Sopa Azteca: Mexican Traditions in Alaska
Story by Kate Powers –
The smell of chicken stock simmering with spices, tomatoes and potatoes brings Rebeca Barbosa right back to her childhood kitchen in Central Mexico. She now prepares Sopa Azteca regularly at her home near Westchester Lagoon and brings in leftovers to share with her coworkers at Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.
“Since I was little, my mother would make Sopa Azteca because you can make it with whatever you have in your kitchen. You usually use chicken. It’s an everyday soup. It’s not for any special occasion. It’s so easy. The aroma of it brings the memories of my kitchen.”
Rebeca first moved to Anchorage from Mexico to study English 17 years ago. When asked what her favorite part about living in Alaska is, Rebeca echoes a familiar response. She was drawn to Alaska by the beauty of the mountains, accessible hiking and opportunities to see wildlife. But, she says it’s the sense of community that Anchorage provides for her that is most important.
Rebeca loves community events because they are an opportunity for her to get to know people from all over the world. This year at World Refugee Day she humbly accepted an award on behalf of the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center for their work providing medical and dental care for new refugees from countries across the globe like Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Bhutan and Eretria.
“I see so many people from all over the world, So many languages. People share their stories and their lives. It’s like you’re traveling with them. Being part of the community is how you make the place where you live your home.”
“This is my mother’s traditional recipe for Sopa Azteca, which she taught to me in our kitchen in Mexico. Now I make it myself to warm my heart and recall the smells and love in preparing it. It brings special memories of Mexico to me and my friends to Alaska.”
1 1/2 teaspoons cooking oil
1 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 pounds large red tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons basil
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/2 quarts water or chicken stock
2 pounds chicken pieces
3 or 4 bay leaves
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup bell pepper cut in thin slices about an inch long
1 chile (traditional chile is guajillo, but serrano or jalapeno are delicious as well)
1 cup celery cut diagonally in thin slices
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt to taste, if desired
1 medium potato, peeled, parboiled, diced and fried
Garnish with tostadas (small corn tortillas cut in strips about 1/4 inch wide, deep-fried and drained), cubed avacado, cilantro and crema mexicana.
Put oil in a large skillet. Add onions and garlic; sautee until onions are translucent and soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add guajillo chile, tomatoes, oregano, basil, cumin and black pepper. Cook until tomatoes are soft, 10 to 15 minutes.
Blend mixture in blender until smooth. Set aside.
Bring the water to a boil in large pot. Add chicken and bay leaf. Skim off fat and foam. Add puree and tomato paste, and cook until chicken is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove chicken. Skin, shred and set aside.
Add bell pepper, celery, and carrot to broth and cook about 10 minutes, until crisp but tender. Remove vegetables from broth, so as not to overcook. Salt broth to taste.
To serve, place vegetables and potato in a large soup bowl. Add, tostadas, crema, cubed avocado and cilantro. Pour hot broth into soup bowl and serve piping hot.
Kate Powers, Co-Founder
Despite having her easy bake oven confiscated from her for questionable experiments, Kate Powers still convinced her Dad to let her continue to bake and cook without recipes. She loves cooking meals for her friends and family, she particularly loves cooking Latin American cuisine, especially Central American and Spanish food where she has been lucky enough to live and study. Kate has a particular interest in immigration and refugee resettlement issues, as well as farm and labor rights. She can make perfect duck egg omelettes, just ask her about it.
About Anchorage Food Mosaic
The Anchorage Food Mosaic’s mission is to build and celebrate community through our cultural foods.
In our current conventional agricultural system, a monoculture replaces lots of genetically diverse plants with one uniform crop, which is highly susceptible to disease and failure. In the same way that monocropping is dangerous to the future of a crop; we must encourage diversity within our community to prevent disease.
In order for our community to thrive we need to embrace and nurture the “mosaic” of people in this city.
The Anchorage Food Mosaic features different community members through photos and traditional recipes. Let us cook each others cultural foods and share our stories with one another.