As part of our series The Way We Heal, graphic designer and home cook Baggio Ardon showed us how to make sopa de chipilin, which uses the legume native to his home country of El Salvador. For Baggio, recipes that heal are deeply tied to his ancestry and identity. In the new year, he hopes to learn more recipes indigenous to his heritage…
What does healing mean to you?
Healing is as physical as it is mental and spiritual. Food, for us, is a big part of that. We use it to calm the nerves, relieve us of illness, and reconnect with our ancestors. It’s the one practice we can do daily that has been done for every generation before us and that, in itself, is healing.
What’s the best advice you have received from an elder?
Things, no matter how hopeless or painful, always end up okay. Somehow, no matter what, we make it through and continue moving forward.
What food rituals help center you?
The act of leaving an offering as gratitude. We often leave glasses of water, small mementos, cacao, or small and precious stones as offerings to our ancestors. The act itself reminds me to be grateful, to recognize what I have, and to show respect for the sacrifices of those who came before me.
What foods, spices, herbs are especially healing to you?
Cacao and maíz, in separate ways. Anything fresh made with masa, be it pupusas or tortillas, take me right back home. There’s a distinct smell of tortillas cooked on a comal that brings me comfort and joy, cured for just a moment of anxiety and stress. In that same vein, cacao is equally as powerful a healer. The smell of roasted cacao, the effort it takes to grind it down with cinnamon into chocolate, and to finally fix it into a drink is wildly sentimental. An act done the same way for a thousand years.
How is your relationship to food different from your parents’ or grandparents’ relationship to food?
My grandparents and parents lived through eras of survival, where food was a luxury. We lost many traditions along the way as they no longer served any essential use. My relationship, of which I am eternally grateful, is to revive our old family and cultural traditions. We no longer have to treat food as a scarcity, which hasn’t been felt for generations. It’s time we recognized the power it has held over the years, keeping us together throughout it all.
Is there a misconception about your culture’s approach to wellness you’d like to dispel?
There’s this idea that our food is cheap, simple, and, above all, unhealthy. What frustrates me is that these foods which are exceedingly unhealthy, cheap, and simple are not our foods. They are a westernized version catered to an American audience, a shadow of its truly ancient and complex origins. Take the tortilla, associated mostly with fast food tacos and nachos. So few people care to understand the history, the flavor, the process of making authentic tortillas, whose history is many millennia old and requires complicated chemistry to even create.
What does the New Year symbolize for you personally?
The New Year is a new cycle, a chance to harvest my stubborn ambition and finally push towards my goals. In the Nahua calendar, January 1st, 2022 is day 13, the last day of the cycle symbolizing the end of the old and new beginnings. I don’t believe it’s just a coincidence, I believe this is truly a time for great opportunity.
What is one food or ritual from your culture that has been appropriated / under-acknowledged / commercialized:
Pupusas. It’s a truly beloved meal and has become a symbol of El Salvador’s cuisine. Unfortunately, it’s also understood as El Salvador’s only food and subject to the same misconceptions as Mexican food — cheap, sloppy, and unhealthy. Few people understand the depth of Salvadoran cuisine, nor do they care to. There is much more to El Salvador than the pupusa, and there is much more to pupusas than cheese, beans, and meat.
What’s something you’ve had to unlearn about health?
Health isn’t earned. I think there’s this idea that health is something you need to constantly work towards, not something you ever start with. But for many of us, we started with very healthy and balanced diets. Beans, chilies, squash, cheese, even the nixtamalized corn has its benefits. What we need to do is learn how to use our foods and not trade them for expensive, western alternatives under the guise that those are healthier options.
Is there anything you’d like to welcome into your cooking practice in the new year?
I want to learn more ancestral and Indigenous recipes. While the majority of the food I make has Indigenous roots, I want to dig deeper into the recipes you can’t find in books and online. I want to learn the foods and the processes of making the foods of my family, of our communities.
Wellness is not…
New. Wellness has always been there, has always been an option. And while many of us, especially in our communities, have lost or forgotten how wellness can be practiced — it is not a new, Western invention.
Baggio’s Sopa de Chipilin
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large onion, minced
2 carrots, sliced (large)
4 potatoes, quartered
1 cup rice
1/2 lb green beans, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped (optional)
1 cup Chipilin (if frozen, 1 6oz bag)
1 tsp. approx achiote (ground)
1 tbsp. approx. cumin (ground)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Lime (to taste)
Hot sauce of choice (optional, to taste)
- Fill your Perfect Pot with water and set to a low boil. Add olive oil.
- While waiting for the water to heat up, prepare your vegetables. Separate them by hardest to softest, this will be the order you add them to the pot. If using Mexican Onions or green onions, only add the white ends to the pot. Save the green parts for the end. Tip: If using fresh chipilin, pluck the leaves off and remove the stems. The stems are more bitter and fibrous.
- Once the water is boiling, add the hardest and thickest vegetables first. Start with potatoes, onions, bell peppers, and carrots.
- Begin adding your spices, checking the flavor as you go. Take care not to over-salt.
- Once the potatoes and carrots are softened, add rice.
- After about 10 minutes, add the softer vegetables, leaving out the chipilin and optional green onion ends. This step includes tomatoes, green beans, and garlic.
- Once the rice is fully cooked through, add the chipilin and let cook for just a few minutes. Prepare your bowl.
- Serve with lime, to taste and top with the chopped green onion ends. We often add a squirt of our favorite hot sauce for an additional kick. This is especially helpful if drinking this soup while ill.