Cookin’ up something sabroso with Mama Nina

Every Wednesday since my arrival in Bolivia I have had lunch at Doña Severina’s home. Doña Severina is a wonderfully kind woman that hails from Valle Grande, a small city bordering the department of Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. She left her home a the young age of fourteen when her father died, finding work in the booming city of Santa Cruz to help support her mother and younger siblings.  For nearly four decades now she has made Yapacaní her home. Here in Yapacaní’s local “2 de Febrero” Market, she has been the proud businesswoman and cook of her booth #3.

Only with a ridiculous amount of luck can one find an empty stool at Doña Severina’s booth. Better known as Doña Seve to her acquaintances and friends, knowledge of her incredible abilities in the kitchen is widespread throughout town. Doña Seve has been gracing “2 de Febrero” Food Market’s locals and passersbys with her delicious traditional Bolivian cooking for the past ten years. Her most famous dishes are Majadito, Pique Macho and my personal favorite, Sopa de Maní.

Although Bolivia is not as well known internationally for its cuisine as some of its neighboring countries, it by no means lacks a unique and delightful flavor in many of its popular dishes especially when it comes to Sopa de Maní.

Sopa de Maní translated means Peanut Soup and the region of Cochabamba proudly claims to be its birthplace. Sopa de Maní is a favorite soup of many Bolivians with its earthy flavor of ground peanuts, and one I have come to crave more often; then I probably should admit to, it’s a must have when visiting Bolivia.

While visiting Doña Seve at her booth in the market you will no doubt hear her saying “Una buena sopa es la solución para todos los problemas,” a good soup is the solution for all of your problems. If you feel unwell, or wish to grow tall and big, or lose some weight, or even become more intelligent, you will be told without a doubt by Doña Seve to have some soup! She tells me that the only time one is not to enjoy Sopa de Mani is when one has an upset stomach, and that is what Caldo de Pollo (chicken soup) is for. 

In her home, Doña Severina is just known as Mama Nina to her adult children and grandchildren.  I feel honored to count myself amongst the lucky few who get’s to call Doña Severina, Mama Nina. Over a bowl of incredibly hot Sopa de Maní I asked the question that had been bothering me since my arrival, why is it that on sweltering summer days such as today Bolivians eat ridiculously hot soup?

Mama Nina looks at me laughing and says “Comiendo comida fría no da el gusto. Cuando se come frio no estas amando ni la comida ni a ti mismo, debes amar lo que metas a tu cuerpo,” eating cold food isn’t appetizing and eating cold food shows your lack of love for your food and yourself, you most love what you put in your body.

It’s hard to argue Mama Nina’s point, so I continued eating my deliciously hot soup. 

Mama Nina informs me that I’m not the only one at the table with a love for Sopa de Maní and shares an anecdote of Josemaría, her twelve-year-old grandson, much to his embarrassment. “Cuando Josemaría estaba en el kínder de las Oblatas, yo le recogía después de el almuerzo y todos los días mi nieto me preguntaba si había hecho Sopa de Maní ese día, a lo cual yo contestaba que si. Y luego me preguntaba si había sobrado algo de sopa, y con las manos estrechas Josemaría me señalaba la cantidad que quería y luego se acercaba sus manos poco a poco y decía aunque así de poquito quiero, hasta que terminaba con las manos casi pegadas que ni para una cucharada podría alcanzar.”When Josemaría was in Kindergarten, I would pick him up after school and bring him home after my lunch rush, every day on the walk home my grandson would ask if I had made Sopa de Maní. To which I would say yes my dear. He would then ask if there was any left for him. Josemaría would gesture with his hands widely spread how much soup he wanted, and then he’d move his hands closer and closer together until his hands were so close that it wouldn’t be enough for a spoonful of soup. Imploring even if there’s only a little little bit grandma.

I firmly believe that there are more Sopa de Maní lovers out there in the world who like Josemaría and I will be wishing for seconds! For this reason, Mama Nina and I have decided to share this delectable dish with you all.  The Instructions below will lead you to create this appetizing Sopa de Maní Mama Nina style.  Happy cooking!

Required Ingredients:

3/4 lb Beef short ribs

2 Carrots

4 Cloves of garlic

1  Large onion

3 Branches of Celery

1 Green pepper

A handful of fresh Parsley and/or cilantro

1 Cup of Unsalted Peanuts

1/2 Cup of Peas either fresh or frozen

4  Medium sized potatoes

1/2 Cup of small shaped pasta such as pipettes, elbows, and orzo work best (you may substitute the pasta for rice).

Salt and pepper

2 tbsp Vegetable oil

6 Cups Beef Stock or water

** Sopa de maní is most often made with beef, but you can easily use chicken or only use all vegetables for a delicious and nutritious vegetarian meal.

                         Serves: 4-6 people                                         Total cook time: 2 hours

Instructions:

1.    Leave the peanuts soaking in a bit of water overnight, making them easier to peel and blend.  Or if you are in a rush for deliciousness you can do a quick soak leaving the peanuts sitting in hot water for five minutes before peeling.

2.    In a large pot add 4 L of water, your meat with bone, a bit of salt and pepper. On high heat.

3.    Finely mince the garlic and onions. Peel the carrots and cut them into small dices along with the celery and green pepper.

4.    In a frying pan with a bit of vegetable oil over medium heat sauté garlic, onion, carrots, green pepper, celery and sauté well for 3-5 minutes.

5.    Throw the peanuts in a blender or food processor and add 1 cup of water to them. Process peanuts until you have a thick, relatively smooth paste, adding more water if necessary. Add the peanut paste to the soup and stir well. Lowering the heat of the stove. Simmer soup for an hour or so, covered. Make sure you respect the time otherwise Mama Nina says you’ll spend most of your day in the bathroom instead of the table due to an upset stomach.

6.    You may use the same frying pan used for the vegetable, to sauté the pasta in a tbsp. or two of vegetable oil over medium heat until golden (roughly 8 minutes).

7.    Peel the potatoes, reserving 1 for later use. Cut the rest into small wedges and add them to the soup. Add some water or more stock to the soup if needed. Cover and simmer until potatoes are well cooked.

8.    Add the pasta and simmer for 10 minutes more.

9.    Taste soup for seasoning. Insert the peas, and simmer, turn down to low heat.

Optional but highly recommended:

10.    Cut the remaining potato into matchsticks. That’s right, this soup has fries in it. Heat a 1/2 inch of oil in a small pan and cook the potato sticks until golden brown. Remove, drain on paper towels, and season with salt.

11.    Serve soup in bowls garnished with the matchstick fries and chopped parsley or cilantro. I would recommend the cilantro over parsley any day!

Sit back and enjoy your little taste of Bolivia. Buen provecho amigos!

Carolina Malloy is working as a Community Facilitator with Sociedad Salesiana in Bolivia.