"You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, “Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.” That’s for the writing poems part." -Frank O’Hara, Personism: A Manifesto // It’s for the cooking part, too.
The two ultimate comfort soups from both of my worlds have come together to hug the heck out of me.
Developing this recipe was nothing short of WOW. “Wow” was the only sound I heard on the holiday table during Rosh Hashanah when sazón-seasoned matzo balls were ladled into piping hot bowls of sancocho, a hearty soup (sometimes stew) of meat and veggies from the Caribbean. Following my mom’s recipe but needing to cut down on some of the root vegetables to make space for the matzo balls, I’d say this is close enough to hers, which always has had a combination of oxtails and chicken. You can always play around with the proteins and veggies, but if mom doesn’t see yucca, pumpkin, sweet plantain and corn – then Imma get an earful. She has also added, when available, chayote and white yautia roots.
Feel free to use your favorite matzo ball recipe (and hey, add in some sazón and cilantro while you’re at it).
1.5-2lboxtails (or beef, short ribs) seasoned with salt
1/2of a whole chickenbone-in
1head of garlicthe top cut off to reveal cloves
1/2of a small Spanish onion
2sprigs of thymeoptional
1large bay leaf
12cupwater or beef broth
1cupsquash or pumpkincut into chunks
1ear of corncut into 2-inch pieces
1large yuccacut into chunks
1semi-sweet plantainsliced into 1-inch pieces
1large potato or yamcut into chunks
for the matzo balls (makes about 12 medium)
3/4cup matzo meal
3tbspschmaltz or fat from oxtail
1/4 cupbroth (from soup)
3egg whites (from large eggs)beaten til frothy
3egg yolks (from large eggs)
2tspnsazónOrganic, not Goya
salt and pepperto taste
for the sancocho
Brown the oxtails for a few minutes on both sides. Add in the celery, onion, garlic, bay leaf, sofrito if using. Continue to fry for about a minute then add in chicken, and water/broth. Bring to a light simmer, not to a boil.
Skim often, then reserve 3 TBSP of the chicken and oxtail's oil that sits on top of the broth. Use this for the matzo meal if you do not have chicken schmaltz.
After about an hour and half, discard the onion, celery, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Set the chicken aside. When cool enough to handle, shred for serving.
Add in the yucca and carrots and cook for 30 minutes before adding in the rest of the vegetables. Simmer for about 15 minutes more.
for the matzo balls
In a medium bowl, beat your egg yolks, schmaltz, broth, herbs and seasonings together. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites and matzo meal til fully incorporated. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.
With wet hands, gently form walnut-sized matzo balls and slip them into a pot of boiling water that was generously salted. Cover and boil for about 50 minutes. Serve in a bowl of sancocho.
Make sure the oxtails you get have less fat on them than meat. You’ll be spooning fat out of the pot for days! I reserve 3 tbsp of this fat for the matzo balls.
My favorite Russian pirozhki couldn’t be more simple. I take a whole onion, couple of garlic cloves, a handful of dill, and blend them together til they reach a puréed consistency. I simmer ground beef with a bay leaf, the onion and dill mixture, generously adding salt and pepper. That’s it. That’s the flavor of them I recall from my grandmother’s kitchen. It didn’t take long for me to make the sofrito connection, which has the onion and garlic, but also sweet peppers, cilantro instead of dill, and spices. Grab the recipe for mom’s small batch sofrito and make these fluffy baked buns.
I was thinking about making a full-on pastelillo filling, but decided on the Russian’s less-is-more seasoned beef. But by all means, add some chopped pimiento-stuffed olives, small diced potato, raisins, more tomato paste or sauce, etc! You’ll just need less meat than this recipe calls for.
You may also fry them in batches, which is the only way I enjoyed them at Brighton Beach many moons ago, with the most fantastic oil dripping onto my bathing suit. Pero, nothing wrong with baked, either. Less standing by the pan, less oil-burns, less oil.
Note: this dough can be used for many other fillings, both savory and sweet. It can also be doubled (no need to double the yeast, just everything else). I’ll have dessert options posted soon. And meatless options!
In a deep pan, heat olive oil. Add your beef, breaking it up with a slotted spoon while adding in your spices.
Move some of the browned beef aside so that a little of the oil pools to the corner. Directly into the oil, stir in the tomato paste and allow it to caramelize for a minute or so before mixing it into the beef. This will enhance the flavor.
Stir in sofrito. After a few minutes, pour in the water and let it simmer til most of the liquid evaporates, occasionally giving it a stir.
Add in the cilantro and let the meat cool to room temp before using.
In a small bowl, sift your flour along with the salt and set aside.
In a large bowl, gently whisk together your milk, sugar, dry yeast and let stand for 10-15 minutes, or until very active.
Whisk in the butter and egg yolks, then slowly add in your flour, kneading as you go along for about 10 minutes. The dough is so supple and soft within a couple of minutes but I like to continue kneading for good measure.
Cover the bowl and allow it to double in size, about 2 hours.
Divide the dough into 2 oz pieces, about 8-10. Roll each into a disc and add 2-2 1/2 tbsp of the filling. Pinch the discs closed. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, place the buns seam-side down next to each other, giving them a tiny bit of room between each other.
Cover them with a clean tea towel and let them prove for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Brush the beaten egg on each and bake for 20-30 minutes, til they've browned.
This soup is a cross between a meaty borscht and my modern-day obsession with caramelized cabbage. Both flanken and cabbage lend a hand in it’s richness, sweetness, and color. Brown food is beautiful.
Some notes: If you choose to make this vegetarian, I would add dried mushrooms to create an umami broth. To make it heartier, add more of the vegetables listed here. Barley would be a nice addition, too. If you can’t find golden beets, any beet would do. I just love the goldeness it creates in the broth.
One thing you should refrain from is cutting time spent on cooking the cabbage. The longer you cook them, the better. I like to go the extra step of patting them down with a paper towel just to take away some excess oil. I also like to spoon some of the fat out of the pot as the flanken simmers. You might find it easier to do that once the soup cools down, though. Up to you!
Caramelized Cabbage Soup with Flanken and Golden Beets
1-1 1/12lbflankencut into pieces between the bones
1head of garlichalved crosswise
fresh herbs of your choosing
2 1/2tspkosher salt
for the soup
2 1/2cupbeetspeeled and diced
2carrotspeeled and sliced
caramelized cabbage and onion
flanken and it's broth
salt and pepper, to taste
dill or cilantroto taste
for the cabbage
Set a deep, large pan over medium-high heat. Add your oil.
When it’s hot you’ll add the cabbage, leeks, salt, and sugar. Immediately turn the heat down to low and slow cook the cabbage, being careful to not interrupt the browning process by moving the cabbage around a lot. You’ll stir it once every 8-10 minutes til they have deeply browned, about 45 minutes or more. If at any point the pan looks too dry, you may gradually add a bit more olive oil. Set aside in a bowl lined with a paper towel as you work on the broth.
for the broth and soup
In a large pot set over high heat, brown the flanken in batches. Return them to the pot when the last batch is done.
Add the vegetables, herbs, salt, and water. Bring it to a boil, cover with a lid, and turn it down to a simmer. For the first 15 minutes, check on it to remove any foamy crud that rises to the top.
After 1.5 hours, discard the vegetables and herbs and add the beets, carrots, caramelized cabbage. Continue to cook for another 30 minutes, or til tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, and fresh herbs if you’d like.