Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Oh the Things that Spring Will Bring!: Sopa de Ajo (Garlic Soup)

Sopa de Ajo: a typical Spanish peasant food fit for kings.

Every year mother nature tests my inherent impatience by taking her sweet time with the whole "warming up" part of the end of winter. This year in particular it feels like the weather will never break, but I have seen a couple of blooming trees, budding bulbs, and downright defiant flowers that have flat-out refused not to bloom, laughing in the face of old man winter.

For me, this year Spring brings a lot of wonderful - and unexpected - things along with it. Here are just the top four. :)

* * *

Top 4 Things This Spring Will Bring
bada-bing, bing, bing!

Lovely purple freesia - the first harbinger of Spring in our house

4. A Slew of New Food to Cook With!
I can't wait to see all the spring and summer produce start flooding in. I'm so sick of heavy, hearty soups and stews I can barely stand it. Delightful, light and cooling dishes full of seafood, salad and fresh herbs are just what I need to get the spring (pun intended) back in my step after being downtrodden by the woeful winter weather for just a little too long.

Today I have included a recipe that to me is a perfect transition from winter to spring: Castillian Sopa de Ajo (Garlic Soup). Having recently been to Spain, I took every opportunity I had to eat this and was inspired to make it for myself as soon as I got home.

It is a broth that warms you wonderfully on a winter day, but showcases a spring and summer ingredient near and dear to my heart: garlic. It's the perfect combination of winter and spring, for this odd intermediary season we are in, the sun shining but the windows still closed!

3. A Whole Bunch of Flowers!
Though in this globalized world flower shops and stands never really have to close, they are never nearly as verdant or fragrant as in the Spring. It is at this time of year that I feel compulsively compelled to buy something every time I pass, which means practicing a whole lot of restraint. But to be honest, I'd rather be tempted by the beautiful peonies and roses than not. It's like a special chance to showcase and acknowledge mother nature's wonder in an unhurried way. In the Spring I always try to make sure there are fresh flowers in the house, filling it with color and scent and reminding us to go outside or at least open the windows every chance we get.

Matt got me a bunch of beautiful blueish-purple freesia a week ago, the first harbingers of spring in our house this year.

2. A Visit from Maaaling!
It's been far too long since I got to gossip and laugh with my mom in person, and as luck would have it, she'll most likely be making the cross-Atlantic treck over to visit me and Matt and, mostly, Roman sometime in early April. That means Grandma-filled trips to the zoo, walks through blooming gardens, and teatime warmed by afternoon sunshine outside the Orangerie. If we're lucky she'll bring the Texas sunshine with her and we'll skip the April showers this year.

1. A Very Special Birthday!
Roman turns 1 on May 1st! (His champagne / golden birthday came a little early, so I may throw him a bone and allow him to reclaim it on his 21st.) It seems completely mind-boggling to me that a year has already passed, but yet it has and here we are with a halfway talking, nearly-walking little person who participates in our lives more and more each day. Everyone says it, but it is indeed pretty difficult to remember and imagine that he once did not exist.

Either way, of all the wondrous life and life-giving that is celebrated at this vernal time of year, this is the one thing I most anticipate with a big old, proud-mama smile on my face.

* * *

Sopa de Ajo
(Garlic Soup)

Serves 4

Garlic soup: not for the fainthearted.

Garlic is a late spring or summer vegetable, but I can't help but associate it with springtime dishes. Garlic always makes a big appearance in my Easter meal as I generally put a Greek twist on my cooking for the holiday and the Greeks do love their garlic! But this recipe has more to do with Spain than Greece. This traditionally Castillian soup is one of the simplest things you'll ever eat, and can also be one of the most delicious and satisfying. Each time I eat it and remember the recipe I am shocked at how simple it is. It's a great dish because you can easily make just one serving in a pan without having to worry about getting too much dirty or going out to buy a bunch of fiddly ingredients.

While the soup is a broth, it offers substance in its heavy use of olive oil and bread, and - if you're daring - the lightly poached egg that goes into it at the very last minute. It's not for the fainthearted, that's for sure. I have added the chile to fine tune it to my Mexican palate, but it can be seasoned further with grated Manchego or Parmesan. That said, I do prefer to keep it simple as the taste of garlic, when done right, is sweet and deliciously pervasive. Why mess with a good thing?

1 head of garlic, peeled and crushed ( including 3 cloves minced, set aside)
1/3 cup olive oil + 1/4 cup separate
1 bay leaf
1 chile de arbol
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tbsp paprika (hot, sweet or a combo) + 1 tsp
2 shallots or 1 small onion, minced
8-10 cups water or chicken broth
1 dash of sherry vinegar (optional)
salt & pepper to taste
2 cups stale french bread, torn or chopped into large croutons
4 eggs, room temperature

* * *


1. Make the garlic broth: Heat the olive oil on low heat in a medium pot. Add crushed and peeled garlic to it and cook for 20 minutes not allowing the garlic to brown, until the garlic is soft and translucent. Raise heat to medium and add the shallots and cook until well-sweated, then add chile, bay leaf and paprika and cook for another minute or so. Add the water or stock and bring to a boil.

2. Allow the broth to simmer for 30 minutes uncovered, until the flavor is concentrated and the garlic is extremely tender.

3. In a separate pan, combine the minced garlic, crushed red pepper and extra olive oil over low heat until fragrant. Then toss in the bread and mix to cover in the oil mixture seasoning with salt and pepper to taste as you do so. Sprinkle the croutons with 1 tsp paprika. Turn heat to medium-high or so and allow bread to toast into croutons. The bread should turn golden, not burn. When well-toasted, remove from heat and set aside.

4. Just before serving, remove the bay leaf from the broth and add the dash of sherry vinegar (optional). Bring the soup back to a boil and then ladle into bowls. Crack the eggs into the hot soup and allow to poach with residual heat, then add croutons on top.

Note: If you are squeamish about undercooked eggs, there are a couple of options.
1. Poach the eggs in the soup pot one at a time (this is more time consuming when people are waiting for their food!).
2. Poach the eggs ahead of time and add to the soup bowl (doesn't have the same flavor or affect).
3. Crack the eggs into each bowl of hot soup, then pop the bowls into the microwave for 1-2 minutes or into a hot oven until the eggs are hard.

¡ Buen Provecho !
Follow Me on Pinterest


  1. Woohoo spring is here.I hear you - I am so ready for lighter food, and certainly lighter clothes. Finally got a bit of sun and stupid me totally forgot to apply sunscreen. What a great variety of wonderful milestones and celebrations you have to kick off this time of the year. I look forward to see what you are inspired to do with your spring fevered ideas.

  2. The soup sounds amazing! I would love the garlicky flavor and the addition of chile de arbol! Will have to try!

  3. These are four marvelous things to look forward to in spring! Don't we all feel a little lighter and brighter now? I'm still in soup mode so this recipe is welcome AND I've been an egg-poaching fiend lately, so you know it's going in there! Thanks for such a happy, spring-y post. 8-D

  4. There are so many reasons to love spring and perfect food that compliments the season just makes it better! Great post! And happy birthday to Roman too ;-)