Alphabet Soup: Cuisine Inspired by Hurricane Odile

9-14-14 Incoming waves

I am really proud of this recipe, especially considering the circumstances surrounding its creation. My friends who were anxiously following the hurricane, and the subsequent tourist exodus, will now be able to sink into my stories in a more tangible way.

Preparing and eating this soup will be a transcendent experience; we can enjoy it together as we appreciate the good, even when the rest of our lives might seem terrifying and out of control.

9-25-14 Alphabet Soup

Ingredients:

10-12 habanero peppers

4 serrano peppers

12 roma tomatoes

8 cloves of garlic

1 dried cascabel chili

salt

1/2 onion

1/2 bag of Costco chicken wings

4 bay leaves

12 dried allspice berries

5 peppercorns

2 cubes Knorr chicken bouillon (Knorr Suiza)

1 package Swanson broth

2 packages Italian letter pasta

photo

If you plan to make this soup in the same spirit of adventure that I did during the aftermath of Hurricane Odile, the best thing to do is begin preparation expecting to lose power at any moment. Anxiety may yet be one of its ingredients though the eating will chase away your worries in more ways than one.

From the moment the winds began to gust outside, I was boiling eggs, making salsa, and simmering beans with epazote in the crock pot. I rushed to prepare anything that would be edible for a few days without power.

For salsa:

Boil six roma tomatoes, three cloves of garlic, three to four habaneros (seeds removed), one serrano (seeds removed), one dried cascabel chili (seeds removed) and a good dash of salt. Removing the seeds of the peppers before will cut the heat. Once everything is boiled to softness (a half hour or so), place everything in a blender, or as I did, use a hand mixer to blend in the pot. Let this cool on the counter, then refrigerate. This sauce is great for topping eggs, and will be used for mixing into the soup later on. Mine sat for two days in a cool refrigerator until I used it in the soup.

We had recently made a Costco run and had a freezer full of meat. A half bag of wings was thawing in the freezer so I decided to see what I could do with this since it was the biggest package of meat we had. My goal was to waste the least amount of perishables possible; I knew I wasn’t going to be able to save it all. This knowledge gave me no small amount of anxious sadness every time I had to open that freezer.

camp stove

I cooked the soup over a butane stove.

Fill a large stock pot with your chicken wings, Swanson broth, Knorr bouillon, three cascabel chilis (seeded and stemmed), four or five roma tomatoes, half an onion (chopped), four cloves of garlic, one whole serrano (unseeded) three habaneros (seeded if you want to cut the heat, but I urge you to use at least one whole one as I did), three bay leaves, 12 dried allspice berries, a squirt of lime and enough water to cover with about four inches of water remaining. Boil this for two hours or until the chicken begins to fall off the bone.

Throughout the last hour of cooking, taste the soup and add your pre-made salsa until the broth is to your liking. If you begin to run out of liquid, add more water. Each time you add water, you will add more salsa to give the additional liquid more flavor. Taste the broth and add a squirt of lime right at the end if it needs it.

letters

Eight minutes before you serve the soup pour the alphabet pasta into the pot. These will soak up tons of water and if you are like me, by the time you serve this the second night, you will mostly have pasta, but you can add additional water, lime and salsa to spice it up again.

When I first made this, I cooked the pasta for about seven minutes. My girls and I ate some before it got completely dark* waiting for our new friends to arrive and to make sure they were fed before the craziness of having company. This was the soup’s best time. The pasta was firm, and the flavor was spectacular. Even though it was so hot it actually made me cough, both girls gobbled it down and asked for more.

When I served the soup to our guests a half hour later, it was still very good, but I wasn’t as happy with the texture of the pasta. I tend to be picky about texture though over the course of several days, the pasta held up exceedingly well.

candle

Alphabet soup should be savored by the light of a very small candle, or outdoors under the stars with only a headlamp to click on every few minutes to see what one is eating, as we did on two separate evenings. Most importantly, it should also be shared with neighbors, like ours, whom you hardly know but feel a kinship with and gratitude for.

Ours, most consistently, were two surfers who stayed to defend the fort against the dreaded machete toting banditos. I saw no police on our drives out to look around. There were several however who were helping the banditos, this is according to reports by those who had been at the stores the day before.

The emergency residents meeting we had that afternoon proves how certain of this possibility everybody was. We were to bang pots and pans, honk car horns, and do anything else we could to raise an alarm should the terror arrive. Now it is hard to verify that the banditos did actually exist, so many stories were flying around. The local radio news, after being off the air for two days, said nothing more than, “stay calm, the military is on the way, they’re just having a tough time getting in.”

ancient theater

When there is no contact with the outside world and no reliable information, we were ready for anything. One neighbor speculated (on the day he announced that they were getting the fuck out of Dodge) that the reason the phone lines were down when they had been working that morning, was that the authorities were trying to stop the lootings that were being organized over social media.

Back to our surfers: These two helped calm my nerves and saved me from having to separate from hubby yet again by catching one of the flights home that were offered to the tourists.**

This recipe means something to our family in a way that  none of my other recipes do. Every other one is a hand-me-down from someone else. I have adapted recipes over the years and made them my own, but this is the first one I have come up with on the fly. Each time we eat this we remember the first night: fear, laughter, headlamps, uncertainty, darkness, candles, heat, mosquitos.***

Preparation notes:

This soup is very spicy and the peppers and seeds can be reduced, but the flavor will suffer some as a result. Boiling a couple of whole habaneros with the chicken is what gave the broth the rich flavor that it had.

Mixing serrano with habanero has been one of the best cooking decisions I have made lately. From guacamole to salsa, if the recipe calls for jalapenos, these two together will rock it better than any jalapeno and will likely be easier on the tummy to boot.

I did not do this because I was so frazzled, but it might be best to remove the cascabel, allspice and bay leaves before eating, especially if you plan to eat by candle light. One of my dinner guests ate everything, even the allspice!

Removing the chicken bones is another step that will make this easier to eat, though part of this experience is making do with what you have (in the prep time allowed) and picking out the bones gives your mouth a chance to recover from the heat between bites. One of my Italian friends loves that I leave all the bits in as it makes the experience more rustic. If you are feeding small or goofy ones though, it is better to remove the pieces someone could choke on.

* It got dark so fast! Every night I found myself rushing to put things away and get the candles out.

** After I got online again I looked at the news reports and am ever so grateful I did not make this choice, but the decision to stay or go was really really hard. What if something happened to my kids? I would never forgive myself and there would be no way I could ever fix that. Ever. I also knew that if I left, everything in our house might well be gone when we returned, and I might not be able to get back to Hubby for weeks, if not months while the airport was being fixed and services were restored. Planes are already flying in, but at the time there was no way to know how long the area would be locked down.

*** Inside there were still a few mosquitoes, but not nearly as many as were outside. One of my daughters both attracts and is allergic to them. We had repellent, but it still doesn’t work well for her. Many others who were without power for much longer than we were didn’t have any. When we were finally able to drive to La Paz, the thing people were most desperate for were the mosquito coils, which of course even their stores did not have.

Raidolitos—stockpile them as you would your water or t.p.

Part of the hurricane experience was dealing with both the heat and the bugs. Inside the house it felt like you might suffocate from the heat. Outside (sometimes) at night there was a cool breeze, but then we had to deal with the mosquitoes and part of each day was devoted to talking to my daughter about staying inside, leaving screen doors closed, putting on repellent, not scratching. Thank God we had a full bottle of Caladryl; she carried it everywhere.

 

 

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