Soup—and Life—Lessons From My Grandma
Along with the foundations of how to make great soup, my Mita taught me about different cultures through food.
I've been enamored of soups since I was a child, when I learned to cook in my grandmother's kitchen. My grandmother, Mita (short for mamita), lived in a grand estate on the outskirts of Guatemala City. I was a shy child, and I first discovered her kitchen while looking for the perfect hiding place from the large parties that filled her home on weekends.
Soon, within those stucco-and-tile walls, I learned to make pastry, to shell beans and to cook with my senses—adding a little bit of this or that until a dish tasted "just right." Mita taught me the foundation of soup—to make broth from scratch—and then began to teach me about different cultures of the world through food. I learned to make comforting, rice-studded stews, called asopaos, from her travels in Cuba; delicate caldos—soups with perfectly clear broths and chunks of meat and potatoes—that she had learned to make while she lived in Mexico; and rich cream-based soups called cremas, enjoyed during her many trips to South America.
When my children were little, our family lived in Toronto, Canada, and I began to teach them about the world through food, just as Mita had taught me. Every weekend, we traveled "virtually" to a different country: we'd listen to the music, watch a movie and, of course, eat the food, which always included soup. When our tours took us to Latin America, we prepared hearty, potato-based locros from Ecuador and my favorite consommé with floating crêpes that I grew up eating in Guatemala. We cooked Brazil's moqueca, a seafood stew rich with coconut milk and red palm oil, and taught our girls the importance of African culinary influences in our foodways. They learned to discern differ-ent flavor bases, or sofritos, like the tomato-based one used to flavor sopa de fideos in Mexico. We exposed them to indigenous traditions and ingredients through dishes like vori vori, a corn-dumpling soup from Paraguay. One bowl at a time, my daughters expanded their understanding of the world and of our Latin American heritage.
As you cook the recipes gathered here and taste these soups, I hope they also offer you a little escape to Latin America, if only for a moment.
This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of EatingWell magazine.