Says author/chef Mariana Velásquez:
This soup was declared cultural patrimony by the mayor’s office in Bogotá about 20 years ago. Cultural patrimony is “a set of goods and values that are an expression of the people.’’ And this soup is quite an expression of our people. It dates back to pre-Hispanic times, where one of the first recipes for ajiáco was based on various roots and tubers accompanied by guascas—an aromatic bitter green—and venison. Although it was always thought to be of Muisca origin— the native tribe of central Colombia—according to the historian Lácidez Moreno, ajiáco has African roots. Just like humanity.
However, to current Colombians, especially Bogotánians, there is only one true ajiáco—a hearty soup made with three kinds of potatoes, corn, chicken, guasca herbs, cream, avocado, and capers.
The three potatoes in the ajiaco soup each serve a purpose. The sabanera potato, which I replace with russet potatoes, dissolves into the broth, giving it its creamy quality. The second potato is called pastusa, which gives flavor and texture. In this case I use large Yukon Golds as a substitute. Finally, to get the yellow color and sweet taste, there is the Criolla potato, which you can replace with tiny gold creamer potatoes or yellow new potatoes.
Guasca is an herb also known as galisonga for New Zealanders, or gallant sol- dier in Ireland—the latter naturally my favorite of its many names. In the United States, guasca can be found at farmers markets by the name of potato weed. This fragrant herb imparts a particular taste to ajiáco and can be found in dried form online or in the spice section of the few Colombian markets around the United States. However, if guasca is not an option, it should not be a deterrent from making this comforting recipe.
Invite another pair of hands into the kitchen to help you peel the potatoes. It will go quicker, and it is a good way to spark conversation while making lunch.”
From the book COLOMBIANA by Mariana Velásquez. Copyright © 2021 by Mariana Velásquez. Published by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.
Photos by Gentl & Hyers.