When I was a little girl growing up in Venezuela, my nanny, Yoli, would whip up one mean beef soup.
Good stuff bursting with hearty meat bones glistening with bone marrow.
That makes it a winner, for those not sure.
She’d toss all sorts of vegetables laying around: carrots, potatoes, yucca. No brain surgery here, you see. Then she’d grab a fistful of cilantro- she had tiny hands but generous fistfuls, always a good trait in a chef.
And then there were those meat bones.
Damn good things.
Clinging with beef and clotted with gold in the center.
“Eso es lo bueno,” she’d say, pointing at the marrow with a gleam in her eye.
And she was right.
That was the good stuff.
It was the first thing I’d go for, after hours of waiting, watching and smelling that hearty soup simmer, its steady steam carving out swirls in the dense, tropical air.
Dinner came and I was joyous.
“Dame el hueso mas grande,” I’d whisper into Yoli’s ear as she ladled. And because I was the youngest and played up the blue eyes the best, she would, she’d go ahead and plop the largest bone smack in the center of my soup bowl, filling it up to the rim with the caramel-colored broth which served as a moat housing an occasional log of floating yucca or carrot.
It was picture perfect.
While others began to slurp at the soup, I grabbed my fork and went for the kill, stabbing right into the gelatinous center of the bone and carving out the marrow. It would surrender easily to my assault and in a matter of seconds I gulped it down. Its warm, rich, beefy core filled me with happiness, topping my experience of beef soup before it had even really begun.
My father had more foresight, knew to plan his moves well in life. It was something his father taught him years before in front of a chess board, a trait that came in handy even when eating beef soup. Always be three moves ahead. He’d slurp his soup the loudest, taking breaks with sips of lemonade or conversation and when he was done, the beef bone was left waiting, exposed, perfectly his.
That’s when he’d go for the kill.
Unless, of course, he was distracted.
Perhaps by a set of pretty blue eyes.
She is so sweet that way, he’d find himself thinking.
Eyes can say it all.
“You want it?” He’d be compelled to ask. He couldn’t help it. That question just drew itself out of him.
I’d give just a smile in return.
I never met the father of my father, but it turns out I had my chess skills as well! A word might break the spell that was cast and so a demure smile, ever so slight, curled its way around my lips, just to frame those hypnotic baby blues.
Three moves ahead and the prize was mine!
Placed gently in the center of my bowl, a partner to the other scooped out pawn, more gold ready to be enjoyed.
- 3 lbs. Beef Shank (make sure the bones have loads of marrow) or Beef Marrow Bones. You can also use a combo of the two (beef shank will give you chunks of meat in your soup.)
- 1 onion, peeled
- 3 carrots, chopped into 3” pieces (don’t bother with peeling them)
- 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2” cubes
- ½ cup squash, peeled and chopped into 2” cubes (or use 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 2” cubes)
- ½ cup frozen yucca (Yes, I wrote frozen. It works. It’s easy. It’s just as flavorful. It’s 2014 in the United States and I am grateful!)
- A nice handful of fresh cilantro (What’s a handful, you precision-thirsty chefs ask? Ummm, 1 ½ cups, 2, if you’re feeling the love…By the way, save a teensy bit for garnish at the end to add some brightness, or chop a teensy bit more. No worries if it's all gone. Chop a bit of parsley instead. I won't tell.)
- 6 cups beef stock (Don't have time and want a good cheat? Use 6 cups water and 5 tablespoons of Better Than Bouillon beef stock. They sell this stuff next to the Bouillon cubes in the supermarket. It comes in a jar: goopy, dark, and yes, my secret when I have no homemade stock lying around…)
- Salt, somewhere along the way
- Optional garnishes: minced onions, lime juice, picante (spicy sauce), chopped cilantro or parsley
- You’re gonna love this: throw it all into a pot. Everything. One, two, three, GO!
- Bring to a boil on high heat.
- Now, reduce to a simmer (should be on medium.)
- Walk away and do everything you’ve been putting off (laundry, vacuum, Jesus-do-I-have-to kid’s algebra project, whatever.) Or put your feet up and re-binge on House of Cards (I hear Netflix comes out with Season 2 in February…)
- The soup should simmer a good two hours.
- Take a peek now and again.
- Give a stir, just so that you don’t feel neglectful. Move them bones around.
- Sip, if you want.
- If you have a teenager like I do, at some point a sample will be served, it always is. These children are perpetually hungry, and yes, it’s all your fault, I hate you, you suck.
- Somewhere along the way, add salt. You’ll have to sample and figure that one out, everyone’s salt needs are different.
- Ladle into bowls in the following manner:
- Big-ass bone first.
- All the other stuff second.
- Sprinkle with fresh cilantro.
- Serve without any other garnish, if you are a die-hard bone marrow beef soup eater (cue in Husband.) Anything else is sacrilege.
- If you like surprising bursts and tangs of flavors that support, exalt, intensify your soup experience, sprinkle, squeeze and squirt on the other stuff. That would be me.
- Hey, either way, it’s heavenly.
- Of course, you’ll be busy with the marrow first, if you’ve learned anything.
- Serves 4-6 carnivores