Tag Archives: beef

Recipe: Bolivian Soup with Wheat Berries (Sopa de Trigo)

29 Jan

There are probably as many versions of this soup as there are Bolivian families, and all of them likely to be delicious, but this is the version that has evolved at our house over the years. I love the bright-red color that comes from the tomato and chili pastes; it brightens even the coldest, most dreary day. I also love the soup’s many layers of flavor, each one contributing to the overall symphony. It’s even better the next day, so it’s a great make-ahead dish. And it’s very adaptable: make a vegetarian version by eliminating the beef/lamb, adding more veggies, and using vegetable broth/bouillon. Or substitute quinoa for the wheat if gluten is an issue.

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Bolivian Soup with Wheat Berries (Sopa de Trigo)

Wheat/Hominy:
1/3-1/2 c. dry wheat berries/trigo pelado
1 can (14 0z./400 gr.) cooked hominy/mote blanco, undrained
–OR 1/2 c. dried cracked hominy (maiz blanco trillado)–see photo below

½ c. freeze-dried potato/black chuño (optional)

Soup broth:
12 c./3 liters beef broth
1 lb./500 gr. meaty, bone-in beef or lamb
1 large onion, halved
1 large tomato, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
beef bouillon cubes (optional)

Soup Vegetables:
3/4 c. petite peas
2 large carrots, julienned
3 large potatoes, julienned (it’s traditional to julienne both the carrots and the potatoes, but I have been know to dice both instead…)

Sofrito:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, finely diced
1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1-2 tbsp. red aji (chili) paste (aji colorado/aji panca)–see photo below
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. dried oregano
coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

Toppings:
2 green onions, finely sliced
1 tsbp. finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tbsp. finely chopped  fresh mint

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Dried cracked hominy

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Red aji (chili) paste

Preparation:

  1. Note: If using  the optional freeze-dried potato/chuño, soak it in warm water overnight prior to making the soup. Before adding it to the soup in step #5, drain it and squeeze as much water out as possible. If necessary, chop into small pieces.
  2. Place the wheat berries (and, if using, the dried hominy) in a medium saucepan, cover with several inches of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 60-90 minutes or until both wheat and hominy are soft. Drain and set aside. If using canned hominy, pre-cook only the wheat, and add the undrained canned hominy to the soup in step #5.
  3. Meanwhile, add the broth and meat/bones to a large pot and bring to a low simmer, skimming periodically until no more foam is produced. Add the halved onion, quartered tomato, halved carrots, and the bay leaves and continue simmering slowly until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Check the seasonings and add beef bouillon cubes to taste, if needed.
  4. Remove the beef/lamb to a dish and let cool. Strain the broth through a fine-meshed sieve into a large bowl, mashing the tomato pieces to extract any remaining liquid. Return the broth to the pot and discard the vegetables.
  5. Shred the meat, discarding the bones and any fat, and add the shredded meat to the pot along with 1 c. of the cooked wheat, the hominy, the freeze-dried potato/chuño (if using), and the peas, carrots, and potatoes. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the sofrito: Heat the olive oil  in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the onion, and cook until soft and slightly golden. Add the remaining ingredients to the skillet and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, to make a fragrant paste. Add the paste to the soup pot, stir to mix, and continue simmering the soup, covered, for 15 minutes or more to develop the flavors and ensure all vegetables are soft. If the soup seems too thick, add more water. If it needs more salt, add another bouillon cube.
  7. Serve with the sliced green onions and herbs sprinkled on top, and with plenty of crusty bread.

Recipe: Coda alla Vaccinara (Oxtail Stew) with Rigatoni

2 Dec

One of the pleasures of being in a new place is tasting local dishes and then trying to figure out how to make them. In Italy, part of the fun lies in consulting butchers, greengrocers, cheese purveyors, wine merchants, and really, any Italian who eats, because they are all happy to offer advice. As soon as the days grew cooler, I knew what I wanted to make: Coda alla Vaccinara (Oxtail Stew) served over rigatoni–an old-style dish appearing on many Roman menus.

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In previous times, the slaughterhouse workers of Testaccio (the vacccinari) were given offal and oxtails to pad their slim salaries. Their wives rose to the challenge and created dishes that made the most of the available ingredients. In Coda alla Vaccinara, the oxtails are braised in a sauce made with pancetta, lots of celery, onions, carrots, tomatoes, wine, and spices, though the stew is open to interpretation; everyone I asked prepares the dish in a slightly different way. Some people make it with red wine instead of white, some add water, some forego the carrot, some add raisins. Large pieces of celery are de rigueur, but in a rebellious break from tradition (and knowing I wanted to turn the entire stew into a sauce), I finely diced all the celery and survived to tell the tale.

However, I did not escape looks of shock and dismay on the faces of two Italian friends when I mentioned I had added a pinch of cinnamon to the stew. “Cinnamon? CINNAMON? No. NO.” But I say “Yes.” In addition to cloves, cinnamon very frequently appears in recipes for Coda, which is meant to have a warm-scented, delicately sweet undertone. So here is the resulting recipe, a hearty interpretation perfect for autumn and winter. And following on the advice of Alessandro Volpetti (and I’m happy to take the word of anyone at Volpetti’s), I topped the Coda with grated Ricotta Salata cheese, one of my favorites. But omit the cinnamon if you prefer, top with Parmesan or Pecorino Romano instead–this dish is yours to interpret.

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Rigatoni with Oxtail Sauce (con Coda alla Vaccinara)

1-2 tbsp. olive oil
2.2 lb. (1 kg.) oxtails
salt and pepper
4 oz. (about 112 grams) pancetta, cubed
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely diced (or coarsely grated)
5 stalks celery, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/8 -1/4 tsp. chili flakes
4 whole cloves (or 1/8 tsp. ground)
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1.5 tbsp. tomato paste
1.5 c. white wine
1 large (28 oz./800 grams) can peeled Italian tomatoes
fresh parsley and marjoram (or oregano)
tiny pinch sugar

1 lb. (500 grams) rigatoni
Ricotta salata cheese, grated

Preparation
1. Lightly season the oxtail pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven, then brown the oxtail pieces, turning them on all sides. Remove from the pot and place in a bowl.
2. Add the pancetta to the pot and cook until mostly crispy and the fat has rendered; do not drain the fat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook until soft, deglazing the pot as you go. Sprinkle the onion mixture with more black pepper, add the garlic and bay leaf, and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the chili flakes, cloves, and cinnamon and cook for a minute or two while stirring. Add the tomato paste and the wine. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes to reduce the liquid slightly.
3. With clean hands, take a peeled tomato from the can and crush it into the stew; repeat with all the tomatoes. This is a very satisfying technique—but moderation is key; if you are too enthusiastic, you may end up shooting tomato bits across the kitchen. If you prefer a slightly less visceral experience, you can cut the tomatoes while in the can, or remove them and dice, adding all the tomatoes and all the tomato sauce/juice from the can to the pot.
4. Mix in the pinch of sugar, nestle the oxtail pieces into the vegetable mixture, pour in any liquid from the bowl they were in, sprinkle with more black pepper, and then scatter some of the herbs on top.

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5. Cover the pot and simmer on low heat for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender when pierced with a fork (it may take longer depending on the oxtails). Remove the oxtails, place on a dish, let cool, then pull off as much meat from the bones as possible (this will require some patience). Return the shredded meat to the sauce; keep warm.
6. Cook the rigatoni according to package instructions until al dente, drain, return to its pot, and then mix in the Coda sauce. Scatter more fresh herbs on top and serve with the grated cheese.

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Recipe: Beef Barley Mushroom Soup

19 Jan

One thing to appreciate about winter is that it is soup weather. Take a steaming bowl of hearty soup, add a crusty baguette and a crisp salad, and you’re set: both body and soul will sigh in appreciation. This soup features some whole-grain goodness in the form of barley, plus that deeply satisfying umami taste from the beef and mushrooms. More flavor comes from searing the beef and bones (which results in the rich crusty drippings known as sucs, or also in the United States as fond). That is followed by deglazing the pot with aromatic vegetables and a dash of soy sauce until the vegetables are also golden and offering up their own richness, and then continuing to build the soup from there.

*See note below for how to make a vegetarian/vegan version of this soup.

Beef Barley Mushroom Soup
Serves 8

2-3 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lb. beef stew meat, trimmed of fat, and cut into small cubes
1 lb. beef bones
1 lg. onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 tbsp. soy sauce
8 oz.  mushrooms, diced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme
freshly ground pepper
1 c. tomato puree
8 c. beef stock or broth (if using prepared stock/broth, find a low-fat, low-sodium brand)
2 c. water
2 beef bouillon cubes (optional, but if using, find a brand without MSG)
2/3 c. pearl barley
1 c. frozen corn kernels
1/2 c. frozen petite peas

chopped parsley as a garnish

Preparation

1. Heat a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Add the olive oil, and when hot, brown the meat and bones; you want to get golden-brown crusty drippings on the bottom of the pot. Remove the meat and bones and reserve.
2. Add the onions, carrots, and celery to the pot and sauté for a few minutes, stirring often to deglaze the pot (to loosen the crusty drippings), until the onions begin to soften and turn golden brown at the edges. (If the vegetable mixture gets too dry at any stage, add a tiny bit of olive oil.)
3. Add the soy sauce to the vegetables in the pot; cook for a couple minutes, then add the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid and the liquid has mostly evaporated. Add the garlic, bay leaves, and thyme, and grind a generous amount of black pepper over the vegetables; cook for three to five minutes. Add the tomato puree; mix well.
4. Return the beef and bones to the pot, add the stock/broth, the water, and the bouillon cubes (if using); bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot, and begin simmering the soup.
5. Meanwhile, toast the barley on a baking sheet in a 450-degree oven for about 10 minutes, checking every few minutes, until the barley is golden brown. Carefully add the barley to the soup; there will be a very satisfying hissing and bubbling when you do this. Note: this step is optional; you can also add the barely to the soup without having toasted it. But toasted barley adds a nice nutty flavor.
6. Continue simmering the soup for about 30 minutes to an hour  — until the beef and barley are tender (the timing will depend on the size of the beef cubes). If needed, skim the top of the soup during the simmering stage  to remove any extra oil. Add the corn and peas for the last 15 minutes or so of the cooking time.
7. Remove the bones and bay leaves from the soup, and discard. If the beef cubes are on the larger side, you may want to take them out of the soup once they are tender and shred them (as I did for the accompanying photo).
8. If the soup has gotten too thick, add additional water or stock/broth. Check seasonings, garnish with chopped parsley if desired, and serve immediately.

Note: To make this vegetarian/vegan, omit the beef and bones and begin with Step 2 (sauteing the onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil). Double the amount of mushrooms used in Step 3. In Step 4, add two diced potatoes to the pot (instead of the beef/bones) and substitute vegetable broth for the beef stock/broth and vegetable bouillon cubes (or some nutritional yeast) for the beef bouillon cubes. Total simmering time should be about 30 minutes. 

Recipe: Easy Weeknight Chili

27 Mar

The snow from a few days ago is now gone, but spring is taking its time getting here. The blustery weather means warm and comforting soups and stews are still on the menu, but I don’t usually get home from work until after 6 pm, so I need quick and easy options like this chili. I make other versions that require more ingredients, more prep time, and more cooking time and though they are well worth the effort, this is my go-to chili for busy weeknights. If you have ground beef or turkey on hand, and canned tomatoes and beans in your cupboards, then you are good to go. We like to top this chili with diced onions, shredded cheese, and crushed tortilla chips. It also goes very nicely with cornbread, which can be made while the various parts of the chili are cooking.

Easy Weeknight Chili
Serves 6

3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1.25 lb. lean ground beef or turkey
1 large onion, diced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 (14.5-oz.) cans diced tomatoes with jalapeno (or use plain diced tomatoes and add a 4-oz. can of diced green chilies)
1 (14.5-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 (15.5-oz.) can dark red kidney beans, drained (but reserve liquid in case it is needed)
1 (15.5-oz.) can light red kidney beans, drained
pinch sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Cook the ground beef or turkey in 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot until no longer pink; remove from pot, drain if needed, and set aside.
2. Add the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil to the pot and cook the onion in the oil until it is translucent and beginning to turn golden at the edges. Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, and oregano, and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
3. Add the diced and crushed tomatoes, the reserved ground beef or turkey, and the beans; stir to combine. Add a pinch of sugar, then salt and pepper to taste.
4. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring periodically. If the chili seems too thick, add some of the reserved bean liquid. Adjust seasonings as needed.
5. Serve with the accompaniments mentioned above, and perhaps a green salad and fruit.