Ajiaco Bogotano (Colombia)

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Ajiaco Bogotáno - Andrea Meyers

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For me this is the ultimate comfort food, and it’s also my favorite food from my years overseas. It’s a great weekend soup, but it’s also a celebration meal for the Bogotanos who often make very large pots of this soup for festive occasions such as Christmas. They typically serve the soup in black bowls just like the one in the photo, sitting in a basket because the bowls are rounded, not flat, on the bottom. Sides include rice, capers, and avocado. I’ve missed the wonderful ajiacos I enjoyed in Bogotá, so this year I wanted to have it as part of our Christmas celebration.

There are several versions of ajiaco in Hispanic culture. Ajiaco Bogotano has chicken, three different kinds of potatoes, corn on the cob, and the herb guascas. The potatoes are papas criollas, sabaneras, and tocarreñas, or yellow, red, and white potatoes respectively. Of the three, the papas criollas are the most importantfor this soup. They are tiny yellow wild potatoes that grow at high elevations, and they break up and dissolve almost completely as the soup cooks, thus infusing the soup with a wonderful richness. I’ve found two online merchants that sell jars of papas criollas, which will do in a pinch (see the Resources below).

GuascasGuascas (Galinsoga parviflora) grows in areas with a reasonably moist warm season. In North America it is known as the weed Gallant Soldier, and apparently it’s pretty invasive so I don’t plan to grow any in my garden; however, if you know how to identify it you may find a treasure trove locally. Just be careful that it hasn’t been sprayed with any toxic weed killers; otherwise, check out the online sources mentioned below.

The corn on the cob, or mazorca, used in Colombia is different from the typical sweet corn you find in the U.S. The kernels are larger and a bit tougher, which means that you have to cook them almost from the beginning to tenderize them. Since sweet corn is already tender, you simply add it during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

The garnishes are all available at many local grocery stores, although you’ll want to be sure to use Crema Mexicana rather than regular heavy cream. It’s a combination of sour cream and heavy cream, and the dollops sit very nicely on top of the soup. You can also make your own Crema Mexicana, but plan ahead as it takes about 24 hours before it’s ready.

I have made my best attempt to approximate the wonderfully rich soup that I remember from Bogotá, but I would certainly love to find some fresh, not canned, papas criollas. If you know where I can get some fresh papas criollas in the U.S., please share the information in the Comments. That would make my year!

The soup tastes best when it has cooked for at least 4 hours, so start peeling those potatoes early and allow plenty of time to simmer. You can freeze this in 32-ounce containers.

[Updated February 4, 2010.]

AJIACO BOGOTANO

Equipment

12 to 16 quart stock pot
potato peeler

Ingredients

3 pounds (~1.3 kilos) chicken breast, on the bone with skin (or 1 whole chicken, cut into parts)
6 quarts (~6 liters) water
3 pounds (~1.3 kilos) russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
6 pounds (~2.7 kilos) new red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 pounds (~1.3 kilos) papas criollas (in the U.S. use Dutch Creamer, Baby Dutch Yellow, Yukon Gold, or Yellow Finn potatoes), cut into 1-inch chunks
4 ears corn on the cob (fresh or frozen), cut into 3-inch pieces
2 handfuls of quascas (about 5 g dried or 10 g fresh)

SERVE WITH
cilantro leaves
Crema Mexicana (or regular heavy cream if you can’t find the other)
capers
avocados, sliced
cooked rice

Preparation

1. Place the chicken breasts in the bottom of a large stock pot, sprinkle with a handful of guascas, and add water. Bring to a boil and cook until the meat is tender. Remove chicken and set aside. Cover with foil and keep warm.

2. Add the potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for at least a couple hours, 4 hours is best. The yellow potatoes should start to break up in the soup, but if not, you can help the soup along by mashing some of the yellow potatoes in the pot.

3. Once the cooked chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones. Cut the meat into small pieces and drop them back into the pot.

4. About 5 minutes before serving, add the remaining guascas and let it cook for 5 minutes, then serve.

5. Serve in deep bowls, making sure that each bowl gets some chicken and a piece of corn on the cob. Garnish with a dollop of heavy cream, capers, and cilantro leaves. You can eat the avocado on the side with the rice, or you can cut a slice into pieces and drop into your soup bowl. (I like the avocado chunks in my soup.)

Variations

I’ve been to a few restaurants in Colombia that served the ajiaco with a quarter of a roasted chicken on the side in addition to the regular sides.

Resources

Wikipedia – Ajiaco

Wikipedia – Galinsoga parviflora (aka guascas)

Hatogrande (papas criollas, guascas)

Amigo Foods (papas criollas, guascas)

[An original post from Andrea Meyers: making life delicious. All images and text copyrighted, All Rights Reserved.]

[Disclosure: This blog earns a few cents on items purchased through the Amazon.com links in posts.]

Comments

  1. Deanne says

    Papa criolla can be purchased at some latin markets in the DC metro area frozen. We’ve tried the yukon gold and the jarred papa criolla, but the frozen is the real thing and does all the right stuff to the soup. The brand we have right now is “Canoa” and they call it in English “yellow baby potato” and then of course papa criolla in Spanish. The market we go to is “La Fonda Paisa” in Silver Spring, MD.

    Happy eating!

    • tanya says

      I know it’s been quite a while since you asked, but you can now find papa criolla at Giant Food Stores. :) making ajiaco right now!

  2. says

    i make ajiaco a lot for my cachaco husband. the only thing i do differently from your recipe is that i use homemade chicken stock to deepen the flavour. i have never been able to find papas criollas on a regular basis here in toronto though. :(

    • Julie says

      Kristin,
      If and when you go to London, ON you can find papas criollas at the Hernandez Variety on Thompson Road.
      Julie

  3. j berg says

    what is quascas? I have had ajiaco many times but it was always prepared by the muchacha on Sundays before her afternoon off. I am talking about 35 years ago. jb

  4. Casey says

    My fiancé is from Bogotá and when we were in the grocery store one day he pointed out the tiny dutch creamer potatos and said they were the same as the papas criollas.

  5. says

    Hi Casey: You know, I saw those at a local grocery store recently and thought that they might work! So I bought some and have actually planted them in pots indoors to see if I can grow my own papas criollas. :-)

  6. Sylvia Karpf says

    I follow your instruction and it turn out a great celebration dish, thank you much.
    Sylvia.
    from Chile in USA.

  7. Lina says

    hello Andrea…well my mom gave me the same recipe you have…which means that most o be good!!! but I have one ?, she said that I should add the patatoes by steps, first red patatoes, then Rosset and finally yellow…could that change the thickness of my Ajiaco? she said that this little thing is as important as guascas in the soup…HELP I need it for this Christmas!!

  8. says

    Well, to be honest I’m not sure! I didn’t learn to do it that way, and none of my written sources mention it. That being said, if this is your mom’s secret to making the ajiaco even thicker and richer, then I’m all for it. I’ll have to give it a try!

  9. Debbie and Dan says

    My husband is colombian and his family serves this soup for christmas. The frozen papas criollas are easy to find in latin markets. Birds eye also sells them. My grocer will order them for me if I ask. The Peruvian or Colomian corn really makes a diference in the soup because it is not sweet. It is worth the longer cooking time if yoou can find it.

  10. Adrian says

    I loved your recipe only two things were missing the Green Onions & two cloves of garlic , my mom is from Bogota.
    Thank You ,Adrian.

  11. Barbara Cordle says

    Hi Andrea,

    I have twin boys we adopted from Bogota Colombia when they were just two months old. We are getting ready to celebrate their 7th birthday this weekend and they want a traditional Colombian birthday party. While I was in Colombia for quite some time, I was fortunate enough to stay with some wonderful people who filled me full of many traditional Colombian foods. My favorite was the ajiaco. I am hoping to make this for the boys’ birthday party and I have just a couple of questions. First, how many servings does this make? Also, I noticed there was no salt or chicken bullion of any kind in this. Does that leave it a little bland? I brought home a couple bags of the Kiska guascas when I came home from Colombia, but it has since expired. Do you think I could find this at a Latino market?

    I can’t wait to try this – thanks!!

    Barbie

  12. says

    Hi Barbara! I don’t have precise calculations on how many servings this makes, but my estimate is 10 or so. This is a relatively small batch, as many recipes I’ve seen use 3 whole chickens plus pounds and pounds of potatoes! As for the flavor, if you use a whole chicken you won’t have bland flavor. When I first started making it my husband wasn’t really keen on dark meat, so I stuck with breast meat but would add a little bouillon to give it some flavor. We don’t add salt, and I don’t remember ever seeing the maid add salt. This is pretty how much how she fixed it.

    I’ve never found guascas at a U.S. market, but I’m sure there are some around the country that carry the stuff. I ordered my stash from Amigo Foods (see links in the post).

  13. Jeff says

    I went recently to Bogotá to meet an internet friend for the first time and she introduced me to Ajiaco. I ate it in several different restaurants in Bogotá. I am going to make it this week and I asked my lady friend if your recipe is accurate and she said it should be perfect. I found the guascas and papas criollas at Latinas Americas supermarket in east Orlando, Florida. There is also a Colombian restaurant here (Gloria’s Cafe) that serves DELICIOUS ajiaco on Thursdays. I can’t wait to try this recipe!!
    Thanks, Andrea.

  14. Connie says

    My friend from Colombia turned me on to ajiaco. I LOVE THIS STUFF! Glad to find a simple recipe for it on the web. Thanks!

  15. Jessica says

    hi andrea
    hahahahhahahaa
    yo soy bogotana y es super chevere que dediques este espacio para hablar de nuestra deliciosa comida….
    Este ajiaco queda genial y si es con sabor colombiano mucho mejor…obviamente con amor y esmero

    cuidate!!!

  16. DennydeNice says

    Hey Andrea…

    I stumbled upon your site and am very pleased to see your recipe for Ajiaco. I used to live in Colombia in the Santander reason and still dream about Ajiacos, vandejas Paisas and Arepas…

    I live in the south of France now and I noticed you had american substitute potatoes instead of papas criollas. I don’t suppose you have ever heard of the European Version?

    I have been thinking of driving into Spain to see if they have any imported ingredients but it seems that my Ajiaco is going to turn into an expensive stew… (I have found all the other ingredients in Indian and African markets but not the potatoes)

    Your recipe does look authentically mouthwatering though. Well done. I never remember Colombian cooking being easy to reproduce…

    Denny

  17. pauline says

    Andrea: Received a package of guascus from a native of Columbia about a year ago. It does not have an expiration date on it. Do you think it is still usable?

  18. Natalia says

    Andrea, my mother has alwasy been able to find guascas and frozen papas criollas in Colombian bakeries in Miami. I live in Tampa and am hoping to be able to find also so I can cook my first ajiaco this Christmas!

  19. Natalia says

    Andrea, my mother has alwasy been able to find guascas and frozen papas criollas in Colombian bakeries in Miami. I live in Tampa and am hoping to be able to find also so I can cook my first ajiaco this Christmas! Oh, and my mother is from Bogota and definitely uses scallions.

  20. Luisa says

    Andrea,
    I am very very glad you enjoy ajiaco so much. I am colombian, and I found this website because I want to try to make Ajiaco this weekend.
    But I have to make a comment (don’t take it wrong).
    Bogotano doesn’t have an accent. Bogotá does.
    Just wante to point that out if you’d like to correct the work on this site.
    Cheers,
    Luisa
    =)

  21. Luis Ferrer says

    I live in Tennesse and I love Ajiaco soup. I want to growth my own guascas because fresh guascas gave better flavor to the soup and I want to find seeds in USA. could you give me directions to find them?

    Luis

  22. says

    Hi Luis. The plant grows wild in the U.S. (aka gallant soldier), but it’s considered an invasive weed in most states. I’ve searched but have never found a source of seeds. If you ever find some seeds, feel free to share the source here.

  23. Rich says

    If you want to have some pointless fun, ask your local agricultural extension representative about how to grow guascas (galinsoga parviflora). It’s kind of like asking how to grow dandelions, or asking a doctor how to get sick! Around here it grown on the fringes of corn fields, but who knows what they spray so I haven’t picked any…I use the dried stuff.

    I use the frozen papas criollas that are sold in some markets in the DC area, and they work fine, but in the past I’ve done OK with US varieties boiled separately and then pureed with an immersion blender, then added to the main pot.

  24. Cristina Alvarez says

    Hi there:
    Just a couple of weeks ago a Colombian friend made ajiaco for me. I almost died of delight. I’m from Venezuela and we’re used to eating our sancocho de whatever, but I have to say that there’s nothing as heavenly as the ajiaco colombiano. I’ll take an ajiaco over a sancocho any time.

  25. Mauricio Pereira says

    Hi Andrea,

    I was wondering if you know a place here in NY that sells the Guascas?? I am making ajiaco for a few friends on sunday, but I am missing the herb. I have a friend who is actually flying in tomorrow from Bogota, but I am doubdtful he will bring the ‘encargo’. I am not convinced about adding cilantro instead…its a very different taste. Thank you!

    • says

      Hi Mauricio. I’m not from NY so I’m afraid I can’t recommend any places to you. I just know of the online stores mentioned in the post that sell guascas. I hope you find some.

    • Christina says

      Hi Mauricio,

      I went on a quest to find guascas this past weekend. i was able to find dried guascas in Queens at a Colombian grocery store named Rivera Grocery. It’s located on 82nd street right off the 7 train. Good luck!

  26. Gina says

    papas criollas are very easy to grow. if you happen to get them “fresh” in the market,keep one or two in a cool dark place over the winter. after a while they start to grow, then plant them in the garden in early spring… and then you will enjoy them late summer/fall. as for the next years go, I keep some in the ground over the winter and then in early spring I dig them up and replant them or you can keep them in the frige, but sometimes they go bad (they have a lot of water). I live in WA state, they like regular garden soil and lots of sun, but not too much heat. My mom tried to grow them in souther california, but they didn’t do well… As for the guacas go, I got a handful of them growing in a garden pot… and so with this in mind, I will for the first time ever… will try to make the famous sancocho bogotano… thanks for the recepie.

    • says

      How wonderful that you are able to grow your own papas criollas and guascas. I have never come across them at a market or even seeds for the guascas, but will surely keep my eyes open for them. Thanks for the growing tips.

    • Olivia says

      Hi Gina

      How long will the papas criollas last in a dark cold place or in the fridge? Will they last 4-6 months?
      I live in the UK and always bought the guascas dried, since I saw the plant i research about and found out it was taken from SA to Kew Gardens and the seeds escape and it can be found growing wild. I decide to go and look around and certainly I found it growing beside the river. I pick a few plants and cuttings and have some growing in the garden and some growing in a glass with water. It is the easiest plant to grow, it’s like a weed. I have not use it yet because I don’t know if dogs had wee on it or anything put on them; I will wait until I am happy it’s clean; maybe next year.

      I normally marinate the chicken with salt, black pepper, garlic the day before to give a better flavor.

      • gina says

        yes… the guacas o guascas are a weed, I grow them in a pot and now that is getting cold, I got some stalks in a glass of water, just like you did. during the winter, I will grow them like a house plant (will have to transfer them to some soil) and then in the spring they can go back outside (plant them sideways… they will grow with many roots. and the papas criollas… make sure they are dry (air dry) before you store them in the fridge. you can leave them in the garage inside a shoe box, but they start growing sooner than in the fridge… I put mine inside a paperbag with some paper towels around, to absorb moisture…. I have been doing this for a few years now (I’m not an expect, but that works for me). choose the potatoes of lighter color (the darker ones and bigger ones, I found, don’t store well)… once in a while I check them and change the papertowel… got to keep them dry…. and yes…. you can keep them for 4+ months, By spring, they will look wrinkle and ugly, but once they go back in the soil…… they will make it.

  27. Paola says

    Andrea thanks so much for your ideas, I’ve wrecking my brains trying to find an ajiaco recipe that will give substitutes for the ingredients not easily found in the states. Now my gringo husband can have an authentic Colombian Christmas eve dinner.

  28. Nico el Mico says

    I smuggled a bag of papa criolla I purchased in El Exito in Colombia back to Canada. I now have a batch growing in my garden, and a constant supply to satisfy every Ajiaco craving I could ever have.

    • Adriana says

      Great idea Nico, I thought of it, but was concerned that they would be removed from my luggage. Would you be willing to mail me a couple of potatoes (I live in BC) so we can plant them in our garden too?

  29. Anne says

    If you can’t find guascas, I’ve found that a combination of a handful of fresh oregano, a half-handful of fresh thyme, and a generous handful of fresh cilantro works. When I made the soup that way, my Cachaco husband said it was better than his mom’s–something he never said before or since!

  30. Andres says

    Thanks for this great recipe. I can’t wait to try this weekend. I am from Bogota and I have been dying to duplicate the amazing Ajiaco that I would have everytime I was home. I just have a quick question. In step 1 where you say to add water to the chicken, do you put the entire amount of water at the very beginning to cook the chicken or just part of it? You put no other spices in the water?

    • says

      Hi Andres. Per step 1, sprinkle a handful of the guascas over the chicken before adding all the water. You want all the water in the pot while cooking the chicken so it picks up all the flavor.

  31. Claire says

    I have a question about the amount of Guascas. I found dehydrated Guascas at my local international supermarket. The package is 0.35 oz and I’d say about two handfuls. You reference 2 ounces and I’m assuming this is for fresh and not dehydrated. Can you give me an idea of whether or not I should use the whole package or just a portion of it?

    • says

      Hi Claire. You are correct, that is for fresh guascas. For dried, I end up using about half of one of those packages for the soup, about 5 grams total. I will make a note in the recipe.

  32. Lorne says

    my girlfriend is a Costeño so not sure if there is a coastal variation of ajiaco, or if she just used different ingredients out of necessity or was unable to find authentic Colombian ingredients.

    Instead of dollops of heavy cream, she adds chunks of creamy havarti cheese just before serving. The heat from the soup softens them up even more and makes it extra creamy.

    She also chops some fresh cilantro and puts it in a bowl on the table. Just add a spoonful to your own bowl and take in the aroma as the heat intensifies it. Very nice.

    For Karin in Toronto, you can find frozen papa criollas at Columbus Bakery on Dufferin just south of Lawrence.

    • Tom says

      Is that a real store?

      Emerging Markets

      4826 Trail Run Ct
      San Jose, CA 95136
      United States

      Contact us at:
      (408) 600-1621

      Domain name: EMERGINGMARKETS-US.COM

      Administrative Contact:
      Rios, Oscar
      4826 Trail Run Ct.
      San Jose, California 95136
      US
      4089307964 Fax: 408-6293951

      I did google search (streetview), and that address is a house not a store.

      Also, I called that number and the recording message only repeats the # and does not even say the name of the “business”

      At this point, I’m not sure if that’s a real business or a scam. I wanted to buy guascas from that site, but it does not seem to be a real business, and there are not online reviews either. They seem to accept paypal. By the way the price went up: 1.99 .

      • says

        Hi Tom. I’m not sure about this vendor. I recommend ordering guascas from AmigoFoods.com or Hatogrande.com. (I have no affiliation with either site.)

  33. Jeremy Bond says

    i am living in bogota right now and am kinda a cook at heart and learned from my mother in law here that with the guascasare for the last 15 to 25 minutes and while cooking the chicken use a whole pack or bundle of cilantro and some onion.

  34. wendy says

    have always loved the smell and flavor of quascas. just wondering . . . are there any other colombian recipes that call for quascas?

  35. Diane says

    Well, I have a jar of dried Guascas that I brought back after living in Bogota in 1978. I have the cookbook from the Bogota American Women’s Club and made ajiaco many times in the 80’s but haven’t made any for a long time. I think my jar is expired, but I keep it in the cupboard as a souvenir.

    The best ajiaco we ever had was out at a restaurant at a ranch in the hills. Good times. Thanks for the memories.

  36. says

    SECRESTS/ FOR A FANTASTIC “AJIACO”/ SECRETOS PARA UN AJIACO FANTASTICO

    My great great aunt tocuhg me how to cook a real ajiaco Santafereño when I was 8 years old. althoug she has pass a long time ago, I think I need to give her a well-deserved credit. Mrs. Rebeca Hernandez de Naranjo, has a few little tricks to make the best ajiaco. I have won a couple local food competitions with this secrets.
    • Potatoes should be add on on steps. Lina was right on her comment. first red potatoes, then Rosset (or white potatoes), and then finally yellow (papa criolla). But not only that, potatoes should be layered every 15 minutes, so every 15 minutes you should add 1 pound of potatoes, starting with the red kind. The reason for this action is to assured that creaminess and multi-layered flavor characteristic of a great soup.
    • BEST TRICK: ” DON’T CUT THE POTATOES WITH A KNIFE. cut chunks of potatoes with a spoon. My great aunt insisted that the starch was sealed inside the potatoes when you used knifes. when you use a spoon you will see how the starch just “pops” and covers your hands while doing it. You will see how incredible of a difference this little trick makes.
    • Add a quarter pound of arracacha at the very beggining with the first layer of red potatoes. The arracacha (Arracacia xanthorriza) is a garden root vegetable originally from the Andes, somewhat intermediate between the carrot and celery. Its starchy taproot is a popular food item in South America. You might be able to find some in local Hispanic Markets. They are called white carrots. Arrachacha will add a subtle depth in flavor and taste, making it surprisingly smooth.
    • Guascas should be preferably fresh, but in a pinch use the dried kind. If you are using the fresh guascas add a bunch of the herbs, very well tied, when you are boiling the chicken, and remove it before serving. Guascas can turn a litle sour if you decide to freeze your leftovers.
    • Use a whole chicken instead of the chicken breast. Save the chicken stock you used to boil the chicken and use that as a base for the soup.
    • Take 1/4 cup of chicken broth and boiled the chicken’s skin for 5 minutes, after that time get rid of the skin and add the leftover liquid to the broth used as a base for your soup.
    • Use very little salt (1 spoonful for every 12 pounds of potatoes. Cappers are traditionally added right before serving and they are particularly salty since they have been pickled in the jar. It might seem like it would need more salt but they won’t. Worst case scenario is best to add salt to taste.

    This would make of your ajiaco the best family recipe and you can pass these secrets along to the new generations. Just give some credit to my great aunt Rebeca, while you are telling the story.

  37. Mark Olson says

    I am not sure if you will receive this email. I would like to know if you have any updates on how to obtain guasca seeds and papa criolla for planting. Wife is Colombian. We live in Nebraska. Would be nice to have a touch of the “old country” in our back yard. In any event, best wishes. Mark

  38. Elizabeth says

    Hi, your recipe with the comments below are very helpful. My nieces and nephew are from Colombia. We have special birthday meals for them with empanadas, ajiaco and rice. I was told (by a Colombian friend) to allow the papas criollas to almost dissolve to help with the creaminess as well.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] I spent the last night of 2006 at my aunt’s apartment… we had ajiaco (a typical Bogotá soup) around 23:30 and waited for 2007 arrival… [...]

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