For my 22nd birthday, my college roommates bought me an immersion blender and a cookbook called Latin Ladles, by Douglas Rodriguez. The book features classic soups and stews from Central and South America – from simple chicken soups and bean stews to gorgeous seafood extravaganzas. Really delicious stuff. Back then, lots of the ingredients were absolutely terrifying to me. Bone marrow? Achiote? Quinwhaaaat?
I searched high and low for that mythical quinoa, with no luck. It was years before I finally found some, and I didn’t know to rinse it, so my hard-won quinoa soup ended up tasting oddly bitter and metallic.
A decade later, and quinoa is available even at Walmart and everyone's grandma knows about its catch-phrasey health benefits like whole proteins and gluten-free. And with its accessible blend of Latin and Asian flavors, Peruvian cuisine has been all over the restaurant world. My roommates were ahead of the times and those gifts have been much used.
(Seriously, girls. Love you. That blender still works.)
The quinoa soup I’m making today is a simplified adaptation of the recipe in Latin Ladles. There are so many versions of this soup, so play around with variations. I was lucky enough to try an authentic version in Peru as my first post-Inka Trail meal, and that’s how I’ll always remember it – nourishing, comforting, and the perfect welcome-home meal after a long, exhausting day.
Chicken and Quinoa Soup
Yield: Serves 8-10
Prep Time: 20 min Cook Time: 1 hour Total Time: 1 hour 20 min
1 gallon / 4 L chicken stock or broth (Homemade is awesome. Low-sodium cartons are great. Bouillon as only a very last resort)
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh or 0.5 tsp dried thyme
7 cloves of garlic, minced (or use a garlic press). 4 will be used for one step, 3 for the other step.
2 Tbs butter
1 onion, diced
0.5 cup / 113g loosely packed cilantro leaves
3 jalapeño chiles, seeded, stemmed and diced
1 to 1.5 cups / 230g to 340g quinoa, rinsed and drained in a wire mesh strainer (more quinoa will give you more of a stew. I used 1.5 cups in the recipe pictured at top and you can see there's not a lot of broth)
3 stalks celery, diced
5 green onions (white and green parts), sliced
0.5 Lb / 225g spinach (a whole bag baby spinach is perfect)
Salt and pepper
In a stockpot over high heat, combine stock, chicken, bay leaves, thyme, and 4 garlic cloves. Add about 2 tsp salt if you're using unsalted stock; if using broth, hold off on seasoning til the end. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the pot. Once cooled, shred it (lengthwise) with two forks or your hands.
While the chicken cools, strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a big pot or bowl. Discard the solids.
Heat the butter over medium heat in the stockpot. Add the onion and remaining garlic and sauté for 5-10 minutes, til the onion looks translucent. Add the cilantro, jalapeño and a pinch of salt and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes. Decrease the heat to low and add the quinoa, celery and green onions. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, then add the spinach and shredded chicken. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lime juice. Serve with garnishes or as-is.
Garnishes and Variations
Garnishes: Try topping the soup with cubed avocado, diced tomato, or hot sauce. These aren't traditional garnishes, but they taste awesome. If nothing else, finish with a squeeze of lime.
Veggie Lovers: Bulk up the soup with zucchini sliced into half moons, diced or shredded carrots and diced tomatoes. Add the zucchini and carrot with the cilantro and add the tomato with the celery. You could really add anything - just remember to add the longer-cooking veggies first.