Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sopa Teologa -- Peruvian bread soup of the priests


The "Soup of the Priests" -- a specialty of Trujillo in northern Peru. [Photo credit.]

Looks tasty, but why call it Soup of the Priests, or "theological soup?" The traditional story is that Dominican monks prepared it to celebrate the end of arguing among the Franciscans and the Augustinians in Trujillo. In 1610, the Spanish viceroy attending the funeral of the saintly Franciscan priest Fr. Francisco Solano told the two groups to put aside their arguments. Apparently they agreed, and a month later the Dominicans created Sopa Teologa to honor the occasion. One source said that the soup was "the product of the benevolence of the parishioners who came with their products and leftovers, to fill the big pot that was cooking with chicken broth or turkey flocks."

Traditionally huge quantities -- tens of thousands of bowls --of Sopa Teologa are made on Palm Sunday. The faithful put aside the fasts of Lent that forbade eating meat and feasted on this soup that was rich with milk, cheese, and various meats, including beef, goat, pork, chicken, turkey, and duck. Chickpeas, rice, lentils, olives and hard-boiled eggs all could play a role as well. Then they fasted again from Monday until Easter Sunday.

Original recipe combines ingredients typical of the district.  | Photo: A.  Castro.
On Palm Sunday, large quantities of Sopa Teologa are served in Trujillo.  Photo credit

Several writers noted the blending of culinary traditions in the "mongrel" sopa teologa. The soup base -- bread soaked in milk is definitely European -- the Native Peruvians had neither ingredient. Soaked in milk and boiled with broth, the bread loses its character  and becomes a thickener, just as in Spanish gazpachos and garlic soups (sopa de ajo).

The Peruvians had already domesticated chickens, and they grew tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. It's hard to tell how authentic to Peru in 1610 the seasonings of oregano, bay leaf, parsley, salt and pepper were. Some Peruvian versions of the recipe call for  a sprig of huacatay -- a Peruvian herb from the marigold family, often sold in a paste as "black mint." Saffron is added to some variations; that also would have come from Spain.

All of the members of the onion family -- the leek, onion and garlic -- came from the Old World. The cheese again is an Old World contribution. The Inca had root vegetables that resembled celery and carrots -- these might have been the original ingredients, along with the potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers.

Another tradition associated with Sopa Teologa is "At the top of the plate is placed a thread, which means the union of two people. 'It is also the idea of the dish, because it unites two culinary traditions as a kid and turkey. I think it's a very romantic plate,' [s]he said in a brief respite to orders." [Rosa Pantoja Jet, owner of a Trujillan restaurant.] That is consistent with a tradition that Priests' Soup is also served at weddings.

The circle of bread on this soup may be the "thread" that is often associated with the soup in translations. [Photo credit]

The source of many of the English-language recipes for Sopa Teologa appeared to be a post from "Yanuq, Cooking in Peru." I haven't tried the recipe, but it's the one that my cousin who is married to a Trujillano sent as definitive. Another one from a Peruvian site differs very little. Many of the images of Sopa Teologa show it garnished with slices of hard-boiled eggs and/or black olives.

"SOPA TEOLOGA / Theological Soup      

   Ingredients :
2.2 lb to 3 lb (1 - 1 ½ k) chicken or hen
2 celery stalks
1 large carrot, diced
1 leek, cut in 3-inch pieces
Bay leaf
¼ cup chopped parsley
6 to 8 bread slices
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tablespoons ají amarillo fresco / fresh yellow aji (chili) seeded, deveined
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
9 oz (1/2 lb) fresh farmers cheese (feta), diced
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups milk


To prepare stock place chicken or hen pieces in a large pan. Cover with water. Add carrot, celery, leek, oregano, salt, pepper, bay leaf and parsley sprig. If its a hen boil for 2 hours, a chicken will cook in less time. When cooked, remove chicken bones and cut meat in pieces. Save stock.

On a separate bowl, soak bread slices in milk combined with stock (about ½ cup). Blend or process.

Sauté onion, add garlic, blended aji and tomato in a pan. Season to taste. Add the processed bread. Stir until thickened.

Add 4 cups of chicken or hen stock and bring to a boil for 20 minutes. Add potatoes, and cheese. Boil for 10 minutes more until potatoes are cooked.

Finally add milk and chicken pieces.

Serve in soup dishes and garnish with chopped parsley.   8 servings"

The soup theologian Easter


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