Friday, October 17, 2008

Cuban Soup, Easily Approximated in Any Zone

Isn't this calabaza scrumptious-looking??

I'm posting this here in part for my own reference...before my brain's storage capacity begins losing files again, ha!

I saw something a while back on an instructional online video on something similar, while doing a search for Calabaza recipes. In short, Jack and I had picked up some tropical veggies native to Cuba and the Caribbean and I was considering how to cook them. Among the veggies I had available were Malanga, Boniato, and Calabaza. Malanga is a starchy taro-ish tuber (officially a corm), Boniato is a large, mild sort of sweet potato, and Calabaza is the equivalent of a mildly sweet winter squash. Substitutions, for those not in this area, would be white potatoes for malanga, sweet potato for boniato, and butternut squash or other sweet non-stringy winter squash or smooth-fleshed pumpkin.

These are some calabazas. I can only find them at the open markets or regular grocery store...I'm saving the seeds.

Here's the Boniato...

...and the Malanga

I believe the recipe I found was for "Cuban Chicken Soup," and it may not have caught my eye at all were it not for my husband's recurrent stories of delicious soups he remembers from childhood (always retold with reverent pauses and squinty-eyed looks of bliss...ha) Two such soups are regularly mentioned by him...homemade chicken soup and pigeon (squab) soup. The former is usually mentioned as utilizing different veggies than what I usually put into my own homemade chicken soup, and with the added description of going to the market and picking out a live chicken that was slaughtered and plucked right there on the spot by the seller. The pigeon soup is usually described by him as something his Mom made whenever he was sick or needing some extra nutrition. He says she kept a few pigeons in the backyard and would process one or two to make the soup stock (I'm not sure what else she added), and that it made a very strong soup that was rich and nourishing, especially for anyone feeling weak. He said it would cause a sick person to rest well and to sweat.

I'm not sure I'll include "this'll really make you sweat!" as an dinner invitation to guests if I ever serve pigeon soup, but since I have no clue how to make it (and I don't see any pigeons in the area), I think my friends are safe for now...heh heh

I didn't follow the online recipe exactly, because of a huge gripe I have with two spice companies...Badia and Goya. In EVERY latino recipe I saw, Badia Complete spice mix was called for...without exception. Rave reviews, the whole nine yards, and famous chefs declaring "this is THE authentic spice for all latino foods and beans!" Well, I did find it in that section of my regular grocery store. And guess what THE highest-percentage ingredient listed on the label was? Monosodium Glutamate. In ALL of them!

Both Badia and Goya...MSG, THE main ingredient. Hmmmmph!! I thought we'd gotten wayyyy past this these days, but after looking far and near for anything equivalent, I haven't found it.

So I had to wing it on some of this... Badia and Goya, you have now heard my official protest.

But I digress...

I have to say I know how to make a mean chicken soup from scratch. My daughter is not a soup lover, but my chicken soup or matzah ball soup is at the top of her request list. I'm not bragging, but simply stating that this is one of the few basic foods I feel confident making. I like it best with a good balance of chicken flavor, spices, and veggies, and can't stand a watery weak soup. But I don't care for it to be over-salted or to have long over-boiled shreds of meat instead of small chopped bits...I'm picky, if I have a choice.

Anyway, I always wondered what the fundamental difference was between my GOOD chicken soup, and the angels-singing-heavens-opening Cuban chicken soup of blessed memory my husband remembered.

I tried this soup.

I was skeptical.

But oh, now I'm a believer!

I'm glad I made a big pot of it the first time around. Like many of my other experiments, this could have gone really wrong (especially since I make a a large quantity...ever do that and regret it and then have to find ways to eat something you're just not crazy about?)

The proof, however, was whether this would ever compare to the soup of Jack's memory.

When he tasted it, this is what he said...

(taking another bite)
(taking another bite)
"Now THAT'S some incredible soup! You made some GREAT SOUP, Robbyn "
(Taking several more bites)
(now slurping)
oh, yeahhhh, THAT's some good souppppp"
(more soup consuming)
"THIS tastes like I REMEMBER"
(repeat till bowl is empty and he is asking for seconds...and thirds...)
"Baby, you make some incredible soup!"

My soup is really good, but it's seldom incredible.

And now you may laugh....My "great chicken soup" was made with turkey

(because that's what I had on hand) already cooked (I was trying to use it up, we had eaten on it for days already)...bones, pan juices, and a good bit of meat.

Maybe Cuban chickens are huge, gobble, and are served at Thanksgiving?? lol

Oh, yes, this is gratifying to the cook, wooo!!

The thing is, it's so so easy.

And so that I won't forget it, here 'tis...substitute the closest thing you have on hand that approximates the combination of veggies, and it'll taste pretty darn great. Adjust it to your personal taste...the combination was different than what I was used to putting in my chicken (well, turkey) soup, but it's good!

Cuban Chicken/Turkey Soup

Ingredients: Carcass and pan drippings (skim off what fat you can first) and the dark meat (whatever's left on the bones after serving most of the meat) of one roasted or baked turkey

--- Boil this in enough water to cover, with a few shakes of salt. Skim off any scum, and simmer, continuing to skim scum and fat off.

When you've boiled it at least 15 or so minutes, strain all through a colander and put liquid back into the soup pot. If there's any good tender meat, make sure it's thoroughly de-boned and chop it, and add it back to the pot. (Freeze the rest of the bones and everything in a freezer bag for later boiling to make additional stock some other time.)

Add to soup pot:

1 small or medium white onion, chopped small (don't overdo)

1 or 2 shakes garlic powder (just a little bit, don't overdo)

1 rib celery, chopped small

1 medium potato, peeled and cubed (if you substituted potato for malanga, make this another type of potato, such as red, if you like)

2-3 cups cubed raw Calabaza or other butternut-type (non-stringy) squash or pumpkin

2-3 cups peeled and cubed Malanga or starchy peeled white potato

2-3 cups peeled and cubed Boniato, or mildly sweet peeled sweet potato

2-3 cups regular sweet potato (optional)

1/4 of a whole green bell pepper, chopped very fine

1 unripe peeled and chunked (green) plantains, or very green regular bananas

2 Tablespoons Better than Chicken Boullion, or other no-preservative/no MSG chicken boullion equivalent

2 or 3 sections of frozen peeled yuca (cassava), optional

A dash of black pepper

A couple dashes of turmeric, till a nice yellow color

(Note: Oops! I initially left out the next three spices when typing this post. Also add 2 or 3 bay leaves, a generous pinch of ground cumin, and a scant pinch ground oregano. Sorry!)

Don't worry if you don't have all the types of veggies above. Just use as many as you have. Add water to just cover all. Boil all for a couple minutes, then cover and reduce heat to a nice simmer. Cook till all root veggies are very tender. With potato masher, mash root veggies just one or two times, till partially broken up (no more). Liquid should look rich by now. Add very small shake of paprika if desired. Top off liquid with more water, if it gets too thick, and adjust taste by adding more Better Than Boullion. Adjust salt and pepper, if desired. Is the soup tasting rich and wonderful? If it's terrific, you're ok to go on. Is it too sweet? Maybe remove a bit of sweet potato, and adjust so on.

Remove green plantains, and any stringy bits of yuca/cassava from soup, and discard. (to the compost or chicken house)

Keeping soup on low simmer, stir frequently, add chopped pieces of cooked chicken or turkey (or both), and the following:

A few more raw peeled chunks of your choice, any or all:

Malanga (or white potato)
Potato (or second type of potato)

Calabaza (or sweet smooth-type winter squash/pumpkin)

Sweet potato

Add those to the liquid and cook just till fork-soft. Left them intact (don't mash them or allow them to cook to a mush). Soup should be nicely starchy from the vegetables, fragrant and rich with tastes of broth and the veggies, and the last chunks of veggies served up tender right in the soup. Serve with rice, or with a scoop of rice in each soup bowl.

This soup is great served with black beans and rice on the side, or a fresh salad, or some cold citrus fruit...and lime squeezed over all. Hot Cuban bread or French bread (baguette or other) rounds any of it off nicely :)

Customize the flavors of the soup by adding or subtracting any roots/veggies you think are too dominant in's totally subjective. I think the secret is using the turkey carcass and pan juices as the base, adding in the calabaza/sweet velvety winter squash/pumpkin, and going from there ...

Happy eating!


Ottawa Gardener said...

And I just happen to have a turkey carcus lying around for such purposes. I think I'll try this.

Robbyn said...

Ottowa, let me know how it turns out :) How can you go wrong with turkey stock, potatoes and winter squash? Ok, now I'm hungry again!

Pam Croom said...

Not fair! I'm now hungry! I would buy calabazas when I lived in Florida and they were delicious. They sell them sometimes in the healthfood store here, but they don't taste the same (like everything else probably harvested too soon).

I can't wait for my next turkey carcass! Thanks for the recipe.

I think you blog is very cool. Keep it up!

Erik said...

Oh, my! I am going to have to find me some of those Cuban veggies! I need to try this soup, just based on your description and the reactions you got!
Thanks for posting!

Robbyn said...

Pam, what other ways would you use your calabazas? I'm still learning! Thanks for the kind words :)

Erik, tell me what you think if you try this, and anything you tweak to make it better. you have some awesome soups on your blog..I'm intimidated!

Carolyn said...

WOW! That sounds YUMMY!

Lemongrass said...

I have been wanting to grow some calabazas for the past 2 summers, I need to get some seeds.
I sometime add chunks of calabazas to bean soup -red kidney, black or pinto- about 20 minutes before the is done. The soup soups sounds delicious.

Robbyn said...

Carolyn, it is! :)

Lemongrass, do you have a good bean soup recipe? I'm trying to get some good reliable soups as regulars in our eating...somehow my bean soups come out tasting rather bland.

Lemongrass said...

I have a recipe in my head, which I can email to you. How about that? My trick is adding lots of my homegrown herbs twenty minutes before the soup is done. Black beans are my favorite.

Robbyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lemongrass said...

Robbyn, sometime in October you sent me some of the calabazas pumpkin seeds. Yesterday three of the seeds germinated. I will keep you posted on how they are growing. Thanks again.