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.
3Chupe de Camarón
The immense bounty of the Pacific drives many of the gastronomical accomplishments of Perú. This particular stew features shrimp exclusively, but doubly, as the heads and shells flavor the base stock and the camarones themselves are the stars of the show. Almost like a New England clam chowder, this dish enriches the broth with milk and thickens the stew via the use of potatoes, corn, and sometimes rice. Giving the dish particularly Peruvian touches are the use of the local ají panca pepper (found in paste form or frozen in the United States), small cubes of queso fresco, and the garnish: a fried egg.
Before long-bearded hipsters hung themselves out of a food truck offering up bone broth for your health, there has been a long tradition of caldos in Latin cuisine. A cognate for the Italian word for “hot”, in Spanish caldo means broth. If you order a caldo de bola in Ecuador, you would be served a deeply complex stew into which big, green plantain dumplings float, looking like magical realist matzo balls. In México, a caldo tlalpeño resembles a tortilla soup, but uses rice rather than shredded tortillas as a thickener. In Colombia, caldo de costilla is made with short rib, potato, and whatever else you can find, a perfectly improvisational recipe.