Years ago on a family trip to Miami, we stopped at a nondescript Brazilian joint and found a menu with no English but pictures of good-looking food. The kids all thought it was a riot, and we pointed to what we hoped would be tasty. I ended up with a thick soup called ajiaco, which is actually Colombian in origin.
Ajiaco is a chicken soup/stew that is reminiscent of pozole, and it just hit the spot yesterday with all the damp and chill. It can be light and fresh enough to not violate your spring state of mind but warming and filling enough to kill those blustery, soggy April days. They key is in the customization: The soup should be served with little dishes of limes, avocado, chopped cilantro, onions, and such so that each person can dress his or her soup as he or she see fit.
The stuff I make at home isn't an homage to tradition, it's my workable version. I have yet to find some guascas, the herb used in old-school versions. The potatoes in my ajiaco are shredded, which gives the soup a nice homey viscosity, a creaminess without cream. Some people add corn, some recipes call for rice or hominy as an additional starch, but I like mine simple. A hunk of crusty sourdough makes a nice submergible.
enough to feed a family
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
6 c. stock
3 cloves smashed and chopped garlic
1 small white onion, chopped
2 T. butter
1 t. cumin
2 c. water
4 large russet potatoes, peeled
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
Cubed avocado (Really, a must. Don't skip it.)
Lime quarters, for the squeezing
Chopped white onion
Course salt, or the best ever balinese salt
In a small pot, boil the chicken in the stock for about 6 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let sit for an additional 10 minutes. Remove chicken to separate bowl.
Meanwhile, saute garlic and onions in butter with cumin in a large pot. When they are just soft, add the chicken stock and water; bring to a boil. Shred potatoes into a bowl, then slide into boiling soup with cilantro. Lower heat to med-high, and cook for approximately 15 minutes. When the potatoes have loosened up and the liquid looks creamy, hit it with an immersion blender if you like to bring it all together. Use salt and pepper to taste, turn down to simmer.
Chop the chicken into chunks, and add it to the pot, letting it simmer for approximately 5 minutes.
Get your little dishes set up next to the pot, and serve. Flat bowls work great so that people can line up their perfect bite. Or maybe that's just me.