Sopa de Ajo – Traditional Spanish Bread Soup (by Ibán Yarza)

bread,diagrams,green — by Johanna

Ibán Yarza is a self-taught baker (and bike mechanic) based in Barcelona where he organizes baking classes and promotes good bread for everyone. I first got to know of him through his site ¿Te quedas a cenar? (“Are you staying for dinner?”) and for the last few years we have been talking through twitter, mostly about baking, cookbooks and Sweden. Iban runs two other websites that are only dedicated to bread, La Memoria del Pan where he shares stories and interviews and El Foro del Pan which is the leading bread forum in Spain (they have one section in English).

Ibán has been to Sweden several times and he probably knows much more about traditional Swedish baked goods than many Swedes. Last year he worked as a volunteer at Ramsjö Gård, an organic farm in Björklinge (north of Stockholm) where he followed their daily work for 2 months. Lately Ibán has been seen on Spanish Television where he bakes together with David Jorge and Robin Food. In one episode he bakes my absolute favorite, a classic Swedish Cardamom bun.

Ibán has an education in journalism and translation. In 2010 he translated Dan Lepard‘s book “The Handmade Loaf ” from English to Spanish.

I’m so happy I finally asked Ibán to be my guest here on Kokblog. Welcome!

Sopa de Ajo – Traditional Spanish Bread Soup
by Ibán Yarza

There is a certain austerity to many traditional Spanish dishes that I find utterly appealing. It probably has to do with the fact that I grew up with my grandparents, my grandmother being a classic example of a Spanish cook: hardly any spice in the cupboard, simple and honest ingredients bought daily at the local market and cooked in the simplest of ways (stewed, boiled, braised, fried) always respecting the flavor of the ingredients in the pan. Simple as they can be, some recipes that date back to the Middle Ages can bring unique emotions to our table, well in the 21st century. Sopa de ajo (literally “garlic soup”) is one of those dishes, an example of the great cuisine of bread, the kingdom of leftovers and the audacity to make the best out of what’s in the larder. A simple and filling meal made out of stale bread, what many Spaniards would definitely refer to as their favorite wintertime comfort food (another soup, gazpacho, most likely being its summertime counterpart).

If one had a look at the menu of top-notch Spanish restaurants over the last years, a clear Asian influence would be easily noticeable, in the form of a zen-esque approach to elaborations and presentations. However, if you dive deep enough into traditional Spanish cookbooks, simple, minimal recipes appear with an almost-spiritual scarcity of means and ingredients that could seduce any Zen master. A famous Spanish writer and gourmet, Xavier Domingo, once described traditional Spanish cookery as “a minimal cuisine”, with only three basic foundations: olive oil, garlic and bread. Sopa de ajo remains a peerless example of this.

Then there is something about the word “sopa” (soup) and bread, the essential food. They go hand in hand in the mind and speech of Spaniards. Even to this day, the first meaning of this word in Spanish does not refer to the liquid food, but to a piece of bread soaked in liquid. In fact, “hacer sopas” (literally “to make soups”; this is, to soak bread in stock, coffee or whatever is at hand) seems to remain a favorite way of eating in my homeland, both pleasant and nutritious. You can find soups made with bread throughout Spain, from North to South, from Majorca to Andalucía, cold and hot, thick and light, meaty or full of vegetables. The recipe below is perhaps the best known version, where only four ingredients (bread, garlic, olive oil and paprika) are able to convey childhood memories and a bit of daydreaming on a dull winter evening. As any traditional meal, recipes vary from one family to another.

Seasonal hint: because of the lack of meat, this soup has traditionally been a Lent dish; in fact, the whole concoction is plain and clear frugality. Rejoice.

Sopa de Ajo
(serves 4)

150 – 200 g of good bread, stale. Life is too short to eat bad bread, even if it’s stale. I like to keep the crust for flavor, color and texture. Traditionally we would use a white dense wheat loaf, but feel free to use wholemeal, sourdough… I’ve even cooked delicious sopas de ajo using rye bread (to my fellow countrymen’s disdain)

3-5 cloves of garlic, sliced

3 tsp paprika. The best you can find, my favorite is smoked bittersweet Pimentón de la Vera, available nowadays in gourmet shops worldwide

1 – 1,5 dl extra virgin olive oil. Again, try to find good oil: dense, deep and fragrant. We are using few ingredients, so try to find the best

1,5 liter water (or stock, if you happen to have it at hand; but water is more than OK).

4 eggs (optional)

Traditionally, in Spain you would use a clay pot for this recipe, but any deep pot would do. Slice the cloves of garlic and fry them in olive oil until they’re golden (I tend to think that the amount of olive oil we use in Spain would seem rather large abroad; just don’t be shy, pour it in). Take the pieces of garlic out of the pan and keep them aside so they don’t burn and turn bitter. Now place the bread in the pan and fry in the remaining oil (it will soak up part of the oil). Take the pot off the stove, add the paprika and stir with the bread and oil making sure it doesn’t burn, otherwise it would lose its wonderful fragrance and turn bitter and tart. Once this is done, add the water (or stock) and garlic, and let it simmer for some 10-15 minutes. At the very beginning, it will probably not look the most appetizing of meals, but just be confident, time will bind the soup and the result will be simply delicious.
Some people like to have their sopa de ajo really thick and dry (some even finish it in the oven), I prefer to keep mine just on the creamy side of the term soup, with thick blobs of creamy bread that melts in your mouth. Once the soup has thickened, and while I set the table, I like to take the pot off the stove and use the remaining heat to poach one egg per person. Once at the table, the yolk will break in each guest’s bowl, taking the sopa the ajo experience to its very limit, so to speak. Sometimes I also like to sprinkle a bit of ground cumin. Feel free to add anything you like.

24 Comments »

  1. Sopa de ajo en Kokblog:

    […] estas cosas de la vida e Internet, la nueva entrada que ilustra Johanna en Kokblog se llama “Sopa de ajo” y la he escrito yo. Aquí va un pequeño adelanto. Para el resto, pasaos por la entrada […]

  2. demimismo:

    I love your illustrations.

    I’m from León and there you really should use rye bread if you don’t want to get your ass kicked :-D

    Ah, and my father cuts the bread in thin slices about 5cm long, keeping a little bit of crust just in the bottom (something like this http://bit.ly/zqJTCq )

  3. Tania:

    I’ve just discovered your blog thanks to “Te quedas a cenar?” and I had to stop for a sec to tell you what a beautifull work you’re doing here!!

    I’ll try some of your recipes, for sure!

  4. johannaK:

    Thanks for sharing demimismo!

  5. johannaK:

    Thanks Tania! I’m happy you found me!

  6. Cuina Cinc:

    Kokblog Hello!
    I have come here “Te quedas a cenar”
    I leave the link in my penultimate post dedicated to Santi Santamaria, a great cook. The story of a partnership, a summary of readings and the recipe for garlic soup Catalan version in its own way:
    http://cuinacinc.blogspot.com/2012/02/fa-un-any-sopa-dall.html
    Greetings, I’m glad I know this blog. Goog work and beautiful drawings!!!

  7. JohannaK:

    Thanks Cuina Cinc I’m happy you like the post. And thanks for sharing your article :)

  8. Ibán:

    Well, to honour the truth, the way demimismo suggests is exactly the way I slice and cut bread for the sopa de ajo (I guess like many Spaniards); I just don’t slice it very thin. I like my soup to be a really chunky one! :D

  9. JohannaK:

    Iban and demimismo: I guess I could have been more clear in my drawing of the recipe. BTW I’m making this for the first time tonight :) Thanks!

  10. Cuina Cinc:

    JohanaK, Thanks,
    The soup is very good, like it!
    I enjoyed visiting this blog, I will come,
    You have very nice drawings. well now
    I know another blog of an English girl who also paints and products for the kitchen,
    greetings

  11. JohannaK:

    Thanks Cuina Cinc! I’m flattered. BTW do you have the English girl blog address. Its always great to see others work!

  12. Cuina Cinc:

    Good morning,JohannaK!
    I write at night and look up the address and send.
    Now start working.
    Greetings :))

  13. Jeremy:

    Love it!

  14. Johanna:

    Thanks Jeremy!

  15. Cuina Cinc:

    The blog name is also very nice drawings:

    http://cartooncooking.blogspot.com/

  16. Johanna:

    Thanks for sharing Cuina Cinc! Nice! Its always great to see others work!

  17. Amanda:

    I love this post! Johanna, you do a wonderful job of incorporating cuisines from all sorts of different places, making them accessible for the home cook. Ibán, thank you for putting Spanish food into words. I’m living in Spain now, an American teaching English, and have noticed that Spaniards have a true passion for food, a passion that respects quality products in their simplest form. I’ll be looking for your episode with Robin Food on the blog and I’ll be trying to make this soup soon! For now, cocido de lentejas! Saludos desde Cantabria.

  18. Johanna:

    Thanks Amanda for your lovely words :) I agree, Spanish food is delicious in a simple way.

  19. Sara:

    Esta sopa se llama “Sopa castellana”, pues la “sopa de ajo” no lleva huevo.

  20. Cuina Cinc:

    Hola Johanna!
    I Made a recipe me that they think it tastes very funny drawing??? I think it is all a classic. Thanks,
    greetings

  21. Johanna:

    Thanks Cuina Cinc!

  22. Eva:

    Thanks for the recipe – I have been desperately looking for this ever since I had this soup in Spain. They served it in a way that the soup bowl came with lardons and raw egg yolk and then the soup was poured in it and it was all mixed to create a bowl of yumminess. Now have to try this, hopefully it will be as good as in my memories :-)

  23. Johanna:

    Eva, I hope Iban’s soup will match your memory!

  24. Pide (by Jeremy Shapiro) | kokblog:

    […] cooks like myself (ahem), including Ibán Yarza who has previously appeared here on kokblog as a guest blogger. He has also connected with Sandor Ellix Katz, Anthony Bourdain, Dan Lepard and many […]

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