When someone cooks you soup, it's a sign that they care. Soup takes time to make — time to allow the flavor of the ingredients to mingle and become something nourishing, satisfying and uplifting. Olivia Marcano understands the power of soup, especially the soups of her home country, Venezuela. That's why she's turning lunch every Friday at Comal Heritage Food Incubator into Venezuelan soup day.
Comal was founded by Focus Points Family Resource Center to give women in the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods the opportunity to learn how to run their own food-service businesses. Most of the week, Mexican dishes are on the menu, but Fridays have been reserved for the cuisine of other countries. At one point, Syrian cooking from the mother-daughter team of Vian Al-nidawi and Sara Nassr was the Friday special, but the two graduated from the program and now run their own catering and home-delivery company, Zaki Mediterranean Cuisine.
So Comal needed a new Friday lunch fill-in, and Marcano had been with the program long enough that she was ready to step up and showcase her own recipes. She says (with the assistance of an interpreter) that she joined the Comal team fifteen months ago and has learned a great deal about running a professional kitchen. "I want to open a small restaurant," she explains, "but a food truck would be good, too, because you can move it around."
Marcano comes from Ciudad Guayana in Venezuela's Bolívar province, not too far from the country's northern coast. She and her husband owned their own business in Venezuela, but living there became dangerous after her husband began receiving threats, so the Marcano family sought asylum in the U.S. They chose Denver because Marcano had a friend living here who recommended it, and because her son — who's just finishing high school — received a golf scholarship here.
The family arrived in Colorado in 2019. Although she hasn't gotten used to the cold weather yet, Marcano says that she otherwise loves the city. Finding the wide variety of ingredients used in Venezuelan cooking has been difficult, but some of the soups she makes can be created from easily found ingredients and share universal appeal. That's definitely the case with a lentil soup she served for the second of her Friday lunches. "Lentils are common all over Venezuela," she notes, adding that this type of soup is eaten throughout the country.
The soup comprises a generous amount of dark lentils cooked until just tender in a broth studded with small cubes of vegetables. It's not much different than lentil soups found in the U.S. or Europe, but Marcano tops hers with fresh baby spinach leaves, and she also makes a vivid green herb oil to drizzle over the soup. The oil gives a punch of bright flavor and freshness to the deep, earthy broth — a trick similar to what you might find in some of Denver's finest restaurants. A scoop of white rice finishes off the plating; Marcano says Venezuelans stir the rice directly into the steaming broth.
The Venezuelan soups will change each week; Marcano has already planned out the next few weeks. Next up will be pisca Andina, a thick, creamy chicken and potato soup from the Andes, and there will also be mondongo, a stew-like soup that often contains tripe. She's also made sopa de camarones, a shrimp soup representative of Venezuela's coastal regions.
Venezuelan cuisine is very different from Mexican cooking, Marcano notes. While she's enjoyed learning to cook Mexican recipes at Comal, she explains that it's much spicier than the food she normally makes.
Enjoy the spicy Mexican food at Comal, 3345 Ringsby Court from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, or stop in for comforting Venezuelan soups at the same time on Fridays. Comal is currently open for patio dining and takeout, and take-home meal kits are also available. Visit Comal Heritage Food Incubator on Facebook for updates, or order food at toasttab.com/comalkitchen.