Leaving war torn Colombia and bringing the best of her culture to Maine - Adelaida Gaviria's recipe

First published on Immagrant Kitchens: A Good Soup to Know

Photo and story by Lindsay Sterling

I was in my state's capitol for the day, trying to get a better grip on how our government works. My representative in the Maine State Legislature, Sara Gideon, graciously introduced me to many people who work there. When she mentioned to the representative of a neighboring district that I write an online cookbook called Immigrant Kitchens, he encouraged me to connect with his wife. “She’s from Colombia,” he said, “and she loves to cook!” A month later, I found myself driving down their long driveway, past acres of gardens, wondering what would come of this this blind platonic cooking date.

A soft-spoken woman, Adelaida Gaviria, opened the door with a bright smile and waved me in. On the kitchen counter was a shallow basket filled with freshly picked cilantro from her garden. “I’m going to teach you a famous Colombian soup, called ajiaco (pronounced Ah hee AH Ko), because it’s easy to make, and my family and friends love it – which isn’t true for all the Colombian foods I have made.”

She had already cooked two chicken breasts in salted water with cloves of garlic. As she peeled and sliced potatoes, she explained, “I slice the potato thinly to thicken the broth.” In Colombia, she would use three kinds of potatoes, including a native variety called papa criolla that has deep yellow flesh and disintegrates easily. Because those don’t grow well outside of Colombia, she prefers to use the Yukon Gold variety here.

As she blended cooked garlic cloves into the broth with an immersion blender making the broth slightly cloudy, I asked how she ended up in Maine. “I come from a very politically involved family,” she explained, “We were threatened and had many bad things happen to us. I consider myself a refugee.” Her family was victimized by a 5-decades-long civil war that ended up killing more than 220,000 people and causing over five million Colombians to flee their homes. When Adelaida was 14, her mother was kidnapped and held for ransom. She survived and returned, but Adelaida’s first boyfriend, her oldest brother, and her best friend were killed in other embroilments.

When it came time for her to think about college, she chose to leave the violence in her home country and experience life in a safer place. She studied physics at Colorado School of Mines and went on to graduate school at Columbia University in New York. While she was there she fell in love with a fellow graduate student, Seth Berry. During a school break, when he was visiting Colombia, her sister-in-law made this soup for him. He loved it so much, that her sister-in-law said, “Adelaida, you have to learn how to make this soup!”

Adelaida and Seth eventually married and moved to his peaceful hometown in Maine. She recalled, “When Seth and I came to Maine, I was in love with the beautiful landscape. Winter didn’t bother me.” She has learned how to garden here, gathering knowledge and expertise from Seth’s family, fellow gardeners, and experience. Four years ago she went “corn-crazy,” as she described it, growing 10 varieties of corn. She used up their whole propane tank making another Colombian favorite: arepas. Over the years she has enjoyed living and raising a family here, teaching in the public schools, running a school garden, and cooking. In their town there is an annual community dinner in the dark of winter. “I have a standing request for this soup,” Adelaida says, “People say they wait the whole year for it.”

I can see why. Each bite is at once soothing and exciting. Ajiaco is a like chicken soup, but with thicker broth and the added excitement of corn, capers, potatoes, slices of avocado, chopped cilantro, and a splash of cream.

Colombian Chicken and Corn Soup

Ajiaco

As Adelaida Gaviria from Medellin, Columbia (pronounced MedeGEENE) taught Lindsay Sterling in Bowdoinham, Maine.

Note: Adelaida said this dish (pronounced AH hee AH Ko), originated in Bogota, but has come to be a favorite across much of the country.  
Cooking time: 45 min
Makes: 6 servings

INGREDIENTS 

  • 2 bone-in breasts
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 6 large potatoes (she prefers Yukon Gold variety)
  • 2 Tbsp dried guascas, a Columbian herb available at latin markets or online
  • 4 cups chicken broth 
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 3 ears corn on the cob or frozen corn kernels
  • 3 avocados
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 1/2 cup cream

EQUIPMENT

  • cutting board
  • chef knife
  • paring knife
  • peeler 
  • soup pot
  • tongs or slotted spoon
  • shallow dish for cooling chicken
  • immersion blender or mortar and pestle
  • lettuce spinner (ideally)
  • small bowl for serving capers on the table
  • creamer for serving cream at the table
  • soup bowls and spoons for serving

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Cover chicken with 2 inches of water in a large soup pot on high heat. Add 5 cloves sliced garlic, 2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp black pepper. Once water boils, turn heat down to keep the chicken simmering until it is cooked throughout. Wash hands and any utensils or surfaces that touched raw chicken.

2. While chicken is cooking, peel potatoes, slice them in half, and then into 1/4-inch slices. Wash and chop the cilantro. Put half of it in a small bowl for guests to garnish their soup at the table, and reserve the other half for use in a bit.

3. Once the chicken is cooked (opaque throughout), remove it from broth and put it in a shallow dish to cool. 

4. Use an immersion blender to blend the garlic slices into the broth. If you don't have an immersion blender, scoop out the garlic with a slotted spoon, mash it in a mortar and pestle with a little broth, and whisk that mixture into the broth in the pot. 

5. Add 4 cups of chicken stock to the broth. Rub 2 Tbsp guascas between your hands letting it fall into the pot. Add chopped cilantro. Bring to a simmer and add potato slices.

6. Once chicken is cool enough to the touch, rip it into bite-sized pieces. Discard the bones and add the pulled chicken back to the broth.

7. Once the potato slices are almost cooked, add corn to the soup and simmer another 8 minutes until corn is cooked. Taste the broth and add more salt and pepper if needed.

8. Serve soup in guests' bowls. Top each bowl with 2 quarters of ripe avocado. Invite guests to add capers, cream, and cilantro to their bowls at the table as desired.

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