The ultimate classic Latin soup—sancocho—is interpreted in many different ways across Latin America—all hearty and warming. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

How to make: sancocho

“Latin American cooking,” writes chef and cookbook author Marciel Presilla, “is womanly, slow, and round like the olla, the soup pot that is always being stirred.” Indeed, the tradition of long-simmered, hearty soups and stews—the kind that generally send you off for a nice, long siesta—dates back to our earliest days in Latin America and the Hispanic Caribbean, and to the mingling of cultures and ingredients that took place between Native Americans, Spanish conquistadores and African slaves. Today, while every region has its own favorite stew, there’s none more popular and beloved than the sancocho, that hearty concoction of meats, tubers and vegetables slowly simmered until everything is fork tender and practically dissolving into a delicious broth.

Of course, each country has its own interpretation of the dish, relying on native seasonings and ingredients. In Puerto Rico, it’s often made with chicken or top round beef and the cooking begins with a flavorful sofrito. (Check out a great recipe and gorgeous photo of one at the always beautiful blog.) In Ecuador, on the other hand, sancocho is made with pork and choclo, or corn. And the Dominican Republic, where it’s practically the national dish, is famous for what is surely its ultimate expression: the sancocho de siete carnes, which often includes chicken, beef, pork, sausage, goat and ham, among other cuts of meat. (If you’re up to the tasty task, here’s a great recipe at the Delicious Dominican Cuisine blog.)

And then there’s Colombia, with its vast variety of climates and topography. Traditional Colombian sancocho changes depending of the region it comes from. In the coastal areas, a sancocho is typically is made with fresh seafood; in the more mountainous terrains, it’s often made with wild animals. Today’s recipe comes to us from not from South America but from Miami, which has one of the fastest growing Colombian populations in the US and an equally fast-growing Colombian food scene.

Jairo Hurtado, who owns La Ventana and Bolivar restaurants on South Beach, shared with us the family recipe he uses to make the sancochos he serves every weekend for his guests. “It is my mother-in-law’s recipe,” he said of his Cali-born suegra. “She came into our kitchen and trained our cooks to make it  because we wanted it to be really authentic.” The key, he says, is to add the ingredients in different stages in order to slowly build flavor and ensure they don’t overcook and fall apart. “It’s a soup,” he says, “so you want to make sure it stays brothy.” A short cut he also recommends: using a pressure cooker to soften the meat, rather than simmering it for hours on end. “It will save you a lot of time and still make the meat extra tender.” All of which means  you’ll be able to eat your sancocho sooner rather than later. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Ingredients for a classic Colombian sancocho. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Ingredients for a classic Colombian sancocho. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Colombian Sancocho

3 lbs bone-on beef short ribs
Garlic powder
1 envelope of Sazón Goya
3 green plantains, peeled and sliced into 3-inch chunks
3 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 corn cobs, sliced in thirds
3 yucas, peeled and cut into thirds
1 large onion, small dice
5 green onions, finely chopped
Chopped cilantro, for garnish

1. Generously sprinkle the ribs with salt and garlic powder. Place the ribs in a pressure cooker and cover with water about one inch. Cook pressurized for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, wait until the cooker has depressurized and open it. Set the ribs aside.

2. Fill a stock pot large enough to contain all the ingredients about half way with water. Add the envelope of Sazón. Add most of the chopped onion and green onions, reserving a few tablespoons for garnish. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Then add the plantains. When the plantains are about halfway cooked add the corn, potatoes and yuca. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables start to get tender.

3. Add the ribs and the remaining liquid from the pressure cooker to the soup. Continue cooking, over medium-low heat, for about an hour. Add the remaining chopped onion and green onion and cook for five more minutes. Remove the stock pot from the heat.

4. Remove the ribs from the stock pot and allow to cool for a few minutes.  When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones. Discard the bones and return the meat to the soup. Serve the soup with a side of white rice, maduros and lime and garnish with chopped cilantro. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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