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Soup—and Life—Lessons From My Grandma

EatingWell logo EatingWell 1/13/2021 Sandra Gutierrez
a bunch of different types of food on a table: Leigh Beisch © Provided by EatingWell Leigh Beisch

I've been enamored of soups since I was a child, when I learned to cook in my grandmother's kitchen. My grandmother, Mita (short for mamita), lived in a grand estate on the outskirts of Guatemala City. I was a shy child, and I first discovered her kitchen while looking for the perfect hiding place from the large parties that filled her home on weekends.

Soon, within those stucco-and-tile walls, I learned to make pastry, to shell beans and to cook with my senses—adding a little bit of this or that until a dish tasted "just right." Mita taught me the foundation of soup—to make broth from scratch—and then began to teach me about different cultures of the world through food. I learned to make comforting, rice-studded stews, called asopaos, from her travels in Cuba; delicate caldos—soups with perfectly clear broths and chunks of meat and potatoes—that she had learned to make while she lived in Mexico; and rich cream-based soups called cremas, enjoyed during her many trips to South America.

a person wearing a purple dress: Chris Charles © Provided by EatingWell Chris Charles

When my children were little, our family lived in Toronto, Canada, and I began to teach them about the world through food, just as Mita had taught me. Every weekend, we traveled "virtually" to a different country: we'd listen to the music, watch a movie and, of course, eat the food, which always included soup. When our tours took us to Latin America, we prepared hearty, potato-based locros from Ecuador and my favorite consommé with floating crêpes that I grew up eating in Guatemala. We cooked Brazil's moqueca, a seafood stew rich with coconut milk and red palm oil, and taught our girls the importance of African culinary influences in our foodways. They learned to discern differ-ent flavor bases, or sofritos, like the tomato-based one used to flavor sopa de fideos in Mexico. We exposed them to indigenous traditions and ingredients through dishes like vori vori, a corn-dumpling soup from Paraguay. One bowl at a time, my daughters expanded their understanding of the world and of our Latin American heritage.

a bunch of different types of food on a table: Along with the foundations of how to make great soup, my Mita taught me about different cultures through food. © Leigh Beisch Along with the foundations of how to make great soup, my Mita taught me about different cultures through food.

As you cook the recipes gathered here and taste these soups, I hope they also offer you a little escape to Latin America, if only for a moment.

Vori Vori (Corn-Dumpling Soup)

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a bowl of food on a plate: Vori Vori (Corn-Dumpling Soup) © Provided by EatingWell Vori Vori (Corn-Dumpling Soup)

Moqueca (Seafood & Coconut Chowder)

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a pizza sitting on top of a table: Moqueca (Seafood & Coconut Chowder) © Provided by EatingWell Moqueca (Seafood & Coconut Chowder)

Sopa de Fideos (Chicken Noodle Soup with Sofrito)

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a bowl of food on a plate: Sopa de Fideos (Chicken Noodle Soup with Sofrito) © Provided by EatingWell Sopa de Fideos (Chicken Noodle Soup with Sofrito)

Sopa de Albóndigas (Honduran-Style Meatball Soup)

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a bowl of food sitting on a table: Sopa de Albóndigas (Honduran-Style Meatball Soup) © Provided by EatingWell Sopa de Albóndigas (Honduran-Style Meatball Soup)

Locro de Papas (Potato & Peppers Soup)

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a bowl of food on a plate: Locro de Papas (Potato & Peppers Soup) © Provided by EatingWell Locro de Papas (Potato & Peppers Soup)

Sopa de Tartaritas (Tiny Crêpe Soup)

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a bowl of food on a plate: Sopa de Tartaritas (Tiny Crêpe Soup) © Provided by EatingWell Sopa de Tartaritas (Tiny Crêpe Soup)

SANDRA GUTIERREZ is the author of The New Southern-Latino Table, Latin American Street Food, and Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America.

This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of EatingWell magazine.

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