Oaxacan-Inspired Pork and Chilie Soup

I call it a culinary haunting. Ever since the Christmas comida we enjoyed at La Capilla, I can’t shake the thought of the soup we had as a first course. Slow cooked in a pit with the goat’s liver and heart, chilies, avocado leaves and hearty vegetables, its deep earthy flavours were an instant restorative, revealing themselves spoonful after luscious spoonful.

Almost two months later, the flavour-packed spectre won’t leave me, along with thoughts on how to recreate the dish at home. Needless to say, I’ve been exorcising in the kitchen.
A few things are certain not to happen: digging a pit in my backyard and a cooking a whole goat.
I decided to use pork ribs for meat, flavour from the bone and a bit of fat. The rack of ribs were cut right down the middle by my butcher. This is to create smaller pieces easier to handle in a soup bowl.
The ribs are then poached in water with onion, bay and peppercorns to create some stock and par-cook the meat. Around 45 minutes.
(To add extra depth, I had rich chicken stock on hand, made from roasted bones. That was to be added later).
 Some bass notes are needed: roasted onions, garlic, tomatoes and chilie guajillos.
 Chilies, stems and seeds removed, are lightly toasted on both sides and soaked in hot water for 20 – 30 minutes. The skin of the guajillos are tough and necessitate a good soaking.
Onions are thickly sliced and garlic is left in its skin to roast on a hot comal. (A technique I learned from Rick Bayless).

Tomatoes are then roasted, and the three ingredients are chopped – with the onion’s and garlic’s papery skins removed – to be added to the soup later.

The soaked chilies are drained and blended to a smooth puree, seasoned (fried) in a deep saucepan. Stock is added, roasted and chopped ingredients follow, brought to the boil and simmered for 30 minutes to meld and mingle.
Pork ribs, cool enough to handle, are cut into bite-size pieces and added to the cauldron. 
Chickpeas are added and at the last 20 minutes, carrots and green beans.
Taste. Season. As soon as you see oil pooling on top, your soup is done. Add some chopped cilantro before serving.
For the meantime, it’s been keeping the spirits at bay.
Earthy Pork and Chilie Soup ( a late winter incantation)
Serves 4
1 3/4 – 2 lbs baby back ribs, cut down the middle by your butcher
5 chile guajillos, stemmed and seeded
4 medium tomatoes, roasted whole
1 medium white onion, thickly sliced and roasted
5 garlic cloves, left in their skins and roasted
1- 19 fl. oz can of chickpeas
2 large carrots,peeled and chopped
1/2 lb. green beans, stemmed and cut into quarter lengths
5 cups stock total (a combination of pork and rich chicken stock is great)
5 avocado leaves, toasted (optional)
1/2 cup firmly packed cilantro leaves, chopped for garnish
In a deep saucepan, add the ribs with half an onion, a few Mexican laurel leaves, salt and whole peppercorns. Add just enough water to cover all the ingredients. Bring to a boil, skimming the surface and simmer for 45 minutes. Once done, remove the ribs to a plate to cool, strain the stock and reserve, measuring at this point. Clean the saucepan.
Toast the seeded and stemmed chilie guajillos on a hot comal or cast iron frying pan, being careful not to burn them. Transfer the chilies to a bowl of hot water and soak for 20 to 30 minutes. Lightly toast the avocado leaves if using and set aside.
On the same comal, toast/roast the sliced onions and garlic evenly on both sides – char marks are okay. Transfer to a cutting board. Add the tomatoes to the comal and roast all over. Transfer them to a bowl.
Remove the skins from the onion and garlic and chop fine. Do the same with the tomatoes and transfer to a bowl – don’t lose any of the tomato juice.
Remove the chilies from the soaking water to a blender, crumble the toasted avocado leaves, if using, on top and blend until very smooth, using some of the soaking water to just loosen the blades and achieve a thick-ish consistency.
Heat 2 T. oil or lard to the clean saucepan. Add the pureed chilies through a strainer and fry the sauce over medium heat, stirring constantly for 4 minutes.
Add the chopped ingredients, the stock and chickpeas. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
Once the ribs are cool enough to handle, cut into bite size pieces, using the bones as a guide as to where to cut. Add them to the soup along with the carrots and green beans and bring to a boil and simmer again until the carrots and beans are al dente and the ribs are cooked through – around 20 minutes.
Taste and season. Ladle into deep bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro.

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