Guard this Caldo recipe with your life!
Do you have recipes in your family that have been handed down from generation to generation? You know, the ones your mother or grandmother would not give you until you could prove that you were mature enough to guard the ingredients with your life? Like Colonel Sanders secret mix of spices that make that Kentucky Fried Chicken taste like no other.
What is it about my mother’s generation that made women not want to give out their recipes — especially to anyone outside of the family? It’s like it was some kind of competition that made them the “Queen of Cooking” if they had a food item that no one could quite figure out what exactly all the ingredients were and what made it taste so much better than anyone else’s version! I think it gave them something to feel special about in a lifetime where women stayed home and kept house and made delicious suppers every night and baked all kinds of homemade goodies. The kitchen was their domain and home life centered around that room where delicious aromas wafted into the living room and upstairs into our bedrooms from the hall. They needed something that made them stand out from the rest of the housewives and that made everyone sing their praises when they entered the dining room or a neighbors potluck, all eyes on them like they had just won the Miss Universe contest or something.
And, hey, I’m not knocking it. I love to cook, and I learned a lot of my cooking from my mother. But, often, I take her recipes that I watched her make throughout my time growing up at home and give them my own twist. Something that I can hand down to my own daughter.
This is a recipe that my mother use to make (with my own added ingredients) on cold, winter nights when you thought you just couldn’t stand one more miserable day or night of too much snow, too many layers, and too much used Kleenix. It’s basically a stew. We never called it Caldo (we never really gave it any name), but when I got older I realized that’s what it’s called by many Hispanic families who had this at their own table on those same cold nights.
I hope you make it for you own family to help keep them warm this winter and enjoy it as much as I did when I was growing up. But just remember, don’t give it out to just anybody. It’s a secret!
You will need:
Beef stew meat, about 1 1/2 to 2 lbs.
3 medium potatoes
1 medium yellow onion
cilantro – just a few sprigs
2 cloves garlic
1 can stewed tomatoes
Spices – salt (or spicy combination mix), pepper, garlic POWDER (not SALT)
2 tbsp oil
**I’m just going to tell you right now that if you don’t like to cook, don’t attempt to make this. It takes a lot of time and work — at least, if you want to make it right. I gathered all my ingredients and my pots and pans around 3 o’clock or so and we didn’t sit down to eat till a little after 7 p.m. that night. I did a lot of chopping, dicing, peeling, cutting, and “watching.” This is good for a Sunday evening meal or on a day when you feel relaxed and want a good home cooked meal. Just make sure you have the time when you start. It’s well worth it!
How – To:
First, put the oil into a frying pan and let it heat up on medium heat. Add your stew meat, sprinkling it with your spices, and brown, keeping an eye to not let it overcook. You just want the meat seared and most of the oil cooked off (by turning the heat up higher toward the end).
While the meat is browning, take a pot and start boiling water for the Caldo. Use a big pot, at least 3 quarts, but 5 is better. I used 3 because my other pot was being used for something else. (We won’t talk about it, okay?) It was filled to the top by the time I put everything in, so try to use a bigger one if you have it. Only fill it half-way with water so you will have room for all of your ingredients. Add some more of your spices.
When the meat has browned, add it to the boiling water. Also, add the can of stewed tomatoes. Bring it to a boil, and let it continue to boil for about another 20 to 25 minutes. Then, turn it down to a low boil and cook for at least another hour so the meat will get tender. The thing about beef stew meat is that you have to cook it very slowly for a long time for it to get tender. If you cook it too fast, it gets tough. So, don’t be in a hurry. Just keep testing it with a fork every 30 minutes or so after the first hour. Keep the lid on tight, but watch for boil-over. (I hate it when that happens!)
Now cut your cabbage in quarters. Keep the stem intact, cutting right through it as you slice your cabbage. Rinse as thoroughly as possible, without separating the leaves.
Your going to start boiling it to cook while your meat is getting tender. Use a small pot that will just fit the size of the cabbage because you don’t want it to fall apart too much while you are boiling it. You can add a little salt if you like. (I, personally, don’t use any because I watch my salt intake and have gotten use to not using much anyway.)
Let the cabbage boil for about 5 minutes or so, then place cover on pot and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes more. I boil this in a separate pot from the stew for two reasons. First, cabbage is so tightly contained that even though I rinse it well before cooking, I’m always worried that there might be little bugs in between the leaves. Boiling it in a separate pot allows me to see if any bugs are in it as it starts to gently separate as it cooks. I wouldn’t see them, if there were any, if they were swimming in my big pot of beef and red tomato water. And, secondly, I don’t like cabbage. I don’t like coleslaw or sauerkraut on anything to do with cabbage — except in Caldo. But, I don’t want my whole stew to taste like cabbage stew. I just want some of that flavor. Therefore, I cook it in a separate pot, then place two of the quarters in my stew to cook with the meat and tomatoes to add that little flavor of cabbage. Then, I will add it to the stew later, as you will see.
While your cabbage is cooking, start cutting up your onion. Cut it in big chunks. This whole stew is based on it’s “chunkiness.” I used about half or less of a medium-sized onion. (I love onions!)
Dice up your garlic, too. Just small pieces, it doesn’t have to be tiny, little diced pieces. It’s going to be cooking a long time in the stew anyway, so no one is going to be getting a nasty piece of garlic in their mouth that’s too big and horrible tasting! I don’t have a picture of the tiny, little diced pieces that you didn’t do because I told you not to dice them so small. You don’t need to see that, do you? If so, just use your imagination here.
Okay, now it’s been about the right cooking time for the cabbage. So take two of the quarters out of the pot and place them in the big pot that has the stew meat in it. Add the onions and the garlic at this time, also. The meat has probably been cooking for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half at this point. It still needs to cook much longer to get tender. Put the lid on the pot and let it continue to simmer. I cooked it for probably another hour or so. It was about 4:50 at this point. Continue to cook the remaining cabbage quarters in the other pot until tender.
Now everything is starting to look and smell good! You should have your potatoes, carrots, corn, and cilantro left. You can peel and cut your carrots and potatoes now. Remember, cut them into big chunks. Put your cut potatoes into a bowl of cold water until you are ready to use them. This will prevent them from getting brown. (Yuck!) Wash your cilantro and place aside. Cut your corn into thirds.
Check the meat tenderness. If it’s starting to get tender enough that you can cut it with a fork without it falling apart too much, then it’s ready for you to add the last ingredients. This is kind of tricky, getting the meat just right. Because you don’t want to overcook it so that it falls apart and shreds in the water. So you must have some experience with cooking meat in stews. You want to time it so that if it cooks for about another hour with the potatoes, corn and carrots, it will be done perfectly and not underdone or overdone. If you cook a lot at home, you should be able to gauge this okay.
Take the cabbage out of the stew and place in small bowl to the side. Cover it with foil so it will stay warm. Now this cabbage looks good to me!
Add in your potatoes, carrots and corn. Also, add more water if needed. Tear off the small leaves of the cilantro and drop these onto the top of the water. It looks and smells so good! Cover with the lid and you’re going to let it cook about another hour so everything will get tender. (It was about 5:30, maybe later, when I put these in the pot.) Keep watch because you don’t want to have the potatoes overcooked and getting mushy and falling apart. Just keep testing with your fork every so often.
I checked my potatoes for doneness and they were ready. I cut up some lemon wedges and placed on a small plate. Then, I warmed up some flour tortillas in the oven. We were so hungry and ready to eat at this point! It was just smelling so good throughout the whole house.
Spoon the soup into large bowls, making sure to get a little of everything into the bowls. Leave enough room for the cabbage. I just cut the cooked quarter pieces into two or three smaller pieces and added some to the bowl of soup. Now butter your tortilla (Mmm … memories of childhood!), roll it up and serve with the soup. Add some lemon (this is probably why I like the cabbage in the soup because the lemon makes it taste just right.) and warm your tummies! My son says this is “hibernation” food. He eats it and just wants to go climb in bed and sleep for two days!