Once in a while, when my kids begin to whine about having to finish an adequate portion of the healthy and balanced meal they are served before they can even contemplate the idea of having dessert, I tell them it could be worse. They could have been born in Latin America, where they would be asked to finish both their sopa and their seco (the main dish, described in opposition to the wet soup as “dry”), to finally qualify for a postre. Not buying what I’m selling, they are content to explain to me the various reasons that is absurd, an exaggeration and an imposition, and include the fact that we live in South Florida where, they insist, it is way too hot to eat soup.
But we have air conditioning, and I can crank it up, is my usual retort to my guys, who much like my childhood heroine from the 1970s comic strip, the precocious pacifist Mafalda, have strong opinions on politics and the economy but not much taste for soup. I’m not sure why they reject this warm, nourishing, semi-liquid meal that is a staple throughout cultures and the best repository for all the random veggie odds and ends in the bottom of your crisper, but I suspect it’s because they’ve never suffered a bone-chilling morning in Bogotá, just to tuck into a bowl of steaming hot ajiaco for lunch.
I was an adult when I learned that sancochar is a verb that means to boil or cook through while immersed in water. To me, sancocho was simply the broth soup generously studded with large pieces of root vegetables — potatoes, corn, yuca, plátano, arracacha — and hunks of chicken or beef (though some regions also make seafood ones). Unlike ajiaco, which takes on the thick consistency of a chowder, the liquid in a sancocho remains light and clearer, and the mixture of flavors is brightened by the addition of chopped cilantro or hot sauce. A part of cuisine throughout the Caribbean, each region has its own variations, but all of them are thought to be effective hangover cures.
This Mexican staple is named after its main ingredient: hominy. Rehydrated and cooked as a legume or grain in Mexico, canned hominy is a good substitute here in the United States, when you recreate this meal-in-a-bowl. Traditionally, the richness of the broth is achieved through the use of the pig’s head and neck bones as a base. Hard to find here, any cut of pork or even chicken will make an adequate swap. Pozole comes in three varieties: traditional red, thanks to the addition of ancho and poblano chiles; white, which is the plain version; and green, so-colored by the addition of salsa verde. Shredded cabbage and radishes are popular garnishes.