Ajiaco Cubano Recipe: Healthy Cuban Soup with Chicken

Ajiaco Cubano is one of our favourite Cuban Soup recipes to cook at home in the Fall and Winter.

Our authentic Cuban Chicken Soup recipe is quick and easy to make, ready to serve in under an hour.

You’ll love spooning through a bowl of homemade Ajiaco Cubano featuring flavourful onions, garlic, cilantro and lime.

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What Is Soup?

Soup is a liquid food, generally served warm or hot (but can also be served cold like gazpacho), that is prepared by combining meat or vegetables with stock or water.

Hot soups are additionally characterized by boiling solid ingredients in liquids in a pot until the flavours are extracted, creating a rich broth.

Soups are similar to stews, and in some cases there may not be a clear distinction between the two. Soups generally have more liquid (broth) than chunkier and heartier stews.

In traditional French cuisine, soups are classified into two groups: clear soups (bouillon and consomme) and thick soups (purees, bisques, veloutes).

Purées are vegetable soups thickened with starch; bisques are made from puréed shellfish or vegetables thickened with cream; cream soups may be thickened with béchamel sauce; and veloutés are thickened with eggs, butter, and cream.

Ingredients you'll need to make our traditional Cuban Soup with chicken.
Ingredients you’ll need to make our traditional Cuban Soup with chicken.

History of Soup

Evidence of the existence of soup can be found as far back as about 20,000 BC. Boiling was not a common cooking technique until the invention of waterproof containers, such as clay pots. To boil the water hot rocks were used.

The word soup comes from French soupe (broth), which comes through Vulgar Latin suppa (“bread soaked in broth”) from a Germanic source, from which also comes the word “sop”, a piece of bread used to soak up soup or a thick stew.

The word restaurant (meaning “restoring”) was first used in France in the 16th century, to refer to a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup, sold by street vendors, that was advertised as a cure to physical exhaustion. In 1765, a Parisian entrepreneur opened a shop specializing in such soups. This prompted the use of the modern word restaurant for eating establishments.

In America, the first colonial cookbook was published by William Parks in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1742, based on Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife; or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, and it included several recipes for soups and bisques.

English cooking dominated early colonial cooking; but as new immigrants arrived from other countries, other national soups gained popularity. In particular, German immigrants living in Pennsylvania were famous for their potato soups. In 1794, Jean Baptiste Gilbert Payplat dis Julien, a refugee from the French Revolution, opened an eating establishment in Massachusetts called The Restorator, and became known as the “Prince of Soups”.

Start cooking Ajiaco Cubano by sauteing chicken breasts in a large pot.
Start cooking Ajiaco Cubano by sauteing chicken breasts in a large pot.

Travel to Cuba by Cooking Ajiaco Cubano at Home

I love traveling to Latin America.

As a professional food and travel journalist, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy amazing meals in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, from traditional markets to award winning restaurants.

For over ten years, I’ve been on the hunt for the best Ajiaco Cubano recipe. I’ve embarked on culinary adventures at local restaurants in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Curacao, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

In Cuba, I’ve slurped through steaming bowls of traditional Ajiaco Cubano at restaurants in Santiago, Holguin, Havana, Punta Frances and Trinidad.

Authentic Ajiaco Cubano is a Cuban Chicken Soup featuring corn on the cob, shredded chicken breast, potatoes and onion. There are several regional versions of Ajiaco in Latin America. Outside of Cuba, the recipe is popular in Colombia and Peru.

After you’ve enjoyed your first few sips, you’ll realize why a steaming bowl of authentic Ajiaco Cubano is a must-try when visiting Cuba!

Our healthy Ajiaco Cubano recipe features squash, potato, sweet potato, bell peppers, carrot and celery.
Our healthy Ajiaco Cubano recipe features squash, potato, sweet potato, bell peppers, carrot and celery.

History of Ajiaco

The exact origin of Ajiaco have been debated by scholars for years. In his book Lexicografia Antillana, former president of Cuba Alfredo Zayas y Alfonso stated that the word “ajiaco” derived from “aji”, the native Taíno word for “hot pepper.”

Cuban ethnologist Fernando Ortiz stated that ajiaco was a meal typical of the Taíno, and was an appropriate metaphor for Cuba as a melting pot.

In the Cuban city of Camagüey, the San Juan festival begins with the making and serving of ajiaco. Ajiaco is believed to have become popular in Cuba during the 16th century, particularly among rural Cubans.

Ayngelina from Bacon is Magic loves eating her way through authentic Cuban dishes.
Ayngelina from Bacon is Magic loves eating her way through authentic Cuban dishes.

Bacon Is Magic Loves Cuban Soup

Ayngelina Brogan is the founder of Bacon is Magic, a popular food and travel blog offering helpful resources on Cuba’s culinary culture. The food blogger first visited Cuba in 2018, “When I’m not traveling for my website or visiting family in Nova Scotia, I’m in Havana.”

So what does Brogan love most about Cuban cuisine? “I would say it’s most similar to Colombian food. It is not spicy. In fact most Latin American food is not spicy, other than Mexican and Peruvian food. But it has a lot of great stews, sauces and incredible pork dishes,” she said.

Brogan added, “Cuban food has been incorrectly marked as horrible. And I think that is because people are eating in the wrong places. Most resorts have cooks making international food and they’ve never been outside the country, so in a way they are guessing as to what flavours tourists want. But if travelers could just eat their food, they would love it.”

We asked the Cuban food expert to distinguish the difference between authentic Cuban food and Cuban-American cuisine. Brogan chirped, “Cuban food is impacted by product availability and the constant strain of food shortages. Cubans are incredible cooks and just use whatever is available. When you go to a restaurant there could be 10 things on the menu but only 3 are really available because there is no chicken or pork that day.”

Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean, it takes a couple of days to get from one end of the island to the other. “Because of its size, Cuban food varies dramatically as well. You will find food in Baracoa that does not exist in Havana. So to outline a typical Cuban meal like other countries can be challenging,” said Bogan.

Brogan asserts you’ll find the best Cuban food in peoples homes, “Cubans don’t have the same restaurant culture we have. They think the best food is at home, so eating out is a newer phenomena. Many people still only eat out if they don’t have the option of eating at home. Although I wrote about 35 of my favourite Havana restaurants, I really encourage people to stay in Airbnb’s and ask their hosts to make some of their meals.”

If you’d like to slurp authentic Cuban Chicken Soup on holiday Brogan suggests you ask the owner of your casa particular to make Ajiaco Cubano for dinner otherwise you’re at the mercy of a restaurant having it on the menu and then having the ingredients to make it.

Ajiaco is more of a type of dish rather than a specific recipe. So it’s different wherever you go in Latin America. Brogan shared, “In Cuba it will never be spicy, ever. Some restaurants may keep a bottle of hot sauce that you need to ask for, but if you like things spicy I recommend bringing your own hot sauce. It will likely have less potato and more root vegetables like taro root, yucca and boniato.”

Ajiaco Cubano is an authentic soup featuring shredded chicken.
Ajiaco Cubano is an authentic soup featuring shredded chicken.

Where To Eat Authentic Ajiaco Cubano

If you live in a large city in Canada or America you’ll likely have access to a local Latin American restaurant that serves traditional Ajiaco Cubano.

Haven’t traveled to Cuba before? It may be helpful to first sample traditional Cuban Chicken Soup at a local restaurant to better understand how it is served. You’ll get an idea of how much corn on the cob, potatoes and shredded chicken to add to each bowl and the desired aroma and flavour. You’ll also find inspiration on what to pair with Cuban Soup including Medianoche, Tamales, Vaca Frita and Lechon Asado.

In Toronto, popular restaurants serving Cuban restaurants that may offer Ajiaco Cubano include La Cubana, Mambo Lounge, Lula Lounge, El Habanero & Churrobar and Cabana Restaurant & Lounge.

Ajiaco Cubano typically features chunks of corn on the cob.
Ajiaco Cubano typically features chunks of corn on the cob.

My Family Loves Cuban Chicken Soup

My family has a tradition of eating soup and salad for lunch on Sunday’s after getting home from church. Soup is such an simple and brainless meal to serve a busy family with kids.

My dad would often make cream of tomato soup and serve a bowl with grilled cheese sandwiches and pickles. Our family also loved slurping through bowls of Butternut Squash Soup, French Onion Soup and Chicken Noodle Soup.

Some of the fondest memories of my childhood spent in Toronto, Markham, Oakville and Muskoka are cozying up to a bowl of homemade soup with gourmet crackers, artisanal cheese and sourdough bread.

During October in Ontario we’d often visit popular Fall Fairs in Norfolk County, Niagara and Prince Edward County to go on fun rides, run through corn mazes and purchase fresh local fruits and vegetables at the peak of harvest season.

Carrot, celery, onion, bell pepper, corn, potatoes and cilantro are available in abundance year round in Canada but we especially love to serve this savoury soup in the chilly Fall and Winter season.

The best Cuban Chicken Soup is full of hearty ingredients like potatoes, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, plantain and shredded chicken. The simple and restorative chicken broth is a great way to incorporate nutritious ingredients into your diet during the colder months of the year.

Once finished cooking, use a ladle to spoon Ajiaco Cubano into soup bowls.
Once finished cooking, use a ladle to spoon Ajiaco Cubano into soup bowls.

Cuban Soup Health Benefits

Our Cuban Soup recipe is packed full of healthy ingredients!

Onions are a humble vegetable packed with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Regular consumption of onions can help boost digestive health and reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

It is only recently that scientists have begun to identify the components responsible for garlic’s myriad health benefits. Rich in phytochemicals and potassium, garlic helps boost your immune system, fight cancer and protect your heart.

An excellent source of vitamin A and the phytochemical beta-carotene, carrots help keep your eyes and bones healthy, and may help protect against several types of cancer.

Celery is a great source of antioxidants, reduces inflammation and supports digestions.

Bell Peppers are an incredible source of vitamins C and A, which support your skin and immune system. They also provide beneficial carotenoid compounds such as beta-carotene, which has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers.

An excellent source of vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes boost your immune system and help keep your skin healthy. They also have a very low glycemic index, providing a steady supply of energy to your body. 

A rich source of phytochemicals and vitamin C, limes help boost your immune system and neutralize free radicals that cause disease and skin aging. Lemons also protect against heart disease and help improve blood flow to the brain.

Chicken is high in protein and provides B vitamins such as niacin, which helps your body access the energy in foods.   

Packed with calcium and friendly probiotic bacteria, sour cream and yogurt help keep your bones strong and your gut healthy. Yogurt may also help reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and some types of cancer. 

A good source of bone-strengthening vitamin K, cilantro is also rich in antioxidants that help protect the eyes from damage by free radicals. 

Garnish Ajiaco Cubano with cilantro, sour cream and fresh lime.
Garnish Ajiaco Cubano with cilantro, sour cream and fresh lime.

Cuban Soup Recipe Tips

This healthy Cuban Chicken Soup is quick and easy to make at home. We’ve included a few tips for first time soup makers!

  • Use a large cast iron dutch oven with a high rim to reduce splatter when cooking.
  • We suggest using a high quality rubber spatula spoon when making soup so you can easily stir, scrape down the side of the pot and sip to check if it needs to be seasoned further with more salt before spooning into bowls.
  • There are many regional variations of Ajiaco. The hearty chicken soup is popular in Cuba, Peru and Colombia. Our Ajiaco Cubano recipe is garnished with sour cream, lime juice and cilantro. In Peru and Colombia you’ll often find the chicken soup cooked with pork ribs and beef flank steak. In South America the recipe is often served topped with spicy peppers, sliced avocado and capers.
  • Ajiaco Cubano recipes from Havana to Trinidad can appear slightly different based on local tastes and family recipes. We’ve used potatoes and sweet potatoes in this recipe but you’ll also find other tubers like yam, cassava and taro root commonly used.
  • If corn on the cob is out of season you can always substitute for frozen or canned corn (around 2 cups).
  • If you can’t find plantain at your local grocery store feel free to substitute for unripe banana.
Hearty Cuban Soup with shredded chicken is the perfect meal to enjoy on a cold winter day.
Hearty Cuban Soup with shredded chicken is the perfect meal to enjoy on a cold winter day.

What To Serve with Ajiaco Cubano

There’s nothing more comforting on a cold day then cozying up to a bowl of soup with a fresh salad, gourmet crackers, artisanal cheeses, sourdough bread, savoury muffins and homemade pickles.

If you’re hosting a large dinner party you might want to serve our easy Ajiaco Cubano as an appetizer before serving heartier mains.

After dinner why not dazzle your guests with one of our popular desserts such as Oat Flour Cookies with Chocolate Chips, Dark Chocolate Lindt Lindor Cookies, Maraschino Cherry Cupcakes Recipe or Cinnamon Babka For Chocolate Lovers.

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Store leftover Ajiaco Cubano in an airtight container for up to a week.
Store leftover Ajiaco Cubano in an airtight container for up to a week.

Storing Ajiaco Cubano

If you have leftover Ajiaco Cubano you can store it in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week. To reheat simply zap it in the microwave or simmer in a small saucepan on the stove.

We love doubling our soup recipes so can store leftovers in the freezer and save time on cooking in the kitchen. We suggest storing leftover soup in Pyrex freezer safe containers that have a snug lid so there’s not spilling. Once the soup has cooled you may want to use a knife to remove the kernels from the corn cobs. This will reduce the volume of your soup and sae space in your freezer.

Be sure to let your soup reach room temperature before storing it in the freezer. If you add a hot jar of soup to a cold freezer it will significantly reduce the interior temperature and potentially spoil your food.

How To Make “Ajiaco Cubano” Cuban Chicken Soup

Print Recipe
4.6 from 5 votes

Ajiaco Cubano Cuban Chicken Soup

Learn how to make the best homemade Ajiaco Cubano. Our healthy Cuban Soup recipe features shredded chicken, corn, potatoes, lime & cilantro.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Soup
Cuisine: cuban
Keyword: Ajiaco Cubano, cuban chicken soup, Cuban Soup
Servings: 10
Calories: 253kcal

Equipment

  • oven
  • baking sheet
  • Dutch Oven or Large Pot
  • French knife
  • measuring spoons
  • measuring cups

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp Chicken Fat or Canola Oil
  • 1.5 lb Chicken Breast
  • 6 Garlic cloves minced
  • 2 Medium white onion peeled and quartered
  • 0.75 lb Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 0.75 lb Sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 lb Pumpkin peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 Yellow Bell Pepper sliced
  • 1 Celery rib finely chopped
  • 1 Carrot finely chopped
  • 1 Corn Ear cut into quarters
  • 1 Ripe Plantain peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup Cilantro leave and cilantro stems separated
  • 4 cups Chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
  • 2 Limes juiced
  • 1/4 cup Sour cream

Instructions

  • Put the chicken breasts into a large pot or dutch oven with rendered chicken fat or vegetable oil and cook for 5-6 minutes until both sides are browned.
  • Pour the chicken stock into the pot with onion and garlic. Lower heat to medium-low, cover and simmer. Cook until the chicken is tender, about 30 minutes.
  • Transfer the chicken to a platter, reserving the cooking liquid in the pot.
  • When cool enough to handle, tear the chicken breasts into bite-size strips.
  • Place the potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin into the pot with the leftover cooking liquid and turn the heat to medium. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. 
  • Add the corn, yellow pepper, plantain, celery, carrot and cilantro stems. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
  • Remove cilantro stems and return the chicken to the pot. Add 3 cups of water. Simmer a few minutes more until the chicken has warmed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Ladle the cuban chicken soup into individual bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro, lime juice and sour cream.

Nutrition

Calories: 253kcal | Carbohydrates: 36.7g | Protein: 19.6g | Fat: 3.9g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 46mg | Sodium: 1107mg | Potassium: 1173mg | Fiber: 6.2g | Sugar: 6.8g | Calcium: 46mg | Iron: 3mg

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