Caldo de Costilla
I’ve started to think of Los Paisanos meat market on Smith Street as my own, personal, model UN. Ostensibly Italian, it’s largely staffed by Central and South Americans. Though helpful when I’m looking to translate a recipe, it can get touchy. Guatemala may concede but Mexico isn’t too happy when I defer to Colombia. This is what happened when I went there a couple of weeks ago with a vague idea that I wanted to try caldo de costilla – a Colombian beef rib broth flavored with potatoes, scallions and cilantro. Not surprisingly, without consensus, the results were uneven.
The suggestion for the soup came a few months before, when I’d exchanged emails with Laura, the owner of a back packer’s hostal in Villa de Leyva, Boyacá. Known as hangover cure or levantamuertos, it’s typically served at breakfast with arepas and hot chocolate. Going back to Paisanos to figure out what went wrong, Pedro (Colombia) took it to higher authorities – his sisters. They suggested less water, more chopping (cilantro and garlic) and leaner cuts of beef. Armed with precise instructions, I tried again. Deceptively plain but flavorful and soothing, I made a large batch to have just as the weather turned. It was a satisfying resolution.
Caldo de Costilla/Beef Rib Soup
2 pounds bone-in beef rib, preferrably and cut into 8 2-inch chunks
4 whole scallions plus more garnish
½ cup cilantro, leaves and stems, chopped, plus more for garnish
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2-inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled
2-3 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1 ½ pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks (optional)
1 chicken bullion cube (optional)
In a large heavy pot, combine first six ingredients with 8 cups of water. Bring to a high simmer over medium heat then cook until the beef is tender, about 30 minutes.
Add the potatoes, carrots and bullion cube in using and return to a simmer. Lower heat to medium-low and continue to cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove whole scallions and ginger.
To serve, the beef can be left on the bone or cut into pieces. Add a portion of beef and vegetables to each bowl then ladle in broth. Garnish with more chopped scallions and cilantro. Serve with arepas in the morning or white rices for dinner.