It’s Mexico week on DadCooksDinner. I spent five fantastic days at Seasons of My Heart cooking school in Oaxaca, Mexico. I’ll be sharing what I learned for months, but here’s the first batch of posts.
I came back from my week at Seasons Of My Heart cooking school, stepped out of the Cleveland airport, and winter welcomed me home with a cold slap to the face.
I needed Susana Trilling’s garlic soup.
Sopa de ajo was a revelation. There isn’t much to it – chicken broth, a few spices, garlic, croutons, cheese cubes. But, oh, the flavors in that simple combination of garlic and broth. A whole chile de arbol, simmered with the soup and then discarded, adds a hint of warmth. Not enough to make me notice that the soup is spicy, but a nice touch in the background.
Susana’s full version included sauteed squash blossoms – good luck finding them in the middle of a Northeastern Ohio winter – but I didn’t need them. The broth is exceptional without them.
Technique matters, because this recipe is so simple. Now is not the time to buy a carton of chicken broth from the store – it needs homemade broth. The garlic needs patience. The trick is slowly sweating the garlic, without browning, for ten to twenty minutes. The garlic will turn translucent and soft, with a hint of yellow-brown around the edges – but if it start to brown, the heat is too high. Get the pot off of the heat to slow down the cooking, then turn the heat down, and start sweating again.
Your patience will be rewarded. Besides, we’re using the pressure cooker to speed things up – we can wait a few minutes for the garlic.
Chicken soup for the soul? My new motto is garlic soup for the soul.
No pressure cooker? No worries. See the Notes section for instructions using a traditional pot.
Recipe: Pressure Cooker Sopa De Ajo (Mexican Garlic Soup)
Adapted from: Susana Trilling, Sopa De Ajo con Calabaza, Seasons of My Heart: A Culinary Journey through Oaxaca, Mexico
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
- 6 quart or larger pressure cooker (I used a 6 quart electric Instant Pot pressure cooker )
Mexican Chicken Stock
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
- 1 rib celery, cut into 2 inch chunks
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 (4 pound) chicken, cut into pieces (legs, wings, and breast)
- OR 3 pounds of chicken legs
- OR 3 pounds chicken backs, necks, or carcasses
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 whole dried chile de arbol – optional
- 1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 4 black peppercorns
- 1 whole allspice
- 8 cups water
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 head garlic, cloves peeled and sliced thin
- OR 15 pre-peeled cloves of garlic
- 1 whole dried chile de arbol (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 cups of chicken stock (from above recipe)
- 2 cups of 1 inch bread cubes from light but crusty white bread (Italian bread or Mexican bread are best, a french baguette is an acceptable stand in)
- salt to taste (I used 2 teaspoons of kosher salt)
- 4 ounces queso fresco (or farmers cheese), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
- 1 cup watercress or arugula (optional)
1. Make the stock
Add the vegetables, chicken, and spices to the pressure cooker pot, then cover with 8 cups of water. Lock the lid on the pressure cooker, bring it up to high pressure, then cook on high pressure for 20 minutes (24 minutes in an electric PC). Turn off the heat and let the pressure come down naturally, about 20 minutes. Unlock the lid and open it away from you – carefully, the steam is scalding. Remove the chicken and reserve it for another use (I discard the skin and bones and shred the meat for tacos.) Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer and discard the solids. This will yield about 10 cups of chicken stock; use all of it in the recipe, or use 8 cups and freeze the extra 2 cups for later use.
This step can be done up to two months ahead of time – freeze the stock, and thaw it out when you’re ready to make soup.
2. Sweat the garlic
Wipe out the pressure cooker pot, put it back over low heat, and add the butter, vegetable oil, and garlic. Don’t fry the garlic – let it slowly simmer in the oil and melted butter. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic is translucent and just turning golden brown, about 15 minutes.
3. Toast the bread
While the garlic sweats, spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, until the bread is dried out and slightly toasted.
4. Simmer the broth
Stir the chicken stock into the pot, scraping the garlic off the bottom and into the then stock. Add the chile de arbol and bay leaf. Lock the lid, bring the pressure cooker to high pressure, and pressure cook for 5 minutes at high pressure (6 minutes electric PC). Quick release the pressure. Open the lid away from you – again, be careful, the steam is scalding. Discard the chile de arbol and bay leaf. Salt the soup to taste.
It will need salt. There isn’t any in the recipe up to this point. Add salt until the soup tastes bright and sweet, and gains body – you should just start to feel the salt on the tip of your tongue. I added 2 teaspoons of kosher salt to get the flavor I wanted.
5. Build the soup bowls
In the bottom of each bowl, put a few cubes of bread and a few cubes of cheese, and a three finger pinch of watercress. Ladle the broth into the bowl, sprinkle parsley on top as a garnish, and serve.
|Ready for broth|
- No pressure cooker? No worries: Cook everything in a large, heavy pot or dutch oven. In step 1, simmer everything on the stove for 1 hour (instead of under pressure for 20 minutes with a natural pressure release). In step 4, simmer the garlic and broth broth for 30 minutes (instead of under pressure for 5 minutes with a quick release).
- How do you peel an entire head of garlic? Instead of peeling each clove individually, do the whole head at once. Separate the head of garlic into cloves, then put the cloves in a medium pot with a tight fitting lid. Grab the pot and the lid with both hands so you can hold the lid on the pot, and shake like mad for 30 seconds, slamming the garlic around. When you’re done, most of the cloves will be peeled, and the rest will have their skin loosened so they can be easily peeled. (If that description doesn’t make sense, watch this video from Saveur: How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Ten Seconds. They recommend using two bowls, but I can get a better grip on a pot with a helper handle and tight lid.)
- How do you peel an entire head of garlic, the throw money at the problem way: buy a jar of pre-peeled garlic. My local grocery store carries this nowadays, but I have to watch the age of the garlic – pre-peeled garlic ages quickly. Watch out for wet garlic, or bright white spots on the garlic. (And, of course, check the “sell by” date.)
- Susana added 16 fresh, cleaned squash blossoms and 2 minced hoja santa leaves, sauteed for a few minutes at the tail end of sweating the garlic. I had to skip them – squash blossoms are impossible to find in the middle of the winter in Ohio. Yet another reason I wish I was back in Oaxaca.
- Susana also recommended adding a poached egg for each bowl of soup. I took her advice the day after I made this recipe, when I had leftovers for lunch. I reheated the soup in the microwave, and added a sunny-side up egg to the bowl. I broke the yolk, stirred it into the soup, and completely forgot that it was 9°F outside.
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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