Paraguay: Sopa Paraguaya – (Cornbread)

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Welcome to the Corazón de Sudamérica! Located just south and east of Brazil, southwest of Bolivia, and north of Argentina, Paraguay is truly in the Heart of South America.  Like many of its neighbors, Paraguay was a colony of Spain for several centuries and shares many similarities in its cuisine.  Barbecuing, or Asado, is super popular for its great format as not only a way to cook, but as a full-blown social occasion that brings together family and friends.  As you can guess, it is a meat-forward event that I, for one, endorse wholeheartedly.  I’d love nothing more than spending a free Sunday barbecuing outside with my best friends.  But there is more to it than just Asado.  Bori-bori, a chicken soup made with cornmeal dumplings is ubiquitous and you can’t stumble anywhere without encountering some delicious Paraguayan cheese.

The Legend of Sopa Paragauya  – a delicious mistake

But the dish I want to look at today is a curious one with a fantastic story.  Today, we’re making Sopa Paraguaya.  With even a minimal about of Spanish language, I recognize this dish as “Paraguayan Soup.”  It’s the national dish, however, it most certainly is not soup!  And there is a charming legend about its history.

Apparently, the creation of this dish goes back to a time 30 years after their independence.  Paraguay gained its independence in 1811, but had years of one dictator after another that preferred isolationist policies.  The one that applies to this story is Don Carlos Antonio Lopez, the “president” (read: dictator) in power from 1841 to 1862.

Lopez was known as a very obese man who loved a white soup that was made with milk, cheese, egg, and cornmeal.  Legend has it that he wanted his favorite corn soup, but his cook inadvertently added too much cornmeal and it solidified the way Cream of Wheat can in the microwave if you cook the hell out of it.  She didn’t have time to remake the recipe, so she ran with it!  She tossed the pan into a tatakua oven and baked it until it solidified completely and served it to Lopez.

Tatakua oven

That took some cojones!  Well, Don Carlos loved it and he named it “Sopa Paraguaya” keeping the soup reference since it started from one.  The rest is history!  This mistake turned out to be a delicious “bread” that we can all enjoy.  Let’s bake one together!  I chose to make a recipe developed by my chef role model Francis Mallmann in his book Mallmann on Fire.

Sopa Paraguaya has lots of onions

Grease and (corn) flour set-up for pan

Tasting and Lessons Learned

This bread is absolutely delicious! It is as at home with your dinner as it is at a savory breakfast.  There is the combination of the onions and the mozzarella are just awesome.  We’re in love with how simple this is to make as well.  Just throw a few things in the pan, and bam, that’s it!  Easy and delicious – you’re going to love it.  

Next time I make this, I’m going to try blending the cornmeal and cheese in with the liquid ingredients to disperse it a little more evenly.  I’m not sure how well it’ll work because I’m worried that the cornmeal will settle-out, but I’ll give it a try and report back!

In conclusion, this recipe is dynamite.  For something this good to come out of a mistake in the kitchen 150 years ago is really cool.  Sopa paraguaya is a fantastic bread that you are going to love – you need to make this right now!

Tried this recipe?  Let us know what you think about it and comment below!

Patrick Jaszewski

Culinary Tyrannosaurus, passport stamp collector, home cook, pilot, strength enthusiast, bilingual, coffee roaster, former homebrewer. Committed to DIY ethic. Minnesota native transplanted in Pennsylvania. Thunderbird MBA Alumni and Golden Gopher. Undyingly positive and open minded. Drives Jill crazy by questioning everything.

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  • Hi! I am the son of Paraguayan immigrants and sopa was a dinner standard! One of the best things about this dish that it a family dish meaning that just about every family has their own recipe for it. Out of curiosity I was looking to see what recipes were out there and this one was the closest to what my family does (some of them out there were outrageous!!!) Since I kinda liked your story and the similarities of your recipe, I'd like to share my family's version (with personal edits and additions).

    1 large yellow onion chopped (I finely slice my onion)
    sufficient butter to saute the onion (like 1 or 2 lines on a quarter stick)
    1 can of cream corn
    2 large eggs
    8 0z of Munster cheese (I've used sharp cheddar and mozzarella before, basically any cheese would work just depends on your flavor profile and texture you want, tempted to use brie)
    Yellow Corn Meal (I am not sure how much to use, I kinda just pour it until I like the consistency, maybe 2 cups...)
    Milk enough to fill the empty can of cream corn
    salt and pepper to taste
    Anise seed (one of the most important ingredients, again I don't have a measurement, sorry, I just pour it until it smell like home).
    Corn oil (maybe 1 or 2 teaspoons)

    How to:
    Saute the onion and anise in butter until the onions are translucent
    add the can of cream corn to the onions and butter and cook only a short time (just as the sugars start to caramelize - this step was an addition of mine, it adds a little extra sweetness to the sopa. Normally my mom would take the onions off the heat and add the cream corn and just mix it around with the residual heat)
    Take off heat and add half to 2/3 of the milk to cool the mixture pour into a bowl
    Use the remaining milk to deglaze the pan (not needed if you do not cook the cream corn)
    Add the 2 eggs, corn meal and corn oil and mix (sometimes I separate the egg whites and beat until at least a soft peak, this will change the texture greatly, if you go this route, do not add the whites until you just are about to put it into the oven)
    Add cheese, shredded or very small cubes works the best to make the cheese more ubiquitous, but bigger chunks give you a tasty pocket of cheese randomly!
    Mix well and add salt and pepper, I just use a hand whisk and then pour into a greased pan.
    If you separated the eggs fold in the egg whites at this point.
    Cook at 350F in an oven for about 45 to 60 minutes. I always check at 40 minutes or so with a knife, if it comes out clean it is done.

    If you try this one, I hope you enjoy it!

    • Marco, thank you so much for taking the time to post your family's recipe! I will certainly try it as soon as possible - it looks fantastic. I'm very interested in the tasting your version, especially with your addition of anise. I love the licorice flavor it adds to dishes, and I think that it'll be awesome in this one. Thanks again for sharing!


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