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I’m one of those people who loves soup any time of the year, but I do tend to crave big bowls of steaming, comforting soup most during the winter months. When my cravings hit, I turn to a recipe that my family has been making for generations that’s perfect for chasing the chill away. It’s one of my favorite childhood foods: caldo de res, a Mexican soup packed with veggies and tender, slow-simmered beef.
Like most dishes, every family puts their spin on this soup. That’s the beauty of starting with a good foundation — it’s easily customizable. I have three different versions I make regularly; the one I’m sharing today is the most basic of them but is nonetheless deserving of a place on your table.
It all starts with the meat.
I like to use a meaty, inexpensive cut. Today, I’m using 2 pounds of trimmed chuck roast. Next are the bones — a necessary component to any good stock and a crucial part of caldo de res. I usually buy packages labeled beef soup bones, but I’ve also used short ribs, neck bones, bone-in beef shanks and oxtails, which all also provide additional meat to pick off the bones.
In addition, I add a few vegetables to help flavor the broth while the meat cooks, starting with the classic trio of onion, celery and carrot. Cilantro, garlic, jalapeño and bay leaves help give it a Latin flair. The veg will cook down with the meat until the latter is nearly fork-tender, which will take about 2 hours. By then, the vegetables will be soft, almost mushy, having given up all their flavor to the broth, so I remove and discard them.
As for the vegetables that are served with the tender cooked meat, they can vary but, traditionally, this soup has wheels of corn on the cob, potatoes, carrots, green beans and squash. I like to use two types of squash: small Mexican squash (also known as tatuma squash) and chayote (which is sold labeled as a squash but is a fruit and a member of the gourd family).
Some families also add cabbage and garbanzo beans. My dad, for instance, doesn’t like chayote, prefers zucchini and always adds cabbage to his version. I tend to only add cabbage when I make the caldo with a guajillo chile base but rarely in this simpler version that I’m sharing today. However, if you love cabbage, feel free to quarter a small head and add it during the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Since the vegetables all take varying times to cook, I start with the heartiest first, adding the wheels of corn on the cob and letting them cook for 15 minutes before adding the carrots and potatoes. After an additional 10 to 15 minutes, the green beans and squash join the party. By the time the chayote is fork-tender, the meat will be as well, and the soup will be ready to serve.
While the soup is cooking, I prepare a garnish of quick-pickled thinly sliced white onions with salt and pepper and a healthy squeeze of lime juice. I love the contrast of the crisp, slightly acidic onions against the warm, flavorful broth. The garnish is entirely optional, but I think it is a worthy addition.
Also, it’s customary for soups like this to have a healthy serving of either Mexican red rice or white rice added to the bowl just before digging in, but that, too, is optional. Oh! And don’t forget to serve some warm, corn tortillas to dunk into the tasty broth (or do what I do and fish out some chunks of meat to roll up in the tortilla before dunking it into the broth).
(Mexican Beef Vegetable Soup)
To ensure the clearest broth, bring the meat to a rolling boil, then immediately lower the temperature to maintain a light simmer, skimming off all the foam. Cooking the soup at anything above a simmer can cause the fat to emulsify into the broth, making it cloudy.
Makes 8 servings
FOR THE BROTH:
2 pounds chuck roast
2 pounds soup bones
Coarse sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ medium white onion, cut in two
1 large carrot, peeled and halved
2 celery ribs, halved
1 jalapeño pepper, optionally deseeded for less heat
3 bay leaves
3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
⅓ bunch cilantro
Water to cover
FOR THE SOUP:
2 ears corn, cut into thirds
4 small red potatoes, halved
Juice of half lemon
2 large carrots, peeled and quartered
2 large Roma tomatoes, with an “X” cut into one end
4 small Mexican squash, ends trimmed, halved lengthwise
2 chayotes, peeled and quartered
1 pound green beans, trimmed, longer beans halved
Coarse sea salt, to taste
FOR THE MARINATED GARNISH:
½ medium white onion, thinly sliced
Pinch of sea salt, or to taste
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
Juice of half a freshly squeezed lime
Warmed corn tortillas
½ cup cooked plain white rice, per serving, optional
Salsa or hot sauce, optional
Cut meat into 2-inch chunks, trimming away excess fat and any visible gristle. Generously season it and the soup bones with salt and pepper; let rest on the counter for 20 minutes before adding the meat, bones, onions, carrots, celery, jalapeño, bay leaves, garlic, cilantro and 2 teaspoons salt to a large stockpot. Fill with water to cover meat and vegetables by 3 inches. Cover the pot, put on stove at high heat, bring to a boil, then lower heat to maintain a soft simmer. After the first 20 minutes, skim off the foam and impurities that float to the top. Continue skimming every 20 minutes for the first hour of cooking.
Periodically check the stockpot, adding more hot water, if needed, to keep the water about 3 inches above the meat.
While the meat is cooking, prep the soup vegetables as noted in the ingredients list and set them aside until ready to add to the stockpot. To keep the potatoes from oxidizing, place them in a small bowl, add water and lemon juice; set aside until ready to use.
For the marinated onions, place the thinly sliced onions in a small bowl. Season with salt, pepper and lime juice; stir well and set aside.
Once the soup has been simmering for 2 hours, start checking the meat for doneness. When it nearly pulls apart with a fork, remove the now exhausted stock vegetables and discard them. Add the corn; cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the potatoes, carrots and tomatoes (if too much water has evaporated, add more). Cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes. Transfer the tomatoes along with a ladle of the broth to a blender and set aside for now. Add the squash, chayote and green beans to the stockpot. Taste the soup for salt and add more if needed. Cover and continue simmering.
Meanwhile, blend the tomatoes and broth until smooth. Pour the tomatoes back into the soup pot, passing it first through a sieve; discard anything remaining in the sieve. Cover the pot and simmer until the chayote is fork-tender. Serve immediately, garnishing with the marinated onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Serve with warm corn tortillas on the side to dunk into the broth. Optionally, add ½ cup cooked rice to each bowl and for some spicy heat, a few spoonfuls of your favorite salsa or hot sauce.
Store the completely cooled soup in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. After sitting in the fridge overnight, any fat in the soup will have risen to the top, hardening to solid white bits, making it easy to, if desired, remove before reheating.
Recipe is copyrighted by Anita L. Arambula and is reprinted by permission from Confessions of a Foodie.
Arambula is the food section art director and designer. She blogs at confessionsofafoodie.me, where the original version of this article was published. Follow her on Instagram: @afotogirl. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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