The last ten days have been crazy. I hadn't been feeling entirely well and it all came to a halt on Saturday morning when I was admitted to hospital with a suspected appendicitis. Alan had to cancel classes, organise deliveries and my niece Daili had to cover for us in the shop, which in turn, messed up our friends, Margaret and Alfie's, travel plans too. Three days later and a ton of tests done, I was none the wiser and still in pain and fasting for more than I had ever done in my life. Fasting is not something I do well. When hungry, I truly become the anti Christ!! As much as I dislike the persona portrait by Jeremy Clarkson, I could (in a tiny corner of my mind) understand how he would punch somebody over not having any food!
As an enthusiastic and adventurous eater, my stomach has always been there for me. I had never had serious issues with it; sure like most of us, I've had the odd upset tummy here and there (that food poisoning gift while in Portugal a few years back was no joke), but nothing that had caused more than a couple of days of discomfort, so when appendicitis was ruled out, I knew this was a more serious issue. I came out of hospital, bruised, tired, hungry and with a ton of antibiotics to take. My stomach in bits and I had to live on jelly and bananas for a couple of days. After that, I could introduce gentle soups, nothing spicy, nothing fried, nothing greasy, nothing dairy, no bread or pastas, no wheat and no acidic fruits. I wanted to kill myself! When I finally felt well enough for soup yesterday, I immediately went for this recipe. It fills all the criteria and it's delicious and nourishing, plus it feels like a big Mexican mama bear hug.
The writing of this post caused a lot of controversy here in Ireland and in Mexico; you see, I have always known the dish as Picadillo, my mother calls it that. I never questioned it... and yet I know many versions of Picadillo and it is normally a dry dish made with mince meat, never served as a soup. I skyped mother and with my dad shouting on the background -it's called Caldillo- we engaged in a long discussion over the actual name of the dish. According to mam, Picadillo (which translates as chopped or choppings) was originally prepared with a chunk of beef that was cooked and then chopped finely, then used to stuff chiles (like in chiles rellenos) or to eat with rice and beans. She said people got lazy and decided to start making it with mince meat instead and this was just a variation of the original dish. She said 'Caldillo' (which translates as 'little broth') was always made with dried meat, never with fresh.
Now all that made sense to me, but I had still no explaination for the transition from a dry dish to a broth, so naturally, I took to my Larousse de la Gastronomia Mexicana and after a bit of reading, I was able to sort of confirm my mother's explanation... however, she was not entirely right; to my amazement, my dad, who has never cooked a day in his life, was right! The actual name of the dish is 'Caldillo' and in most states in Mexico is made with dry meat, but in La Huasteca Tamaulipeca, where my mother learned to do most of her cooking as a newly wed, they use fresh meat! The meat was cooked, chopped and then used to make Picadillo to stuff Chiles Rellenos, and the broth made into a soup in which chiles rellenos were served in. Caldillo is also a term used to describe the broth in which meats are cooked with aromatic herbs, vegetables and spices.
So there you have it, this is my family's recipe for Caldillo with a few tweaks to suit availability of ingredients in Ireland! Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
Note: this soup is served with thinly slices of onion and slices of banana. The banana gives a wonderful sweet element to this savoury dish. Use slightly under-ripe bananas if possible, as they will hold texture better in the hot soup. In some parts of Mexico, they use plantain instead of banana.
Put water, meat, garlic and salt in the pressure cooker, set the lid on and turn the heat on to high. When the pressure cooker starts 'whistling', lower the heat to medium and cook for 30 minutes. If you don't have a pressure cooker, cook the meat for 1 to 1.5 hours in a large, heavy bottom pot with a lid until the meat is tender and it's just falling apart.
While the meat cooks, get on with the sauce to flavour the soup. Put the tomatoes, garlic, pepper corns and salt in the blender, puree them until smooth and set aside. If you want, add a small amount of water (30 mls maximum) to aid the blending process, but if your tomatoes are ripe, you won't need it.
In a non-stick pan, heat the olive oil and add the onion, red pepper and the whole chilli. Gently pan fry these ingredients at medium heat until the peppers and onions have soften. Don't worry about the chili, it's there only to flavour things.
Pour the tomato sauce you made earlier over the oniony peppers and stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Cook this sauce for 8 to 10 minutes or until everything has cooked well and the tomatoes have turned into a wonderful deep red colour.
By now, your meat should be well cooked. Take the chunks of meat out, and with the help of two forks, shred the meat roughly. Fish out as much of the garlic cloves as you can from the beef stock too! It's not a terrible thing if you can't find them (sometimes they just disintegrate into the stock), but make sure you check for whole ones!
Take 5 tablespoons of the warm beef stock and combine them in a cup with the masa-harina (or all purpose flour if you don't have any) and mix them into a paste until you get the consistency of Irish pancake batter. Set aside for the moment as this will be later use to thicken the soup a little.
Pour the tomato sauce into the beef stock and mix well. Add the shredded beef back into the soup, turn the heat on to medium and gently simmer the soup for 5 minutes.
Add the fresh coriander (stalks and all) and the masa-harina paste made earlier. Stir well to combine and check for seasoning. Simmer at low heat for further 8 minutes and serve hot with thinly-sliced raw onions, fresh coriander leaves, banana slices and warm corn tortillas for a perfect meal.
This is such a wonderful, clean broth; we all loved it! It was restorative and perfect for my tender tummy. I'm looking forward to the leftovers today!