Hearty meals in Ecuador always begin with soup, and chicken quinoa soup is a staple of the high country. Corn, chunks of yuca, fresh fava beans and quinoa are added to a rich, garlicky broth. The soup is topped with slices of avocado and fresh crumbled cheese. Aji, a hot pepper salsa, is always served on the side. You’ll find lots of uses for leftover aji; it is the chimichurri sauce of Ecuador.
Ecuadorian Chicken Quinoa Soup with Aji Sauce
For the chicken stock:
- One whole chicken, cut up, about 3 ½ pounds
- 8 cups chicken broth, preferably organic and low salt
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 5 whole black peppercorns
- 8 fresh sage leaves, or 2 teaspoons dry sage
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
- 3 pieces star anise
- 3 ribs of celery, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 2 carrots, peeled, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
For the soup:
- ½ cup quinoa
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup peeled and cubed yuca (or sweet potato)
- ½ cup fresh or frozen fava beans (or lima beans)
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 1 avocado, sliced
- ½ cup fresh white cheese (such as queso fresco), crumbled
For the aji sauce:
- ½ bunch cilantro, leaves and stems
- ½ cup water
- 3 cloves garlic
- juice of ½ lemon or lime
- 3-4 small, fresh hot chilies (such as Thai bird chilies), stems removed
- 3 Tablespoons white onion, finely chopped
- In a 7 quart stockpot, place chicken pieces, chicken broth, sage, thyme, peppercorns, minced garlic, celery and carrot pieces, onion and bay leaf.
- Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered, skimming off fat now and then, for about an hour.
- While the chicken is simmering, prepare the quinoa. Rinse well under cold water, then place in a fine mesh sieve to drain. Shake out as much water as you can.
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, then add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When shimmering, add the quinoa. Sauté quinoa until it starts to pop, then add the cup of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and cook quinoa for 15 minutes. Cover and set aside until the chicken is ready.
- To make the aji Sauce, place cilantro, water, garlic, lemon or lime juice, and chilies in a blender or a food processor and blend on high speed. Remove and add the white onion. Set aside.
- Remove the chicken from the broth with a slotted spoon, and set aside on a plate to cool.
- Drain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Discard the solids.
- Return the broth to the stockpot and bring to a boil. Add the yuca or sweet potato, corn, fava beans and quinoa. Cook until the vegetables can be pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pull the chicken from the bones, and add to the soup.
- Taste for salt. Depending on the broth you used, you may want to add 1 teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon kosher salt and several turns of freshly ground pepper.
- Serve your soup topped with avocado slices and crumbled fresh cheese. The spicy aji sauce is served on the side.