I’ve written a lot about comfort food this past summer. It must be natural when so many things I make are from my childhood and it is a childish season after all. This week I got a take on comfort food I hadn’t considered before. I was talking to one of my oldest friends who’s going through a difficult time. Wanting to make some small gesture of support, I offered to make her something, anything. If she could think of a great dish she had growing up, I’d work out the ingredients and write it up for her. She suggested changua, a milk-onion-egg soup from the central Andes of Colombia. Loved the name, but it didn’t sound very appetizing, especially for breakfast when it’s typically served in Bogotá with a piece of calado or almojábana bread to soak it up. I had images of cracking open coconuts and frying fish but she wanted changua. Milk soup, really?
Willing but unconvinced, I chopped the scallions and garlic and sauteed them in butter. I added equal parts milk and water and adjusted the seasoning. While the soup simmered, I toasted some slices of baguette, lightly drizzled with olive oil. By the time I dropped in the eggs, I was hopeful that I had something other than warmed over milk. Ladling the soup over chopped cilantro, it came to life. I set the cooked eggs over the toasted bread so I could break up the yolk slowly, working scallions and fresh herbs into every spoonful. I was happy to be proven wrong.
Until recently, I saw comfort food as a kind of retreat. A retreat from everyday anxieties, a retreat from the seasonal-locavore police, a retreat from knowing better but having it anyway because nutrition is the last thing you’re worried about at the moment. This was different. More than comforted, I felt restored. I wasn’t surprised to learn later that Simón Bolívar gave it to his troops. Associated with nostalgia and looking backward, I’d underestimated comfort food’s ability to get you through what lies ahead.
Changua/Milk Soup with Eggs
Though often served for breakfast, this soup can also be a light lunch or dinner. The toasted bread can be broken up into the soup or served on the side. It’s also considered a great cure for hangovers.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
3 large scallions, finely sliced
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
4 large eggs
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
Salt and white pepper
Melt butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and scallions until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add milk and water to pot and bring to a high simmer over medium-high heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Break eggs into a small bowl or cup and then drop them, one by one, into the simmering liquid. Cover and cook the eggs to desired degrees of doneness, about three minutes. Remove from heat.
Spoon the chopped cilantro into shallow soup bowls or large serving bowl. Ladle the soup on top. Place a slice of toasted bread in the center of each bowl and top with the cooked egg. Garnish with additional cilantro, salt and pepper.