Jewish law requires that I eat a hot meal for lunch on Shabbat, but also that I not do any cooking. This has been the case for my people for roughly 3,000 years and in that time there has been very little advancement in how that meal is prepared.
Sure, there are regional variations from around the world that seem to originate with the slow-simmered sabbath soups of the Jews. Cholent and Hamin, the two most well known, seem to have inpspired the French cassoulet, Spanish Fabada and the Portuguese Feijoada. All of them have the following in common: Beans, meat and slow cooking. All other differences are a matter of what ingredients are available on hand.
The other week I had some beans, pearl barley and some beef soup bones that, despite their meager origins, turned into an unctuous and satisfying dish after a long, slow cook in the crock pot. Here’s what I did:
I browned a bunch of soup bones in a heavy dutch oven until much of the fat had rendered out. I set the bones aside, keeping the fat in the pan so that I could…
Sweat some onions and garlic in the beef fat. Never ever, ever, ever put uncooked onions into a slow cooker unless you want your food to be inedible and your kitchen overwhelmed with noxious onion gasses. Science!
Once your onions are nice and golden, de-glaze the pan with a couple cups water and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all that nice beefy fond you’ve built up in the pan.
Put your washed and sorted beans in the bottom of the cooker.
Follow that with the onion/garlic/pan-drippings and a half cup of pearl barley.
Throw in maybe a tablespoon of salt. DO NOT OVER SALT THIS!
You can always salt it to taste when you serve it.
Add some potatoes and carrots, a squirt of ketchup (seriously) and cover the whole thing with water.
Set it on Low and don’t touch it for about 12 to 16 hours. That’s it.
I don’t have a picture of the finished product because I don’t take photos on shabbos, but even so, it’s not the most visually appealing dish. This is where having some chopped parsley on hand can really dress things up.
Those are the basics, but the possibilities are limitless. The following week I used just pinto beans, various chili seasonings, browned some chuck roast instead of soup bones and used canned, drained hominy in place of pearl barley for a sort of Tex-Mex cholent (garnished with sliced radishes and avocado).
Guess what? It was AMAZING.
Pretty much any meat or bean combo is a good one, all you need is time, patience and a judicious hand with the salting (nothing is worse than over-salted cholent). By no means should you limit this dish to Jewish holidays you don’t celebrate. You could easily use the outline of this recipie to make a duck and white bean cassoulet for a dinner party, or make something resembling chili (because chili has no beans) for a football game or potluck.
If when you hear the word “Menudo”, all you can think of is the Puerto Rican boyband where Ricky Martin got his start, I feel deeply sorry for you. In reality; Menudo is a rich Mexican soup of beef tripe and hominy that doubles as both a common wedding recipe and hangover cure (typically for the morning after the wedding party).
Growing up in the Southwest and visiting Mexico frequently with my parents; I had my share of menudo and pozole (another hominy stew) without ever realizing what it was I was eating. It wasn’t until my late teens, when I was hired to videotape a shotgun wedding for some distant relatives, that I had a menudo experience that made an impression on me.
The wedding was between the daughter of WASP’s from suburban Minnesota and the son of Mexican migrant workers. Beyond the hilarious contrast of a wedding party split between uptight white people in their Sunday best and the shabbily-dressed but otherwise clean and well-coiffed lettuce pickers; there was the contrast in the kitchen between cheese-drenched enchiladas, packet-seasoned ground beef, taco pie and, well, actual Mexican food.
I smartly avoided the shredded cheese nightmare of the gringos and ended up spending most of the day nursing bowl after bowl of homemade menudo. It was tangy and red; full of pieces of tripe, hominy and pork that seemed to have been simmering since before the bride and groom had been engaged. With a squeeze of lime and a liberal handful of cilantro floating around in the soup; the contrast of spicy, fatty, meaty, gamey, tangy and astringent was so complex and delicious, that to me it tasted like Mexico in a bowl (Northern Mexico anyway).
Years later when I was living in San Diego; Menudo was readily and cheaply available at all the best taco stands. As I was typically hung over almost every day I lived there; I can vouch for the fact that its restorative properties are equal to (and often exceed) that of the typical tomato juice based cocktails of which I am so fond of for abetting my detoxification.
In the last three years since I’ve stopped eating swine I’ve eaten plenty of tripe, but have avoided ordering menudo because it almost always is made with pigs feet as a base for the stock.
Luckily for me; cows have feet too.
If you’re squeamish about tripe; don’t be such a wuss. It’s a delicious and underutilized part of the cow with a texture similar to fun noodles, that stands up very well to strong flavors and spices.
You’re going to need the following:
2 lbs Beef Tripe, thoroughly rinsed and chopped into 3″ squares
2 lbs Beef Feet, thoroughly cleaned and split lengthwise (ask you butcher to split them if they don’t come that way)
2 oz. Tequila (reposado or añejo) and a couple more for the cook.
3 oz. Dried Ancho Chiles
1 Head of Garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon Kosher Salt
2 Teaspoons ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Whole Peppercorns
30 oz. can White Hominy, drained
16 oz. can Yellow Hominy, drained (If you’re making this for Texans; sub the white hominy for another 30 oz. of yellow)
2 Bay leaves
Mexican Oregano (Absolutely no substitutes for this)
Put your cleaned tripe and beef feet into a large stock pot and put in enough cold water to just cover them. Add your tequila and bay leaves and bring the pot to a boil, uncovered.
Strangely enough; boiling cow stomach makes your whole house smell like cow burps. There’s really no avoiding it, but here are a couple of tips for dealing with it:
Make it outside (That’s how it’s typically done in Texas)
Open your windows for first four hours of cooking.
Invest in some incense or scented candles.
Get used to it.
Once boiling; skim the scum from the top and reduce™ the heat to medium-high so that the liquid is just between a simmer and a boil. Partially cover with a lid so steam can get out; and let the tripe simmer for at least 4 to 6 hours.
In the meantime; soak your dried chilies in enough hot water to cover them for about 25 minutes or until they get soft.
Drain the soaked chilies (reserving the liquid) and remove the seeds and skins from them using a knife. If you are an incredible bad-ass who lives dangerously; do this without rubber gloves. Otherwise- you better don some protection there, J.P. Prewitt.
Once you’ve thoroughly seeded the chillies; throw them into a food processor with your salt, peppercorns, garlic cloves and cumin.
Adding a little bit of chili water at a time; puree the mixture until it forms a beautiful red paste like this:
After about 3 hours of simmering; your soup should be ready for the addition of the chili mixture. Go ahead and stir that in; then let it simmer for another couple of hours.
There’s a little bit of gray area here. 6 hours should be a minimum guideline for cooking your menudo; but I don’t like to serve it until the feet come apart and the soup is filled with rich pieces of collagen and tender bits of meat. If you plan on serving it for breakfast (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) then pull it off the heat after 6 hours the night before; add the drained hominy in the morning and bring it back up to a high simmer for another two hours.
Either way; around the seven hour mark your soup should look like this; with the tripe tender enough to chew and the feet at least beginning to fall apart.
Again; the more patient you are with this menudo the better it will turn out.
Whatever time frame you settle on; when you’re at least two hours from serving the menudo you can stir in the drained hominy and let it get back up to a simmer.
Some of the recipes I’ve looked at warn against adding it too soon, but even after making a batch with hominy one day and reheating it the next, I never had a problem with it plumping up and over-thickening the soup. I suspect the presence of natural gelatin from the beef feet might have had an effect on this, but that’s only a hypothesis.
Your finished product should look something like this (note the foot bones completely devoid of meat or collagen). You can add the Mexican oregano at this point; or your diners can add it at their discretion (just make sure it’s in there- the flavor component it adds is key to the whole soup).
Serve the menudo in large bowls with plenty of chopped onion, cilantro and lime juice.
Be sure to have lots of fresh tortillas and bolilllo rolls to soak up the unctuous goodness that is your homemade menudo.
Drink lots of cold beer or soda (Mexican Coke is especially good with this) and revel in the sophisticated joy that a simple thing like honeycomb tripe can provide.