopped cilantro (always use fresh, not dried)
For locoto hot peppers – the closest substitute would be serrano peppers (generally found in grocery stores that sell Mexican foods – they are much smaller and hotter than jalapeños)
For ground yellow aji - substitute with turmeric (it won't be as spicy)
A note about hot peppers:
The soup broth itself will be slightly spicy but not horrifically so. If you are accustomed to eating spicy foods, you can eat the hot peppers, otherwise either remove them before serving the soup, or leave them in but don’t bite into them or chew them. If you plan to refrigerate some of your soup for later, remove the hot peppers otherwise they will continue to spice up your soup as the hours go by.