Ajiaco is a soup found in both South America and Cuba. Its name comes from the word aji (“pepper”), originally traced to the indigenous Oto-Manguean family of languages that were prevalent in present-day Mexico as far back as 7,000 years ago. Today, the aji pepper refers to a specific pepper fruit (Capsicum baccatum) popular in South America, and is also known as the “bishop’s crown” pepper throughout the Caribbean. This aji pepper serves as the flavor base for the soup, giving it a subtle intensity and unexpected bite.
Another signature element of this dish is the potato. Nearly 10,000 years old, potatoes originated in the Andean mountain regions of present-day Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and it is estimated that over 4,000 native varieties of the tuber exist in these regions. This dish is traditionally prepared with a variety of potatoes, a testament to the diversity of potatoes available in South America.
This recipe is modeled after the Colombian version of Ajiaco, which always features chicken, corn, and potatoes (and the aji pepper, of course!). Like peppers and potatoes, corn is native to the Americas. The Colombian version is also spiced with guasca leaves, which are in the daisy family and native to South America. If you can’t find these dried leaves at your local international market, you can easily find them online.
The Cuban version of Ajiaco, also very popular, is a bit thicker (more akin to a stew), and features chicken, beef, and pork – what a feast. The Peruvian version is quite different from these soups, in that it isn’t served as a soup at all, but ran even thicker dish of braised potatoes and peppers (often without meat). And while all of these dishes now include ingredients that weren’t native to the Americas, such as garlic and onions, they still capture the spirit of the original (and likely forgotten) native dishes that inspired them.
And last but not least, a gentle reminder that the limited edition print version of my latest cookbook, The Heritage Cookbook, is only available for purchase through June 30th. Once they’re gone, they’re gone – they won’t be available in stores or on Amazon! These physical versions are really special to me; because I am publishing and shipping them myself, I can make the book look exactly how I envision it to be, and can sign/personalize each copy as I ship it out to you. CLICK HERE to learn more and to grab a copy for yourself!
Ajiaco - Chicken, Corn, and Potato Soup (Gluten-free, Paleo, Primal, Perfect Health Diet)
¼ medium onion, coarsely chopped (about ¼ cup)
½ medium tomato, coarsely chopped (about ¼ cup)
1 aji chile or other spicy chile (serrano, jalapeño, etc), stems, seeds, and ribs removed (or 2 tsp aji paste)
4 tbsp fresh cilantro, stems included
¼ tsp salt
2 large bone-in, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 ½ lbs)
1 bunch green onions, ends trimmed, divided
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp salt, more to taste
8 black peppercorns (about 1 tsp)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried guasca or oregano leaves
2 tsp olive oil
½ lb small red potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ lb small Papas Criollas, yukon gold, or other golden creamy potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ lb russet or other starchy potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 ears corn, cut into 3” lengths
crema de leche (see note below)
1. Combine all of the Aji paste ingredients in a blender, then blend at high speed until uniform, adding a little water if needed to assist in the blending process. Store in the fridge.
2. Place the chicken, half of the green onions, garlic, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaf in a stockpot and fill with enough water to cover the chicken by 1”. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the chicken just starts to pull away from the bone using tongs, about 45 minutes, skimming off any foam that accumulates at the surface of the water.
3. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and loosely cover. Strain the simmering liquid through a colander into another container, then discard the solids and wipe the stockpot clean. Return the stockpot to the stove and warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the Aji sauce and sauté until the liquid evaporates and the oil separates from the ingredients, about 3 minutes. Add the simmering liquid and potatoes, plus enough water to just cover the potatoes. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 13 minutes. As the potatoes simmer, pull the chicken meat from the bones and shred into bite-sized pieces.
4. Using a slotted spoon, remove about half of the russet potatoes and transfer to a bowl. Mash the potatoes then return them to the pot to help thicken the soup, and add the corn. Simmer until the corn is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken and the other half of the green onions and simmer until the chicken is heated through and the onions are bright green, about 1 minute, then remove from heat and season with salt to taste. Serve with capers, fresh chopped cilantro, avocado slices, and crema de leche.
*** If you do not have access to crema de leche, you can make a similar profile by combining equal portions heavy whipping cream and whole milk sour cream.