It has been many years since I read Like Water for Chocolate and I had never made any of its dishes. When I recently leafed through it to check out the recipes — each of the twelve chapters has a recipe woven into the story — I could not help but be pulled back into this family saga of love and anguish, and the amazing dishes made by the youngest daughter Tita. Written in the style of “magic realism”, a genre common in Latin American literature, this is the story of one emoting, fantasy-driven family living on a ranch during the Mexican revolution.
Tita is forbidden to marry in order to stay home and care for her tyrannical mother. Unable to express her passion for her lover, Pedro, she pours her heart into her cooking, making dishes such as turkey mole with almonds, quail in rose petal sauce, and Champandongo, an exotically named casserole of meat, tortillas and cheese, all of which affect the passions of the eaters. One of these emotionally charged meals is the humbly named Oxtail Soup (Caldo de Cola de Res).
I do not have a source for organic rose petals, or even organic quail, but I can buy oxtail from Kenny’s Meat Market, our local carnicería which sells locally raised, range-fed beef. So called “oxtail” is beef tail, and not really from oxen. Cooking with oxtail is one more example of Mexican cooks’ preference, born of economy and thrift, to use all parts of the animal, something I admire in this culture. If you can’t find oxtail, meaty soup bones are a fine substitute. If you do buy oxtails, ask the butcher to cut it into 2-3″ lengths.
Oxtail Soup serves 4
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 1/2 lbs. (about 1 kilo) oxtails, cut into 2-3″ lengths
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- water to cover, about 2-3 quarts/liters
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 lb. (.25 kilo) green beans, cut into 2″ length
- 4 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 teaspoon chipotle chile with adobo sauce, seeded and finely minced
- salt to taste
- cilantro for garnish
- Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and brown oxtails.
- Add onion and garlic and cook until tender.
- Add water to cover and simmer for 1 hour or pressure cook for 20 minutes.
- Remove meat to cool. When cool enough to handle, pull meat from bones, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Pour off stock and skim most of the fat from the surface, reserving meat and stock.
- In the same pot, heat oil over medium-low heat and cook chopped onion and garlic until translucent.
- Add potatoes and stock and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes. Add green beans, tomatoes and chile and cook until all vegetables are tender.
- Salt to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
The original recipe calls for chile morita, a type of dried jalapeño. This chile may be difficult to find, so I substituted chipotle chiles en adobo, smoked, dried jalapeño canned in a tomato and vinegar sauce.
Like Water for Chocolate was written by Laura Esquivel and published in 1992 by Doubleday. The title comes from the Spanish phrase, “Como agua para chocolate”. Mexican recipes use water, not milk, to make hot chocolate. Chocolate melts when the water reaches a boil, so the phrase can mean one is boiling mad, or, as a double entendre, that one is erotically aroused, with both emotions evident in the novel.
Campbell sold oxtail soup many years ago in the U.S., but it seems to have disappeared from the stores. Tastes change through the years, but oxtail soup remains popular in Asian cuisine and in Great Britain.
More Mexican Soups: