There are certain dishes that make me nostalgic for childhood.
You know what I’m talking about. A smell or taste that conjures vivid memories of comfort – when life was more simple and childhood dramas were easily soothed by your momma or daddy’s home-made goodies. Like, a bandage and a kiss or hug, but you could eat it. For me, these cabbage recipes have been just that: the yeasty smell of my mom’s cabbage burgers baking, warming the house and our tummies on a cold day; and, this beef and cabbage soup from my abuela Juarez.
Grandma Juarez is no longer with us. And, I’m sure, I’m not the only one of the 37 grandkids and 46 great-grandchildren who thinks of her when I eat this soup. I remember several a Sunday afternoon visit and her never-empty pot of soup simmering in her little kitchen. Somehow it managed to feed whomever stopped by that day. That, and tortillas de harina (flour tortillas), but that’s another recipe and story.
Caldo de res is comfort soup, perfect for a dreary day or cool night. Tender bites of roast simmered in a beefy broth with winter vegetables – onion, cabbage, potatoes and carrots. It’s a standard in Mexican households and restaurants, although the ingredients may vary slightly – some adding chayote or zucchini.
The recipe below is adapted from my abuela’s recipe (I use a whole head of cabbage and more veggies, and brown the roast first). It also contains her rumoured “secret” ingredient (which, now, is no longer secret), hierba buena, spearmint used in Mexican teas and cooking. It adds a special, fresh dimension to this soothing broth.
For those who’ve never tried caldo de res, if you like Vietnamese pho, which also has a tasty beef broth, you’ll want to try this soup.
Tidbits on Cabbage:
- When shopping for cabbage, look for one with a shiny, crisp exterior. It should also feel solid and compact. Avoid buying those that look wilted, brown or dried-out.
- Don’t wash cabbage until you are ready to use it. Cabbage can be rinsed after cutting or chopping, drain well.
- Boiling cabbage tenderizes the leaves, causing it to release sugar and the characteristic cabbage aroma.
This caldo is hearty, so don’t overchop those veggies. The meat should be bite size but the vegetables are chunky. The recipe makes a large pot of soup and, as with most, it gets better as it sits. You can half this recipe.
Beef & Cabbage Soup – Caldo de Res
Makes 6.5 quarts
4 pounds chuck roast, diced 1″ pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1 – 3 fresh jalapenos or other chiles, diced, optional
1 small cabbage, cored and cut into 3” chunks
5 carrots, peeled and diced 1 1/2” pieces
3 medium potatoes, skin on and cubed 2” pieces
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh hierba buena*, chopped, optional
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
3 whole ears corn, cut into smaller pieces (fresh or frozen)
*Hierba buena, also spelled yerba buena, meaning “good herb” is mint available at Mexican markets. Substitute with spearmint, if unavailable.
- Cut roast into 1” cubes. Remove most thick pieces of fat and any connective tissue running through the meat. Leave a small amount of fat here and there for flavor. Generously salt and pepper.
- Heat a large pot or Dutch oven (at minimum 6.5 quarts) on high heat; add oil then brown beef until no longer pink on the outside. Add onions and garlic; stir and cook for a few minutes. Add water and bring to a boil uncovered. Use a spoon to skim off the scum (removing scum makes for a clearer broth). Cover and reduce to simmer 1 hour.
- While simmering, core cabbage and chop into 3” pieces. Peel carrots and dice into 1 1/2” pieces. Wash potatoes and remove any dirt from skin; dice into 2” pieces (skin on). Chop cilantro and hierba buena. Dice chiles; using more or less to your taste.
- After the soup has simmered 1 hour, add: salt, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, herbs, chile and lemon juice to soup. Cover pot and simmer about 40 minutes, until potatoes are slightly underdone. Add corn pieces (no need to defrost if frozen). Continue to simmer until potatoes finish cooking and corn heated through.
- Serve hot with lemon wedges, fresh salsa and tortillas.
Vegetables: add zucchini, chayotes or tomatoes