"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.
No one would believe mom is Russian if they’ve tasted her pernil with a side of rice and beans. Seriously. And while I don’t eat pernil these days, I’m perfectly fine with having a bowl of these beans all on their own, or with rice! Or bread.
Mom told me she learned to stew them from her best friend’s mother as a teen. Tomato broth, with potatoes and olives, smoked, salty meat, and tons of fresh cilantro is where her recipe begins, but does not have to end. Sometimes you’ll see sliced carrots in there, too. Or maybe even peppers. There’s a nod to Autumn in this recipe by using the honey nut squash for sweetness. It’s hearty and the recipe doesn’t require that it needs to be. I love that most about it. As long as you have a can of beans, organic Sazon, and tomato puree, you can totally improvise based on what you have around your kitchen. No fuss, EVER. Do you always store sofrito in your fridge? Use some of that, too.
My approach to mom’s beans is always based on the season and what’s in season. The addition of orange zest is not something mom would use, but I happen to be obsessed with cooking with oranges. When flavors of citrus, smokiness, and spiciness meet–it surprises you in an eyebrows-up kind of way. While smoked or cured meat is always involved in her recipe, I’ve added smoked tofu instead.
The two ultimate comfort soups from both 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)
1 cup matzo meal
3tbspschmaltz or from oxtail
1 cuphot broth (from soup)
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, add the matzo meal, schmaltz, hot broth, and seasonings. Mix them together and allow it to cool down slightly before stirring in the eggs and cilantro. Once thoroughly combined, allow it to sit for 30 minutes.
With wet hands, gently form the matzo balls and slip them into a pot of boiling water that was generously salted. Cook for about 10 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!
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.
A recipe developed for Loisa using their organic spices. These stewed pigeon peas (gandules guisados) have butternut squash, and mushrooms that were first browned in a cast iron, spiced with sazón. I am pretty much addicted to these mushrooms and would not be mad atcha if you chose to just make them alone. Something tells […]