Fresh herbs are big part of Mexican cuisine. In Mexico this soup is made with hierba santa, which is part of the pepper family (piperaceae) and has a spicy, aniseedy flavour. I’ve used fennel as it is more readily available in Ireland and added wild garlic, because it’s wild garlic season and it’s grassy pungency is perfect in this soup!
I first learnt to make this soup at Susana Trilling’s Seasons of my Heart Cookery School just outside Oaxaca in Mexico. Originally from the U.S., Susana has set up a beautiful cookery school in the desert-like landscape about 45 minutes from the centre of Oaxaca. She encourages her cooking students and guests to ‘learn by doing’ giving a short lecture about the dishes and Mexican food at the beginning of the cooking session and then encouraging everyone to go off and explore the recipes by actually cooking them – with lots of help from Susana and her very knowledgeable staff.
Susana suggests adding a poached egg if you want to make this soup into a more substantial meal.
Serves 4 – 6 (depending on how hungry you are)
Ingredients for Sopa de Ajo (adapted from Susana Trilling’s recipe, with my changes and additions):
A couple of slices of good quality bread (I use sourdough)
1 whole bulb of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small bulb of fennel
1 bay leaf
1 chile de arbol (dried chilli)
1200ml chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
50g gouda cheese
A small handful of flat leaf parsley (roughly chopped)
A small handful of wild garlic (finely sliced ‘chiffonade’) – optional
30g grated Parmesan (or a vegetarian hard cheese)
First of all make the croutons to go into the soup. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Cut the slices of bread into 2 cm cubes and put them on a baking tray. Bake the bread cubes in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until they are brown and crispy.
Peel all of the cloves in the garlic bulb and slice them into very thin batons, approx 1mm square. This is a fiddly job but it’s worth it for the look and texture of the soup. Heat the oil and the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat until the butter has melted. Add the garlic and cook over a low heat for approx 15 minutes until the garlic is soft but not at all brown.
Next add the finely sliced fennel, chile de arbol and bay leaf and cook for another three minutes. Add the stock and salt and bring to the boil. Gently simmer the soup for about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare the rest of the ingredients for the soup. Make the courgette into ribbons, I do this using a potato peeler, and cut the gouda into 1cm cubes. Put the courgette ribbons, cubes of gouda and a few sourdough croutons into each guests’ bowl.
Back to the soup. Fish out the bay leaf and chilli. Add the chopped parsley and half of the wild garlic (if using) and simmer for another minute. Taste the soup and check the seasoning.
Ladle the soup into the prepared bowls, sprinkle with some grated Parmesan and the rest of the wild garlic if using. Serve immediately.