Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sopa de Pollo...Cuban Style Chicken Soup

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Believe it or not, this post is coming to you from the same place it came from over two weeks bed. 

Yes, dear readers,  I have been so sick for the last couple of weeks that today was the first day I was actually able to get out of bed for a few minutes and make myself some soup.  Not that I have lacked for nourishment.  Thanks to family, neighbors and a wonderful daughter I have been well fed.  As I am writing this post I am sitting here popping chocolate nonpareils and sipping a delightful black tea brought to me by a dear friend who knocks on my door regularly and leaves little bundles of joy at my door,  As long as I'm lying in bed, all is well.  The minute I get out, all bets are off, and so it goes...

I haven't had these in years.  Sometimes it pays to get sick.
A couple of days ago I decided I was going to pamper myself and pulled out a set of linen sheets that I haven't used since I moved here for lack of having  someone to wash and iron them.  Linen sheets are such a luxury these days.  It's not what you pay for them, the real luxury is being able to use them and not worry about having them washed and ironed. When I lived in NYC I had a dry cleaners right across the street and they did a great job for a fairly reasonable price.  In Miami  I had someone who ironed.  Here, while I I feel like a queen right now,  I wonder who is going to wash and iron them when they come off the bed... and at what price.  That date is getting closer even though I have plans to switch to the other side of the bed in a couple of days.  (The advantages of being sick in bed is all the time you have to make plans)

The Sous Chef is the only member of the family that I see on a regular basis even though, by now, she has gotten tired of the bed, the linen sheets and the crumbs. She started sleeping with my daughter a couple of days ago and now I have to prod her and entice her with cookies to get her to come up on the bed.

So much for my misery now on to the soup...

I'm not a lap dog, I'm a terrier.  This is boring, linen sheets or not...

The first words out of a Cuban's  mouth when he/she hears you have a cold is a variation of any of the following:

Have you had some chicken soup?  Why don't you make yourself some chicken soup?  Do you want me to bring you some chicken soup?

It is so ingrained in every Cuban's DNA that at the mention of a cold, the first thing that pops in our minds is chicken soup.  As a matter of fact, and I kid you not, I know I am getting a cold if I start aching for chicken soup.  That is how deep it runs.  No matter your social or economic standing, where you live or how old you are, if you have any traces of Cuban blood in your body a cold equals chicken soup.

Our chicken soup is different from the one most Americans are used to in four five ways:

1.  You start with uncooked chicken

2.  You use a wide variety of vegetables, mainly roots from the Caribbean

3.  You don't use celery or carrots

4. You finish it with a squirt of lime juice

5. When it comes to chicken soup, Cubans don't measure, but I will try

For starters, I prefer to buy chicken pieces, mainly the thighs, instead of a whole chicken.  They are easier to deal with when it comes to separating the meat from the bone.  Forget chicken breasts, they do not have that much flavor,   Whatever you choose, buy the parts with the skin and the bones, that's where a lot of the flavor comes from. This is not the time to be fuzzy.

Secondly, nowadays you will find all of these vegetables at your local grocery store.  They are in the produce department, in the aisle that most of you Americans skip, in bins full of dark rooty things that look like they came out of the Stone Age.  Trust me, these things are full of vitamins, delicious and not hard to peel.   All you need is a good peeler and the willingness to do it.   This is your chance to try them, go for it!. 

Name (pronounced nyamay), or yellow yam

You won't need many, only one of each and I will give you a choice.  If you are the Whole Foods type, this group is for you. Just think how much you will impress your friends in East Hampton  when you start rattling off the names.

Get the recipe after the break

I can tell she's feeling better...much better.  That cough syrup is a godsend.

Sopa de Pollo...Cuban Style Chicken Soup


2 TB. butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 bay leaf
3 TB chopped parsley
4 chicken thighs, with bone and skin
1 Tb tomato paste
1 carton Organic Chicken stock
few sprigs of saffron (optional)

1 potato peeled and cut in cubes
2 cups peeled calabaza or butternut squash  cut in cubes
1 malanga, peeled and cut in cubes
1 boniato, peeled and cut in cubes*
1 plantain, yellow and ripe but not too ripe

2 handfuls of fideos, or vermicelli
1 lime

Clockwise:  name, potato, malanga, plantain, squash

This is called name, or yellow yam

This is malanga, one of my favorites, great for stomach problems

Peeling is not hard, they just look prehistoric!

Ready to rock and, potato, malanga, squash (the plantain was not ready)

Place them in water until ready to use so they don't discolor.  If they do, they look even weirder!


In a stockpot, melt the butter and sautee onions, pepper, bay leaf, parsley.  Add the thighs and sautee for a couple of minutes on each side.  You don't want to brown them just get them on the golden side.  Add tomato paste, chicken broth and enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil and simmer, covered,  for about 45 minutes or until thighs are cooked.  Remove to a plate, let them cool off,  remove the skin and shred in small pieces.

Add all the vegetables to the broth, starting with the calabaza or squash, the potatoes and boniato.  These take the longest to cook.  After about 10 minutes add the malanga and the plantain, cover,  and cook for another 30 minutes or until done.  Use a fork to test.

Good substitute

Our Jewish friends to the rescue

 Add back the chicken and the fideos or vermicelli and bring to a boil.  Cook, uncovered until the fideos are done. About another 10 minutes.  Check for salt and pepper.  LET REST FOR AT LEAST AN HOUR before eating.

The soup will be much better if made early in the day or the next day.  When ready to eat, heat the soup.  Serve with a wedge of lime on the side.  Squeeze a few drops in the soup, stir and enjoy!

*Notes: can omit or substitute with name (nyamay) which I did since they had no boniato. Both are a type of sweet potato, although not as sweet.  Also, if you live where it is available, calabaza, or West Indian pumpkin,  is much, much flavorful than butternut squash.  Unfortunately, not available where I live.  The plantain was not ready so I did not include.  If I freeze some of the soup, I will add to that second batch.


  1. What a delicious sounding recipe, and to these Anglo eyes, most unusual! Funny thing about linen sheets, we were sick with colds over the holidays, too, and I brought out and made our bed with vintage linen sheets that our housekeeper has always been afraid to make the bed with. Sublime! They are at Mrs. Roles' hand laundry for washinging and ironing as I write this. Feel better, m'dear! Reggie

    1. I would give up my cough syrup to see you tackle this soup at Darlington House! lol

  2. Oh dear! That's a long time to be sick. I'm glad you are being well looked after. I use chicken feet for my "sick stock" - and for times when I am well. It gels amazingly. If you have any Asian markets nearby I urge you to try it. One pound of feet makes about 8 cups of stock.

    1. Carol, it is a very, very bad flu this year. Im not the only one sick for this long. it's everybody. I have never had a flu shot but trust me, if you haven't had one, get it. you don't want to get this stuff.

      I had heard about chicken feet. Hmm...must try. thanks

  3. Lindaraxa, this recipe is a treasure! Thank you for sharing your authentic family recipe. I have been thinking of you and hoping you were feeling better. So sorry you are still under the weather. Surely this fabulous soup will work its wonders.

    All best,

  4. I am dismayed that you are still sick; maybe you are trying to get active too soon. You should be taking it easy.

    Your Cuban version of chicken soup sure looks good. I know I can't get a lot of the ingredients in Taiwan, but I will try to figure out some local equivalents, then let you know how it comes out.

    By the way, in addition to regular chicken soup, there are a lot of medicinal versions here with various herbs added, and even special chicken soup restaurants that serve them. I guess that there is no excuse for getting sick in Taiwan.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Special chicken soup restaurants???!!! I'm on my way!

      You know we had quite a lot of Chinese in Cuba before Castro came. You must try Cuban Chinese food, very popular. I have a recipe and story I wrote exactly a year ago:

      I am sure you will find the equivalents for this soup in your neck of the woods.

  5. Chicken soup! This should do it. I am so sorry to hear you are still down with the flu. So many people are sick this year, I hate to go out.

    Please feel better soon. Who is the angel leaving goodies at your door?

  6. Your admonition that this is so much better after it's had a chance to rest is spot on. I made it today at noon, tasted it at 4 (nothing special) and finally sat down to eat it at 11PM - OMG it was sooo good. Thank you! And please talk with your MD about getting a vaccination against pneumonia if you haven't already had one. Take care

    1. The quality of the vegetables has a lot to do with it also. I had to use a butternut squash that was so so and the soup came out okay but no great shakes this time. Calabaza is so much better. I don't know where you live but try to find it. Also don't forget that squirt of lime at the end.

      Thank you for letting me know.

  7. Made this today. I live in Central Florida and found all the ingredients at my local Hispanic market. Yes I have a cold and I am tired of spending $5 for a cup for so so Cuban restaurant soup.


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