Iyako, Ajiaco or Sancocho: The Perfect Dish to Honor the Egún

Sancocho a dish to wake up the dead!

My abuela (grandmother) Gloria used to say that she could wake up the dead with her sancocho. She was not very far from the truth, for indeed this dish is special to the Lukumí practices to honor the Egún.

Her sancocho, as we call it in Puerto Rico, still is the finest I have ever eaten and it would make anyone one who enjoyed it break into a sweat. Abuela did not keep an Egún altar; she was more into Spiritism that any other African traditional religious practice. Regardless, in the process of feeding the family this delicious stew, she brought them together at the table, a common place to honor in her own way those who came before her with conversations that invariably would revolve around traditions and about the value of staying together as family.

In Cuba the same stew is called ajiaco and for the Yoruba it is known as iyako. The common thread is that the dish makes us remember roots that go all the way to Africa. No matter what you call it, making the perfect pot of this stew is a fine art, and just like storytelling, it takes time and practice to master it.

The sun was not yet up and my grandmother already had her kitchen table filled with root vegetables, onions, meats and herbs. Still on my pajamas, I would sit at the kitchen table and watch her with big saucer eyes as she peeled mounds of root vegetables. It would be years later that the skills I learned with her would be put into action while helping to prepare sancocho for my Egún where she now reigned amongst many other family members who had crossed over to the great beyond.

Making an ajiaco for the Egún always uplifts my spirits. I guess it was the same for my Lukumí ancestors who would make this dish to appease and honor their family spirits while showing their love by sharing some of their meager rations.


Here is Abuela Gloria’s Sanchocho recipe (Yields 8 to 10 large portions):

Play this meddley from Yoruba Andabó as you cook and you will feel the Egún all around you…

(A) Meats:
1 ½ lb of beef (some soup bones can also be used), lean and cubed into 1 inch squares
1 ½ lb of pork, lean and cubed into 1 inch squares
4 chicken thighs, skin on, cut in half
½ lb. Smoked cooking ham

(B) Aromatics & Seasonings:
1 minced bunch of recao or culantro (Eryngium foetidum)
8 ají dulces (Capsicum chinense)
6 chopped large garlic cloves
2 large yellow onions, chopped
2 Green banana peppers or one large green bell pepper
3 Bay Laurel leaves
1 Tbs. dried oregano
1 Tsp. Cumin seeds
3 table spoons of olive oil
½ tsp Annatto seeds
½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tbs. Sea salt (if you are cooking for Egún take out the salt)
Adobo to taste (when not cooking for Egun)

Culantro a key ingredient

(C) Root Vegetables & Other Ingredients
1/3 lb. Green Pumpkin (Curcubita máxima)
1 lb. Malanga lila (Colocasia esculenta)
3 large green plantains
1 ½ lb. Yautía lila (Xanthosoma violaceum)
1 lb. Yucca (Manihot esculenta)
½ lb. potatoes
3 fresh corn ears
½ lb. White yam (Dioscorea ssp.)
2 tbs. white flour

(D) Procedure:
Heat up the olive oil and place the Annatto seeds in it to render the red color. Discard the seeds and set aside the tinted oil. Brown the meats in additional olive oil, once they are seared, start incorporating all the aromatics except for the sea salt and/or the adobo if you are cooking for the Egún. If you are cooking for yourself and others, season to taste.

Peel the yautia, malanga, potatoes, yucca, white yam and pumpkin all cut into medium sized cubes. Add to meats one at a time every 5 minutes in the order in which they are listed, and pour 6 cups of water and add more water as it evaporates. Add the corn cut into 2 inch rounds. Using the fine grind of a box grater, grate the green plantains into a bowl, sprinkle with flour and adobo and shape into balls (like meatballs). Drop the plantain balls (bollitos de plátano) into the pot, check seasoning, add the annatto oil and keep on cooking in low heat and covered for an hour. Keep monitoring the liquid level as not to dry your stew.

You know your stew is ready when it had thickened and the root vegetables are all fork tender.

The ajiaco is garnished with a roasted head of pork when setting up a formal Zaraza a Egún, otherwise it is set at the Egún altar served in a igüera or calabash bowl.

I hope you can try this dish one day and that you always find the blessings of your Egún all around you. Maferefún Egún!

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

16 Replies to “Iyako, Ajiaco or Sancocho: The Perfect Dish to Honor the Egún”

  1. Lmfao..!!.. This is a very special dish in Dominican Republic.. specially when rains and it’s cold outside….. Good Post..!

    1. Hello George,

      Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans and Cubans, we are all bound to have a spoon in hand when someone mentions Sancocho or Ajiaco.

      Do you cook?



  2. Thank you for this great recipe!

    My husband and I already cook with many of these ingredients. Though this recipe is new to us!

    Our cilantro is different though. It is small leaves. I will find a photo. http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=cilantro+picture&view=detail&id=75CD3B2C44C2536F7EE06D302673DEF4A069B391&first=1&FORM=IDFRIR&qpvt=

    I hope that photo will be accepted.

    We will try this recipe to eat.

    May I ask why no salt when making an offering for the Egun? I would like to learn more about making appropriate offerings and this is curious to me.

    Thank you!


    1. Hello Kjerstin,

      I am glad you like the recipe. The secret is to cook it in a low heat so the root vegetables can simmer slowly and the starches can thicken the stew and make it hearthy. Some people like it a bit on the more soupy side, me, I prefer it thick.

      My grandmother used to serve this to us with nice slices of avocado, not the Hass variety, but the ones that have light green color and smooth skin.

      You can search for a photo on google under Aguacate Dominicano or Puertorrican avocado. The Caribbean variety is rather large and creamy flavored.

      As to why not use salt for the Egun, they are no longer alive like us or the salt of the earth if you may. I will try to find the particular reason why salt is not used, to be honest, I have always followed the rule and not really questioned it.

      I have used salt so much in the past to ward of spirits that it just makes sense not to include it in the meals I offer to my ancestral spirits.


      1. Hello Omimelli

        That was my thought also about the salt. What I wonder about also is why salt is an issue for a spirit-being, and that is what has got me thinking.

        Although my own experience as a medium will be subjective, I have encountered departed souls, of people once living, who, in soul/spirit form have difficulty crossing, or who can not cross a body of water if it contains salt. I have also, in spiritually dealing with drowning deaths in salt water, encountered some curious things I have yet to explain. I think this is why the question comes up for me.

        If you look up “supermolecular chemistry” and “salt bridge”, there is a lot of interesting information. As a chemical, salt can bond with so many things and can do so in many ways. Usually, salt forms a “bridge” between itself and the chemicals it bonds with, This is especially true with any protein and why salt distributes itself so evenly in foods as it quickly makes a bridge with all the protein molecules. When salt can not form a bridge it then forms a double helix, much like a DNA strand. This double helix will literally encapsulate another non-bridging chemical, the salt bonds to itself literally surrounding and jailing the molecule that can not make the bridge with it.

        This is the science and I wonder what is the spiritual counterpart? Hmmmmm…

        Much Love


        1. Kjerstin,

          This is indeed a fascinating subject, I think you are way ahead of me on this. Would you not consider sending a post on your experiences with spitual work and salt?


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