Peruvian Soup (Recipe)

There comes a point in the year, usually in March, when New Yorkers refuse to accept weather reality. Outside, puddles freeze, the wind stings, and yet, we New Yorkers declare it time to break out denim jackets. We send our puffy coats to the dry cleaner (I did so two weeks ago), pull sandals from storage, order Caprese salad at restaurants, even though we're months away from seeing tomato plants fruit, because, damn it, the weather needs to warm up already, as if we self-centered city dwellers could force the issue by sheer will.

I fought the temperature this week, and gave in yesterday. My moment of submission? Deciding to make soup for dinner.

I adore Mexican soups, steamy bowls of boiled chicken with peppers, tomatoes (from canned of course), and crumbled queso fresco on top. My neighborhood has a significant Peruvian population, so I shifted my tastebuds further south and came up with this simple sopa. Note: The topmost image shows cilantro, which I decided against using when I tasted the soup. I opted for parsley instead.

Peruvian Chicken and Corn Soup
1 to 2 tablespoons oil of your choice (I use cannola; olive oil, corn oil, etc., would do)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, chopped
salt to taste
1 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (fruit drained from liquids)
2 chicken breasts, preferably with bones, cut into large pieces
6 cup chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup dried Peruvian corn, sometimes called Andes corn or maiz mote or hominy, soaked overnight in water (alternatively, use American sweet corn on the cob, husked and broken into thirds)
1 handful chopped parsley
2 tablespoons aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow pepper paste)
juice from half a lime
Garnish: 1 avocado, 1 ounce queso fresco, corn tortillas (warmed over an open flame), lime wedges
In a large soup pot, bring the chicken stock or broth to a simmer. Add the chunks of chicken with bone. Return to a simmer. Drain the corn and add it, discarding the soaking liquid. The mote corn needs to cook for about two hours. If using American sweet corn, it only needs to heat through (about 2 minutes, which significantly reduces the cooking time).

About a half hour before you want to eat, start the oil in a skillet or heavy-bottomed pot over low to medium heat. Add the onion and poblano pepper. Cook until soft, stirring frequently.

Take the tomatoes (which should be fully strained from the juice; save that for bloody Marys or tomato soup) and either roughly chop them or just pull them apart with your fingers and add to the onions and peppers. Add a generous pinch of salt.

Add the onion mixture to the soup pot. Toss in the parsley, stir in the pepper paste, and squeeze in the juice of half a lime. If you like sour soups, you can add the shell of the lime for more flavor. Just be sure not to serve it to anyone. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper paste.

Ladle the soup into big bowls and serve with a plate of garnishes: avocado slices, crumbled queso fresco, lime, and warmed corn tortillas. You could also serve this with tortilla chips (or fried tortillas).

Note: Be sure you warn your guests that the chicken contains bones. I think eating the meat off the bones adds something authentic to this style of soup, but you could use boneless chicken breast if you prefer not to be spitting out bones at the dinner table. If you use American sweet corn in place of the mote, you'll be getting messy anyway picking it up and gnawing on it. Again, I think this is fun and adds to the whole experience of this soup.