As a follow up to my last post on Roasted Kabocha Squash, here is a quick and easy Mexican calabaza (pumpkin) soup you can make from scratch or with any remaining roasted squash you may have on hand.
The smoky sweet flavor and deep rounded heat of dried chipotle chiles pairs beautifully with roasted squash and gives this robust rustic soup an authenticity you might find in a villages in northern Mexico, the central highlands, Veracruz on the Gulf coast, or in Oaxaca in the south eastern Mexico.
Chipotle chiles are made with fully ripened red jalapeno chiles that are then smoked and dried over smoldering pecan wood embers. The pecan tree is indigenous to Mexico and is the wood of choice for drying chipotles. Chipotle varieties are readily available all over Mexico, and in Mexican or Latin markets north of the border. Canned chipotles packed in red adobo sauce are more readily available both in the US and abroad and they can be substituted in the following recipe if rinsed before using.
Smoky Mexican Roasted Pumpkin Soup Serves 6
- 1 small pumpkin or squash roasted
- 1 dried chipotle chile, re hydrated, seeded, and finely minced
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 onion, peeled, and finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic peeled and finely minced
- 1 ½ cups finely minced celery with leaves
- 1 ½ quarts hot stock or water plus more as needed
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt+ more to taste
- corn tortilla chips of choice (Garden of Eten’ is my favorite store bought brand)
- Mexican cotija cheese or feta as a substitute.
Follow the recipe instructions for roasting squash including optional seasonings. (click here for recipe)
To rehydrate the chipotle chile place it in a small pan with just enough water to cover. Simmer over very low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the chipotle and set aside to cool. Reserve the cooking liquid to use later. When the chipotle is cool, slit it open lengthwise and remove the seeds and discard them. Mince the chile and set aside.
Place a soup pot over a medium low flame and when hot add the oil. Once the oil is hot add the onions and saute, stirring from time to time, until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Add the minced chipotle and stir to combine. Then stir in the celery and saute for another 5 minutes.
Once the celery is very soft add the roasted pumpkin, the hot stock or water, and the reserved chipotle cooking water to the pot and stir. Once the soup returns to a boil lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 30 to 40 minutes. Top up with additional stock or water as needed.
Remove the pot from the heat and using an immersion blender, or blender, blend until the soup is very smooth. Add salt and blend again. Taste and adjust the salt to your own taste. The soup should be quite thick, but you can thin it down with addition hot stock or water if you wish.
Cotija is a hard cows milk cheese from Michoacan in the central highlands of Mexico. Available in some Mexican markets or online. Otherwise I find Feta is an excellent substitute.
Ladle the soup into individual bowls, Push 6 or 8 corn tortilla chips in the center of the soup and scatter crumbled cotija (or feta) over the soup and serve.
Watching Christina Martinez making barbacoa in her South Philly Barbacoa restaurant (Chef’s Table, Se 5 Eps 1, Netflix) was, for me, the next best thing to being back in Mexico where food celebrates the very heart and soul of the country and its people.
Barbacoa originates from the central plains east of Mexico City where traditionally a lamb or a goat is slowly steamed in a deep pit lined with rocks preheated by a wood fire. The meat is marinated and wrapped in maguey (agave) leaves and steamed underground overnight. Cooking a barbacoa in Mexico is all about having a special meal for large family gatherings on weekends and for special holidays and fiestas.
A deeply flavored succulent Barbacoa is built around using a variety of locally grown sun dried chiles, traditional herbs and spices, and a seasoned cook’s attention to the nuances of slow cookery and taste. Most Ingredients can be found in Mexican shops and markets, in some super markets, or online. Once you have your sourcing resolved, you will find yourself making barbacoa on a regular basis. This is the kind of authentic Mexican food everyone loves to eat!
That said, home cooks can replicate a traditional barbacoa with a few adaptations in their own kitchen oven. No pit required.
I would suggest using beef or pork in lieu of lamb or goat unless you and your friends and family are seasoned regional Mexican food enthusiasts. Goat in particular is definitely an acquired taste and best cooked outside.
Making a barbacoa requires both time and effort, but you will will be abundantly rewarded with a truly authentic taste of Mexico. If time is a real issue you may want to speed up the cooking time using a pressure cooker or instant pot. Another tip, barbacoa freezes beautifully so you may want to double or triple the recipe and have barbacoa nearly ready on demand.
Beef Barbacoa serves 6
- 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo beef brisket or chuck roast (or pork shoulder) cut into 3 equal size pieces, trimming off excess fat and skin
- juice of 1 orange
- juice of 2 limes
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
- ¼ cup cider or white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a non-reactive bowl just large enough to hold the meat. Stir the marinade and add the meat, pressing the meat firmly down into the marinade to cover.
Cover the bowl with cling film and marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- 8 dried New Mexico Red or Mexican Guajillo chiles
- 3 dried ancho chiles
- 2 dried smoked chipotle chiles
- 4 large garlic cloves, dry roasted and peeled
- 1 small onion, peeled, chopped
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt or to taste
Heat a skillet over medium heat. When hot place some of the dried chiles in the skillet without crowding. Using a spatula, press the chiles against the bottom of the skillet and toast them for 30 to 45 seconds. Turn the chiles and repeat, remove them, and set aside. This dry toasting intensifies the flavor of the chiles.
When the dry toasted chiles are cool enough to handle remove the stems, slit them open lengthwise, remove all the seeds and discard. Then tear the chiles into pieces and place them in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover and bring the pot to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes and then set aside to cool. Drain the chiles, discard the cooking water, and set the chiles aside.
Using a blender, add the prepared softened dried chiles, sauteed onions, cumin, marjoram, black pepper, clove, sugar, cider vinegar, and salt. Blend all the ingredients together, scraping down the sides of the blender jar as needed, adding water as needed, until the sauce is very smooth. This may take several minutes.
Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and, using a silicon spatula, press the pureed sauce through the strainer until all the liquid has been extracted. Be sure to scrape off the residual sauce on the underside of the mesh strainer into the sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt as needed.
Transfer the adobo sauce to a container, cover, and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 275 F/ 135 C
- 1 small onion, peeled, quartered and separated
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 6 bay leaves
- 6 whole cloves
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tomato blanched, skin removed and quartered, core removed
- 2 jalapeno or fresh red chiles, quartered and seeds removed
Select a Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid or a roasting pan. Place a shallow rack in the bottom of the pan of choice.
Remove the meat from the marinade and place it on the rack in the pan and add the marinade. Add just enough water to the pan to raise the level of liquid in the pan to about half way up the side of the meat.
Distribute the onions over the meat and tuck in garlic, bay leaves, and cloves. Season with salt and pepper, and top with tomatoes and jalapeno slices.
Cover the pan with a lid or tightly secured foil and transfer to the oven. Set the timer for 4 hours. Then check to see if there is sufficient liquid in the pan. If not replenish as needed. Repeat this every 2 hour until the beef is very tender and easily separated with a fork. Total cooking time will be between 7 and 9 hours. The longer the cooking time the more tender and flavorful the meat!
Once the meat is fully cooked set it aside covered until you are ready to serve.
Before serving you will want to remove the excess rendered fat gathered on top of the pan juices. Discard the fat or save for another purpose, like frying beans.
Before serving pull the beef apart using and reheat the reserved adobo sauce. The adobo should be the consistency of cream. If needed thin with pan juices. Spoon some adobo sauce over the pulled meat and serve the remaining adobo sauce in a bowl on the tables.
- corn and flour tortillas, warmed in a hot dry skillet (or comal, pictured)
- Salsa fresca
- salsa verde
- quesso fresca or mild feta
Place the Barbacoa in the cooking pan on the table along with corn and flour tortillas. Set out salsa and the quesso fresca for those who want to make barbacoa tacos.
Calabacitas is a traditional native squash dish that has been prepared throughout Central America and the American Southwest since ancient times. Today there are many regional variations, but the essential native ingredients that date back to pre-Columbian times include calabaza (pumpkin or squash), elote (corn), and chilies. Following the arrival of the Spanish in the 1400’s cows, sheep, and goats were imported from the old world and calabacitas evolved with the introduction of dairy by-products, including cream (crema) and cheeses.
Interestingly, Mennonite farmers who settled in Chihuahua in the late 1800’s, began producing semi soft cows milk cheeses known as queso Mennonita, which is officially recognized as an authentic Mexican cheese, and often tops calabacitas beautifully to this day.
The recipe that follows reflects various New Mexican and Mexican calabacitas I have encountered while living in Santa Fe and on frequent forays into Mexico over the years. As Mexican cheeses are not generally available outside of Mexico, alternative cheeses include a mild hard or soft goat cheese or fresh or soft mozzarella.
Calabacitas is a beautiful dish to consider for a truly traditional American holiday meal. Or, do as they do in Mexico, a calabacitas con pavo and transform your leftover turkey into a comida a la Mexicana.
Calabacitas: serves 4
- 3 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
- 3 teaspoons butter
- 1 bunch fresh sage leaves, leaves only
- 3 medium size zucchini, ends trimmed, cut into ½ inch cubes
- 3 ears fresh sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob, cob scraped to extract the milk
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 onions, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 3-4 flame roasted jalapeno chilies, skin and seeds removed, cut into thin rajas (strips)
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano leaves
- ¼ cup stock as needed
- 3 ½ oz sour cream
- pinch of cinnamon
- flaked sea salt to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh Mexican cheese (or optional cheeses mentioned above)
- poached chicken or leftover turkey (optional)
Ideally I like to use a cast iron iron skillet for even browning of the vegetables, but a large heavy bottomed frying pan should work equally well.
Place the skillet on the stove top over medium flame. When the pan is hot add a tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of butter. When melted add the sage leaves and fry until crisp, 30 to 45 seconds should do it. Transfer the fried leaves to a plate and set aside to use later.
Promptly add cubed zucchini to the pan with out crowding. You may have to brown the zucchini in several batches. Turn the zucchini to be sure it browns on all sides, about 5 or 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate to use later. Continue, browning the remaining zucchini and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of oil and teaspoon butter to the pan and, when hot, add the whole corn kernels. Brown the corn on all sides, again about 5 or 6 minutes. Then transfer to another plate and set aside to use later
Once again, add 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon butter to the pan. When melted add the onions and saute until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute until the onions just begin to color, about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile place the milk in a small sauce pan and add the scrapped corn with its milk. Place the pan over low heat and warm to nearly simmering. Stir in the pinch of cinnamon and turn off the heat.
When the onions are nicely colored add the browned zucchini, browned corn, and the roasted jalapeno strips to the skillet. Add the marjoram or oregano, and half of the sage leaves, crumbled over the other ingredients. Stir all the ingredients together and add just enough stock to moisten the calabacitas, about ¼ cup at the most should do it. Heat to a mere simmer, taste, and add sea salt to your liking. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 F/170 c (if using)
Meanwhile stir the sour cream into the warm milk mixture with corn scrapings until well combined,
At this point you can place the skillet of calabacitas over very low heat on the stove top. Stir in the sour cream milk mixture, top with grated cheese if using, cover lightly with foil and warm for several minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside.
Alternately you can transfer the calabacitas to baking dish, scatter grated cheeses over the surface if using, and place in the preheated oven to warm for about 15 minutes.
You can serve the calabacitas on the stove top in the skillet, or transfer to a serving bowl, top with the remaining fried sage leaves and serve.
Or, serve the calabacitas directly out of the oven garnished with the fried sage leaves.
Chef’s Table Season 5 has arrived on Netflix with four documentary episodes on chefs who celebrate their native cuisines through traditional foods, their origins, their cultural bonds, and a return to sustainable organic farming.
This season of Chef’s Table, as well as all the preceding seasons, should not to be missed by anyone who loves food and cooking.
This is compelling food television at its very best!
Chefs’s Table Trailer ( click here)
Chef’s Table Season 5
Episode 1: Christina Martinez South Philly Barbacoa & El Compadre
Both restaurants are located on South 9th and Ellsworth, South Philadelphia
Episode 2: Musa Dagdeviren CIYA Kebap and CIYA Sofrasi, Istanbul, Turkey
Episode 3: Bo Songvisava Bo Lan, Bangkok, Thailand (www.bolan.co.th)
Soi 24 Sukhumvit 53, Bangkok BTS Thonglor station
Episode 4: Albert Adria Tickets, Enigma, and Pakta, Barcelona, Spain
The episode with Christina Martinez had particular resonance for me as I have an enduring love for Mexico and its cuisine. But also, as a working chef in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure to have worked with dedicated kitchen crews who were all immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Christina’s story is so like millions of others in many ways, but told through her love of her native food and culture. Her determination to make the best of her circumstances as an immigrant and thrive and, by example, giving a face to the mostly invisible immigrants who work behind the scenes in the American food industry.
Of course I am also very familiar with the food culture in South Philadelphia and was delighted to learn that Christina and her husband Ben Miller have been growing native Mexican corn on a farm in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, where I grew up.
Episode 3 also has particular resonance for me as Bo Lan Thai restaurant is here in Thailand. The lush photography, the street food, the markets, and Thai kitchen banter feels particularly familiar of course as this is where I live. Thai food is like none other and is only really understandable when you encounter all the totally unrecognizable produce and spices that are at the heart of real authentic Thai food.
All a real visual feast for anyone who loves food!