Ajiaco Sin Pollo

The first ajiaco recipe that I published in England after my return from a visit to Colombia in 1988, I had to call ajiaco sin guascas in the absence of the indispensable herb. It was quite clear that, although the versions I ate had chicken in them, potatoes were the main ingredient. There may well have been times in the early development of the dish when the native Americans had neither fish nor fowl to add to the pot and used only the roots, tubers and vegetables growing nearby, from which it is but a close step to a vegetarian or vegetable ajiaco, an ajiaco sin pollo. And, if potatoes are the main ingredient, it is the hot, sharp aji which gives the dish its name. I have dried guascas, the herb in question from Colombia, but you can also use watercress.

This is a good dish for a crowd, and leftovers can be blended to make a silky, soothing soup.

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Ingredients

  • 1 onion, peeled, quartered, and each quarter stuck with a clove
  • 2 or 3 large floury potatoes, such as King Edward, peeled
  • 1.5 litres ( pints) vegetable stock
  • 750 g ( lbs) Maris Piper, or other similar all-purpose potatoes
  • 750 g ( lbs) Charlotte, La Ratte, Pink Fir Apple or other waxy potatoes
  • 1 or 2 orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
  • 1 butternut squash, piece of pumpkin, kabocha or other squash
  • 4 leeks, trimmed and rinsed thoroughly
  • 1 bunch of watercress, washed and picked over
  • 3 corn cobs, cut into 3 or 4 seasoning
  • fresh coriander

Method

To make the ajiaco, put the onion in a large pot or casserole. Cut the floury potatoes into chunks, and add to the pot with the stock. Let it come to the boil, while you prepare the rest of the vegetables.

Scrub the all-purpose potatoes, and slice the waxy ones about 1 cm ( inch) thick; halve the other potatoes to make bite-sized pieces. Peel the sweet potato and squash, and cut into chunks. Slice the leeks, and finely chop most of the watercress, leaving a few sprigs to add with the coriander as garnish.

When the stock is boiling, add the rest of the vegetables, except the corn, and simmer until they are soft. By this time, the first batch of potatoes will have collapsed nicely to provide thickening for the stew. Bring to a rolling boil, add the corn, and boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Add a little seasoning, and then serve from the pot or ladle into large soup bowls, decorate with a little more greenery.

For accompaniments, put into separate ramekins some capers, some soured cream, some chopped watercress and some aji. Also slice 2 or 3 ripe avocados, sprinkle with lime juice, and arrange on small side plates for each serving.

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