Saturday, November 3, 2012

La toallita! (The little towel)

Coming from a vegetarian family, I never knew much about the meat-eating culture in the U.S., but from what I understand, though offal and the like cycled back into favor recently among the kind of people who pay attention to food trends, your average American files tripe under the category of thingsiwouldrathernotbeeatingthankyouverymuch. In Latin America, on the other hand, eating tripe and other innards is just a fact of life, of lunch, really, and though you will come across the occasional person who will tell you that they don't like tripa, many people include it among their favorite foods. So it was, then, that for my friend Juliana's birthday she wanted to make mondongo, a.k.a. beef tripe soup, something she missed dearly from home. She also wanted apple pie for dessert; if nothing else, we do strive for multiculturalism, ha. (Though I normally make a lot of cakes, for some reason recently the dessert of choice has been apple pie...)

Juliana's mother sent her the recipe from Colombia, and on the decided-upon day we met at the market to wrangle up the mondongo, the tripe. Tripe has a very distinctive texture which makes it very easy to recognize; we couldn't remember what it was called in Portuguese (as it turns out, dobradinha or bucho), so she just asked the meat guys if they had "a toalinha", la toallita, the little towel.    

Mondongo is common all over Latin America, though recipes will change from house to house and country to country. Juliana's mother's version is full of vegetables and two kinds of potatoes, although she sometimes makes it with arrocillo, broken rice, instead of the potatoes. Felipe's mother makes a version with chickpeas that is also known as callo, which is very common in Spain as well. In Brazil, bucho is used a lot in comida nordestina, food from the the Northeast region, as well as in the extremely popular soup mocotó. 

One thing that must be said is that, as it is tripe, it has to be well cleaned. Actually, two things: it smells terrible cooking. Terrible like sticking your head into a barn stall that hasn't been cleaned in months. It smells animal-y in a way that is rather impressive given how innocuous the nice spongy towel looks. BUT: if you're into interesting cooking projects, you know, experiencing new things, well, do I have a project for you! And, more importantly: the smell fades amazingly fast. You cook the hell out of the damn thing, open the windows and run like hell from the kitchen, but as soon as it's ready and you've drained the cooking water, the smell goes completely away, for real, and then you are left with silky soup, full of vegetables and cilantro and other nice things.

A lot of it. There are some foods that only seem worth the trouble to make in large quantities, and I would place mondongo firmly in that camp.

Felipe objects to the fact that these pictures make it look like the girls cooked and the guys just showed up to eat. So TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT, Felipe and Juliana actually did the majority of the work on the mondongo; I went off on my own to make the apple pie (not really on my own, either, as our curly-haired friend Juan chopped the apples). 

Felipe also made a guiso, what we would probably call a "salsa" in contorted American Spanglish (though "salsa" really just means "sauce"), to go along with the mondongo, though you could just sprinkle some cilantro on top and call it a day. We somehow forgot to make rice to go along with the stew, which is unthinkable for Colombians, but between the huge avocado chunks and the dessert, we managed just fine.

Mondongo (Beef tripe soup)
      adapted from Juliana's mother

4.5 lbs (2 kilos) beef tripe
3 limes
1 lb. beef or pork bones (we used pork rib bones)
8-10 scallions
4 cloves garlic
1 large stalk celery 
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes (papa criolla is normally used, if you can find that, use it)
2 lbs. starchy potatoes (Russets would work well)
3 ears sweet corn
½ lb. (8 oz.) carrots
2 medium red peppers
½ lb. (8 oz.) greens peas, fresh or frozen
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cumin, ground
1/2 tsp. black pepper, ground

For the guiso (optional):

2 large tomatoes
juice of 1 lime
handful of cilantro 
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Wash the tripe well, and use a knife or your fingers to remove most of the fat (the hard white globules). Place the tripe in a large bowl with cold water to cover, then juice the limes and add the lime juice to the water. Let the tripe soak in the lime-water for half an hour.
Drain the tripe, slice it into 3/4 inch pieces, and place it in a pressure cooker, adding fresh water just to cover. Place the pot over medium heat and bring it to pressure, then cook for ~45 minutes. 
Meanwhile (and I would advise starting this as soon as the tripe is in the pressure cooker, and then getting out of the kitchen as quickly as possible), wash the bones and then place them in a large stock pot with a generous amount of water-- enough to make stock, which is basically what you're about to do. Chop the scallions and celery, mince the garlic, and throw all of it into the pot along with a couple of big stalks of cilantro (leave them whole) and the turmeric, cumin, black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of salt. Place the pot over high heat, and when it comes to a simmer adjust the heat so it maintains it.
Once the tripe is tender, drain it, and add it to the stock. Let the stock simmer with the tripe while you peel and cube the potatoes (1/2 inch dice works nicely here), adding them to the stock as you go. Clean and break/cut the ears of corn into thirds and add them to the stock. Dice the carrots (1/4 inch dice here) and add them in, then do the same with the red pepper. Taste the soup and add more salt and cumin (tread lightly with the cumin, though, as it can easily overwhelm everything) if the soup seems like it lacks oomph. Partially cover the soup and continue to simmer until all the vegetables have cooked through and the soup has thickened slightly, about 45 minutes. The tripe should be silky and not at all rubbery. Add the peas at the end of the cooking, giving them just enough time to cook through so they don't turn into mush. Double check for salt. Remove the stock bones.
Make the guiso, if you like: chop the tomatoes and cilantro and add the lime juice, oil, and a big pinch of salt. Place on the table so that each person can add as much guiso as they like to their mondongo.
If you didn't make the guiso, chop up a big handful of cilantro leaves and sprinkle them over each portion of mondongo. Serve hot with a side of rice and a big hunk of avocado sprinkled with salt. Serves 8-10.

      adaptada de la madre de Juliana

2 kilos de mondongo
3 limones
1/2 kilo (1 libra) de huesos/costilla de res o de cerdo (aqui no se usa la carne, solo el hueso para dar sabor)
3-4 tallos de cebolla larga (verdeo)
4 dientes de ajo
1 tallo grande de apio
medio manojo de cilantro
1/2 kilo (1 libra) de papa criolla u otra papa parecida (aquí en Brasil usamos batata-baroa)
1 kilo de papa común 
3 choclos dulces
250 g. (1/2 libra) de zanahoria
2 pimentones rojos
250 g. (½ libra) de arvejas 
1 cucharita de cúrcuma
1 cucharita de comino molido
1/2 cucharita de pimienta negra molida

Para el guiso (opcional):
2 tomates grandes 
jugo de 1 limón
un puñadito de cilantro 
1 cucharada de aceite vegetal 

Lava muy bien el mondongo, y quitale la mayoría de la grasa (la parte muy dura y blanca) con un cuchillo o con los dedos. Colocalo en un bol grande con agua fria a cubrir, exprime los limones y echa el jugo al agua. Dejalo reposar media hora.
Escrurrelo, cortalo en pedazos de 1.5 cm. y colocalo en la olla de presión, agregando agua fresca solo a cubrir. Dejalo pitar ~45 minutos. 
Mientras tanto (yo te avisaría que empieces este proximo paso apenas coloques la olla de presion, y despues que huyas de la cocina lo mas rapido posible para evitar el olor del mondongo cocinado), lava los huesos y colocalos en una olla grande con una cantidad generosa de agua para empezar el caldo. Pica la cebolla larga, el apio y el ajo y echa todo a la olla junto con unos tallos grandes (enteritos) de cilantro, la curcuma, comino, pimienta negra y 2 cucharadas de sal. Pon la olla sobre fuego alto y cuando empiece a hervir baja el fuego para que se mantenga hirviendo lentamente.
Cuando el mondongo este tierno, escurrelo y echale al caldo. Manten el caldo hirviendo mientras vas pelando y cortando las papas en cuadritos de 1 cm. y echando los cuadritos al caldo. Limpia y corta los choclos en tres pedazos cada uno y agregales al caldo tambien. Corta la zanahoria en cuadritos pequeños y echales también, después haz lo mismo con el pimentón. Fijate si el caldo necesita más sal y comino (aunque cuidado con el comino porque se puede volver muy intenso el sabor muy rapidamente) si te sabe un poco simple. Tapa la sopa parcialmente y sigue cocinandola hasta que todas las verduras estén cocidas y la sopa se haya espesado un poco, más o menos 45 minutos. El mondongo debe estar ya muy tierno. Echa las arvejas ya faltando poco tiempo para que no se deshagan. Fijate nuevamente que esté bien de sal. Quita los huesos que echaste para saborizar el caldo.
Haz el guiso, si quieres: pica los tomates y el cilantro y echales el jugo de limón, aceite, y una pizca grande de sal. Dejalo en la mesa para que cada persona se sirva a gusto. 
Si no hiciste el guiso, pica un puñado grande de hojas de cilantro y salpicalas sobre cada porción de mondongo servido. Sirvelo caliente con arroz y una porción grande de aguacate salpicado con sal. Rinde 8-10 porciones.

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