I think I've got my cooking and blogging mojo back, thanks to you all, who left such wonderful comments after my last post. I suppose I'm not alone in wanting to be missed, and in garnering momentum from the enthusiasm of others. After all, who writes a blog and doesn't hope it will be read by someone else, maybe even someone on the other side of the world?
This week I've been combing through my cookbooks and old issues of Gourmet (more on that in my next post), looking for new ideas. One of my favorite cookbooks is Firehouse Food. I've posted about numerous recipes I've made from this simple paperback, including chile verde, beef barley soup, and tortilla soup, all excellent additions to anyone's repertoire. And a few days ago, I made caldo de res.
Although I've flipped through this book dozens of times, I never noticed this recipe before. Perhaps because I don't speak Spanish, and had no idea what res meant. It turns out it means beast or animal.
A quick skim of the ingredients and method confirmed that this hearty peasant soup was right up my alley. When I chatted with the husband over gmail later, eventually the conversation turned to dinner (naturally).
WFD? he wrote, our shorthand for What's for dinner?
I considered my phrasing. Animal soup sounded strange, and unnecessarily vague. Beast soup sounded downright scary.
Mexican soup, I wrote.
Surprisingly, that elicited no further questions from the husband, who seemed disinterested in what the primary ingredients of said Mexican soup might be, if it was going to be spicy, or if we would eat bread or tortillas with it, all things I might have asked.
Sounds good, he wrote. And that was that.
The soup was exactly the kind of thing I like to make when I have a few hours to cook but am not in the mood to make multiple dishes or spend a lot of time over the stove. You begin by browning the beast (in this case, beef chuck) in a big pot. Then you chop up some aromatics and throw those in, along with some broth and tomatoes. Put the lid ajar and simmer for an hour and a half. Then add some vegetables and simmer some more. Finally, serve with warmed tortillas and garnish with limes, chopped onion, or cilantro. Next time I'll add a little avocado on top.
I made a few changes to the recipe, although I've copied the recipe below pretty much as printed in the book so you can decide for yourself what to do. For one thing, I used four cups of beef broth and two cups of water. I'm not a fan of store-bought beef broth--I feel it can be a bit strong-- but I do think it deepens the flavor of whatever you're making. Second, I cut the corn kernels off the cob and added them with the cabbage toward the end. The idea of big hunks of corn cob floating around in my soup bowl put me off and it was guaranteed the husband wasn't going to dig it. And third, I had to add a little more water as it was cooking as it was getting too thick.
The soup turned out absolutely delicious--somewhere between a soup and a stew, full of bright color and flavor. We ate it in white bowls with big wedges of lime.
If you don't eat red meat, or are simply looking for a variation, the authors suggest substituting chicken broth and boneless, skinless chicken thighs. In this case, call it Caldo de Pollo.
Caldo de Res
From Firehouse Food
2 T. vegetable oil
2 1/2 lbs. beef chuck steak, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 medium white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
6 c. beef broth
1 bay leaf
1 T. dried Mexican oregano
1 lb. red potatoes, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 ears corn, shucked and cut into 1-inch-thick rounds
1 zucchini, cut into thick matchsticks, 1 inch long
1/2 head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 c. chopped cilantro
salt and freshly ground pepper
Accompaniments: finely diced white onion, cilantro sprigs, wedges of lime, warm tortillas
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat; add the meat and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes (I did this in several batches so as not to overcrowd the pan). Add the onion and garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, broth, bay leaf, and oregano. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, partially covered.
Stir in the potatoes, carrot, and corn; continue to cook for 30 minutes. Add the zucchini, cabbage, and cilantro; cook for 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into warm bowls and pass the accompaniments at the table.