In November 2009, John, our friend Doug, and I visited Peru to spend some time with John’s sister and her family and of course, to see Macchu Picchu. Home to hundreds of species of potatoes, this was a culinary haven to a carbohydrates addict like me. Meals frequently combined rice, potatoes, and corn. I could eat lots of carbs and not feel guilty about it since it was all part of enjoying the local food.
While in Cusco on our way back from Macchu Picchu, we stumbled into a restaurant off the main square that had more casual, local food, a welcome change after the various pizza, chop suey, and chicharrones menus accompanied with the offer of “all day happy hour for you” restaurants that had relentlessly sought our patronage in Aguas Calientes. For me in particular, I was on day 2 of treatment for food poisoning (done in by an avocado salad at a respectable restaurant, sadly not by some adventurous street fare) so I was wary about what I could test out on my still troubled stomach. I settled on a chicken soup and soon found myself in comfort food heaven: a rich and flavorful chicken broth brimming with soft vermicelli style noodles, strands of airy egg white, powdery chunks of potato, and bright with fresh cilantro. No wonder we love chicken noodle soup while sick.
We decided to get this same soup to go for John’s sister who was shut in at our hotel with her sleeping son. John looked up how to say “take out” in Spanish with our free iPhone Spanish dictionary app but something must have been lost in translation as the waitress brought out another steaming hot mini cast iron cauldron of the soup. Through hand gestures and more broken Spanish, we explained that we needed to take the soup to go with us, but the waitress shook her head and said she didn’t have any containers to do that. I then spotted our empty bottle of water, and thought that if we could carefully spoon the soup through the narrow neck, we could recap it and take it back to Anne to eat. Surprisingly skilled at this, I managed to fill the bottle about 1/3 of the way when the waitress saw us, shook her head as if to say, “Stupid gringos,” grabbed the bottle and the cauldron of soup from me then unceremoniously dumped everything into a plastic bag before handing it back to us with our bill.
Maybe it was the lasting impression of how comforting that soup was, but I was determined to recreate it to the best of my ability back home. It took a year and a half later with a return trip to Peru to remind me of that intention. Here’s my version– probably not at all authentic but still hits the spot: I used dried angel hair pasta, homemade chicken stock, peeled Yukon gold potatoes, and to add a little bit more protein, some shredded chicken breast. Spring has been slow in coming out here in Seattle, so I don’t mind having warm, chicken noodle soup even though it’s now May, but if it’s warmer out where you live, you still might consider making this soup. There’s just something about the bright yellows from the egg and the vibrant green of the cilantro that makes this a very spring-time soup to me. So make a pot, and I bet that there won’t be any leftovers to try spooning into a plastic bottle.
- 5 cups chicken stock
- 2 chicken breast halves (about 1 pound), cut into 4 pieces
- 3 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
- handful (about 1/4 of a pound) angel hair pasta, broken in half
- 3 eggs, beaten with a 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch
- salt and pepper
- pinch of ground cumin
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, plus more for serving.
In a large soup pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Reduce the heat to barely a simmer, then place the chicken pieces in the stock and cover the pot with a lid. Poach until chicken is cooked through about 10-15 minutes. Remove chicken from stock to a plate to cool slightly. Add the potatoes and bring stock back up to a gentle boil. Cook for about 7-8 minutes then add pasta and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes or until pasta is cooked through and potatoes are tender, falling apart when touched with a fork but otherwise holding their shape. While boiling the potatoes, shred the chicken meat with two forks then return to the pot. Pour in the egg and cornstarch mixture while stirring soup with a wooden spoon to help egg form strands. Add cumin and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cilantro then ladle soup into bowls, topping with more chopped cilantro if desired.