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,


Bean me up!

Do you like beans? How often do you eat them? Panamanians LOVE beans. We eat lots of them and on a daily basis. There are always beans next to your rice; it’s just the perfect marriage. I’m going to show you how I cook beans, sometimes in a traditional Panamanian style, sometimes with a Mexican flair and sometimes in the American way.

This post is for Lentils, possibly my favorite of all legumes. Lentils are creamy and mild, easy and quick to cook. They’re also quite versatile; you’ll find recipes to use them in soups, combined with rice, sometimes served slightly dry. They’re just delicious.¬†¬†If you haven’t, you should definitely give them a try. They cook quickly without an inordinate amount of soaking.

Lentejas (Lentils)
2 cps dry lentils
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 slices bacon or 1/4 cp salt pork
Inspect your lentils, you’ll want to get rid of any damaged or broken beans, and also check for stones or leftover husks. Once cleaned, put them in a bowl and rinse them, changing the water a couple of times. If you want, you can allow them to soak in hot tap water for about 30 minutes, but this isn’t necessary.

After soaking, drain the water and put the lentils, garlic and bacon in a medium pan. Add cool water to the pot, covering the lentils about twice over. You don’t want to add any salt before the lentils are cooked, otherwise the bean won’t break open. Bring it to a boil over high heat, then reduce the temperature to medium and cook for about one hour or until the lentils are tender. The water will cook into the beans and will evaporate considerably. Turn off the heat and set aside.

While the lentils cook, chop:
3 slices bacon or 1/2 cp salt pork
1 medium onion
1 garlic clove
1/2 cp cilantro
Cook the bacon to render some of the fat, it doesn’t need to be browned, then add the onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent before adding the cilantro. Stir it in until the cilantro wilts then add this to the lentils and turn the heat to medium high. At this point season the lentils with salt or chicken bouillion and black pepper. Once this comes to a boil, lower the temperature to medium low and simmer for another 20-30 minutes.

You’re done! Serve with rice.