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,

Thanksgiving Dinner: The Starter

Every meal should have a beginning, a middle and end, just like a good story. The appetizer sets the mood and expectations for what’s to come. Consider it foreplay. You want it to make an impression, to tease but not overshadow.

When I thought about the components for this meal, I knew I wanted to incorporate the ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving ingredients. I also knew I would need to befriend the sweet potato, it’s not one of my favorites. You may recall another post where sweet potato was the star, but dressed in different wardrobe. That’s how I trick myself into liking it.

When I thought about a starter for this meal and considered using sweet potatoes, I wanted to remove most of that barely there sweetness and stay away from the common spices paired with it. The addition of chorizo made this soup even more savory and hearty. This soup is delicious! AND light AND easy. You should definitely try it. You can make the components for the cream ahead of time, then reheat and put it together just before serving.

Sweet Potato Cream with Chorizo
serves 6-8

3-4 medium sweet potatoes
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Chicken stock or water
Sea salt
1 tsp cumin
Crema fresca or creme fraiche

For the chorizo:
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsps balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sherry or wine
8 ozs Mexican chorizo
Sea salt
Black pepper

Peel and chop the potatoes before putting them in a medium saucepan with the stock/water, bay leaf, garlic and salt. Boil and cook until tender. Allow them to cool in the boiling liquid before running through a blender. The sweet potatoes will be very dense, you may need to add additional water in order to puree.

To prepare the chorizo: cook the onions in the oil over medium high heat until softened and the onions begin to turn golden. Add the balsamic vinegar and sherry, cook until it evaporates.

Add the chorizo into the onion mixture, making sure to break it apart so it is a crumble. Chorizo should be thoroughly cooked, but keep the temperature at medium to avoid burning it. Add a couple tablespoons of water and cover with a tight-fitting lid, lower the temperature and allow it to cook for about 10 minutes. Adjust the seasonings as necessary, if you find it to be too tart, add a pinch of sugar. Allow it to cool. Remove the excess fat once it cools down.

To assemble: Pour the hot soup into a bowl, drizzle with cream, then drop a dollop of chorizo in the center.

Enjoy! Check out the rest of this meal here.

Cookingly yours,

New England’s Clams & Salt Cod

Because I was under the weather, I had not had an opportunity to finish posting all the recipes for the 24, 24, 24 event I hosted a bit over 2 weeks ago. It was an ambitious menu, to say the least. Every dish was better than the next, I would really have a tough time picking one as my hands down favorite.

This one came representing the New England region and I must admit I was surprised by the use of salt cod. I couldn’t tell you why exactly, because as I think about it, it makes perfect sense. But it still caught me by surprise. The other thing I liked about it was the way the cod was used. As a native Panamanian I’m used to seeing cod in more ‘creole’ presentations. So this was different a change, and one that I enjoyed thoroughly.

I found the recipe on I prepared it as instructed for the night of the event, but we had some of the cod and bean base leftover and I revisited and tweaked the recipe a few days later. So here’s my final rendition of it.

This is a 2-day dish: on day 1 you’ll soak/rehydrate the cod and beans, on day 2 you can put it all together. Plan ahead. *Also, the recipe called for Manila clams which I didn’t find and substituted with Little Necks.

1/2 lb salt cod
2 cps dried white beans (such as Great Northern or cannellini beans)
2 cloves garlic, whole
1 tbsp kosher salt
4 cps whole milk
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1/3 cp bacon or salt pork, chopped
2 tsp garlic, minced (about 2 cloves)
1/2 cp carrot, diced (about 1 large carrot)
1 1/2 cps leeks, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 lb Manila clams, scrubbed*
1 1/2 cps dry white wine
1/2 tsp lemon zest, grated
3 tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

The day before, rinse the  salt cod under cool water, then place it in a large glass or plastic mixing bowl with enough cold water to cover and soak overnight in the refrigerator, changing the water 2 or 3 times. Put beans in another bowl, sort and rinse them, then cover them with cold water, and let soak for 24 hours in the refrigerator.

The next day, drain and rinse beans. Transfer them to a medium saucepan and add the whole garlic cloves and fresh cold water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook gently, being mindful not to boil them. It will take about 40 minutes for them to be cooked through. Once the beans have softened, season them with sea salt & pepper. Remove the garlic cloves and strain the beans but reserve about 1-2 cps of the cooking liquid.

To prep the cod: drain the water it’s been soaking in and transfer to a saucepan. Add milk, peppercorns, and bay leaves and simmer over medium-low heat until fish is soft and flaky, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain fish from the pan, and place in a bowl. Use a fork to flake cod into bite-size pieces. Discard milk and seasonings.

Rinse the saucepan and heat it over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook just long enough to render some of its fat, you don’t want to brown it. Then add the garlic, carrots, leeks, and thyme and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Deglaze the pan with some of the wine, making sure to release all the drippings stuck at the bottom. Add the rest of the wine, cod, veggies and beans and allow it come to a slow boil. Add clams and wine, stir, and cover. Cook just until clams open, about 7 to 10 minutes. (Discard any clams that do not open.)

After all the clams have opened, add the  lemon zest and parsley and stir; add some of the bean-cooking liquid if the stew seems too thick. Ladle stew into small bowls, drizzle with olive oil, and serve with crusty bread.

She crab soup. Roe and all

I know why crabs are called crabs. It’s because they’re crabby. These are some mean, vicious, unhappy, ugly little creatures. Look at that face, I don’t even think  a mother could love it. Maybe that’s the real reason. Years of abandonment by the parental unit and having to live life looking…, well,  like that.

But OH! How I love crab meat! Here’s some lessons learned. Blue crabs are way sweeter than the variety I got when I made my test run a couple of weeks ago. Blue crabs are also smaller, though. So getting the meat out was a SHORE! On the flip, the little blues I got this week, actually had roe in them. I guess next time it will be a call between the ease of the larger crab vs the sweetness and possible roe to be found in the blue ones. Who knows.

What I do know, is that this bisquey-chowdery-creamy soup goodness is out of this world delicious! Aside from making the stock from the live crabs, it was also a breeze. Not that the broth making was difficult, it was the crab meat pulling that proved tedious.

I did learn a little trick for dealing with the live critters. See, I’m not perturbed by their ugly little mugs. I don’t have a problem eating food that looks back at me. I can look ’em in their beady little eyes and still eat them. But if there had been a candid camera in the kitchen the day I was trying to get these in a pot, it would’ve made for funny footage. Every time one of the little suckers moved, clawed or reared up, I had a similar and equal reaction. Plus I kept picturing them getting on the floor and scurrying around while I tried to catch them. That’s why this tip is so awesome.

If you put them in the freezer for a few minutes-30 or so, they go into a little slumber that gives you enough time to clean’em up and pot them. All I did was leave them in the bag they came, shove it in the freezer and ignored them for a while.

While the crabbies chill out, pun intended, get started on the stock. Any veggies you have laying around will do. I had onions, garlic, celery, carrots, the tops of some leek bunches. No need to get fancy with any of these, a quick rinse and rough chop is good enough. I even left the skins on the onions, garlic and carrots.

Just put the whole thing in a stockpan, add enough water to cover the crabs once you put them in (about 12 cups or so). Add a couple of bay leaves and if you have whole peppercorns, throw about 1 tbsp of those in. I put them on the cutting board and squashed them with the handle of a heavy knife, just enough to break them a bit. Add 2 tbsp of sea salt, cover the pan and bring it all to a boil for about 5-10 minutes. While this is happening, get back to your crabs.

Once you’ve gotten the crabs good and drowsy, it’s easy to remove the big front claws. You want those off before they wake up again or you may end up missing a finger. With the claws removed, you can now give them a little scrub to get any debris off. Don’t forget these are bottom-feeders.

After cleaning them, remove the little plate that protects their underbody. Don’t dispose of it, though, any and all shell matter will enhance the stock you’re about to make.

Next, take a knife and break straight through the crab. Essentially, cut the sucker in half. When you remove any pieces from the crab, there will be a bit of liquid that comes out, make sure you’re breaking the crab over a bowl and do the best you can to hold on to that liquid. I can’t be sure, but I would think it is similar to the juice you find when you open an oyster.

In any case, place the crab pieces into a bowl until you’re ready to throw them into the stock. Break apart the little legs too, there’s hardly any meat in them and you can leave those in the stock while you shell the meaty parts.

With the crab cleaned, you’re ready to cook them. While the stock is still boiling, drop all the crab pieces in and allow them to cook for about 10-12 minutes. After that time, you’ll want to remove the pieces that hold meat and shell them.

 The shells will turn a pretty shade of orange. Lower the temperature on the stock, you now want it to simmer. As I mentioned, any portions that do not hold meat can stay in the pot. Allow the meaty pieces to cool before you begin handling them. As you remove the meat from the shells, throw the empty shells back into the stockpot.

Allow the shells to cook in the stock for about an hour or so. Then turn off the heat and let it cool. Remove all the large bits out of the stock and strain it through a fine sieve. Set the stock aside. Next, we’re starting the soup.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have an actual working recipe, I found a ‘how to make it’ blurb that sounded as authentic as this soup can get and I went with that. I will share a ‘this & that’ recipe with you since I made it twice. I can tell you that it’s not one of those dishes you can mess up. Once you have the stock, it’s easy-breezy.

Back in the day, this soup was made with female crabs and their roe was harvested and added to the broth. You may have a difficult time finding crabs with roe, as crabbers are required to toss them back in the water. The little blue crabs I purchased for the second soup, had tiny bits of roe inside. Yep, I kept it and added it to the soup; I didn’t have any the first time and I couldn’t tell a difference in the taste. What I’m trying to say is, roe isn’t a deal breaker.

She Crab Soup
To make about 12 cups of soup:

2 tbsp extra virgin oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 cps whole milk
1 cp sherry, plus more to serve
10 cps crab stock
1 cp long grain rice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Sea salt & black pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp mace
1/2 cp heavy cream
About 3 cps crab meat (whatever you pulled from the live crabs, plus 1 store-bought container–approx 8 oz)

In a medium sized pan, heat the oil before adding the onions, garlic and celery, cook them until they are clear. Add 1 cp of sherry to deglaze any drippings that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan. If you found any crab roe, add it now together with the bay leaf, rice and stock. After it begins to boil, add the milk and lower temperature to a slow simmer. It will need to cook for about 30 minutes for the rice to soften. Make sure you stir it every once in a while.

Once the rice has cooked and exploded, remove the bay leaves and ladle this broth into the glass of your blender and puree it. This part can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until you’re ready to serve it. The rice thickens this soup nicely and makes it unnecessary to add lots of cream.

That's hubby making sure there are no shells in the crab meat

Just before serving, heat the blended broth, add the cream, Worcestershire and mace. You can add some hot sauce or cayenne pepper, if you’d like. Finally, add  the crab meat and season with salt and pepper, if needed.

To serve, add about 1 tsp of sherry to the bottom of the bowl before ladling the soup. This soup saves quite well in the freezer.


Cookingly yours,

Spicy Garlic Avocado Soup

I picked up a Cooking Light magazine a few days ago and, as I usually do, had about 8 recipes I wanted to try out after browsing it for about 10 minutes. This one caught my eye right away, I mean, garlic, avocado and seafood. Duh! I will try it as listed, but I didn’t have all the ingredients, specifically the shrimp. Improv time.

Spicy Garlic Avocado Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1-2 serrano peppers, halved
3 tbsp garlic, crushed (about 10-12 cloves)
1 cp white wine
6 cps chicken stock
1-1/2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
3/4 cp heavy cream
Sea salt
1/8 tsp saffron strands, crushed
1 avocado

In a medium stockpot, heat up the oil and add the onions and peppers. Cook until the onions begin to turn translucent, then add the garlic and stir it in very well.

Add the wine and allow it to cook down until it has almost evaporated, then add the chicken stock. Bring it to a boil and lower the temperature enough to keep it simmering, this part will take about 30-40 minutes. The liquid will reduce by about 1 or 2 cps.  Once it reduces a bit, turn off the heat and strain it reserving the broth.

Rinse the same pot and you will make a roux. Add the butter, once it has melted whisk in the flour and continue to cook it over medium heat. It should remain light in color, do not allow it to brown. Cook it for about 3-4 minutes before slowly adding about 1 cp of the reserved broth. Make sure you’re whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Once you’ve incorporated the some liquid into the roux you can add the rest of the broth, cream, saffron, and check the seasoning. Allow it to simmer for about 3-5 minutes, allow it to thicken a bit.

Peel and seed the avocado and chop it into cubes. Pour a bit of soup into a bowl and top it avocado cubes.

Note: The original recipe included the use of shrimp and fish and stock made from the shrimp shells. I really liked this with the chicken stock, and I pan seared  pieces of fish fillet and added them just before serving.

Cookingly yours,

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°! 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,

The weather outside is frightful

It is! We haven’t seen the sun in Houston for about 3 weeks now. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled with the snow and cold, I don’t want it to go away, but it is hella gloomy around here.

So, to counteract all the dreariness, I made sancocho; soup, more specifically, chicken soup. Traditionally, this is prepared with chicken, ñame [pronounced nyah-may] and culantro, in addition to the standard spices, that’s it. I did follow this traditional recipe and ended up with a bowl of goodness that took me right back home.

About the ingredients:
Ñame  is a type of tuber, one of many varieties of yam.  I’m not sure where you’re shopping for groceries, but here in Houston it has become easier to find ‘real’ latino produce. Of course this little fact makes my heart swoon with merriment. However, should you not have this tuber available in your area, you could use potatoes in its stead. Not the same, but still workable. Beware when peeling this root as it exudes a milky sap that is slightly slimy.

Culantro and cilantro are 2nd cousins. The tastes are similar, but culantro is like cilantro on steroids. The flavor is deeper and savory. They look nothing alike.

Carrots ~ I like adding carrots whenever I’m making a broth. They add a bit of sweetness that is just delicious.

Chicken ~ I am partial to dark meat, particularly when stewing chicken. I also recommend you use chicken that is still on the bone, because this will build the most flavor. I browned the chicken before boiling it and I removed the bones after the sancocho was done, neither of these steps are required.

Ok, back to cooking. Here’s what you’ll need:


Sancocho Panameno
3 lbs chicken pieces, (browned, optional)
1 lb name, cubed
10 culantro leaves
3 tbsp Maggi or Knorr chicken bouillon
1 carrot, peeled cut in thirds
2 cloves garlic, whole-husks and all
Salt and black pepper to taste

Add the chicken, 1/2 of the yam, 6 culantro leaves, carrot, garlic, and the bouillon to a stock pot. Add enough water to cover everything generously–about 5 qts.–and bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, remove the foam that is floating over the top, lower the temperature to medium bringing it to a medium simmer. Cover it loosely with the lid and allow it to simmer for about 45 minutes.

At this point the yam will be done and breaking apart, this will help thicken the broth. Remove the culantro, carrots and garlic cloves. At this point you can also remove the chicken to debone it (if you want to).

Add the rest of the yam, the deboned chicken and allow it to cook for another 2o minutes or until the freshly added yam is tender. Chop the rest of the culantro and add it to the broth, allow it to cook for about 5 minutes. Serve with white rice.

What about you? What do you cook/eat to fight the winter blahs?