Ham hock and habanero soup with cornmeal-plantain dumplings

From Megan Larmer

Ham hock stock:
1 small onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 lb ham hock
5 peppercorns

1 lb carrots, peeled and chopped
1 bunch green onions, white part minced and green part chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 limes, zest two of them
2-3 inch hunk of ginger, minced
1-4 habaneros (depending on spiciness), minced
2 tbsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground thyme

2 cups cornmeal
2 eggs
2 ripe plaintains (black peels), diced
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp sugar

Make the stock:
Rough chop the veggies and put them into a hot stock pot with a glug of olive oil, add a dash of salt (not too much), and let that sweat together for a couple minutes.  Cut the excess skin and fat off of the ham hock and set that aside. Put the rosemary and peppercorns in with the veggies for a moment, add the ham hock, cover everything with cold water — at least 6 cups, but more is fine.  Bring to a simmer (don’t let it boil!).  Let it simmer at least an hour, or as long as you’ve got, skimming the fat and scum of the top periodically.  Remove ham hock and set it aside.  Strain the broth through a fine sieve and let it rest.  If you’ve skimmed it thoroughly, not too much fat should rise to the top as it cools, but if it does, skim that off.

Make the soup:
When you’re ready, put the stock on to warm up.  Put another pot over low heat with the trimmings from the ham hock to render the fat off of them. When the bits are good and crispy and you’ve got a good little oil slick in there, remove the bits.  Then add carrots, garlic, ginger, lime zest, the white part of the green onions,habaneros (I used frozen, so they’d lost some of their heat, and I used four, but if they are fresh fewer should do the trick) and the dry spices with a dash of salt.  Let that all sweat together over low to medium heat until the carrots are tender but not mushy. Pull the meat off of the ham hock, throwing out cartilidge and such, add that to the mix. Pour your hot stock into the pot.  If this doesn’t look like enough soup to you, round it out with some chicken stock or boiling water, or beer, whatever.  Bring to a high simmer.

Make the dumplings:
Mix the cornmeal with enough boiling water to make a very stiff dough, maybe 1/2 a cup.  While that sits, dice the plantains.  Add the flour, spices,sugar and a dash of salt to the cornmeal.  Break the eggs in a bowl and mix them up with a little water.  Stir the eggs into the cornmeal.  If the dough looks too loose, add more flour or dry cornmeal; too stiff, add water.  It should look like a dense cornbread batter.  Stir the plantains into the dough. 

Finish it up:
Squeeze the limes’ juice into the soup.  Taste your broth and correct the seasonings (it probably needs salt), then bring it to a high boil.  Drop the dough by teaspoonfull into the broth.  You may need to let a batch cook, then drop more in to keep them from sticking together.  When all the dumplings are cooked (you can tell because they will float) turn off the heat.  Taste the broth again, add a dash of vinegar if you like.  Throw in the chopped green parts of the onion. Eat!

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