Hola! and welcome to the Susitna Cafe’! We’re discussing “Eclectic Houston”, our monthly chronicle about the unique and international aspects of Houston, TX USA.
Our Susitna Cafe’ neighbors in Houston come from all around the world… France, Hong Kong, Cuba, Spain, India, Mexico, Armenia, and Texas A&M (Ha-Ha!). Isn’t that wonderful? Whenever our neighbors warmly welcome us into their home, we learn about the native food and cultural traditions that they brought with them to Houston. We are sooo fortunate!
Recently, our neighbor Rita and Fernando invited us to a party at their lovely home to celebrate Rita’s birthday. Oooohhhh, they are such nice people and they always have a wonderful international smorgasbord. You know, I reallylike international smorgasbords and birthday parties!
Fernando’s family originates from the Extremadura Region of Spain, an area bordering Portugal in Europe. Rita’s mother’s family is from Ecuador. So, we were delighted to participate in their eclectic Spanish smorgasbord and birthday celebration.
Happy Birthday Rita!
Oh look, there's Fernando (to the right)!
Extremadura, by the way, means “to go to extremes”. This is a Spanish region that is blistering hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The Extremadura landscape consists of lush forests, sweeping plains and ancient hilltop villages. It is an area off the beaten tourist path and a region of Spain where the villages seem frozen in time.
Photo Courtesy of Spanish-Living.Com
Extremadura is well known for its outstanding gastronomy. Highly prized Iberian pork, for example, originates from Extremadura where the free range pigs feast on acorns which give their meat a unique and highly prized flavor.
Extremadura’s delicious food is based on seasonal availability. It is simple and down to earth thus reflecting its peasant origins. Rita and Fernando’s feast included an Extremadura gazpacho amongst other delightful simple and down to earth Spanish dishes…
various canapes and vegetables…Albondigas Al Zafaron (pork and veal meatballs with saffron)…Potatas Alinadas (Andalusian potato salad), and even a Lithuanian beet soup (borcht)…There was a beautiful Empanada Gallega (Galician cod pie) with a patisserie enscription of Rita’s initials too! Oh my, someone pinch me now! 😮
In addition to the delightful Spanish smorgasbord, we enjoyed some refreshing sangrias poured by Joseph, Rita and Fernando’s son…
Of course, all the guests had a wonderful time eating fresh seasonal food and sipping sangria…
Oh look, and there's Rita's sister (to the right)!
Oh, and let’s not forget about dessert…Maria, Rita and Fernando’s daughter, made some delightful carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting…
Lucky for all of us, Rita and Fernando have generously shared their family recipe for Xela’s Extremadura Gazpacho with the Susitna Cafe’! This recipe originated with Fernando’s mother, Xela, and it is absolutely wonderful…it’s refreshing and delicious! Thank you Rita, Fernando and Xela from your Susitna Cafe’ friends!
Xela’s Extremadura Gazpacho
4 pounds fresh ripened tomatoes, skins removed and cut into chunks
1 cucumber, cut into chunks
2 red or orange bell peppers, cut into chunks
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
3-4 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
2-3 Tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bell pepper (any color), diced
2 tomatoes, skins removed and chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced (I use red onion)
1/2 cucumber, diced
2 boiled eggs, chopped
croutons, 1/3 stale baguette cut into small cubes, sprinkled with olive oil and salt and baked until golden on cookie sheet
To begin, prepare your vegetables and tomatoes. Dip the tomatoes into a boiling pot of water for a few minutes. Allow to cool to touch, then peel and remove the skins.
Next, in a food processor or blender, add a combination of tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and garlic with a portion of the olive oil.
Process/blend the vegetables and olive oil until you have a speckled puree.
Pour the speckled puree into a large bowl or non-aluminum pot. Continue to process/blend the vegetables and olive oil in batches pouring into the large bowl or pot when done. Add the sherry vinegar, cumin and salt to the bowl or pot and stir well to incorporate the ingredients and flavors.
Refrigerate for several hours or overnight if possible to meld all the flavors. Serve with a platter of garnishes so that your family and guests can add their own to taste.
Cook’s Notes: I reduce the amount of extra virgin olive oil when I make this recipe simply because I prefer a little less oil. Do consider using a colorful confetti mixture of the chopped bell peppers as a nice touch to the garnish platter. If, by chance, your gazpacho is too thick just add some cold water or ice until you have a desired consistency.
I enjoy gardening, don’t you? I started gardening when I was in grade school. In fact, when I was 12 years old, I grew a BIG cabbage. The BIG cabbage was my pride and joy.
Of course, I grew this cabbage in Alaska–you know, the place where everything is BIG. In fact, my cabbage weighed 40 lbs.
After growing this pride and joy, I hadn’t thought about it much. Mostly, I’ve lived my life knowing that I am a successful cabbage gardener. I haven’t won any awards or even shared this tidbit of information with many of my friends.
Perhaps I’ve just lived my life feeling really proud about my gardening ability, particularly when it comes to growing cabbage. Well, I must admit that I’ve probably been a bit arrogant about the whole ordeal.
However, last September my pride was shattered. I was crushed. I felt about the same as when my mother exceeded my BIG fish catch record. In 1984, my little petite mum (she’s 4′ 11″ tall) caught a 70 lb. King Salmon in Deep Creek, Alaska. After that occasion, life was simply not the same.
My life was shattered...
My cabbage pride (vs. my fishing pride) was shattered at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska. I remember the day well.
“R” and I had decided to take my mom out to lunch, then spend the afternoon walking and wandering the Fairgrounds. It was a crisp and cool Fall day. We entertained ourselves silly…
I wish we hadn’t done it. But, we did. We walked and wandered into the farm animal and garden complex…
It was OK at first. We viewed and talked about all the nice vegetables grown by local gardeners. We even saw some large vegetables.
"R"'s thumb and large zucchini
But there it was. I remember gasping for air. I had even wondered if I was dis-com-bob-u-lated (is that a word? well, you know what I mean). I closed my eyes and reopened them and saw cabbages everywhere…
Cabbage in a canoe...
"Count Veggula" cabbage...
But, there was no mistaking the BIG cabbage. It was “The Beast” of all cabbages. And it was, indeed, there in front of me.
“The Beast” weighed 127 pounds. Can you believe it my Cafe’ friends? I was in awe, as you can imagine.
The Anchorage Daily News reported about “The Beast”…that “Leafy Wonder”. But, I was unable to read all the details. My cabbage pride had been wounded.
Time heals these wounds, however. So, now several months later I’m upbeat again. Why not? You only live once! Why not make cabbage and meatball soup to soothe one’s wounded cabbage pride and move on in life. Shall we, my Susitna Cafe’ friends?
Cabbage and Meatball Soup (serves 6-8)
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
2-3 small celery hearts with leaves, chopped (or, 1 celery stalk will do)
2 carrots, sliced
.25 lb Serrano ham, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 small head of cabbage, shredded and chopped
7-8 cups of water
2 heaping Tablespoons of Better than Bouillon Organic Vegetable Base (or 3 cubes of Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon)
1 can cannellini beans, drained (or ½ cup dried beans soaked in 4 cups of water overnight)
Parmesan rind (or about 1/3 cup of grated parmesan)
10 meatballs (your favorite recipe or frozen will do—I often use Ikea frozen meatballs (thawed) because they are good quality, and have no preservatives)
Make Your Soup Base
Heat olive oil in large dutch oven or soup pot under medium heat. Add garlic and sauté. When the garlic begins to turn brown, add the chopped onions. Sauté and stir til transparent. Now add your chopped celery with leaves, sliced carrots and chopped Serrano ham. Cook for about 10 minutes. Next, add the chopped plum tomatoes and cabbage. Stir and sauté for another 10 minutes, and enjoy the beautiful color of this cabbage soup base.
Let’s Make Soup
Your soup base is prepared, so now let’s add 7 cups of water, the bouillon, cannellini beans, and the parmesan rind. Simmer the soup for approximately 30 minutes. If you used dried soaked beans, you may need to simmer the soup longer in order to soften the beans. Taste, and use your own discretion.
Add your meatballs and lots of fresh ground pepper. You may add an additional cup of water if the soup becomes too thick (note, this is a substantial soup so it will be thick). Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Add salt, as needed.
Garnish with shredded parmesan. Serve with crusty sourdough bread, a hunk of your favorite cheese, and a tossed salad.
Dinner is ready!
Ode to the Cabbage
Oh, great cabbage…
Where art thou?
Not one of 5, 10, or 20 pounds…
No imposter will do!
Oh, what temerity!
Roll along now ye little ones…
We seek cabbage from the Land of the Midnight Sun!
Traveler’s Notes: the Alaska State Fair will be held this year from Aug. 26-Sept. 6, 2010. Be sure to visit the BIG vegetables!
Cook’s Notes: this recipe makes alot of soup–freeze some! It freezes well.