RECIPE: Colombian Chicken and Potato Soup (Ajiaco)

Explore the world through food. This recipe takes us to Colombia.

Edible Cleveland Photo Editor Laura Watilo Blake is spending the COVID-19 lockdown revisiting global destinations through recipes she’s picked up on her travels. In this post, she shares a recipe for ajiaco that she learned during a cooking class in Bogotá, Colombia.

Let’s talk chicken soup. It’s the cure for what ails you. This particular version can be found all over Colombia, although it is most commonly prepared in mountainous areas, especially in the capital of Bogotá, where a hot concoction is the perfect complement to the cold and rainy weather.

The recipe comes from Doña Elsa Ramirez, who leads cooking classes in the La Candelaria neighborhood, but we’ve adapted this recipe to include ingredients commonly found in U.S. grocery stores. There are many kinds of potatoes grown in the Andes Mountains that you can’t find elsewhere. The main potatoes used in traditional ajiaco are called papas criollas (creole potatoes), which break down in the soup and help thicken the broth. The closest we could find for a substitute are small Yukon Gold potatoes.

Doña Elsa Ramirez teaches cooking classes in her home in Bogotá, Colombia.

Doña Elsa Ramirez teaches cooking classes in her home in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Laura Watilo Blake

Meanwhile, arracacha is a root vegetable from the same family as carrot, parsnip, and celery root. Ramirez suggests cassava or yucca, although just about any starchy root vegetable will work well.

Finally, guasca is the key herb for making what purists would term a true ajiaco without it. In the United States, the leafy herbaceous plant (galinsoga parviflora) is known by the names “gallant soldier,” “quickweed,” and potato weed.”  It can often be found growing in your yard. If you don’t want to forage for it, guasca can be found dried in the spice section of Latin American grocery stores. (I spotted it at La Plaza Supermarket in Lakewood.) It can also be purchased online.

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 skinned chicken breasts
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • l large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 8 cups water or chicken broth
  • 1 ear of corn, broken into 4 pieces
  • 2 pounds small Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 pound russet potatoes
  • 1 pound arracacha (substitute with cassava or yucca)
  • 1/2 pound peas
  • 1 cup guasca (or spinach)

Garnishes:

  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche
  • fresh cilantro
  • avocado slices
  • capers
  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chicken, onion and garlic and brown the chicken on each side for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add water or chicken stock and bring to a boil.
  3. Add potatoes, cassava or yucca and peas and boil for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the guasca (or spinach) and salt and continue boil for 10 more minutes.
  5. Add the corn on the cob and boil for another 5 minutes.
  6. Remove the chicken breasts and cut into small pieces.
  7. Ladle the soup into bowls.
  8. Top with chicken, garnish and serve.

If you ever visit the Colombian capital, sign up for a cooking class through Bogotá Bike Tours to learn how to make this or other Colombian specialties.