About the wintry blahs

I know I can’t compare Houston’s cool temps with what some of you have to deal with, but I find myself in love with winter and its antics.

See, I grew up in a Tropical wonderland, all full of green lushness and heat. Vegetation, full trees, mountains, these are things that become commonplace when you see them on a daily basis.

You forget that you’re looking at several shades of green:

Or that a backdrop like this one isn’t unusual.

I guess it makes sense I would be impressed by the exact opposite. Thus, I found myself falling in love with fall and its beautiful colors.

or with winter and its inherent lack thereof

When I moved stateside, the thing I wished for the most was to experience the seasons I had long fantasized about. At the time I didn’t realize Houston would turn out to be a pretty close extension to Panama’s weather. Except there are no lush green mountains, not much lush greeness at all.

So, when we do get hit by Old Man Winter and the temperatures dip into the 30s and there’s frost on the cars when the sun comes up. Or when I have to wear a jacket to go to the mailbox and when the trees are naked and gray, I smile. I giggle. I do a little happy cold dance.

Stay warm.


Take this, Old Man Winter!

Is it cold where you are? It seems to be freezing almost everywhere in the US. Today in Houston the high was 32¬į! That’s definitely cold by Houston standards.

I’m not complaining, though. I LOVE it cold. I don’t know why, but I do. Cold makes me happy. Being able to say I’m cold makes me happier. It’s weird, I know, but it’s my thing. And I like my thing.

In any case, this kind of weather makes me think of hearty soups. I made a batch of my all time fave last night. Sopa de lentejas or lentil soup; Panamanian style, of course. This one is made rich with yuca and malanga (we call it otoe in Panama).

A bit about the ingredients:

Yuca¬†or cassava is a tuber with dark brown, thick peel and milky white flesh when raw. Once cooked–and it can be¬†prepared¬†many different¬†ways, including as dessert–the flesh turns a yellowish cream, becomes quite translucent around the edges. It is quite a bit more dense than a potato and has a slight sweetness.

Malanga is also a tuber, but its peel is barely thicker than that of a potato. There are a couple of varietals, some will have white flesh, while others have a beautiful purplish pink flesh. Both of them are speckled by little brown dots that look like pepper. The texture of malanga when cooked is very similar to a potato.

Beef: as with any soup, bones add a great deal of flavor to the broth. In this case I opted for short ribs to take advantage of those great bones. I also used some chuck roast to ensure we had plenty of meaty bites. I suggest browning the beef before starting the soup, this will also add another dimension of taste.

Vegetables/tubers: I recommend cooking the tubers in stages. I add 1/2 of them when I start the beef and lentils, and add the rest on the last 40 minutes of cooking.

OK, let’s do it!

Sopa de Lentejas (Lentil Soup)
1 lb chuck roast, cubed
4 beef short ribs (about 1lb)
2 cps dry lentils
2 lbs yuca (about 3 cps)
1 lb malanga (about 1-11/2 cps)
2 medium carrots
1/2 whole head garlic
1 cp cilantro, leaves and stems
2 cubes beef boullion

Preparation – about 30 minutes:
Beef: Liberally season the beef and ribs with salt and pepper, set it aside while you get the other ingredients ready.

Lentils: Remove any damaged lentils or debris and rinse in cool water. Add enough water to cover and allow them to soak. Set aside.

Peel the vegetables:
Yuca-as I mentioned, the peel is quite thick and I’ve noticed that here in the US they cover it with a waxy film. Cut the yuca into sections about 2-inches long. Using a sharp knife, slit the peel of each section. You should know that the peel has 2 layers; the top layer is dark brown and not too thick. The 2nd layer is pinkish and this is the tougher one. Make sure you slit through the 2nd layer until you hit the fleshy part.
At this point, use the sharp edge of the knife and push through the 2nd layer. Rinse and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Malanga-peel using a potato peeler. Use some caution, as it tends to have a bit of slickness once the peel is removed. Rinse and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Carrots-peel and cut into rounds.

For the soup: Heat up a large stockpot and add about 1 tsp of oil, smear it around. Brown the beef and ribs on both sides. Once all the beef is browned, drain and add the lentils, 1/2 of the yuca and malanga, all the carrots, the stemmy end of the cilantro, and the boullion. Fill the pot with water, about 12-15 cps or so.

Allow it to come to a boil, and remove the foam that forms at the top when it boils. Lower the temperature to medium and allow it to come to a strong simmer. Stir it every few minutes, you want to make sure the lentils are not sticking to the bottom of the pan as that would cause the soup to scorch.

Allow it to simmer slowly for about 1-1/2 hrs for the beef to soften. At that time, remove the head of garlic, then add the rest of the tubers and cilantro. Check the seasoning and adjust at will. Allow it to cook for another 30 minutes or so. If you used boned short ribs, you can pull those out to remove the bones and cut the meat to bite-size portions.

Serve with white rice and enjoy!
Cookingly yours,