Sopa de Leche (Peruvian Milk Soup with Squash and Potatoes)
Sopa de leche (milk soup) is the one single dish that takes me back to my childhood in my little coastal town of northern Peru, called Barranca. This simple soup can be made with as little as four ingredients, using what is both affordable and available to the people in my region. It demonstrates the creative ways those with limited resources can skillfully balance seemingly ordinary flavors to make wonderful dishes.
My aunt's or grandmother’s version of sopa de leche was almost always simmering on the stove. It's a soup that's best made in the comfort of your home without the bells and whistles of a restaurant; enjoyed and appreciated for its simplicity and generous intent.
Here is my version of sopa de leche, adapted to use ingredients you may already have or can easily find. The key steps are sautéing the onion and garlic and adding a starch and milk to help thicken the soup. Feel free to experiment with different squash, cheese, and proteins; I’ve had versions with shrimp, fish, and thin strips of beef. The grated Parmesan and olive oil are my updates for 2020; they're not typical Peruvian ingredients but are really good in this soup, nonetheless.
Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the butter and let melt. Add the onion, garlic, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onion and garlic are soft but do not have any color, about 5 minutes.
Add the potato, squash, corn, milk and 6 cups cold water to the saucepan. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes and squash soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the pasta and cilantro, stirring to prevent the pasta from sticking to each other. Continue to simmer until the pasta is partially cooked, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, carefully crack the eggs into a small bowl, keeping the yolks intact. When the pasta is cooked about halfway through, carefully add the eggs, one at a time. Stir gently, keeping the yolks intact, add the mozzarella and stir again. Simmer gently until the egg whites are set and the yolks are still soft on the inside, about 3 minutes. The cheese will just melt into the soup.
Ladle the soup into 4 bowls, making sure each has an egg. Garnish with the Parmesan and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.