Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Soup for summer

Yeah, we know it's hot, but sometimes a bowl of soup hits the spot. Prudence Hilburn offers a summertime chowder in Wednesday's Gourmet Touch, and here's the Okra Soup that's always on offer in Cuban households -- either on the island or in Miami. Okra (right, in its semi-natural habitat) loves hot weather, so Okra Soup is right at home when the thermometer makes us see red.

In Cuba, this classic, homestyle soup is known as Quimbombo. It uses our Southern okra, bacon (or ham) and some tangy vinegar. The effect is surprisingly complex, but the preparation is simple. This is from "Cuban Home Cooking" by Jane Cossio and Joyce LaFray.

Okra Soup

2 cups okra, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
juice of 2 lemons
1 cup bacon or ham, chopped
1/2 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon cooking sherry
good pinch of oregano
1 cup chicken stock
1 peeled plantain
1/2 cup boiled shrimp, save 1 cup of the water the shrimp was boiled in to flavor the soup

Soak the okra with the lemon juice, covered with water, in a large bowl for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse.

In a large sauce pan or Dutch oven, cook the pork, pepper, garlic and onion, adding enough olive oil to keep it from sticking. Cook about 5 minutes; add the tomato sauce, vinegar, sherry and oregano. Cook 2 minutes; add okra, 1 cup chicken stock and 1 cup of the shrimp water. Bring to a boil.

In a separate pan, boil the plantain until it is tender enough to mash. Shape into small balls, using a little cooking oil to hold them together, if necessary. Add plantain balls and shrimp to the soup and simmer on low for 15 minutes.