A Word on Food: Menudo
Long before any Hispanic boy bands tormented or tantalized the radio air waves, the soup/stew Menudo was a siren song sung to me for the first time back in my younger days in a little grocería named ‘La Bodega’ in Diamond Lake, Illinois.
Maybe it was the alleged attributes of Menudo being able to cure a hangover that first led me to its pleasures. It must've been something strong to convince me Menudo is not made with things I normally consumed in my boyhood.
No hangover is required at all anymore for me to long for some of that homemade, restorative soup. And I had a hunch I’d find some of that in Homestead where one can find the best concentration of Mexican food to be found in either the counties of Miami-Dade or Monroe.
My granddaughter's first birthday had arrived! So we made our way south once again to gather with the combined (via marriage) clans of Van Aken and Yaber. Little Audrey would be excited no doubt even though the concept of aging was still ahead for her. Since I cannot say the same for me, let's move on to tastier topics.
Menudo belongs to a family of soups that one might consider nearly dangerous. But in our newly and justifiably lauded “nose-to-tail cooking world” it appears that many adventurous foodies are branching out and allowing and even clamoring for all kinds of cuts, parts, anatomical oddities of bona fide deliciousness!
We arrived in Homestead and entered a new favorite Mexican restaurant. It is hardly new to its customers, just new to my patronage and I am hoping for a long-term relationship with her! I ordered from the straight-forward menu and soon honeycombed tripe poked its geometric patterns above a red broth directly under my smiling face.
Chili powder flecks bloomed in my soup spoon. A small plate of cut limes, diced jalapeños and sweet onion were served alongside by a confident teenage girl. It seemed a beer might be not completely out of line despite the early hour, but I demurred, remembering the long drive ahead.
I knew that I might not have ordered this soup had it not come with the amazing handmade tortillas served here as well. Or maybe I would have. But the woman I saw making them through the open window of the kitchen spoiled me when it comes to the world of tortillas at least in terms of South Florida! I would withstand a border patrol to get at some I’ve had in Mexico.
In addition to the tripe, or ‘cows stomach’ if you prefer, it is the life affirming goodness of soups such as these that I find nearly celestial.
I was discussing the aforementioned ‘nose-to-tail’ concept with a friend of mine named Julia over some excellent mezcal one night in a Coral Gables pork-centric establishment and we agreed that it should be applied to the world of vegetables and tubers as well. Too often we only use parts of the vegetables and discard others unnecessarily. Julia and I toasted our insight. Who knew mezcal was ‘brain food?’
There is a wonderful new book out called ‘Roots.’ It is part cookbook and part reference book. It is encyclopedic and also beautifully illustrated. The author is named Diane Morgan. I am in love with this book maybe as much as I'm in love with Menudo. I am beginning to conjure up ideas about inserting some of the amazing roots that she so lovingly writes about onto the sturdy frame of this all-encompassing soup.
Then at least my wife Janet will have something more to enjoy as she dodges the tripe that I lust after, allowing herself only the broth so far.
Menudo. I can hear you singing my song.
RECIPE FOR MENUDO
Yield: 3 quarts
2 Pounds of honeycomb tripe
1 1/2 Pounds of pigs feet, split
2 Tablespoons of kosher salt
3 Guajillo chilies, stemmed, seeded, cut up & toasted in a dry skillet then soaked in boiling water, drained
4 Tablespoons bacon fat or olive oil
2 Serrano chilies, stem removed, seeds left in if desired, minced
4 Large cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Sweet or red onion, peeled and chopped medium
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon drained chipotles en adobo
1 Teaspoon freshly toasted and ground cumin seeds
1 Large ripe tomato, peeled and diced small
3 Quarts of water or light chicken stock, (or a combination of them)
3 Cups of canned hominy, drained and very well rinsed
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Juice from one lime
Wash the tripe and pigs feet very well in several changes of warm water. Drain. Now place the tripe and pigs feet in a large bowl and squeeze on lime juice. Add the 2 T. salt and scrub it with your hands back and forth. Allow to stand about half an hour and then wash the tripe and pigs feet again well in warm water and drain well.
Cut the tripe into small strips. Place the tripe and pigs feet in a large soup pot and cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer a few minutes and then drain again.
Clean out the soup pot.
Lightly puree the soaked and drained guajillo chilies in a food processor with the chipotles en adobo. Set aside.
Now heat the soup pot and add the bacon fat or olive oil.
Add in the serrano chilies, garlic and onion and stir well to coat. When they are nice glazed add in the oregano, guajillo and chipotles en adobo chilies mixture and cumin. Stir. Add in the diced tomato and stir again. Season.
Now add in the cut up tripe and the split pigs feet into the soup pot. Stir to break up.
Add three quarts of water or light chicken stock (or a combination of the two) and simmer 2-3 hours partially covered. It is done when the tripe is tender.
Remove the pigs feet. You can try and cull some of the meat out and add it to the soup but you are not likely to find much. The feet were there for flavor and texture primarily.
Add in the drained hominy and simmer 30 minutes.
Season as desired.
For the garnish:
Limes, cut up
Chilies, as desired
Serve the soup hot with the garnishes on the side.
Note: Soups like these improve if made a day or two before serving.