The Bear had to have an emergency root canal. Just writing that makes me cringe, as I’m sure some of you are cringing right now. Many of us over the age of 30 have been in that painful place, regardless of how good we take care of our teeth. Getting older is really just not fair.
In the day leading up to his appointment, my husband was hurting in a bad way, and neither one of us wanted to cook. He needed soft food, of course, so we went the canned-soup-with-bread-and-butter route. Sometimes you forget how perfect and comforting the simple things in life are – even soup out of a can can make you happy if you’re in the right frame of mind. It turned out to be a lovely dinner — Andersen’s split pea with bacon, a baguette of Essential’s Columbia bread, and butter.
I’m glad to report that the Bear is back to normal, but our canned soup days made me itchy to make a soup from scratch. The one I ended up making was an improvisation: pork shoulder, some beef bones, collard greens, Anaheim peppers, and all the usual seasoning suspects in my kitchen. This soup, a stew really, turned out to be the best I’ve ever made. I want to make this stew for everyone I love, and even the people I don’t like so much. Eating this soup makes you feel cared for and loved, even when you’re the one who made it.
Self-love: It’s what’s for dinner.
I learned a couple of things during the making of this stew:
One, I am not a food blogger. I hate, and I mean HATE measuring out pinches and handfuls and glugs. This is not how I learned to cook, and it sucks the fun out of my time in the kitchen. While I do get a kick out of taking pictures of my finished product, I tend to not worry so much about the lighting and the shadows because I just want to eat the damn thing already.
Two, collard greens are underrated and underused. They have a mild flavor compared to other tough greens like kale and chard, and when they’re properly cooked, they just kind of melt in your mouth. Lovely texture; it reminds me of the taro leaves used in lau lau. So when you see those elephant-ear collard leaves in the grocery store and wonder, What would I ever do with those? Now you know: Wash them (like you would wash your own body – those little bugs hold on for dear life), slice them up and throw them in your soup. They’re done in 10 minutes.
So, going back to Things I Learned Number One: There is no recipe. I am keeping a record of everything I put in this soup for future reference, but no measurements. Trust yourself: you don’t need them.
Pork and Greens Soup
Cut a pork shoulder into cubes, salt them a bit, and brown them with olive oil in a cast iron pot. Next, brown some beef soup bones with some meat still attached (I used short rib cuttings from the butcher). Pour off as much oil as you can, and put a can of crushed tomatoes in the pot and some chicken broth to deglaze the brown bits. Add the meat back into the pot, and cover with some more broth and water, until the meat is almost covered. Add a half an onion, a few crushed cloves of garlic, some thyme, oregano, smoked paprika, cinnamon, a few glugs of red wine vinegar, a glug of sherry, and cover the pot. Let it simmer until the meat is very tender, this will usually take at least an hour and a half.
Take the meat out of the pot, and strain the broth. Set aside. Eat the beef from the short rib bones, yum. Heat a little olive oil in the soup pot, and throw in the other half of the onion (chopped fine), 4 Anaheim peppers (sliced medium), and 3 minced garlic cloves. Add another glug of sherry. Cook until soft. Add some powdered Ancho and New Mexico chile flakes. Add the meat, the reserved broth, and maybe some chicken broth if you need more liquid. Add a can of pinto beans, and now you can go ahead and salt-and-pepper this up properly. If the soup isn’t spicy enough for you, do something about it.
At this point, you may want to whisk a roux into the stew to thicken it. Now it’s time to add the collard greens. Wash a bunch of them them well and slice thin, and throw them in the soup. (Make sure the collard strips aren’t too long, though. I didn’t, and ended up with my scissors in the stew, cutting the strips into more manageable pieces). Simmer for at least 10 minutes to cook the collards thoroughly before trying the soup, but try to wait until tomorrow to eat it, when the flavors will be better, stronger.