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what's for dinner, community building, soups. home economics, health
There's a great chapter in "Like Water for Chocolate" where the heroine Tita, in a deep depression over the loss of her baby nephew, is restored to full health and renewed happiness after her maidservant and friend feeds her a bowl of homemade oxtail soup.

For some, this may be a fantasy born from those wonderful Latin surrealistic novels. I don't know about you, but I certainly do know a little about the restorative power of that soup, since in our culture we have a version of our own. I remember having a similar soup when we first visited the Philippines and my mother's home island of Luzon six months after she passed away. We owed that trip to our mom, and wanted to find some way to connect the dots of what's been missing since she passed. We were on route to her home town on the west coast of Northern Luzon, and stopped by an inn/family restaurant that caters to visiting tourists during the holidays. The inn was directly across Mt. Taal, a volcano that erupted more than 50 years ago.

It was there that we were served the main repast - bulalo, a soup made of oxtails, onions, ginger and cabbage, simmered until the meat was tender and the vegetables soft. After experiencing the jet lag of a 23 hour flight, adjusting to losing a day across the International date line and just missing Mama, I was buoyed by tasting this dish -- it was the recovery of a memory I have had of sitting in Mama's kitchen, feeling warmed by this very soup after coming in from a cool Northern California winter's day. For the first time in roughly 72 hours overseas, I began to feel like I was really home.

There is more to Laura Esquivel's story about oxtail soup than Latin magical fiction. Cooks in kitchens across the world, from Asia, Europe and Latin America know that bone broths are a common remedy for ailments, physical and emotional. Yes, Mama's chicken soup is truly a universal cure for the soul, and this is not an old wive's tale. There are many good reasons for that.

Come follow me over the lovely orange dumpling...

Here is a passage from one of many websites extolling the virtues of bone broth:

Every chef and foodie knows the key to a good soup or sauce is in the stock, and unlike the canned or cartoned varieties which can sometimes pass in flavor, homemade broth is loaded with nutrients that its packaged cousins is not – minerals, gelatin, and glycosaminoglycans (which include substances like chondroitin and glucosamine, keratin and hyaluronic acid and more.) These nutrients known to benefit teeth, bones, hair, nails, and joints.  Bone broth is also a digestive elixir that helps to heal the gut lining for those who suffer from digestive problems, food allergies, and nervous system conditions including anxiety and depression. There are even numerous claims I’ve read that regular consumption of bone broth will make cellulite disappear – I don’t know about you, but that seems worth the broth for me!
Some chard for tonight's soup!
As someone who has chronic knee issues, and when under stress has digestion issues, nothing gets me back in shape than a good bowl of broth. It makes sense that this type of powerful food as remedy is ingested and your digestive system absorbs it. Your gut is 70% of your immune system, and you replenish your body by what you put in. Even when coming home with a raging fever, I somehow find some strength to get to the store, get some chicken parts and start up the pot. A good bone broth steadies my nerves, stomach and knees at the same time!

There are many types of bone broths in soups that we already know: pho, won ton, your home made chicken noodle soup with whole chicken. The picture on top of my diary is from my own kitchen, a broth I was making using organic chicken backs, and the magical triad of carrots, onions and celery, and roughly 12 cups of water. At the recommendation of the many sites I've linked to here, I add 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar (Bragg's is great!) to the broth. The vinegar's acidity is recommended to help along the release of vital nutrients from the bones. But any acidic fruit like lemon, lime, and even pineapple is good to tenderize meat and harvest bone benefits.

Lemons from our local greengrocer
The key word in cooking your broth is simmer, not boil. If you boil on high for too long long, the meat seizes up and will get tough. If you start the heat to boil, and bring it down to allow broth to simmer, you extract more of the benefits of the bones inside, not only saving the meat for the soup to eat, but more importantly, collecting the nutrients, therefore the benefits of making bone broth in the first place.

I know it's hard to wait for a soup to cook until its ready, but that perfume of soup wafting in the kitchen is a clarifying incense for my brain. I can really settle in to write, read, and nap, knowing there's some magic afoot, simmering slowly on very low heat on my stove or even in my crock pot (another great utensil to make stock and broth!) After several hours (some recommend a minimum of 6) once you strain out the veggies and meat, you can let the broth simmer until it reduces down and you have stock for gravy, sauce, and flavoring for pilaf, pasta, vegetables and a whole variety of dishes that we normally use that carton of Swanson's broth or those cubes of Herb-ox for. Or you can use it to make soup for that night, adding your favorites like noodles, meat, seafood and vegetables. Once you take it off the heat and allow it to cool to just about room temperature, you can freeze it into cubes in your freezer tray or bag it in freezer bags and use as needed.

I usually add only a dash of salt when I am making a stock. Since you are boiling down and concentrating the flavors of the broth's meats and vegetables, you are also concentrating the salt in the dish as well. Rule of thumb - if you're making soup, season to taste while cooking. If you're making stock, use a light hand with your salt shaker.

Since I am an omnivore, I use bones from chicken, fish and beef. For those interested in making fish broths, adding the head of a fish to the pot gives the broth extra collagen/fish oil oomph. Just make sure you bundle up your fish carcass in some cooking muslin, or cheesecloth so you don't have to fish for bones in your pot, or use a good tight strainer to clear out the bones and seasoning veggies.

To recap, here are the basics:

1) Broth is a liquid made from the long simmering of the bones and meaty parts of animals - fowl, fish and mammal along with savory vegetables. Stock is the concentration of a broth, cleared of its component solid ingredients after they have been thoroughly released, used for flavoring other soups.

2) Once you have attained a boil, never allow your broth-stock pot go above a simmer (it's the next to lowest setting on my burner).

3) Always add an acidic element (preferably cider vinegar) to facilitate release of bone nutrients.

4) Collagen is your friend. After you have chilled your broth, appreciate the gelatin (collagen) you create when making and eating these broths. That means those hours of waiting have paid off and you have been successful in your broth-making. Collagen is gold. That gelatin is rich with the gut-soothing, joint healing, soul soothing medicine available to the body principally through its ingestion as a broth, which according to TCM, is the only way to do it.

Here are some broth combinations that are part of my repertoire, built from family memory. I'm sure you'll recognize them:

1 whole chicken, cut up, fresh, one "hand" of ginger, crushed, salt, vinegar.

3 good sized beef soup bones, roasted in the oven (if they have marrow, all the better!), celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, dash salt, vinegar.

Beef oxtails, ginger, onions, salt, pepper, bay leaf.

Roasted Turkey carcass, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, salt and pepper.

There were so many websites on the benefits of bone broths that it was almost overwhelming. Here are a few that inspired me to write this, and incorporate bone broths as part of my weekly diet. Check them out. They go into greater scientific detail about the many health benefits of bone broths.

Jade Institute

Doctor Auer

Divine Health from the Inside Out

Let's face this fall with a few more bowls in our arsenal to stay well and healthy this season, especially those of us out there trying to get out the vote. We need all of us to be well -- spiritually, financially, politically and physically -- and win this thing. Nurture yourselves and stay healthy. It's the one true wealth we have.

Originally posted to Fe Bongolan on Sat Sep 29, 2012 at 04:52 PM PDT.

Also republished by What's for Dinner and Community Spotlight.

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