Quick history lesson before you eat: on July 20, 1810, the discontented citizens of New Granada, South America — now the region known as Colombia — rebelled against Spanish rule and negotiated a temporary independence from their Spanish overlords, which eventually evolved into a permanent secession from the Spaniards and a right to rule their own country.
I was fortunate to spend a few weeks during winter break in the gorgeous capital city of Colombia, Bogotá, where the aforementioned uprising occurred. Bogotá, like many major metropolitan hubs in North and South America, is most famous for its museums (namely of fine art, gold — a major national export of Colombia — and finance); an extremely large shopping district; and, of course, its savory cuisine.
According to my smartphone, there is exactly one Colombian restaurant within a 15-mile radius of Boston, so it was a bit frustrating attempting to find the perfect meal for dinner to enjoy while my relatives in Bogotá and Calí spammed my phone with messages and photos of the Independence Day celebrations.
While I am getting nostalgic for South American travels, here is a recipe for my all-time favorite entrée, ajiaco, a garlicky and savory chicken stew that is an entire meal in itself, and has been satisfying stomachs since the 16th century across Latin America and the Caribbean. Most ingredients were surprisingly findable on short notice at my local supermarket, and a few of the more indigenous ones can be substituted (do not attempt to bring them back into the U.S. when you travel — the TSA is notoriously not a fan of my family on vacation).
If the mention of three types of potatoes, an arsenal of avocados, heavy cream, and generous amounts of garlic has piqued your interest, read on. ¡Buen provecho!
Fun fact: Bogotá is located at an altitude of 2,650 meters above sea level (for reference, Denver, CO is at 1,564-1,731 meters).
Colombian Independence Day Ajiaco
(Makes 6-8 servings – “Family-style”/college-kid leftover-style)
3 skinless chicken breasts
12 cups water
3 ears fresh corn, cut into halves (Colombian corn has thick, meaty kernels, and actually tastes a bit nutty. But any corn will do!)
¼ teaspoon salt
pepper to taste (the more, the better)
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
2 cups papa criolla (Andean potato) [Andean potatoes are the adorable and tiny yellow potatoes popularly packaged by Goya in the frozen food aisle; frozen, baked, or fried, they are a staple starch in Bogotá. If unavailable, feel free to substitute yellow fingerling potatoes (see this recipe for ideas) or even small Yukon gold potatoes.]
3 medium white potatoes, peeled and diced
3 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced
1/3 cup guascas [If you have managed to find this herb in your local supermarket, specialty food store, or even online, I applaud you immensely. The galinsoga parviflora herb, actually a weed related to the common daisy, can easily be replaced with 2 bay leaves and 3 tablespoons of freshly-chopped parsley.]
1 cup heavy cream
3-4 ripe avocadoes
a few cups of white rice
In a large soup pot, place the chicken, corn, bouillon, cilantro, scallions, garlic, pepper and salt. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for approximately 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and tender.
Remove the chicken from the mix and set aside for a bit.
Continue cooking the corn for 30 more minutes.
Add in the red potatoes, white potatoes, and the “guascas” (parsley/bay leaves). Cook for 30 more minutes.
Add in the papa criolla (yellow potatoes) and allow to stew for 15 to 20 minutes, occasionally seasoning with salt and pepper.
Tear the chicken into small pieces and return to the pot. Serve with the traditional heavy cream, white rice, and sliced avocadoes on the side, which are eaten simultaneously with the soup.
Post, Photos, and Recipe by Stephanie Cohen.