This recipe comes to us courtesy of chef Victor Albisu of Taco Bamba and Poca Madre in Washington, DC. Victor first tasted it out of a bucket in a street in Peru and has never forgotten it. It’s now a regular part of his holiday table. The soup is simple and surprisingly sophisticated. Victor showed us his technique in our 2018 holiday episode "How Chefs Holiday at Home." The dish is reminiscent of making a risotto with slow additions of liquid and lots of stirring. The silky texture and nuance of peppers make the extra attention well worth it.
1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or rendered pork fat)
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
2 to 3 tablespoons aji amarillo paste or chopped jarred aji amarillo peppers
1 dry bay leaf
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken or beef stock, preferably homemade
3/4 cup diced queso fresco
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons pitted Peruvian or kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro sprigs
The freshly grated zest of about 1/2 lime
Put the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Add 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are just barely tender when pierced with a knife, about 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes, rinse under cold water to stop the cooking and drain well again.
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often until softened and golden, about 7 minutes. Add the paprika, aji amarillo, and the bay leaf and cook, stirring one minute. Add the potatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly dried out, about 3 minutes.
Add about 3/4 cup of the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring vigorously to coarsely mash up the potatoes. As some of the stock gets absorbed, continue adding stock, a little at a time, until the potatoes are tender and broken up (it is ok, if there are still some large chunks), about 10 minutes (adjust the heat as necessary to keep the soup at a simmer). Add the evaporated milk and simmer gently to let the flavors blend, about 5 minutes. The ajiaco should be the consistency of a very thick soup or a loose porridge so simmer to reduce or add a little more stock as necessary.
Remove the bay leaf, then stir in the parsley, half of the cheese, and half of the olives. Season with salt to taste. Spoon into shallow bowls and top with the cilantro and the remaining cheese and olives. Sprinkle with the lime zest and serve.
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