Is it soup weather?

Do¬†you believe soups are better suited for a specific time of the year? Maybe when it is cold and dreary or rainy outside? For Panamanians, soup is on any day of the week and year. As a matter of fact, you’ll find it on the daily lunch menu at every restaurant or Fonda around the country.

When I was in Austin a few weeks ago, I saw an advertisement for Sopa¬†de Arroz con Pollo¬†(Chicken & Rice Soup). Even though I’ve heard about chicken & rice soup, I never really thought about it in a Latin context until then. Chicken & rice soup doesn’t move me in any way, but Sopa¬†de Arroz con Pollo…? Now, that’s a completely different matter. I simply couldn’t get it off my mind. The possibilities. The potential goodness. Muy¬†rico.

It turned out lighter than I had anticipated, even with the addition of the rice. Rich with the flavors of the chicken broth and culantro. I didn’t have any yuca at home, but next time I make it, I will use that instead of potatoes. And it was a breeze to make too!

Sopa de Arroz con Pollo
1-1/2 lbs of chicken on the bone (I prefer thighs) seasoned with 2 pkts Sazón Goya .

To your blender, add 1/2 onion, 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/4 cp cilantro or 3 culantro leaves and 2 crushed garlic cloves, add just enough water to puree all the ingredients; I ended up with about 3 cps of puree.

Put the seasoned chicken and the puree in a stockpot over medium-high heat and allow it to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will allow the flavors from the pureed veggies to infuse the chicken before adding all the water for the soup.

After about 10 minutes, add enough water to totally submerge the chicken, about 6 cps, add some chopped potatoes and carrots, season with salt & pepper, and 1 bay leaf. Bring it all to a boil, then lower temperature to allow it to simmer and cook for about 20-30 minutes or until the chicken is tender.

Remove the chicken from the broth and add 1/2 cp of rice to it, allow it cook while the chicken cools enough to remove the bones. Make sure to stir the broth every few minutes, making sure to remove any rice that may stick to the bottom. In the meantime, chop the chicken, if you’d like and return it to the broth. Cook just long enough for the rice to soften.

Serve in bowls and enjoy!
Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

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Saril, not just for drinking anymore

I love learning new things, especially new cooking things. Be it techniques, flavors, ingredients, I love it.¬†The world is¬†so full of delicious and unique goodies, we would need to live several lifetimes in order to¬†appreciate them all. There is a flower/plant that is very popular in Panama, the Caribbean and Mexico. In Panama and the Caribbean it is known as Saril¬†or Red Sorrel. In Mexico, they call it Flor de Jamaica (Jamaican flower) and they use it for their aguas¬†frescas–essentially, flavored (infused) waters.

These next 3 shots were taken by Peter, Mr. P. de Panama. A US expat living in my little country, who kindly allowed me to use his shots in exchange for the link to the recipe featuring them. I think I got the best end of that deal. Definitely take some time to visit his Flickrstream, he has some awesome photos here.

by Mr. P. de Panama

Saril bush, flower and ...the thing you make the juice with

by Mr. P. de Panama

Similarly, I’ve been drinking Ponche¬†de Saril¬†(Saril¬†punch) since I was a little kid; my mom and aunts would sit around for hours piting¬†the flowers, then they would steep them with lots of ginger. To serve it, sugar and sometimes lime juice was added and then the drink is poured over lots of ice. It is one of the most beautiful and refreshing things you’ll ever drink, an awesome combination of tartness and zing. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

the pits!

That was the only use I was aware of for this flower, a relative of the common hibiscus plant. Recently, I read a post by one of my fave foodies, Lesley over at The Mija Chronicles. She used the reconstituted flowers to make quesadillas, then I discovered she has a fascination with the little flower and has prepared and¬†eaten many dishes incorporating it. To say I was intrigued does not cover it. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The possibilities seemed endless once I realized the genius of exploiting the flavors of the miracle flower. What to do…?

As you can see, the flower is a bright purplish red, the color intensifies when dried. The liquid, broth, tea, water, whatever we should call it, is a beautiful ruby red, a bit more intense than the color of cranberry juice. I wanted to make sure that the dish I created continued to pay homage to the vibrancy of¬†the flower’s color. Saril’s¬†flavor profile could be compared to that of fresh cranberries, I guess. Except, not as tart, giving way to a slight sweetness along the way. Again, I needed to preserve¬†those flavors in the final product: chicken would open itself up to the flavors. A bit of heat and we would be golden. Want to see?

Chicken in Saril and Ancho Sauce

For the chicken
1 whole chicken, cleaned
2 carrots, halved
1/2 cilantro bunch
4 cloves garlic, whole
1 tbsp Herbs d’Provence
1 tbsp sea salt
Water

Remove the innards from the bird’s cavity and rinse the chicken under cold tap water. Place all the ingredients, except for the chicken and water in a stockpot, rest the chicken over them, then fill the pot with enough water to completely cover and submerge the chicken. Place on the stove on high heat until it comes to a boil. Once it boils, lower the temperature just enough to keep it at a slow boil (about medium-high flame) and allow it to cook for another 20 minutes.

At the end of the 20 minutes, turn off the heat and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Let it steam for another 30-45 minutes. Remove the chicken to cool and reserve the broth. This will result in the most beautiful, flavorful, moist chicken meat ever and the broth is amazing. Once the chicken has cooled, break the chicken into pieces and remove the meat from the bones into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

For the sauce
2 cps reserved broth
2 ancho chilies, whole
2/3 cp dried saril
2 tbsp raspadura or dark brown sugar
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cp cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cp heavy cream, approx
Reserved chicken broth
Sea salt & black pepper

Place the raspadura, anchos and saril in a small pan with about 2 cps of the chicken broth, bring it to a slow boil for about 10-15 minutes, just until the chilies have softened. Puree in the blender until smooth.

Heat a pan large enough to hold all of the¬†chicken meat and add the olive oil, onions and garlic, cook until the onions are soft and translucent. At this point add the cilantro then¬†the flour and stir constantly¬†over medium heat, don’t let the flour burn, this will help thicken the sauce later. Add the saril¬†puree and enough broth to make the sauce runny, about the consistency of¬† half & half.

Once the sauce thickens a bit, to about the consistency of heavy cream, stir in the cream then add the chicken and lower the temperature to a slow simmer. Allow it to cook for 20-30 minutes, long enough for all the flavors to come together.  Serve over white rice, maybe even pasta and be ready to be oh so happy!

To see just a few more pictures of the cooking goodness, go to my Flickr stream, here. Don’t forget to stop by Peter’s page while you’re there. Mil gracias, Pedro!!!

 Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Tamales Mexicanos… I did it my way

Even though Mexican food is readily available in Houston, that doesn’t mean you get good tamales. For years I enjoyed the Rolls Royce of tamales, but most restaurants here serve tamales that are closer to a Yugo. My ex-mother-in-law made the best tamales I’ve eaten to date. She made them every year and would give each of her sons a few dozens to enjoy. I cherished those days, they only came around once or twice a year, so I had a lot of time to think and dream about them. Alicia was a generous woman, but she kept her method and recipe for tamales very close to the vest.¬† Fast forward some 15 years, you’ll find me trying my hand at recreating the coveted tamales.

Off to the interworld¬†I went looking for recipes and tips. I found lots and lots of them, all calling for chili powder as seasoning. For some reason, I can’t picture my mother in law dumping chili powder to season¬†her pork or chicken. So, I’m going to make this up as I go, combine some of the ingredients I saw her utilize in other dishes and see what happens. It all begins with the chilies. I used 3 different dried chiles:

  • Chile Ancho¬†is pretty mild by comparison to other dried peppers, it has a smoky fruity flavor. This isn’t surprising when you realize that Anchos are dried red poblano¬†peppers.
  • Chile Guajillo¬†also a mildly flavored chile, that seems to bring out the best in its companions.¬†Fruity, but with sweeter undertones than other¬†peppers. Interestingly, guajillos are also used¬†to make Harissa paste, a¬†condiment popular in North African dishes.
  • Chile Pasilla are very dark and wrinkled¬†like a raisin, they’re also pretty mild heat & fruity.

I used all three chilies a few different ways. First, to braise the pork and chicken. Yes. I made 2 different types of tamales, I had to. Both meats were cooked separately and slowly with onions, garlic, cumin, cilantro and 1 or 2 of each chili. I made sure to add plenty of water for braising, because that very broth flavors the masa later. Once the meat is fork tender, I allowed it cool before shredding.

I also made additional¬†chili sauce. One thing I remember about Alicia’s tamales, is that the dough was always very flavorful and colorful. For the chili sauce, I cooked the same aromatics: cilantro, chilies, onions, garlic, cumin and added tomatoes. Once everything had softened, I pureed and seasoned the sauce.

Now let’s talk about the masa. I opted to use premixed¬†masa instead of starting off with the dry corn stuff. But first I made lard. Yep, there’s a LOT of lard in tamales. The lard helps flavor the masa and makes it lighter, fluffier. So, I got some pork fat trimmings and rendered that fat down.

Before combining the lard and masa, I beat the lard until it was fluffy and added salt, pepper and pinch of cumin. I then worked the masa in and worked on its consistency by adding chile sauce and broth until it was about  the consistency of softened ice cream.

The tamales are cooked in corn husks, these are sold in packs and need to be rehydrated before use. Once they are pliable again, you can begin the exciting task of stuffing or making the tamales. Its not a difficult process, but it is a tedious one, which is probably why it is customary to have a few friends or family members pitch in at this point.

Once your tamales are stuffed, you can stack’em into a steamer pan. I took a vegetable steamer and placed it at the bottom of the pan, built a few layers with empty corn husks, this prevents the water from seeping through and ruining the tamales at the bottom and it also add to the flavor of finished tamales.

After about 40 minutes, you’ll end up with perfectly cooked, delicious tamales. Look at that gorgeous baby.

I also made some salsa and we sprinkled some queso fresco on top. I’m not offering a recipe here, I really kept adding and tasting things until they were right. I will say these weren’t quite Rolls Royce tamales, but I think I made it to Benz status.

 

There are lots more pictures, you can see them here.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Frozen fingers

It’s cold in Houston. Like freezing cold. As much as I love the cold, it makes very, what’s the word…? Lazy. Yep. I’ve got a ton of already prepared, shot and eaten dishes to tell you about, but with all the real work I’ve been doing, I’ve not been able to sit before the puter to type ’em up.

So, we’re going to the mattresses. I mean, the archives. This is what I do when I’ve not had a chance to come up with a new post and when I think there’s something yummy you may have missed in my early days.

This one is really good, it is a creamy and spicy chicken dish with Mexican flair. This is Pollo con Crema Poblana (Chicken with Poblano Cream Sauce). For the recipe, click the link.

Lazily yours,
Anamaris

A blast from the past, aka a needed break

I have to admit, I’m pooped. I’ve overdone it yet again. I went cruh-ah-zee with it all and I’m now feeling like cartoon characters probably do when they go splat against the wall.

I literally haven’t stopped since I got back from Panama and the funeral. I hit it hard at work¬†and on the blog,¬†hurling myself at every possible distraction and project that would keep me moving. I’m like a¬†shark right now, constantly on the move, never resting,¬†always on to the next thing.¬†I don’t want this to be a woe is me post, I’m just trying to say I think I will slow it down a bit for the next few weeks. There will be posting, no worries, but I’m probably gonna mix it up a bit with new and old-er posts.

So what’s on the menu today? Well, you’re probably getting ready for the holidays. For most people that means lots of shopping, for me, its food¬†and menu planning.¬†What can I say, I love my food. So, I’m going to point you to a couple of old posts. Both of these showcase dishes¬†that¬†are ALWAYS present on a Panamanian holiday table. They also happen to be 2 of my absolute favorites. Ready?

There is ¬†Arroz con Pollo. There always is Arroz con Pollo, I think it may be a law, one I will happily and faithfully abide by.¬†When you see arroz con pollo on your plate, you know that the beautiful bright yellow rice is having a party of flavors with the chicken and the raisins and the olives and the capers and… The rice is having a really good time, trust me. Click the link for the recipe¬†and you can see the full photostream here.

Then there will be Tamales. Whether they’re filled with chicken, pork, seafood or a combination of all of those, you will find these at your Tia’s table. I love these so much, I need to make another batch. You can too, just click this link for the recipe, the food shots are here.

What is always present on your holiday table?