Sunday, November 4, 2007

Recipe of the week from Mexican Cooking: Sopa de Ajo (garlic soup)

I chose the garlic soup, Sopa de Ajo, as the recipe of the week, because I really wanted to try it and because I had so far not made a soup as recipe of the week. I also wanted to make Chiles Rellenos, either the recipe I posted on Tuesday, or the Spanish-style filled peppers which are also in the book, but I ran into problems with both recipes.

With the deep-fried Chiles Rellenos it was unavailability of ingredients that stopped me. While I found both Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese for the filling, I could not find Anaheim or Poblano peppers – indeed the only fresh hot peppers I did find were Cayennes, which are much too hot for this recipe, plus you can only get very little cheese into them. In this case I plan to wait until next spring, then get me some seeds and grow some Anaheims along with my usual crop of Cayennes. Check back for a report on deep-fried chillies in August of 2008.

In the case of the other Chiles Rellenos recipe, there was a translation problem. The Danish translator interpreted “Mexican rice” as “rice grown in Mexico” and not as the dish of the same name, which is not included in this version of the book (it’s a shorter version of a book of the same name). Just by looking at the recipe I could see that the “Mexican rice” was indeed the side dish of that name, but there are very different versions of it to be found on the net (some mild, some hot, some with tomatoes, some without, etc.) and I wanted to review the recipe made as closely as I could to the one given in the book, so it was no go, and I ended up making just the soup.

The Sopa de Ajo:

Recipe originally posted on Wednesday, October 31, 2008.

I love garlic and have a tendency to always use of it more than is stated in recipes. This recipe looks like it could satisfy even the most demanding garlic lover.

This appears to be an originally Spanish dish. Most of the Spanish recipes I have seen for it include ham and use sweet paprika powder instead of hot sauce.

To make 4 small portions:

10 garlic cloves
1 tsp flour
2 tbs butter
1 litre beef- or chicken bouillon
Hot pepper sauce, for example Tabasco
Salt and pepper
4 eggs
Croutons or toast cut in small cubes (may be left out)
2 tbs grated cheese for decoration
1 tbs chopped parsley for decoration (and to prevent garlic breath)

Chop the garlic as finely as you can and then crush it. Mix with the flour and fry at low temperature in the butter until transparent. Add the bouillon and bring to the boil. Cook for 15 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve, adjust flavour with salt and pepper and a few drops of pepper sauce.

Return to the heat and bring to a gentle boil. Break the eggs and drop them into the soup and poach them for a couple of minutes, or until they are cooked (this presumably means the whites – I think the yolk is supposed to be runny). The soup is now ready.

Add croutons or toast cubes, sprinkle with cheese and top with parsley before serving.

Another suggestion is to put the soup in small warmed soup bowls, add the egg yolks and let stand for about 2 minutes. Decorate with croutons, cheese and parsley and serve.

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The soup was delicious, and I will definitely make it again. It turned out richly flavoured but not overpoweringly garlicky, and the cheese, egg and croutons gave it a nice blend of tastes and textures.

I made half a recipe and the only thing I changed was that I omitted the parsley because I didn't have any on hand. The garlic made me weep copiously while I was frying it, and there is now a pungent smell of garlic, not only in my apartment, but probably in the whole stairwell of my apartment building as well. I used a commercial beef bouillon cube to make the stock, and it was salty enough that no extra salt was needed. I added a little pepper and dribbled hot pepper sauce (Tabasco-style) into it until I could just taste it in the soup. The recipe didn’t say whether the egg was supposed to be fully cooked or just poached enough for a firm white and runny yolk, but I chose the second and let it cook just 3 minutes. For the cheese I sprinkled some grated Mozzarella over the soup and also put in a slice of another cheese, mild and rich. I think the next time I make it I will use stronger flavoured cheese. I used cubes of toasted Italian bread instead of croutons. They softened very quickly, so next time I will use genuine croutons.


A note on the book:
I don’t know who to blame: the author, the Danish translator or the Danish editor who shortened the book, but some of the recipes are not easy to follow, simply because they are not detailed enough. A beginner home cook would definitely be stumped by some of them. The instructions sometimes don’t say how to prep the ingredients before cooking (for example whether to chop or slice an onion and how finely/roughly), or important parts of the instructions are left out and the cook is expected to just wing it. Not good, but I will persevere, since there are a number of promising recipes in it.

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